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Archive | Eco-Farming

Eco-Alternative Farmsteading

Emily and Brian Towneby JILL HENDERSON

Russellville, Missouri is beautifully situated on the line that separates the rugged Ozark Mountains from the rolling prairies of the Midwest. This small town has a quaint charm that blends well with the dramatic rolling hills and rural farms that dot the landscape. It’s also a convenient 15 miles to the bustling state capital, Jefferson City.

Living smack dab in the middle of this classic slice of Americana are Emily and Brian Towne, self-described “eco-alternative farmsteaders” striving to produce the bulk of their own meat, dairy, eggs, produce and non-GMO animal feed, while building a fledgling retail business selling and bartering eggs, chicken, milk, produce, garlic and herbs to a small but growing consumer base.

The Townes love the country life —it’s in their blood. Emily grew up on a rocky Ozark hill farm and Brian was raised on a traditional row crop farm in Iowa. Yet, like so many farm kids, Brian and Emily set out into the world after high school to get an education and to find out if there was something else out there for them besides farming. When the couple met in Omaha, Nebraska, in the early ’90s, Emily was working for a Fortune 500 company and Brian worked as a mechanic. Soon after they were married, the couple moved back to Brian’s family farm where they grew corn, soy and a variety of livestock. Three years later, the couple moved to Columbia, Missouri, with the hopes of starting a farm of their own one day.

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Industrial Organics Competition

salatin-industrial_photo1by JOEL SALATIN

“Wal-Mart is the largest vendor of organic products.” This headline began appearing in news outlets about five years ago and announced a major change in the integrity food game. Hailed by some as a major positive breakthrough, others, like me, see it as a new threat to the ecological farming movement.

In a recent farm tour, I surprised myself by saying to the assembled group: “industrial organics is now just as big a liability in our food system as Monsanto.” The statement came on the heels of questions regarding why our farm was not certified organic or any of the other certifications currently lauded as third-party verifications for animal welfare, fair trade, or Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

At the outset of the organic certification movement, I remember suggesting that what we really needed to certify was the reading material next to the farmer’s toilet. All of us involved in the fledgling clean food protocols realized that this was more of an idea, a lifestyle, a worldview, than it was a list of dos and don’ts. And yet the do and don’t list is exactly where the idea went with the passage of the National Organic Standards.

Although it took awhile for the federal government’s ownership of the word organic to sprout legs in the food and farm culture, it certainly did …big legs. In the past five years, I’ve sensed a major shift in the organic market that does not bode well for the local integrity food movement built on neighbor trust and transparency.

Recent shenanigans from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), from stacking oversight toward industry representatives in defiance of the enabling legislation’s clear intent, to eliminating the mandatory sunset clause for questionable substances indicate a profound adulteration of the organic idea. Constant litigation and exposure by the watchdog outfit Cornucopia, as wonderful as it is, seems to do little to arrest the juggernaut of adulteration within the industrial organic fraternity.

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Managing Available Phosphorus

canstockphoto26719966by Jon Frank

Have you ever baked a cake? If you want the cake to turn out well you need to have the right amounts and ratios of ingredients. What would happen if you decided to modify the cake recipe and double the liquids, while cutting the flour and dry ingredients in half? It would mix just fine in a bowl, but when you take it out of the oven you would have some glop that nobody wants to eat, and you wouldn’t dare call it a cake. You must understand the right proportions to make modifications, or else you need to follow a recipe.

In this same way, you need to maintain the right levels and ratios of available nutrients in soil if you want to produce nutrient-dense foods. It is especially important to keep your eye on the big three: calcium, phosphorus and potassium. If you get these three right in your soil, everything else is a piece of cake.

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Interview: Biointensive method continues to help farmers reap ultra-productive harvests, boost soil health

John-JeavonsStill Growing Strong

John Jeavons is known around the world as the leading exponent of the small-scale, sustainable agricultural method he has trademarked as Grow Biointensive. Working from the heart of Mendocino County, California, he is a tireless advocate, developer and researcher of intensive growing. Over the years he has proven that the title of his best-known book, How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine, is no exaggeration. As he tells below, Jeavons has been hard at it for over 40 years, yet he still talks about his work with unabashed enthusiasm and passion.
— Chris Walters

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Sweet Rewards: Growing Berries on the Suburban Farm

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Ripening ‘Red Lake’ red currants.

by Michael Brown
Growing up in central New Jersey, I’ve seen large expanses of former farmland transformed into seemingly endless residential sprawl. While this doesn’t bode well for open space (as well as a host of other things), it does present opportunity for those able to attract these new potential customers. One way is by creating a suburban farm. Such a farm, on less than an acre, allows spry and innovative farmers to use small size and proximity to markets to their advantage.

Eight years ago, after my youngest child neared the end of high school, I decided to expand my love of gardening into a business. I started off small — about a tenth of an acre in part of my backyard. I named my suburban farm “Pitspone Farm” — from a Hebrew word meaning very small. Over the years I slowly expanded, until at this point I’ve more or less taken over my entire backyard, about one-third of an acre.

From time to time customers come to my farm to pick up produce or visit my operation. Invariably I’ll get a call as they sit in their car in front of my house: “Hi, I’m not sure we’re in the right place. This looks like a residential area.” At that point I usually come out from the back to greet and reassure them that they are indeed in the right place. From the front my home looks like a typical residence. All the action is in the back.

My goal has been, and continues to be, to explore the model of a small-scale suburban farm, both as an income producing entity and as a contributor to the food supply. This model might be of interest to people in several types of circumstances:
1. Not everyone is lucky enough to find large, affordable acreages for farming. However, many of us living in the suburbs have easy access to enough land for a suburban farm.
2. A suburban farm can be a useful way to transition into larger acreage, by establishing markets and experimenting with various crops.
3. A small suburban farm allows one to work a farm while holding down an additional job.

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Down the Wormhole: Customizing Biological Methods for Large-Scale Farming

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JR Bollinger in his corn, head-high by 4th of July.

by David Yarrow

At the end of 2015 I talked to Missouri bootheel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbonsmart farming principles and practices. In his first year fully committed to biological agriculture, Bollinger cut conventional fertilizers by 50 percent and applied blends of biocarbons, minerals and microbes. Soils, plants and yields are all showing positive results.

Bollinger is the fourth generation to farm on 3,500 acres in the southeast Missouri Delta, with the family’s main crops being corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.

“In 2012, I first dabbled in biological farming on a reclaimed coal mine,” he said. “A gentleman with microbial products first tickled my brain about dead soil. He challenged me to find an earthworm. I went looking, and …none. I noticed there wasn’t much life. The soil looked like moondust, vacant of life.”

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