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Tag Archives | sustainable agriculture

Grassland Ecosystems: Restoration Tactics for Ecological Models of Crop Production

The author checks hazelnut clusters for ripeness on New Forest Farm. Perennial crops pictured include chestnut, hazelnut, apple, pear, grape, raspberries, currants, elderberries, and walnut.

The author checks hazelnut clusters for ripeness on New Forest Farm. Perennial crops pictured include chestnut, hazelnut, apple, pear, grape, raspberries, currants, elderberries, and walnut.

Grassland ecosystems are threatened around the world, although positive restoration techniques can be used to convert them back into sustainable models of agriculture.

The United States of America is the self-proclaimed “breadbasket of the world.” There is no denying the massive quantity of staple food crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) that the United States produces. However, more and more people are coming to realize that there’s something moldy in the breadbasket. There is mounting evidence (with supporting documentation courtesy of the USDA) that annual agriculture, as practiced today, is now one of the most destructive technologies on the planet. What could possibly be more destructive than rendering sterile, with toxic chemicals, one-third of the surface area of a continent? Unless it is turning over the top 16-24 inches of the soil with plows, once or more every single year?

Agriculture kills everything in a given area except the crop, and for up to eight months of the year agriculture leaves the soil exposed, free to blow away in the wind or wash away in the rain. Even when a mature annual crop is in the field, the soil surface is usually bare, exposed to wind and water erosion.

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How to Reduce Transplant Shock on Your Farm

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Avoiding transplant shock: An open show transplanter in use as the crew sets out cabbage in the field.

Avoiding transplant shock when transplanting starters from the greenhouse to the field is a key sustainable farming method.

The time of year has once again arrived when we will be taking plants out of the greenhouse and transplanting them into the field. This can be one of the most stressful experiences plants undergo as they are taken from the warm and sheltered environment of the greenhouse and placed into a field where they are at the mercy of the elements. Plants will almost always incur some amount of damage to their roots as well as their leaves during this process. All of these various stresses are grouped under the general name of “transplant shock.” If plants undergo too much transplant shock, it can leave them open to disease, pest pressure, and lower yield potential. But what can we do to help our plants through this period of increased stress?

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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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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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Book review: Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate

by Laura Lengnick, book review by Chris Walters

resilient-agricultureThis is not a book composed of brisk summaries and sweeping statements. Laura Lengnick gets into the weeds without delay, devoting the first 100-odd pages to laying out the particulars of sensitivity and adaptability that affect farms buffeted by rapid changes in weather patterns. Given the size and complexity of the phenomena under discussion — as well as masses of fresh data being collected all the time — it’s something like a thumbnail sketch. But it’s an impressively detailed, lucid and well-organized introduction to a topic that could easily fill several volumes.

Lengnick asks the crucial question in the final paragraph of her book’s first third: “What are the barriers and opportunities to the development of a sustainable U.S. agriculture robust to the increasing pace and intensity of climate change?” The rest of the book is devoted to the answer as delivered by 25 sustainable producers from all over the land. Every region is represented, and readers are likely to encounter people they’ve already met either at conferences or in these pages. All of them sound like people you’d like to meet, and taken as a whole, the range of their responses to the bedevilments of the past few years are dazzling. Continue Reading →

Biological Farming: Customizing Methods for Large-Scale Operations

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

Biological farming is not just limited to small plots. Take the story of one Missouri farmer, who through holistic approaches to farming, managed to improve his yields and the size of corn on the stalk.

At the end of 2015, I talked to Missouri boot-heel farmer David “JR” Bollinger about his experiences growing corn, soybeans and milo using carbon-smart 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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