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Archive | Eco-Philosophy

America’s Native Bamboo

Mention the word “bamboo” and visions of China, panda bears and exotic jungles readily come to mind for most of us living in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the majority of the 1,450 species of true bamboo found throughout the world originate in Southern and Southeastern Asian countries, with a few scattered species found in Africa and the beech forests of Chile in South America.

River or giant cane is the largest and most noticeable of the three native types of bamboo.

Some bamboo species grow more densely than any forest you can imagine and produce giant canes as big around as a small tree, while others are as diminutive as a clump of native big bluestem prairie grass to which all bamboo is related. In fact, bamboo belongs to the true grass family Poaceae which contains some 10,000 recognized species and represents the fifth-largest plant family on Earth.

The United States is home to three very distinct native species of bamboo, which are collectively known as cane.

Native Bamboo: Cane History & Ecology

When the first Europeans set out to explore the New World they encountered massive canebrakes so dense they were nearly impenetrable. These natural obstacles were so massive that explorers had to navigate around them, sometimes for miles. While cane was present in much of the southern and southeastern half of the United States, the largest canebrakes in North America were found along the edges and floodplains of major rivers such as the Mississippi and its tributaries. Continue Reading →

Increasing Soil Organic Matter Through Organic Agriculture

Numerous scientific studies show that soil organic matter provides many benefits for building soil health such as improv­ing the number and biodiversity of beneficial microorganisms that pro­vide nutrients for plants, including fixing nitrogen, as well as controlling soilborne plant diseases. The decom­position of plant and animal residues into SOM can provide all the nutri­ents needed by plants and negate the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers that are responsible for numerous environ­mental problems.

Organic (above) vs. conventional (right). The higher levels of organic matter allow the soil in the organic field to resist erosion in heavy rain events and capture more water.

The year 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the 68th UN General Assembly with the theme “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.” I was particularly pleased with the theme because this is a message that we in the organic sector have been spreading for more than 70 years, and at first we were ridiculed. Now there is a huge body of science showing that what we observed in our farming systems is indeed correct.

“Organic farming” became the dominant name in English-speaking countries for farming systems that eschew toxic, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers through J.I. Rodale’s global magazine Organic Farming and Gar­dening, first published in the United States in the 1940s. Rodale promot­ed this term based on building soil health by the recycling of organic matter through composts, green ma­nures, mulches and cover crops to increase the levels of soil organic matter as one of the primary management techniques.

Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Tuning in to Nature

By Philip S. Callahan

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. book, Tuning In To Nature: Infrared Radiation and the Insect Communication System, by Philip S. Callahan. Copyright 2001, softcover, 264 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Tuning in to Nature by Philip S. Callahan

Tuning in to Nature was written in 1975 as a direct result of an experience I had shortly after World War II ended, when I was still attached to the RAF Coastal Command in northern Ireland.

During July 1945, I took a Jeep from Belleek to Castle Archdale in Fermanagh County, northern Ireland. The RAF Coastal Command had its western Ireland headquarters on Lough Erne not far from our American Radio Range Station near Belleek.

When I picked up a technical report by the RAF on the XAF (10 cm radar) the researcher pointed out that most boat hulls were in sharp focus since 10 cm is a short wavelength in comparison to a boat. Diesel launches under way, however, were “blurred with indistinct edges over the stern.” It did not take long to deduce that the XAF radar was “seeing” the diesel exhaust — in short, the radar was smelling exhaust by electronics. This rather simple observation led to my irreversible belief that insect spines (sensilla) are indeed real antennae.

Continue Reading →

Regional Crops: Preserving Diversity

Regional crops that fed our ancestors and provided a sense of place are disappearing, but some growers and researchers are dedicated to the continuation of these old favorites, refusing to allow them — and our food roots — to disappear.

Jenny Caleo performs a pollination experiment on beach plums.

Whether indigenous or introduced, wild-harvested or cultivated, these food crops at one time held great importance in their various localities. Interest in less commonly known specialty crops is increasing, even while their growing popularity is sometimes accompanied by controversy.

This article will examine four of them.

New England Roots

It goes by many names: Cape White turnip, Westport turnip, Eastham turnip. These names — all taken from New England locales — are used in lieu of its official one: the Macomber rutabaga. Traditionally a part of southern New England Thanksgiving celebrations, this rutabaga is a New England notable, although rutabagas — a hybrid between turnips and wild cabbage — are not native to the United States.

“It’s very similar to parsnips,” said Chris Clegg of Four Town Farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts. “It is not nearly as bitter as purple top rutabagas or bland as yellow rutabagas,” and is quite popular in the region. Continue Reading →

Dog Food: Healthy Alternatives

We are a nation of pet owners where nearly three out of four households own at least one domestic animal — 96 million furry feline friends and 81 million canine companions. And while we may love them (and spend $58.5 billion on them annually to demonstrate that love), we don’t feed them well.

Tripe, turkey, lamb, beef liver and other organ meats make good food for man’s best friend.

“If you’re not controlling their food intake, you’re allowing someone else to do it for you,” says master dog chef Micki Voisard. “Most of us wouldn’t eat commercial dog food and chances are, if they knew what was in it, our dogs wouldn’t eat it either. Feeding your animal dead, processed food, produced months before you purchased it causes more problems than it solves.

Some crunchable kibble is so loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink that I see dogs hyped up like teenagers on Red Bull.”

An advocate of “real food versus dead food,” Voisard notes, “When Hill’s put the word Science in front of the word Diet a few decades ago, I think we lost our last bit of common sense in the dog feeding world.”

Her concerns are shared by a growing audience, one that represents a lot of consumer buying power. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “May – National Pet Month,” it was reported that pet food varieties labeled organic now generate $2.9 billion in annual sales. Wisely, the writer did add the caveat that “while organic labels (for humans) are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, separate pet food standards don’t exist.” Continue Reading →

Post-Harvest Crop Losses

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released the results of on-farm measurements taken to assess post-harvest crop losses. The report, No Food Left Behind: Underutilized Produce Ripe for Alternative Markets, examines four crops during the 2017-2018 growing season at a set of farms in Florida, New Jersey, Idaho and Arizona.

The study reveals that 40 percent of tomatoes, 39 percent of peaches, 56 percent of romaine lettuce and 2 percent of processing potatoes were left in the field – often due to weather, labor costs or market conditions. The report also highlights the potential to increase availability of fruits and vegetables in the United States by better utilizing what is already being produced.

The United States is a leading producer of agricultural products, and much of what is grown on U.S. farms feeds the U.S. population. In fact, between 60 and 75 percent of fresh produce available in the U.S. is produced domestically. While the current system efficiently delivers a multitude of products to market 365 days a year both domestically and via imports, there is room to improve the loss associated with the amount of resources it takes to accomplish this delivery along the supply chain, particularly at both endpoints – farms and retailers.

“When food is lost at any point on its journey from farm to plate, that loss contributes to wasted land, water and other resources used to produce that food,” said Pete Pearson, director of food loss and waste at WWF. “There’s incredible opportunity to learn what drives food loss in domestic production and distribution, and to influence import markets by finding better global practices that could reduce agricultural expansion in other parts of the world.” Continue Reading →