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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 →

Branching Out: Farmers Embrace Alternative Orcharding

The time is ripe to take a new look at orcharding design and function. Around the country, from Michigan’s cherry trees to New York State’s apple and peach crops, orchards have been hit with crop losses after late frosts during the past few seasons. Disease pressures, such as those impacting the Florida citrus industry, are another major concern. In circumstances such as these, growers who aren’t diversi­fied may have lost their primary in­come for the year.

Seaberry (sea-buckthorn) is one of many crops grown at Hilltop Community Farm.

The sustainability of a system de­pendent upon one cash crop, along with the lack of diversity inherent in such systems, combined with increas­ing concerns about the amount of chemicals used in conventional fruit and nut production, has led a new wave of orchardists to explore alterna­tive methods of growing fruit.

Forward-thinking growers are uti­lizing a variety of means to reinvent the way an orchard grows. They are cultivating rare, unusual or native fruits, growing in a scale-appropriate manner and addressing orchard di­versity through polyculture and mim­icking natural ecosystems. 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: A Farmer’s Guide to the Bottom Line

By Charles Walters

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, A Farmer’s Guide to the Bottom Line, by Charles Walters. Copyright 2002, softcover, 212 pages. Regular Price: $24.00.

The greatest deterrent to a successful farming venture—as with any business—is having unreal expectations on the one hand, and doubts that the enterprise can succeed on the other hand. The success of Acres U.S.A. is well known, and some parts of the story have been related in A Life in the Day of an Editor. A similar success story can be read in the book Fletcher Sims’ Compost. But for my purpose two case reports will illustrate how a traffic jam between the ears can be removed to benefit the venture.

A Farmer’s Guide to the Bottom Line by Charles Walters

Paul Abalos grew up in the poverty of a migrant beet worker’s transport or shelter. While still in his mid-teens, he told his parents he wanted to get an education. This was doable because community colleges were available, and hard work often resulted in scholarships being awarded. Paul’s dad told him, “Well, you’ll have to come in off the road, get a job, and stay put.” Paul accepted this advice. He found employment in a restaurant and learned something about the business while observing the tawdry practices that prevailed. In due time he became educated and credentialed for the teacher’s craft, but he never quite forgot what really good Mexican food tasted like. The fare generally available north of Austin and San Antonio seemed partial to heavy grease, and perpetrated every bad habit and mistake amateurism is heir to. Paul and his wife found a small abandoned stand, the kind frequently harnessed to selling root beer and soft ice cream. The place had few seats, but there was and always is a need for good food, even in Hereford, Texas, now surrounded by a million head of feedlot cattle. Paul invoked strict discipline in the management of the restaurant known as Les Charro Too. Many locals are convinced the food is the best Mexican west of the Mississippi and east of the river Nile, certainly north of Mexico.

Continue Reading →

Defending A Way of Life Against Pesticides

Professor, Farmer and Author Philip Ackerman-Leist Discusses How One European Town was Able to Push Back Against Pesticides, Big Apple to Save Their Traditions.

In A Precautionary Tale Philip Ackerman-Leist tells the story of “how a group of unwitting activists in the small town of Mals, high in the Italian Alps, came together to confront the pesticide-intensive apple industry that sought to take over their valley, only to become the world’s first pesticide-free township.”

He stumbled into the story in 2014 while leading an agricultural study tour for graduate students in the South Tirol, the autonomous German-speaking province where Mals (pronounced Mahltz) is located. Currently he is bringing lessons and inspiration from Mals to activist gatherings around the world, from Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya Foundation’s celebration of poison-free communities in the Himalayas to a Europe-wide meeting of leaders in the Pesticide-Free Towns campaign in Brussels. Continue Reading →

Full Nutrition with Sea Solids & Wheat Grass

Rancher, Farmer and Professor Don Jansen Discusses the Hidden Hunger of Plants, Animals

Don Jansen is shown here in front of the hydroponic garden at Gulf Coast University. The sign tells of an experiment by Ocean Grown Foods, Inc. The nutritional uptake of various plants, weight and production were all made parts of the experiment.

The short biography that usually attends the presentation of an Acres U.S.A. interview is in fact contained in the questions and answers that follow. Here it is enough to point out that our conversation with Don Jansen of Fort Myers, Florida, is really a follow-up to the re-publication of physician Maynard Murray’s exposition of his pioneering work with sea solids, Sea Energy Agriculture, coauthored with Tom Valentine in 1976.

How a college professor with a Nebraska ranching background made the transition from the High Plains to Florida’s hydroponic scene makes for one of the most enlightening interviews conducted by Acres U.S.A. over the past 32 years. Here we proceed to unlock some of the ocean’s secrets as the nutritional center of gravity for planet Earth.

Don Jansen was a student and disciple of Dr. Maynard Murray, and he has now inserted lessons learned on pastures, in fields, gardens and hydroponic beds into the wheat grass juice remedy made famous by Ann Wigmore. Continue Reading →