Tag Archives: backyard farming

Organic, urban, backyard farming can turn ‘Big Ag’ around

Nov. 18, 2011
Organic, urban, backyard farmers can turn ‘big ag’ around
Why I support organic backyard gardening, urban farming and community-supported agriculture: There’s a huge knowledge gap in farm country today.
People like my father, who grew up in the 1930s Depression, knew how to grow and prepare their own food on the farm self-sufficiently.
People today think rural areas are filled with the farms of that time, and the marketing on television seeks to perpetuate that myth, even down to only picturing 1950s-era tractors in their photos of lush farm fields.
But agriculture today is all about industrialization, for plants and animals.
Many farmers today don’t know how to grow food. They grow commodities – corn, soy, rice, etc. – that’s planted by machines mile after mile and hauled off and processed into semi-synthetic “food products.”
Many farmers today, even owning thousands of acres, don’t – and don’t know how to – grow their own food, much less for anyone else, or even want to do it. That knowledge is fast disappearing, or gone in big farm areas. Rural people are as dependent on grocery stores, fast food, junk food and reprocessed commodities
(fake food in a fancy package) as anyone else.
Our rural state is filled with “food deserts,” areas where there is no fresh produce for sale, anywhere. Our state is also a food importer; we no longer provide our own communities with food.
I’m pushing 60 and live out in the country, but few people here grow their own food. I do know how to grow a turnip. A lot of rural folks, young and old, wouldn’t know what one looks like, much less how to plant it, grow it, prepare it and eat it.
Some young people are taking to backyard farming and urban farming, both of which are growing as a nationwide trend, which may be the salvation of American (and rural) self-reliance.
Robert Rodale, a founder of the organic movement, wrote prophetically shortly before his death in 1990 in his book Our Next Frontier: “The highly productive home gardens of tomorrow will, I think, be the sprouts from which many new small farms will grow. The small-scale farmers of the future can hardly learn their craft in the land-grant colleges, which preach bigness in almost every way. These new farmers will start as gardeners and grow from there. I think that we will see the size of gardens increase, so that the distinction between a large
garden and a small farm will become blurred. The new wave of small farms will fill in the chinks of land made available as some of the old-style farmers are driven out of business by ever-bigger farming conglomerates.”
His prediction of bigness driving out small farmers has proven true; enough so, that much or most of that wisdom is gone. (Look to your elders! They are a fast-disappearing resource!)
But there’s still hope that young people will reject the agri-biz juggernaut and learn to provide for themselves and their families, friends, and neighbors, and return some food independence to the people, and food sovereignty to the nation.
Why should we willingly be hungry beggars to the multinational corporations that hold no allegiance to any nation or people but their own profit?
Feeding ourselves and our families and sharing our abundance can indeed feed the world, or at least add substantially to it.
Food: I noticed that Rainbow Natural Foods in Jackson has been selling (Organic Valley) raw milk cheeses in the dairy case. I bought some. Pretty good! Wish we had some local cheeses.
Online: Here’s a great place to order artisan raw milk cheeses online: www.artisanalcheese.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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.
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‘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.

Soil fertility, humus, tilth

February 25, 2011

Test soil of gardens, lawns to ensure fertility, balance

In a previous column, we wrote about how one can look at the weeds growing in a field and determine soil deficiencies.

For example, dandelions tell us we have too much soil sedmentation; consider them natural tillers of your field; when they die back, the hollowed out root system is used by earthworms to travel and further break up and fertilize the soil, bringing calcium to the surface. So, far from being “just a weed,” they’re the gardener’s friend. (Thank Charles Walters of Acres USA for this good advice!)

But beyond what our “weed” friends are telling us, it’s a good idea, too, to take a soil sample and have it tested, not only for your organic garden (certified organic growers must test every year), but also for your lawn and flower beds. You might be surprised at what you find (that you’ve been overfertilizing or adding the wrong amendments).

The Mississippi State University 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 extension service office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State MS 39762; or call (662) 325-3313.

As an example, while it’s not required, we sample three areas of our little ShooFly Farm because we’re on a hill, and we actually have three different types of soil; at the top of the hill, it’s red clay sandy soil, highly acidic; at the middle, halfway down, it’s loamy and high zinc presumably from previous owners using composted chicken manure as fertilizer; at the bottom, it’s dense clay soil.

Each has its own needs. For example, we’ve been steadily working to build humus and composted material in the top area, to hold moisture and build tilth, and provide optimum conditions for microbial life.

In the middle area, we’ve concentrated on building fertility through adding composted horse manure and high nitrogen cover crops.

At the bottom, we’ve just used standard crop rotation along with allowing natural weeds and brush as a “buffer” zone between the highway and our fields.

For your 4-by-8 “Jim’s plot,” of course, it’s a lot simpler. Just take a small trowel or spoon and fill the cardboard box that MSU provides for a soil sample, send it off with your payment, and in a few weeks, you’ll get your results.

Reader response: An online reader wrote from Hawaii about starting a backyard CSA (community supported agriculture) plot to share produce with friends and family:

“But alas, I can’t plant a garden. Military housing is strongly opposed to us digging a garden in our backyards. We can’t even compost in housing here.”

I suggested that perhaps there was a community garden somewhere that she could donate time to help tend in exchange for food, and she wrote back that, in fact, she shopped at a local farmer’s market at least once a week and would look into it.

People who live in urban areas might also consider “yard sharing.” That’s where they link up with people who have space to grow but not the inclination.

Yard sharing has grown in popularity nationwide. To find someone in your area, check out: http://hyperlocavore.ning.com/page/about-us.

It’s a free yardsharing service operated by Liz McLellan in Boise, Idaho.

There is good value in getting your hands dirty and thinking about things. Lately, I’ve been employed a good bit in farm work and, consequently, have had lots of time to mull things over.

One of the items that has long simmered just beneath my consciousness is the sorry state of rural America. I remember when I was a boy, small rural places were bustling. Now, they are like ghost towns. I remember local communities thriving, filled with the commerce of farms and farmers who came and shopped. What happened to those people? Those communities?

We can’t just blame it on the lure of cities. For, indeed, the ties that kept rural people rural were broken loose, over the decades from the 1950s, when I was a boy, to before now.

The economic, social, moral and spiritual collapse of rural America may ultimately prove not to be the result of America’s decline but the cause of it.

Let’s reverse this. Let’s renew rural America from the ground up! I think we can do it with just the same kind of initiative and self-reliance that I’ve been writing about here; with backyard farming, micro-farming, growing local food for neighbors, churches, friends, family, and creating markets for our goods.

We lost our roots because we let them go. But roots can grow again, if we plant our feet and try again.

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.