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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.

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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.

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Tractor Time Episode 19: Judith McGeary, Founder of Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance

Good day and welcome to Tractor Time podcast brought to you by Acres USA. I am your host, Ryan Slabaugh, and we are excited to bring you another episode – this one will be about advocacy, and how to get involved to make real change happen.

Judith McGeary

Judith McGeary, founder of Farm & Ranching Freedom Alliance

Our guest today embodies that sentiment, Judith McGeary. Those who attend our conference every year should know her name, as she is a frequent speaker. But why we ask her to speak is most important – that she is the founder and leader of the Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance, and represents about 1,000 ranchers and farmers in Texas who help advocate for government to better represent all of its constituents, not just the huge corporate farming interests. She’s also a rancher herself at the McGeary Family Farm a couple hours outside of Austin, Texas.

How she found her way into this role is something we’ll discuss during the podcast, and her story is inspiring. It involves a career change, and some life-changing moments with farmers and politicians.

Not only does Judith lead FARFA, but she serves as the executive director of the Council for Healthy Food Systems and on the board of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. And this year, she’s leading the Raise Your Voice Tour to learn more about what type of advocacy farmers and ranchers need the most. We’ll get into that, and more, in this 40-minute talk.

You can learn more about FARFA at farmandranchfreedom.org, and their October conference.

You can learn more about the Acres USA conference, where FARFA will be presenting, at www.acresusa.com.

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 →

Harvesting Honey: Tips & Tricks for Efficient Extraction

When I think about harvesting honey it brings me back to my childhood. When I was a small child I would stay with my grandparents for a week at a time. They lived on a small farm and were self-sufficient. They didn’t have electricity, so they heated and cooked with wood. I remember they had raspberries, and I would help pick with my grandmother. I thought I was doing a lot of work but I was probably more trouble than help.

After we picked the raspberries, she took them in the house and cleaned them, and then she cooked them on her woodstove to make jam. Then she put them in a glass jar. She melted beeswax and poured a thin layer on top, sealing it. Then she put a lid on it to keep varmints at bay. When we visited on Christmas my grandmother would take a knife and cut the wax off. She would put the jam on fresh-baked bread, and it was just as good as the day she canned it.

The honeybee and its cousin, the ant, are the only two insects that live all winter on their stored food. Just like my grandmother, the honeybee cans honey. Instead of putting their honey in a glass jar they make miniature six-sided, 4.9 mm containers out of wax. These are placed horizontally with the top tilted slightly upward. 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.

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