Tag Archives: ag

Auburn Alabama Going Bananas!?

Catching up, I wanted to report about some intriguing research I stumbled across regarding growing bananas in the Coastal South, while attending the recent Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference held at Auburn University.

That’s right: Bananas. In Alabama. At Auburn. Is Auburn going bananas? It gets cold down South!

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The field trials are being held with hopes that local growers can provide a crop that competes with grocery imports. The trials are in their infancy; but so far 2 varieties survived last year’s 21- and 25-degree lows to harvest; they think at least one will survive this year’s 9-degree low; and this was in central Alabama, not the Coast. Trials are being held further south in Alabama, as well.

According to literature from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES), the banana variety research plot at Auburn University’s Plant Science Research Center in Auburn, Ala., was established in 2011. Banana plants were provided by Dr. Greg Fonsah, an Extension ag economist and international banana production and marketing veteran from the University of Georgia at Tifton, GA.

This research, in my opinion, offers a huge potential resource for local and sustainable growing in the South. As ACES reports, bananas offer many different products that small, local growers can produce. “The fresh fruit can be used as dessert. Banana fruit can be cooked, fried or eaten ripe with stew. They can be used to produce beer, livestock forage, cooking wraps and plates, can be utilized as shade trees and for medicinal purposes. Banana fruit has low fat, cholesterol, sodium and salt content, and is extremely rich in potassium.” And they can be used for ornamental purposes, too.

But a major consideration for consumers interested in buying locally produced fruits and vegetables is that such locally grown products can be sustainably grown: not shipping them for thousands of miles and using up fossil fuels, or bringing up Fair Trade issues regarding worker health and equity. They can be grown as a local resource returning value to the local community.

Admittedly, I have not seen the UGA test site where ACES obtained its first varieties. Here’s an article about Dr. Fonsah and his work: http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/gafaces/?public=viewStory&pk_id=4983

But I can say that I’m totally intrigued by the concept and hope that small, local and artisanal growers can add this crop to their offerings.

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Varieties being tested at Auburn: ‘Gold Finger’, ‘Saba’, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, ‘Pisang Ceylon’, ‘Double, ‘Dwarf Green’, ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Grand Naine’, ‘Cardaba’, ‘Viente Cohol’, ‘Sweet Heart’, and ‘Ice Cream’.

The tests will be carefully watched not only in Alabama, but across the Gulf States, I’m sure!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Henbit Edible, Prolific, Good for Bees & Hummingbirds

On Monday, on my way to Starkville to attend the Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi board of directors meeting, I saw a giant field of henbit. I immediately pulled over and took a photo, because this often overlooked and unassuming plant is quite important to bees, hummingbirds, and — should be! — humans.

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

What a wonderful sight!!! For hungry bees, butterflies and hummingbirds this late winter, early spring “weed” is a godsend for its pollen and nectar.

At this time of year, when bees are foraging for pollen and nectar to stay alive, with their stores of honey from last year often depleted or dangerously low, henbit supplies needed sustenance.

Regular readers of this blog, perhaps, recognize that I’m something of a fanatic on this subject, as every year I urge farmers to please refrain from plowing under their henbit as long as possible, or spraying pre- or post-emerge herbicides. The bees will thank you!

In a few weeks, or now in some parts of the South, hummingbirds are making their way back north from the winter, and henbit provides an abundant supply of nectar for them, too!

It might not be a part of official farm policy to provide food for pollinators, but this humble little purple plant (a member of the mint family that tastes like kale) can be a tremendous food source.

Humans can eat henbit, too. The stem, flowers, and leaves are edible. It’s high in vitamins and you can cook it or eat it raw in salads, or make a tea from it.

According to naturalmedicinalherbs.net it has medicinal uses, including antirheumatic, diaphoretic, excitant, febrifuge, laxative and stimulant.

For more, see: http://www.ediblewildfood.com

So, if you see it growing in your garden and think, ack, what a noxious weed! Think again! This is a beneficial plant for pollinators that can spell the difference between life and death for some.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Taking a Soil Sample for Testing Step by Step

Following up on my previous post about testing for soil fertility: For those who don’t know how to take a soil sample, it’s real easy. Here’s a step-by-step walk-through with photos.

The process: Tale a shovel, small trowel or just a spoon and collect a soil sample, send it off with your payment to the soil laboratory you select, and in a few weeks, you’ll get your results. If you don’t have an “official” box, that’s fine. Just use any clean container. For example, I used a box that held cans of catfood.

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it's not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it’s not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Go around your garden and take a small amount and put it in the box. Dig below the rootline; you don’t want grass or turf or weeds in it; but just an inch or so deep, so you are getting topsoil and not the harder, more compact subsoil.
Go to another area and do the same.

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Crumble it all up and mix it up and either take it to your local extension service office or send it off. Most states have a testing facility, usually affiliated with a university, university cooperative extension service, or a state department of agriculture or natural resources.

In Mississippi, the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For additional information, see http://msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, visit your local county extension service office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State MS 39762; or call (662) 325-3313.

Land grant universities nationally are dropping soil testing programs. So, if you are reading this in a state where it is no longer available, here is a list of commonly used private labs compiled by Colorado State University: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/00520.html

Collecting a soil sample is required annually for certified organic growers; but if you’re not organic, it’s still a good idea to see what’s going on with your soil. As stated in my earlier blog, when I first started sending off samples in Lena, because we lived in a terrain with red clay and sandy soils basically only good for growing pine trees, the tests came back showing high acid in the soil, in the 5.0 range.

Over several years, amending the soil with tons of composted horse manure and growing cover crops year round to build up vegetative matter (called “green manure”) and balance out the acid soil, we managed to bring the soil to a neutral level: 6.6 pH. That was a huge success.

Additionally, by digging a soil sample each year before you plant, you also get a good idea of how your topsoil is doing. Each year, your topsoil should be thicker, the consistency of the soil showing better tilth, and the fertility of the soil greater. If it’s not, then you should address that with more soil amendments and crop rotation.

You want to add humus and composted material to hold moisture and build tilth, increase fertility and provide optimum conditions for microbial life.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

FoodCorps Group Tours Alabama Sustainable Farms

Went to Montgomery, Ala., last week to tour some sustainable farms, as part of our NCAT Gulf States Office mission to promote sustainable agriculture in the 5-state region. It was a bringing together of some real heavyweights when it comes to local food, urban ag and community activism.

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The FoodCorps service members who went on the trip seemed to have a good time and learned a lot. I can’t say enough good things about FoodCorps. Those who are based at Mississippi Roadmap for Health Equity next to our office at the old New Deal Grocery in Jackson are top notch! I see them every day going out to the local schools helping kids and moms appreciate fresh, local food that they grow right there at the inner city schools.

I also can’t say enough good about Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt, who has created a food oasis in the inner city of Jackson. Roadmap is located in Ward 3, the poorest of the city’s wards. She started a farmers market, providing a place where people in the neighborhood can come buy fresh, healthy, nutritious food locally.

She put in a fitness center so that neighborhood moms and elders can stay in shape. She started a summer school program that teaches kids good health habits and the importance of fitness and nutrition. She sponsors the FoodCorps volunteers for the local public schools.

She muscled through a rule with the capital city’s school board that food service personnel in the public schools can actually get paid to take fitness classes (which, in turn, make them more fitness aware in creating the food in the public schools). She’s a pillar of the state food policy council. And more than I can ennummerate here. Suffice it to say, she’s a real powerhouse.

Now, with this visit to Montgomery, Ala., she’s seen how E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty has created an urban ag program in the inner city there. E.A.T. stands for Education, Act, Transform! The organization encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast.

Burt had already started such a program; she was able to see how an established program works. E.A.T. South ushers some 5,000 school kids through its site annually, offering a demonstration for local folks there on how to grow their own food.

I can’t say enough good about Edwin, either. He literally wrote the book on urban agriculture, called Breaking Through Concrete, published by the University of California Press in 2012. See: www.breakingthroughconcrete.com.

I’m honored to know and be friends with both people. They certainly are incredible role models. If every city had a Beneta Burt and an Edwin Marty this would be a much healthier, happier planet!

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc. , and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc., and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

For more, see:
NCAT blog: https://www.ncat.org/gulf-states-office-tours-sustainable-farms-in-alabama/
Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity: http://mississippiroadmap.org/
E.A.T South: http://www.eatsouth.org

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Can Small Sustainable Farming Succeed in America? Yes!

 

 

 Image
Photo of pigs at Mississippi Modern #Homestead Center in Starkville, MS, by Jim Ewing.
(http://www.msmodernhomestead.com)

 
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the majority of crops in the United States are produced on farms that are bigger than 1,100 acres. Most farms keep plants alive using pesticides and fertilizers that damage ecosystems, harm human health, and contribute to global warming. Chemical use is encouraged by corporations like Monsanto, whose genetically modified seeds produce plants that can withstand the heavy use of weed-killing herbicides, which in turn discourage the farmer from growing diverse crops. The Environmental Protection Agency says eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture—and that’s not even counting the exhaust emitted as farm products are transported back and forth across state and international border.
 
But can we turn this around, nurturing small, local, sustainable farms that produce food that’s healthy for humans and the environment? Yes, we can!
 
Here’s a great article on sustainable agriculture that, in part, explains how:
 
How Incubators Are Helping Small, Sustainable Farms Take Off – Yes! magazine, Sept. 11, 2013
 
 

 

 

Sustainable Agriculture Networking Important

Sept. 14, 2013

Thoughts from returning from a conference in Alabama ….

The Food & Farm Forum in Thomaston, Ala., Friday was interesting experience, unlike other forums where I’ve been asked to give a talk. In this one, the group was divided into “tables,” each with its own discussion topic. Participants chose which topics they wished to engage in, with four rounds of discussions. I led two talks.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Topics included teaching kids about growing food, food safety, food from perennials, high tunnels, medicinal herbs, seeds, birds for meat and eggs, selecting crops to decrease disease and pests, direct marketing, and others.

Hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Cooperative Extension at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center, the forum was an opportunity for local people to express their interests and share their own experiences in sustainable agriculture.

It was an enlightening experience. At our tables, for example, we had truly innovative leaders in sustainable agriculture mixed with newcomers wanting to learn more. Everyone shared, everyone learned something, and the entire experience was uplifting and thought provoking. It shows the power of crowd sourcing and sharing, where information flows up as well as down and adds engagement and conversation. Not the least of this experience was the importance of networking in sustainable agriculture.

One person I spoke with, for example, said she was the only organic farmer in her county. She was able to access top-flight information from experts in the field. Another woman was a community organizer, who admitted that she knew nothing about agriculture, but walked away with an appreciation of how empowering it can be for people to grow their own food and share it with others, turning, for example, food deserts into profitable enterprises that can rebuild a community. (See Will Allen and his Growing Power in Milwaukee!)

Participants learned that they are not alone in their belief that something is lacking in our food system that speaks to the heart. My book Conscious Food, for example, was discussed, as was Norman Wirzba’s Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating. And we discussed the works of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and how Wendell’s Berry’s 1977 book, The Unsettling of America, had proven so prescient — that the U.S. government urging farmers to plant “fence row to fence row” with industrial agriculture in the 1970s would decimate rural communities.

We each had seen that in our own lives and communities and discussed ways to turn that around (encouraging small local farmers, creating food hubs, community supported agriculture, farmer cooperatives, enlisting churches, civic groups, schools and hospitals to buy local food, starting farmers markets, etc.)

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has two more forums planned, in the northern and southern parts of the state. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend those, but if this gathering was any indication, they should be fascinating. For more info, see: http://www.asanonline.org/

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Plant an ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

Nov. 21, 2012

Plant An ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

While  Arbor Day in Mississippi is in the spring, many experts contend that the best time for planting trees may actually be in the fall.
New  roots can develop when the soil temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Planting in the fall allows the trees to develop roots  before going dormant during the winter.
Budding  can stress trees with inadequate root systems, so, if you are going to plant a tree, it’s best to do it soon, to allow plenty of time for roots  to develop.
Grist magazine reports that urban forests featuring heirloom and indigenous varieties are the next wave of urban agriculture (http://grist.org/food/fruits-of-old-chicago-gears-up-for-an-urban-heirloom-fruit-orchard/). What many Mississippians may not know is that the Magnolia State is ahead of the curve on this, and Jackson foremost.

Mississippi  has an established resource with The Edible Forests of Mississippi, an  orchard program developed and administered though the Mississippi Urban  Forest Council (full disclosure: I serve on the board of directors of  MUFC).  Its teaching project is the Jesse Gates Edible Forest on Bailey  Avenue at Wells United Methodist Church, providing a model for cities across the state, homeowners and community garden groups.
And the Council’s webpage offers a toolkit to follow (see: http://www.msurbanforest.com/edible_forest.html).  But, there is no reason to stay strictly to the orchard model, as at  Wells. Homeowners (and others) can create smaller “savanna” type food  trees and shrubs to fit in with their established gardens.
Think small,  understory-type trees that can thrive in moderate shade.
Groups  might consider a permaculture model. True permaculture is planting a variety of natural plants that require minimal care with little or no  soil disturbance to provide food. It would work well with establishing or established community gardens to provide a mixed variety of food  sources.
Mississippi  State University Extension experts say that the easiest fruits to grow  are blueberry, fig, Oriental persimmon and blackberry. Pecan, strawberry and pear are considered moderately hard to grow; peach, apple and plum are the
most difficult in regard to spraying, watering, pruning, etc.  For more information, see: http://msucares.com.Expert Advice:
Fruit  and vegetable experts will offer their tips and advice at the  Mississippi Fruit  & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show  in conjunction with the Mississippi Agritourism Association, Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Jackson on County Line Road. For more information,  visit: msfruitandveg.com.Suggested Reading:
An  excellent source for ideas is Edible Forest Gardens: The Ecology and Design of Home Scale Food Forests, a website based on the two-volume  set, “Edible Forest Gardens” by David Jacke, (Chelsea Green, 2005, $150  for set).
Visit the site at edibleforestgardens.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook or follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

2012 Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

“If we have to nationalize, we will. Agriculture is too important and vital a resource to be left in the hands of individual farmers.”

— Stuart E. Eizenstat, chief domestic policy adviser for President Jimmy Carter, 1979

That quote (from the book War, Central Planning and Corporations: The Corporate State by Eugene Schroder, et al., Cleburne, Texas: Buffalo Creek Press, 1997) is no more an indication of a Democratic presidency, under Carter, as a Republican presidency under his predecessors Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, or both parties since. It’s a common concern.
In fact, American agriculture today is all but nationalized with farmers (many corporations now) holding thin title to land, subject to the whims of bankers, federally backed loan programs, and federal crop subsidies.
The current negotiations over the 2012 Farm Bill should be a reminder that virtually every aspect of agriculture in America is under the purview of the U.S. government. Congress and the president may not issue grandiose Five Year Plans like the old Soviet commissars, but the Farm Bill comes close, spelling out which crops will receive cash payments, loan guarantees and price supports and how much, which pretty much dictates what commodities are planted and how much.

Indeed, U.S. agriculture today could be seen as a dance between corporations and the state. Farmers have little to no control over the prices they receive for their crops. The price supports, or payments for any crop, are decided by Congress in a process dictated by the political “clout” of regions (mostly between Southern soybean and cotton farmers and Midwestern corn and grain farmers). But that process is itself orchestrated by the massive political campaign cash machinery of the agribiz giants like Monsanto, Cargill and the like.
So, the farmer has no control over:
— What he plants: If he plants a crop that’s not covered by federal guarantees, he’s staking his life and that of his family, their land and their future on whether it produces in an uncertain global climate that has seen disaster upon disaster in recent years.
— The price, which is dictated by financial speculators for their own profit and the helter-skelter of international markets.
— The costs of what it takes to buy seeds (controlled by multinational corporations), buy fertilizer (ditto), buy fuel for his machinery (ditto).
— Who buys his crops (Iran? China?).
— The price consumers pay which goes up and up to fatten the middlemen — corporations again — as the farmer’s per-unit cost continues to go up and his per-unit price continues to go down, ensuring his greater dependence upon government loans and subsidies to stay in business.

Some Americans may remember when farms were virtually everywhere; even if not in urban areas, a short drive away. (I remember living in New York City in the early 1970s and crossing over into New Jersey to see dairy cows grazing; now there are only 114 dairy farms in “The Garden State,” less than half from even a decade ago.)
From a process that began in the 1970s of the de facto squeezing of individual farmers out of farming into corporate ownership and control of agriculture dictated by government policy, U.S. agriculture has in effect already been “nationalized.” If you have no control over something do you really “own” it?

Whether it’s really “owned” by the government or corporations is one of those chicken-and-egg questions. The bank (loans) or the sheriff (taxes) may be the instrument of seizing land, but was it the government policy or corporate pricing that pulled the trigger? Is “getting out of farming” by selling land to a corporation (or developer) not “nationalization” under another term?

Government and multinational corporations are the ones that both create the economic environment to coerce consolidation and benefit from increasing more and more land and production into fewer and fewer hands. More control and more profits for the government/industry alliance are the result.

Since they have no control, what few farmers remain only have an illusion of control. Yet, like those with Stockholm Syndrome (loving their captors), too many seem enamored with siding with the angers and resentments fed to them by those who seek to control them. They buy into the “poor me” mentality dictated to them by corporations and farm state hierarchies that are supported by the corporations, with mantras that: “Environmentalists” are out to get them. Government regulators are out to get them. “We feed the planet.” It’s a case of misdirection and manipulation. Who’s pulling the strings?

If there is an “answer” to this, part of it has to do with something that’s not — yet — supported by the Farm Bill but definitely has to do with farming. And that’s the rise of the locavore movement, where consumers in rural, suburban and urban areas are clamoring for “real food.” That is, organic or naturally grown food that’s not produced with chemicals or sprayed with poisons, grown locally, where those who buy the food know and trust who is growing it.

Only a few crops are specified or receive support in the $300 billion Farm Bill — corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice account for 90 percent of subsidy payments. Organic and “real” food grown by local small farmers is not a major concern of the commissars — yet. These flesh-and-blood farmers, the real small business men and woman who politicians give lip service to supporting, are growing and selling crops without any federal support or subsidies, competing against giant corporations and staggering economies of scale, including imports from other countries, and winning consumers’ hearts and minds.

The Farm Bill was created during the Great Depression to help farmers, but now it’s aimed at the corporations, financial entities, politicians and their camp followers that control farming. If the local food movement has any clout, it’s consumers voting with their dollars to buy wholesome, nutritious, healthful foods almost as a black market or underground economy outside the parameters of the Farm Bill in Washington. That growing consumer demand could be America’s — and that of local farmers, real farmers — salvation when it comes to food, health and nutrition.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Face’ of Agriculture Increasingly Female, Small Farm, Organic

Sept. 23, 2011
 ‘Face’ of agriculture increasingly female, small farm, organicIn case you missed it, there’s a new organization (started in April) called Mississippi Women for Agriculture. Its a “professional association for women interested in giving voice to agriculture.”
It’s based on Annie’s Project, an educational program “dedicated to strengthening the roles of women in the modern farm enterprise.”
The story of Annie’s Project is an interesting one, and perhaps helpful to women in Mississippi, too. It’s based on the life of a farm woman in Illinois.
According to the organization, Annie grew up in a small town and had a goal to marry a farmer. She spent a lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner, and faced the challenges of three generations living under one roof, low profitability, changing farm enterprises and raising a family. Her daughter, Ruth Hambleton, founded Annie’s Project out of needs she observed in farm women she knew.
That project – which resulted in the Mississippi Women for Agriculture – is now established in 22 states. (seewww.msucares.com/ womenforag or writewomenforag@ext.msstate.edu, or call (662) 325-3207).
The face of agriculture is changing, here and across America.
Not only has the median age of farmers (58.6 years in Mississippi) been going up, but so are the numbers of women. According the USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of men listed as farmers is 35,829 (and falling); but the number of women farmers in Mississippi has grown from 4,608 in 1997 to 6,130 in 2007 (the
latest numbers available).
Since most of the men are probably married, there are far more women in agriculture than men, and that number is growing.
Young people are entering farming, as well, and many of them are women; often heading up small acreages, such as organic backyard farming and specialty crops.
Not so coincidentally, today in Mississippi, 88.4 percent of farms are “small,” or less than 500 acres, with nearly half (48.8 percent) under 100 acres (the smallest amount measured in the survey).
Some 71 percent of Mississippi farms earn less than $10,000 and 86.6 percent
make less than $49,999. Only 2.4 percent have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000.
So, when politicians brag how they support farmers via subsidies or commodities, what they are telling you is that they are tied to Big Ag, not the average farmer – or majority of farmers – today.
The face of agriculture increasingly is female, or married to a small farmer, who also works off the farm to make ends meet. That’s the “family farm” today.
That’s who our politicians ought to be addressing. If average farmers ever realized they were in the majority, the Farm Bill would be an entirely different document, focused on nutritious food (organic!), with clear labels (warning of genetically modified ingredients) and not tailored for corporations.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic practices lessen E. coli threat

 

June 9, 2011

Organic practices lessen threat of disease

The news this week that a deadly outbreak of E. coli bacteria in Germany was from an organic farm raised flags with me, as much for its improbability as for its deadly nature.

Since those first reports, the German government has backed off its claim that an organic farm produced the outbreak.

While it’s possible for any farm – including an organic farm – to have produce infected by the bacterium, and consumers should always wash produce from the grocery, regardless of source, it’s less likely for organic produce for a variety of reasons.

First, the incidence of virulent strains of E. coli is a direct result of conventional (not organic!) farming of beef, where animals are “finished” on corn.

Ruminants are not naturally equipped to digest corn and it leads to bacteria (E. coli among them) being excreted from the gut. When coupled with the common practice of conventional agriculture (not organic!) to feed antibiotics to farm animals, virulent strains resistant to treatment are formed.

These bacterium are found in the manure of conventionally raised farm animals (not certified organic!) and that manure is often used to fertilize crops.

Here is where the possibility of E. coli can enter the organic food train, depending on the producer:

In certified organic vegetable crop production, strict manure handling is required.

Specifically: The U.S. regulations for organic production require that raw animal manure must be composted unless it is applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with soil; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. See 7 CFR 205.203 (c)(1) and (2).

Residual hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, disease organisms and other undesirable substances can be eliminated through high-temperature aerobic composting.

So, presumably, E. coli would be eradicated in certified organic crops – if manure is properly composted or incorporated.

Again, I’m not saying it cannot occur, but, for producers of organic crops, the likelihood of transmitting E. coli is much smaller.And, for those (such as in our case, for example) where only composted horse manure or composted grass-fed or organic cow manure is used, not “raw” manure, or from industrial agriculture confined and corn-finished herds, the likelihood drops to virtually zero.

Me? I say: Eat organic, eat local! Know your farmer. Compose your own compost and manures from known – or OMRI verified – sources.

For the home organic gardner: Anyone who is actually growing his or her own food and uses manure would do well to read the book: Holy Sh*t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind by Gene Logsdon (Chelsea Green, 2010, $17.50).

Online: For more on manures, see Organic Trade Association Q&A: http://bit.ly/eW35Gb.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.