Tag Archives: ecofarming

Food Movement May Be Torpedoed by FDA

As many who follow food and farming news may have heard, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is formulating rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that could adversely affect small farmers. “Adversely affect” may be an understatement. Read: Destroy small farmers and stop the food movement in its tracks, as far as local, organic and sustainable is concerned.

Here are my thoughts.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15.

For a complete analysis, read the articles on the website of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and then click on the buttons it gives to make a public comment to the FDA. The FDA is accepting public comment until Nov. 15. See:  http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/

We all know that our food system needs help. And more oversight. The FSMA is the right step in that direction, but it has some serious flaws that need fixing in order for it to do the job it is supposed to do in protecting public health.

Foremost, FSMA requires regulations that giant agribusinesses must conform to and that’s a plus. Unfortunately, the protections for small farmers that Congress intended have been stripped away by the language of the regulations.

To be blunt, it appears that FDA decided to reinvent the wheel  in agricultural matters and instead of having a round wheel, it created a square one to fit its own purposes and ideas of what agriculture should do.

But as anyone who knows how agriculture works – dependent on seasons, erratic markets, odd federal policies, and a plethora of existing agencies, rules and regulations – a new square wheel won’t help it keep rolling along.

As proposed, the FMSA will regulate small farmers out of business, deter new farmers, beginning farmers, transitioning farmers and especially impact minority, underserved, distressed farmers and women who are only now starting profitable businesses in agriculture through the food movement.

First are the safety rules that FSMA would impose. They make sense when you have a giant industrial farm, but make no sense if it’s small farm where everything is done by hand, customers know the supplier and all facets of the farm are inspected daily by a sole proprietor and/or his family (who also eat the food they grow, drink the water that irrigates it and tend to the poultry and livestock that share their farm).

The rules  — such as extensive and expensive groundwater testing from ponds and wells – may be necessary when you’re a giant conglomerate,  don’t know where the water is coming from and are trying to locate a disease event affecting 2 million people in a handful of states. But if you’re growing for 200 families in your local area, you know what the water is doing, where it came from, and the consumers know it, too. It’s local water that local people share.

Yet, FDA estimates the typical cost for one water test  is $87.30 and, depending on the type of crop, it may have to be tested daily. What small farmer can afford $87 a day for water testing?

By the FDA’s own estimates, some of the most basic rules like water monitoring will put many small farmers out of business; it estimates complying with basic rules for small farmers would cost $12,972 per year.  Now, if you’re only making $40,000 or $50,000 a year, that’s a huge impact.

Moreover, it only exempts farmers from its regulations who make less than $25,000 per year over three years. That has its own problems. For example, where’s the incentive for a new or beginning farmers to take out loans and invest in land and equipment to be repaid over time, if they know that in a couple of years, they’ll hit a $25,000 income ceiling – beyond which they’ll be effectively penalized in profits, if not run out of business by regulatory costs?

That rule in itself dooms local and organic growers to not grow beyond a set point, effectively putting the brakes on organic and small ecofarm operations, and as a disincentive for young, new and beginning farmers from seeing farming as a career choice. It’s a barrier to underserved, distressed and minority farmers looking to make a living and provide healthy nutritious food for themselves, their families and their communities.

Doesn’t the FDA care about food deserts, urban ag and the burgeoning inner city and rural grassroots cooperatives that are changing the face of agriculture? Fresh food fights obesity, the worst effects of poverty and provides self sufficiency and community empowerment.

That $25,000 exemption should be raised to at least $100,000 so that young families can see local food production as a career, and help build communities.

Even for farms with sales up to $500,000 per year, NSAC estimates, they would have to spend between 4 percent and 6 percent of gross income to comply – this for farms that generally only have incomes of 10 percent of sales.

Again, these are not the giant food producers that are causing the food safety problems nationally, but generally are family farms that have been in operation for generations. They often include aunts, uncles, cousins, across generational lines. Two younger cousins, for example, could actually be doing the labor or be managing a farm and sharing the profits as a LLC for elderly family members and their extended families.

These are the endangered types of farms that are disappearing rapidly, being bought up by corporations and investment firms or turned from farmland into residential development and luxury estates or country clubs as elder farmers retire and their children turn to other employment. FSMA would only accelerate the trend of precious arable farmland being converted into real estate, further endangering this nation’s food sovereignty. Rather, government should be promoting the conservation of farmland and encouraging local food producers so we are not dependent on foreign sources for our food.

The act does offer some concessions for farms under $500,000 but above the $25,000 exemption, under the congressional Tester-Hagan Amendment. That includes farms that have “more than half of their sales going directly to consumers, or to a restaurant or retail food establishment in the same state or within 275 miles of the operation.”

But, even there, it has a huge loophole whereby FDA can yank that exemption with no reason and with no way for the farm to either defend itself or get reinstated.

Furthermore, under FSMA, CSAs, farmers markets and roadside stands are left vulnerable.

Here, state agricultural agencies are finally getting around to promoting small farmers having direct sales, and providing them limited legal liability to promote it. And community supported agriculture is starting to include not only young and women farmers but churches, schools, civic clubs and like. Such stands, farmers markets and CSAs are held accountable by being local, direct to consumer without middlemen. They are transparent and have immediate accountability. They should be protected.

In addition, a lot of the regulations that are FDA required under FSMA are already in place: such as General Agricultural Practices and food safety practices required under the USDA certified organic program.

If farms are already training and complying with state regulations and existing USDA programs, why add more and different requirements? Stores and grocery chains themselves are instituting their own food handling requirements and regulations, cooperating with state agricultural departments and the USDA. Why not accept USDA rules and adopt them, and ensure they are enforced, rather than creating new square wheels?

As stated, for a more complete appraisal, see the NSAC website.

As it is, if you care about food safety and the local food movement (Buy Local, Buy Organic!), then you’ll at the very least want to tell FDA to exempt small farmers who make under $100,000 per year, reconfigure restrictions on family farms making under $500,000 per year, and redraft the rules to comply with existing USDA programs to avoid duplication.

FMSA is a good start; and it’s important that the giant conglomerates that are responsible for the lion’s share of the nation’s food safety issues are held accountable for safe practices. The regs just need tinkering.

Without modification of FMSA, the food movement could be stopped in its tracks from the ground up by essentially outlawing — or effectively running out of business — small local farmers selling locally.

As an example of a good recommendation (and one I support) is this offered by the Mississippi Food Policy Council:
Recommendations: 1) creating stronger procedural elements of proof before taking away an exemption, warning letters, and a reinstatement process; 2) raising the exemption for producers and processors from $25,000 to $100,000; and 3) defining, as the Act requires, CSAs, farmers markets, and roadside stands as retail food establishments to allow for exemption, and expanding these to include local, direct sale buying clubs.

Share this with your friends and like minded folk.

Use the hashtag: #fixFMSA

Here’s a step by step on how to comment on the rules: http://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/speak-out-today/

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.

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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.

More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

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.

Great fun at Florida Small Farms Conference

Aug. 5, 2013

OK, let’s get this out front and center: I had a blast at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference this past week.

It was supposed to be business for me, and it was, in that I had a booth there for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and was informing people about ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) info. But, to be honest, I had so much fun talking with people who were small farmers and interested ecofarming that it was hardly “work.”

Here’s a photo essay of the conference, which ran Aug. 2-4 in Kissimmee, Fla.

It was a matter of pride to see fellow NCAT worker Dave Ryan, an energy engineer, fill up one of the conference rooms with his talk “Powering Your Greenhouse with Renewable Energy.” Solar, compost and geothermal options were explored. For more, see ncat.org

Then, there were awards given….

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Margie and Nick Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead, Fla., won the Innovative Farmers Award (third place). They are longtime friends and it was a delight to see them! An organic farmer of many years, Margie is an encyclopedia of wisdom in ways to grow abundantly organically even in the demanding conditions of South Florida. Their farm is located near the Everglades in an area that has lost much of its farmland to residential growth. (See American Farmland Trust for more about that! http://www.farmland.org/)

Bee Heaven Farm, in my opinion, should be a national model for organic growing. The soil conditions there are only about 8 inches of “topsoil” consisting of sand, some vegetative matter, and porous limestone rock is a challenge for consistent growing. Conventional growers essentially are depleting the few nutrients in the soil and collapsing the structure so that it only hold what’s put into it.

Organic growers, like Margie, however, are building up the soil structure, building soil nutrients in the soil, encouraging microbial life and thereby actually adding to the soil medium as they grow, rather than depleting it.

The result is that organic growers like Margie and Nick are seeing positive yields and tasty crops while conventional growers are seeing ever worsening and more expensive growing conditions.

Farmers who are not taking the extra effort to rotate crops, build structure that helps hold moisture that otherwise would pass through the porous sand and limestone are seeing more expensive inputs and having to add biological agents and fight desertification (salt build up and nutrient loss through over use of irrigation).

The Bee Heaven model is one that should be seen as meaningful for sustainable farming as climate change intensifies, in my opinion.

CNG members Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros with SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farmers and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

CNG members Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros with SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also won the Innovative Farmers Award at the Florida Small Farmers and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., Aug. 3, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Since I’m a former board member of Certified Naturally Grown (and still an advisor on fruit and vegetable growing using organic methods), I was delighted to see CNG member SB Farms of Malone, Fla., also win the Innovative Farmers Award (second place). Joseph Ballard and Paul Speros offered good advice, as well, for beginning farmers. Congratulations!

Natalie Parkell and Kevin Osburn of Vertical Horizon Farm won the award (first place), also. Parkell gave an excellent talk on hyroponics for backyard or small or beginning farmers. They started out growing in their parents’ backyard, since they lived in a condo with no ground for growing — that is, until their parents told them to move, since they had dug up all the grass! So, they found a local business that would let them operate on a corner of their property. It became a big hit, especially marketing to the neighborhood. A small scale truly local success story!

I was intrigued by the prospects of hydroponics and aquaponics  as potential sustainable growing methods (especially since both are considered “iffy” when it comes to being certified organic – see earlier blog: “Organic Hydroponics: The Future of Farming?”). So, the bulk of my time when not manning the NCAT booth was attending seminars on these topics.

In pursuit of that, I went on the farm tour that included The Land exhibit at Disney World’s Epcot Center. Here are some photos:

When you enter The Land exhibit at Epcot Center, the first thing you see are gigantic fruit grown hydroponically. The growing medium is sand, infused with a fertilizer mixture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

When you enter The Land exhibit at Epcot Center, the first thing you see are gigantic fruit grown hydroponically. The growing medium is sand, infused with a fertilizer mixture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

As a demonstration of hydroponics as a growing method, The Land exhibit at Epcot grows small plots of grains, sugar cane and cotton. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

As a demonstration of hydroponics as a growing method, The Land exhibit at Epcot grows small plots of grains, sugar cane and cotton. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Within The Land pavilion at Epcot, actual plant research is being done to find ways to combat devastating diseases for commercial crops. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Within The Land pavilion at Epcot, actual plant research is being done to find ways to combat devastating diseases for commercial crops. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Much of the facility at The Land at Epcot has plants suspended from an automated growing system, whereby plants grown vertically are sprayed with fertilizers and the dripped overspray grows plants in the sand medium below. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Much of the facility at The Land at Epcot has plants suspended from an automated growing system, whereby plants grown vertically are sprayed with fertilizers and the dripped overspray grows plants in the sand medium below. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The sunward climb of plants on the spray conveyor allows fruit to be grown vertically rather than horizontally at The Land exhibit at Epcot. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The sunward climb of plants on the spray conveyor allows fruit to be grown vertically rather than horizontally at The Land exhibit at Epcot. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The Epcot demonstration is fascinating, but I’m not sure it’s very “sustainable,” at least not commercially as a farming method. The cost of the facilities and mechanical devices seems out of kilter with the potential sales of crops. But that may not be the point of the exhibit. Rather, the center shows how it can be done, and that it can be done. I’m going to have to think more about it before I’m convinced it’s a sustainable growing method. It certainly offers possibilities.

One of the concerns I have with hydroponics is that what you get from the produce is limited to what you give. By that, it’s like so-called “conventional” agriculture, in that the major nutrients are supplied. In such industrial agriculture models, NPK or the ingredients for synthetic fertilizer are present; but missing are the trace elements that a healthy organic soil provides. Better fertilizers would remedy that; ensuring it, of course, is the goal of organic certification. It’s an issue consumers should be aware of in making hydroponic purchases.

Regarding aquaponics, a key issue preventing organic certification, according to the farmers I talked to in Florida who practice it, is that the effluent from the fish is considered a “manure” by the National Organic Program. But, as Orange County Extension Director Richard Tyson explained, that is an inappropriate designation. First, regarding health concerns, neither E coli nor salmonella are — or even can be — present in such effluent because those only occur in warm-blooded animals; secondly, beneficial bacteria convert the ammonia waste into nitrates which are only then absorbed by the plants; so, a more appropriate designation would be classifying the effluent as nutrients, rather than manure.

In my opinion, especially when coupled with other energy saving methods such as using solar and wind for electrical needs, raising fish for animal protein and using the byproduct of that for fruit and vegetable food production in hydroponic vats is the type of sustainable methods that organic supporters should embrace.

We’ll consider more of this later.

But not all of the conference was “work.”

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4.

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4.

No, I wasn’t looking for beautiful young women to hang out with while in Florida, but I found them! It was most enjoyable visiting with Nick and Margie’s daughter Rachel Pikarsky (right) and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori. They were a total delight!

The fifth annual event was hosted by the University of Florida and Florida A&M.

I can’t wait to attend again next year!

For a good example of a successful, local hydroponics operation, see the Farmweek episode on St. Bethany Fresh Tomatoes on Pontotoc, MS:

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.

Super Bees — Literally!

June 23, 2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing
Just got inside the house a little while ago from messing with my bees. Boy, are they producing honey! Super Bees! Literally!

That’s a pun. For those who aren’t #beeks, the boxes #beekeepers put on the hive during the honey season are called “supers.” They are where the bees put the honey. Normally, down here in Mississippi, anyway, you have a deep hive box for brood on the bottom, then another box, either a deep or medium box for more brood and honey; those stay year round. Then, in the spring and summer when the nectar stars flowing, you add boxes for honey: the supers. They are later removed and the honey harvested.

I was only away from the hives a couple of weeks, but they got overgrown — and full of honey! Photo by Jim Ewing

I was only away from the hives a couple of weeks, but they got overgrown — and full of honey! Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can see from the photo, my hives were getting covered up by vegetation. Even though I’ve only been out of pocket for a couple of weeks (up on Butte, Mont., for NCAT training, then back, and getting settled in my new job), field grass was almost covering the hives.

But once I waded into the bee yard, and lifted the top, boy was I surprised! You may recall that in April, I captured a swarm of bees and put them in a hive box with one super: the normal basic arrangement. In May, they needed another box, so I added one. When I last checked on them, before I went to Butte, about three weeks ago, they had filled those boxes, so I put another super on them. Now, imagine my surprise to find they had almost filled that one, too!

As you can see, the middle frames are filled with honey, and the outside ones are beginning to be filled. So, it's time to add another super. Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can see, the middle frames are filled with honey, and the outside ones are beginning to be filled. So, it’s time to add another super. Photo by Jim Ewing

Normally, a swarm hive won’t produce much honey the first year, expending its energy building out wax in the frames and reproducing to build up hive numbers. But this hive is going great guns. The middle frames are filled with honey, and the bees are already filling the outside frames. Normally, in any hive new or old, you want to add another super when 2/3 of the frames are filled — as in this case. If the bees run out of room, they’ll start creating queen cells, preparing to swarm. Hopefully, I caught them before they decided to swarm — again! Both hives needed supers, so I added a super to each one.

As you can see, the hive on the right, which was just a two-box swarm of bees in April, now has as many "supers" on it as the established hive (left). Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can see, the hive on the right, which was just a two-box swarm of bees in April, now has as many “supers” on it as the established hive (left). Photo by Jim Ewing

As you can tell from the photo, the new swarm hive now has as many supers on it as the established hive! Notice also how I took the trimmer and cut the grass!

That was a trip, too! Normally, my bees are pretty docile. They’re used to me puttering around and rarely sting. But when I started up the trimmer, you wouldn’t believe how riled up they got! I’ve taken off boxes of honey and not seen them so upset! I guess it’s the vibration from the motor. Maybe they think is a bunch or hornets or something. I got popped a few times.

 

We’ll check the hives again in a couple of weeks and see how they are doing. We should be harvesting honey in about a month or so.

Jim PathFinder Ewing’s new 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.

A ‘Sound, Sensible’ Organics Program

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The National Organic Program (NOP) must be sensing increasing numbers of small farmers turning away from the USDA’s certified organic program. Many are instead choosing other varies of “agroecology” (as the United Nations terms it), such as biodynamic farming, permaculture, ecofarming and the like — methods that employ organic practices without using the term “organic,” which requires USDA approval.

It’s not that organic is bad; far from it, the nation needs more organic farmers and more organic food, especially grown and sold locally which benefits local economies.

The problem is that NOP has become expensive and the paperwork enormous, pushing small farmers out of the program. In Mississippi, for example, the state agriculture department stopped offering certification in December due to budget cuts, and the national Farm Bill reimbursement program has been halted. It has meant farmers having to pay up to $1,000 or more out of pocket to fly in an inspector from another state to certify their crops. That’s a big financial hit for all but the big operators.

Moreover, the NOP trend has been to coddle big farmers and ignore the rest. Certified organic operations are increasingly just huge, often transnational, industrial agriculture outfits that comply with the minimal standards to keep their certification.

Doubt it? Just look at the who’s who of certified organic brands that opposed labeling genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) in food in California. (See my JFP column, Jan. 16) Think their hearts are in organic? By definition, “organic” prohibits GMO! How can one be against labeling and for organic?

Apparently noticing that it’s losing its appeal to small farmers, on the eve of the long Easter weekend (maybe so nobody would notice), NOP announced a new campaign called its “Sound and Sensible” program. See: http://ow.ly/jI6gV

It says it wants the organics program to be “accessible, attainable and affordable.” But, mostly, the changes seemed aimed at current operators, not new ones, focusing on relaxing paperwork requirements, reducing penalties and offering more training for certifiers.

That’s great for a big industrial farmer who can afford it (and may actually just have the effect of watering down organic requirements even more), but what about the legions of new small farmers? It doesn’t matter how lax NOP regulations or enforcement may be (and who wants that anyway?) if it costs $1,000 to certify your crop — or, equally important, if there is no local state, extension or federal support for growing organic.

More organic farmers and food would be great, but it will take more than paperwork changes to turn the tide to more grassroots support for certified organic among small, local and beginning farmers. Now, that would be sound and sensible!

(Disclosure: I serve on the board of directors of Certified Naturally Grown, a national nonprofit offering certification for small, direct-market farmers and beekeepers who practice natural growing methods. The views are my own.)
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.

Playing odds of last frost can be risky

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Just about every day, I hear of someone who just couldn’t wait until planting time to start digging in the ground and planting a crop for summer. Let me reiterate: We may be in the South, but it’s still too early to plant!

If the soil is too cold, seeds won’t germinate properly resulting in sickly plants, disease and insect damage. It’s not enough to simply plant past last frost; plants need a good start. That’s why even if the temperature turns prematurely warm, as happened last winter, planting now is so risky. Even with such “tricks” as using frost cover (sheets of Agribon or old blankets over seedbeds or early seedlings when its frosty) and passive solar heating (plastic jugs painted black and containing water to heat up in the day and retain it during the cold nights), a sharp cold snap can knock back and mortally wound your crop.

That’s why you want to be careful in playing the odds of “last frost,” to minimize potential damage.

For a lot of gardeners in Mississippi, planting time is around the first week in May. But there’s a caveat to this, too. For organic gardeners, it pays to plant as early as possible, to get a jump on the insects. Waiting until May could be inviting insect damage.

So, the best time to plant for organic growers (who don’t use insecticides) is sometime between last frost and before the insects go full bore. Traditionally, here in central Mississippi, folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is March 29. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost the week after Easter, this year observed March 31. That’s kind of late.

As you can see from this frost chart for Mississippi (http://bit.ly/f8QSAb), the percent probability of a freezing temperature (32 degrees F.) for Jackson is:

March 7 — 90 percent;

March 23 — 50 percent;

April 8 — 10 percent.

For today, there’s a 50 percent change of a temperature of 28 degrees, according to the chart. Naturally, those numbers change the further north or south from Jackson in the central part of the state, as shown by the chart. For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Planting By The Moon & Stars

In the old days, gardeners would plant by “the signs” — the moon and stars.

The best guide is by the late Maria Thun, who died last year. Her work is being carried on and, now in its 51st year, her North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2012 (Floris Books, $13.95) is available from Steiner Books: P.O. Box 960; Herndon VA 20172-0960; (703) 661-1594; or http://www.steinerbooks.org.

Thun’s guide is detailed and considered something of a bible for natural growing by biodynamic farmers (those who follow the natural rhythms and Earth-based soil amendment methods of founder Rudolf Steiner). It shows the optimum days for sowing, pruning, and harvesting various crops, as well as working with bees.

Wondering Why Your Seeds Won’t Germinate?

In order to sprout, seeds require a minimum temperature. Even if we put them in little cups in the windowsill, they may still fail to sprout if there’s cold air seeping in. Some require 85 degrees to sprout! Here’s a chart: http://www.heirloomseeds.com/germination.html

Some people buy or build seed heating tables or mats with hot water circulation. You can do it yourself using plywood and lightbulbs. Here’s a DIY project from Mother Earth News: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-incubator-zmaz78mazjma.aspx#axzz2LBiT8MoA

Whatever you do, don’t use heating pads or electric blankets, as you will be watering your seeds and can cause a potentially hazardous electric shock.

Jump Start on Weather? Use a Cold Frame

Simply stated, a cold frame is a box similar to a 4-foot by 8-foot “Jim’s plot” but has a removable, clear glass or plastic top. Consider it a mini-greenhouse.

Cold frames can be simple DIY projects, such as planting between a few square bales of hay and recycling old windows or shower doors as the removable tops. You can also purchase pre-made kits from local garden stores or online. You can build a cold frame anywhere; make sure it has southern sun exposure, and vent the top during the day. At night, keep the cold frames closed, and they’ll retain heat.

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.

Great Organic Gardens Start With A Plan

Photo Courtesy of Johnny's Selected Seeds

Photo Courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Great Organic Gardens Start With A Plan

Organic gardeners may be eager to get out and garden, but it’s still too early to plant summer crops. We can start planning, though, savoring the bounteous crop of garden seed catalogs arriving daily in the mail. Planning should include deciding on the plants we want to put out (and where), and preparing the soil to plant.

Plowing or tilling a time or two before planting time can make the soil good and crumbly, if done when the soil is suitably dry. Wet soil creates clumps that lock up nutrients. Well-tilled soil makes it easier for roots to access food and water.

Make sure you have plenty of vegetative matter worked into the soil to provide “tilth,” a mix of soil and matter that holds nutrients and water even in prolonged dry spells. This matter is especially good for the earth if it’s recycled: Try plowing under your cover crops for “green manure,” or using last year’s lawn clippings or last fall’s crumbled-up leaves, mixed with kitchen compost that you have been saving.

Too many people just buy inputs–such as bags of sphagnum peat moss–and dump it in their gardens. Although peat is widely sold, if consumers knew how critical and rare the material was, they wouldn’t treat it so cavalierly.

Some scientists say that the world’s peat bogs are as vital and endangered as the rainforests. Not only do they hold moisture in their indigenous habitats as a protection against local droughts, they provide habitat for wildlife, and they also hold prodigious amounts of carbon–which protects the planet from climate change. Using peat moss in the garden releases that stored carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Many people who routinely used peat are now turning to renewable organic matter, such as cocoa shells.

While you are planning your garden, make sure you have fertile soil by taking a sample down to the extension service to be tested. That will tell you precisely what you need to add to your soil to grow good crops and what elements are in abundance so that you don’t over fertilize. We want healthy soil in organic gardening, without artificial inputs or runoff that will harm the environment.

One issue that came up during the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association workshops last November was the experience of some organic farmers in north Mississippi who were baffled by their plants failing to grow.

They discovered, to their horror, that the hay they had bought for mulching had herbicide residue that was killing their plants. The moral: Be careful about your inputs.


PEAT MOSS

For more on the use of peat moss, see this post on Natural Life Magazine’s website, “Does Peat Moss Have a Place in the Ecological Garden?” by Wendy Priesnitz: jfp.ms/peatmoss

COMPOST ADVICE

The Rodale Institute provides great tips on composting, including answers to common questions about antibiotics and heavy metals. Visit jfp.ms/compostingtips.

Or, you can look back in my previous articles and blogs by searching: 
ShooFlyFarmBlog.

ANALYZE YOUR SOIL

The Mississippi State University Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For more information, see msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, or visit your local extension office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State; or call 662-325-3313.

SEED COMPANIES TO TRY

The most luxurious full-color catalog is by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Some people call it “garden porn” because of the lavish pin-up-like pictures of fruits and vegetables. To order a catalog, visit rareseeds.com or call 417-924-8917.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an organic mainstay. Johnny’s is where Eliot Coleman, the quintessential “deep” organic intensive gardener at Four Seasons Farm in Maine, sells tools he has designed. Johnny’s announced in this year’s catalog that the company is now 100-percent employee owned. We buy our lettuce mixes from them. To order a catalog, visit johnnyseeds.com or call 1-800-854-2580.

High Mowing Organic Seeds is relatively new, but seems committed to organics. To order a catalog, visit highmowingseeds.com or call 1-802-472-6174.

MORE FAVORITES:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, 1-888-784-1722; Grass Valley, Calif.

Seeds of Change, 1-888-762-7333; Santa Fe, N.M.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, 540-894-9480; Mineral, Va.

Seed Savers Exchange,  563-382-5990; Decorah, Iowa

WATCH YOUR SEEDS

Remember to use certified organic seeds. As noted in a previous column, the practice is not merely to promote organic, but because the seeds are bred to grow differently. Standard “conventional” varieties, unless stated otherwise, are developed for industrial agriculture, producing uniform height, size, fruiting, etc. So, if you want a tastier tomato or corn, buy seed varieties bred for the home gardener.

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.

Boycotting Pro-GMO Organic Brands Not the Way

1/16/2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

A list going around the Internet calls for consumers to boycott the top organic brands owned by 10 parent companies that donated to defeat Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative.

While I share the frustration of consumers being denied honest labeling of the food they eat by corporations that apparently value the dollar over human health, safety or even consumer rights, I don’t think this is the way to go.

It’s certainly a slap in the face of consumers who buy organic. It’s insulting to know that the corporations that manufacture and sell the organic brands they buy are, at the same time, undermining labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that is banned under the rules governing organic products. Such labeling is already required by most of the industrialized world.

The boycott is backed by the Organic Consumers Organization—a group I support—but I disagree with the boycott.

It may be galling that longtime consumers of, say, Horizon organic soy milk or Kashi organic cereals are supporting companies that donated a total of $46 million in a cynical disinformation campaign to defeat a law to simply state if a product contains GMO.

But consider what boycotting those brands might mean.

Will it promote organic? Or other organic products? Or organic growers? Or the companies that sell organics? Hardly. Rather, it will simply retard market share for organics. This will, in turn, feed the idea that organics isn’t growing as a consumer market, which it is. And it could undermine those who are actually growing organically and the stores that carry these organic brands.

Moreover, it accelerates the trend away from small growers to Big Ag corporations that can afford a smaller profit margin as part of a mix of organic and nonorganic products. In other words, a boycott plays into the hands of those who are being boycotted: the very corporations that sell both organic and nonorganic products. They win either way while it penalizes those who solely sell organic products, grow organics and buy organics.

Consumers do hold the key, however. By demanding local and organic, they are supporting organic where it’s produced and the small, local growers who need the consumer support. By demanding labeling of GMO from local, state and federal politicians, voters can exert their clout in local, state and national elections.

The GMO labeling fight hasn’t ended. The truth will out. GMO not only will be labeled in the United States eventually, but once buyers know the full environmental dangers and potential health and safety effects, it will probably be banned outright or so tightly regulated as to be treated as the potentially eco-catastrophic activity it is.

Major corporate backers of defeating the GMO labeling initiative and the organic products they sell:

• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic

• Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature

• Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla

• General Mills (Donated $1.2M):  Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar

• Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M): “O” Organics

• Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave

• Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger

• Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia

• Smucker’s (Donated $555k): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic

• Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s

Source: Organic Consumers Association

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.

Farmers are grumpy this time of year

Jan. 5, 2013

Farmers Get Grumpy This Time of Year
By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Farmers get grumpy this time year.
Some people might say farmers are always grumpy. But it’s more so this time of year, since they can’t plow and can’t plant. I know so because I’m sitting here in the carport (typing on my iPad) thinking about hoses. Or, more specifically, the high cost thereof.

I’d rather be out working in the garden – the one we plan to plant in a month or so – like I’ve been doing since the sun burned off the frost this morning. But now it’s raining.
My arms are burning and my hands trembling from the exertion – dragging brush, pulling logs and limbs, running the trimmer, etc. I’d like to be running the tiller, but I’m a long way from that. So, instead, I’m drinking a nice hot mug of organic tea my wife made (from scratch, her own blend) and thinking about all I’ve got to, should do, and probably shouldn’t have done.
One of those things was not properly putting up the hoses last year.
Now, if you farm, even on a little (5 acre) plot like we do, you always have so much to do, you never do just one thing, but whatever needs doing at hand.

For example, as I was going to the shed to get more gas for the trimmer, I also picked up fallen limbs and dragged them out of the way, stacked some logs and fence rails that I could use later to hold down our Agribon (crop frost covers) and rounded up some hose so that later on when I burn off the field I’ll have it handy. Then, I thought, why don’t I go ahead and join and layout the hoses, so they’ll be ready.

As I did that, I realized I didn’t have enough hose to stretch that far. So, where was the rest of the hose? I remembered seeing some hose at the back plot, the little summer plot. So, I went back there and, sure enough, there was just a little piece sticking out – totally overgrown from where I’d let that plot go fallow. It took me 30 minutes of some real exertion to extricate it from where it was wrapped up in vines and other veggie matter. It’s amazing how a hose can bury itself.
Then, I said to myself, I’ve had enough of that; maybe I ought to go ahead and weed eat (and that patch, too, while I’m at it!). Then, it started to rain.

So, now, I’m sitting here wondering if that hose is any good anymore or if I’ll have to buy more hose. Last time I looked, it was $75 for 50 feet of decent hose. I bought some cheaper and was immediately reminded of why the more expensive is better – it has metal couplings machined to fit, so less leakage, thicker walls so fewer kinks, and more durable material so it lasts longer. More expensive now is cheaper in the long run.

Unfortunately, what I extricated from the overgrown plot is the expensive kind, not the cheap stuff. So, there’s one grumpy farmer sitting here drinking his tea and watching the rain.
Oh, well, at least my new old best friend, my heavy duty trimmer (a Stihl, which also cost a bundle and gets kinda cranky sometimes, too) is still working.

Is all this worth it just to grow a few plants? And I haven’t even started on the big field!
Those are the kinds of thoughts that make farmers grumpy.

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.

If you could choose only one organic gardening book…

Jan. 2, 2013

Best Organic Gardening Book – For the South?

If you could suggest to beginning to fairly advanced gardeners only one reference book about organic gardening, what would it be?

The first ones that come to my mind are Eliot Coleman’s books. The one that’s most timely is his “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” (2009, Chelsea Green Publishing, $29.95). It’s chock full of information about growing food in cold weather.

Or, for year round, try his “Four-Season Harvest: How to Harvest Fresh Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” by Eliot Coleman and Kathy Bary (1992, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). It’s the basis for his cold-weather book, going more in-depth about winter plants.

For the basics, check out “The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener (A Gardener’s Supply Book),” by Eliot Coleman, Sheri Amsel and Molly Cook Field (1995, Chelsea Green Publishing, $24.95). I think what Coleman has done at his Four Seasons Farm in Maine is simply fantastic and a model for any would-be market gardeners—that is, people with a limited amount of space like a backyard and turning it into cash.

To go deeper into the history of Coleman and organics, and its fundamentals, one could point to “The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living by Scott Nearing and Helen Nearing” (1990, Schocken Books, $16.95). It’s a homesteading bible.

The Nearings epitomized the “back to the land” movement, leaving the city in 1932 to live off of the land and their own backs and hands, and inspired a generation—including Eliot Coleman, who bought six acres of their land and helped establish something of an early organic commune.

OK, I agree, this is starting to sound a bit cultish, but between the Rodales, founders of Organic Gardening Magazine and the organic science Rodale Institute, and the Walters family, of ACRES USA fame—these are the recognized pioneers of the ecological and organic farming movement in America.

Which brings us to the missing piece: What about the South? All of the previous books, and most on organics, are written by and about people living in the Northeast. Well, I’m happy to say, there’s one southern book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf (no matter what region you live in).

“Organic Gardening Down South,” by Nellie Neal (2008, Mackey Books, $15.95) is written specifically for people who want to grow organically and live in the South—or, as Neal says, where the ground doesn’t freeze and the bugs never die! If you can grow organically in the Deep South, you can grow anywhere.

People who live in Maine, like Coleman, don’t have to contend with T-shirt weather and mosquitoes on New Year’s Day. People in California certainly have sunny weather, but not routine simultaneous triple digits in heat and humidity! Tropical and semi-tropical weather patterns—especially, as she notes, compounded with climate change warming temperatures—poses unique challenges to the Southern organic gardener.

Neal, who is popularly called The Garden Mama, is an authentic gardening expert of some 50 years, as she admits. Perhaps a prophet without honor (or enough of it, anyway) in her own land, Neal hosts a local radio show on gardening, writes a popular column, and lives in Fondren. (Visit her website: gardenmama.com.)

Neal is a true organic pioneer—in the South as much as Coleman, at least.

So, if I could suggest only one organic gardening book? As much as I am a fan of Coleman, if you live in the South, for good practical advice, especially for the new grower or newcomer, read “Organic Gardening Down South.” Then, read Coleman’s books!

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.

Organic Growing Heals The Earth

Dec. 19, 2012

I serve on a number of conservation and environmental boards of directors, and a question that has been coming up a lot lately has regarded growing plants under contaminated conditions — a topic of interest to urban homesteaders and those wanting to practice urban agriculture.

In one case, a wind drift inadvertently sprayed an organic grower’s crops with chemicals that would render his crop worthless organically. In another, a grower thought he was following organic guidelines and fertilized his fields with biosolids (human waste), a practice not allowed in organics.

These are serious issues for organic growers. The rule is that in order to be organic, fields used in conventional agriculture must be idled for three years so that the toxins used in chemical agriculture can break down.

What many growers — and consumers — may not know is that we now live in a chemical-soup world and contamination is an ongoing concern. A farmer may be growing perfectly organic and inadvertently contaminate soil like these instances, or the water itself can be contaminated without the grower’s knowledge.

In addition, the act of farming can bring unknown contaminants to the surface, such as heavy metals and PCBs from previous land uses.

Some lands are “contaminated” naturally. Ancient seabeds, for example, can hold metals such as selenium, boron, molybdenum, mercury or arsenic, that can come to the surface. Where land is heavily irrigated, plants take up irrigation water, leaving salts to build up in the soil.

Moreover, when people plant in urban settings, such as parks, abandoned lots, etc., a host of contaminants — from mechanical solvents to toxic wastes to household chemicals  — can be built up in the soil.

Nature is a great housekeeper and provides the means for cleaning up even heavily contaminated soils. The process is generally called phytoremediation — using plants themselves to clean the soil.

More specifically, it’s called phytoextraction. Growers can use plants (and trees) to absorb contaminants through their root systems. Depending on the type of contaminant, the toxins are then either stored in the roots or by natural actions transported into the stems and/or leaves. After harvesting, the soil will have a lower level of contamination.

Plants especially good at removing toxins are called hyperaccumulators. Some plants can even be used for mining elements, called phytomining; and even sewer water can be reclaimed for drinking using plants.

These aren’t exotic plants, either.

Popular food plants like sunflowers and mustard plants (indeed, the entire brassica family) work, as well as legumes like alfalfa, alsike clover and peas. Trees include hybrid poplar, willow, cottonwood, aspen, mulberry, apple and osage orange. (Source: Ground Remediation, University of Iowa: www.clu-in.org/download/toolkit/phyto_e.pdf )

The lesson is that nature heals her own, even the mistakes and toxins humans introduce. By growing organically, without synthetic chemicals and poisons, we are healing the earth.

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.

For Organic Garden Use Organic Seeds and Here’s Why …

Dec. 19, 2012

The Skinny on Seeds

If  you are already thinking about what you want to grow in your garden  next year, start out right with organic seeds. They can make a much  better garden.
Conventional  seeds — the kind normally found at seed stores and in catalogs — are from  plants that are grown in what is considered a “conventional” setting:
with the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Organic  growing, of course, rejects the use of such chemicals. Seeds labeled “certified organic” are produced from plants grown in organic settings,  without
those conditions.
Moreover,  many of the seeds that gardeners plant are used in broader agricultural  settings: the vast acreages of monocultures that today constitute what  we consider to be farming. They may have coatings on the seeds for  faster germination or fungicides that are not allowed in organic  farming, or they may be genetically engineered for certain  traits — including toxins produced within the plant to kill certain pests.  These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not allowed in organic  farming.
In  addition, certain conventional seeds are bred for produce that looks  good or has a long shelf life to survive transportation over long  distances and
sitting in grocery bins, or are uniform in size so that a  consistent price can  be charged by the food distributor. But the primary  concern for organic gardeners is that the plants will grow better. One  big difference is early growth, where plants pop up out of the ground to  get a head start on pests.
They are bred for vigorous growth (that may  not be uniform with other plants in size) and for taste (as opposed to  shelf life or appearance in color or shape).
If  you start with organic seeds — or heirloom seeds that have consistent  desirable qualities — you could develop hardier strains uniquely suited  for your growing conditions and preferences quicker than using varieties  developed for other “conventional” settings.
What  about keeping seeds for growing the next year? Is seed saving better or  worse than organic seeds? Seed saving can have the same effect,  tailoring plants for your unique growing conditions. Organic seed gives  you a leg up; you already have some of the qualities you want to  develop. So, while seed saving is preferred over buying every year, buy   organic seed and then save seeds to more efficiently develop the traits  you want to keep.
Mind  you, certified organic seeds are not readily available for some  varieties of crops. Organic growing allows for some use of seeds that  are unavailable in certified organic varieties; just make sure they are  not GMO or coated.

Online Certified Organic:
Seeds  of Change has a good certified organic variety, some 1,200 varieties selected for the home gardener or small market gardener:  seedsofchange.com
For  more, read “A New Age for Organic Seed,” an interview with Adrienne Shelton, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin, at http://ow.ly/ghRoh

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.

Bees and Honey in Winter?

Dec. 9, 2012
Bees and Honey in Winter?

Annette and I got a real treat this past week: about a gallon of honey — harvested from our own beehives.
Bees and honey in winter? Yep. Surprised me, too.
I have two hives — one painted white, one painted yellow. In the white boxes are Italian bees; in the yellow, Cordovan, an Italian variety.
Some people say that there is no difference between the Cordovans and their Italian relatives, except for a lighter color caused by a recessive gene.
I’ve read that Cordovans have a longer tongue and are able to obtain nectar from flowers that other bees cannot and have read also that they tend to have larger hive numbers — which I’ve found to be true, at least comparing my two hives. The Cordovans outnumber the others 2-to-1 and also seem to gather honey earlier, increase their numbers earlier, and have honey longer.
That’s not a scientific observation; it could be that it’s just the difference between the two colonies of bees that I happen to have. But it could also be what it seems to be, too: that Cordovans are better adapted for our area.
Which brings us back to the honey.

When I was harvesting our honey a couple of months ago, I left both hives with a super (i.e., a box usually removed for honey harvest).
The reason was twofold:

1) Last year, I just assumed our bees were fine for the winter and didn’t check on them during the winter months. That was a mistake that almost proved fatal — for the bees.
I was at an agricultural conference and mentioned to a fellow beekeeper how the unusually warm weather was probably good for the bees. “Have you checked on your bees lately?” he asked. “There have been a lot of colonies dying because they ate up all their honey.”
The hot winter provided some blossoms for the bees, but not enough; since it never got really cold, the bees didn’t reduce their hive populations much and, so, they needed more honey to keep them alive until the spring nectar flow started.
When I got home from the conference, the first thing I did was check on my bees and the beekeeper was right. While the Cordovans seemed fine, the Italians were almost out of honey. I started feeding them sugar water and they rebounded.
So, this year, when I harvested I figured I’d wait and see if the bees needed extra honey; I could always harvest it, if I wanted. I left a super on each hive, as insurance for them.

2) The bees are still making honey.
When I harvested my bees, the supers that I left on the hives each had about 3 frames of honey in them (the were the top ones). I had removed the middle supers and left the tops.
When I checked them last week, the Italians had about half filled their super; the Cordovans had totally filled their super and looked like they wanted to keep going. Mind you: This is December! But it’s been in the 60s and 70s for weeks. We have spring flowers blooming.
See photo: Henbit and buttercups — usually betokening Spring.
We had a high today of 75 degrees! it’s supposed to be in the 60s and 70s for another week, at least.
It did not appear that the Cordovans had reduced their numbers and were arriving laden with pollen and, presumably, nectar for honey.
So, I went ahead and harvested the Cordovan honey.
When I was finished, I replaced the Cordovan super with 2 frames of honey from the Italian hive, so both still have a super with honey in it, in addition to a brood box and second box. So, each hive has three boxes instead of two.

I’m not recommending that anyone do as I’m doing. I don’t know what the weather is going to do, and it could very well be that: a) they don’t need the supers; or b) they will need to be fed sugar water anyway. But this weird weather is hard to figure, for me, and, I guess, for the bees (and flowers), too.
I’ll keep an eye on them over the winter, hot or cold, this year.

Note: The honey we harvested is very pungent; mostly from golden rod. I noticed that we still have patches of new golden rod blooming! (See photo)

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Photo of buttercup (center) and henbit in a field near our house in Lena, MS.

Goldenrod growing in our  field Dec. 9, 2012.

Goldenrod growing in our field Dec. 9, 2012.

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.

Sustainable Agriculture: What Is It? And Why?

This is a talk I gave to a group of farmers and agriculture policy makers Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, in Enid, Miss.
Sustainable Agriculture: What is it? And Why?
By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Two years ago, Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi embarked upon an ambitious project: to build a Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network.
It had not been done before in Mississippi and so, it’s a signal achievement that now, with the help of grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission and Winrock Foundation, that GGSIM’s dream of a network of sustainable farmers in the state is finally taking off.
While GGSIM could easily see that there was a need for a network of farmers to help each other help themselves toward sustainable farming and help consumers find those farmers, actually providing a definition for “sustainable agriculture” proved a thornier problem.
As the eclectic board of GGSIM — composed of academics, food, farming and health enthusiasts and farmers themselves — discovered: each constituency seems to have its own definition of “sustainable” when it comes to food and farming.
The board was confronted with a suddenly problematic issue: Just What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Being an organic farmer, my first thought was — of course! — sustainable farming is farming that follows the sustainable practice of organic farming.
But, as others on the board pointed out, there are many different flavors of “natural” or eco-sensitive farming: ecofarming, ecological farming, agroecology, permaculture, biodynamic, the list goes on.
Looking for an authoritative source, I checked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has its own definition:

A 1996 Memorandum defined the USDA’s sustainable agriculture policy by stating: “USDA is committed to working toward the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of diverse food, fiber, agriculture, forest, and range systems. USDA will balance goals of improved production and profitability, stewardship of the natural resource base and ecological systems, and enhancement of the vitality of rural communities. USDA will integrate these goals into its policies and programs, particularly through interagency collaboration, partnerships and outreach.” (Source: USDA website: http://us.mg205.mail.yahoo.com/dc/launch?rand=1156758050)

In case this seems a rather nebulous definition, attempting to include all aspects of farming into one definition, it has a reason for being that way. In the 1990 Farm Bill, which this policy seeks to implement, the mandate for sustainability itself, while required, was weakened by this language: defined as to “make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, (italics mine) natural biological cycles and controls…” and further limited to “having a site-specific application.”

The words “where appropriate” has been used as a modifier to allow the use of materials and practices that would seem to be at odds with sustainability, while the “site specific” limitation has all but negated its widespread use or effectiveness as a program goal.

So, on the one hand, you have a USDA policy that requires sustainability and on the other a policy that seemingly negates its impact or advisability, generally relegated to a policy of appreciation for natural resources as “where appropriate.”
But that also must be understood from where USDA stands regarding the bulk of its programs. Using artificial, chemical, manufactured and synthetic inputs is called “conventional” agriculture, or “industrial farming.” It is by any normal definition “unsustainable” because it relies exclusively on artificial, chemical, manufactured and synthetic inputs. Yet, USDA is attempting to incorporate “sustainability” into this model.

So, the USDA definition wasn’t — and isn’t — much help to us in defining Sustainable Agriculture.

As the GGSIM board found, there also wasn’t a great deal of consensus among farmers themselves who believe they are practicing sustainable agriculture.
For example, farmers surveyed by GGSIM who defined themselves as sustainable  ranged from those who followed organic, natural, permaculture or biodynamic processes and no synthetic inputs; to those who used spot synthetic inputs (such as RoundUp herbicide) but otherwise did not use synthetic inputs; to one farmer who used horses for tilling fields and horse manure for fertilizer and believed using gasoline or diesel engines for tractors or tiller was unsustainable, but also used synthetic materials when needed. As one farmer pointed out, you can’t be sustainable as a business if you can’t sell your crop; if spot treatment is what’s required to stay in business, so be it.

This engendered a whole new conversation among the GGSIM board: farmers’ economic sustainability.
In fact, one of GGSIM’s board members, Preston Sullivan, had written an article about it, titled Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming, published on the National Center for Appropriate Technology website. Preston’s piece, https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=295, is an excellent primer on sustainable farming. It perfectly lays out goals of sustainability.

As Preston reports:
Sustainable farming meets environmental, economic, and social objectives simultaneously. Environmentally sound agriculture is nature-based rather than factory-based. Economic sustainability depends on profitable enterprises, sound financial planning, proactive marketing, and risk management. Social sustainability results from making decisions with the farm family’s and the larger community’s quality of life as a value and a goal.

In addition, since GGSIM is about about sustainability from a variety of vantages, we must include the human, social and emotional aspects. One definition that board members rallied around was by Sustainable Table:

Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities. (For more, see: http://www.sustainabletable.org/intro/whatis/)
By taking all of these definitions that we could agree upon and putting them together, with our own concerns, GGSIM came up with this:

MSAN Definition of Sustainable Farming:    

Sustainable farming meets environmental, economic, and social objectives simultaneously. It promotes:

a.     The health of farmers and their communities;

b.     Stewardship of the environment and  non-renewable resources; and

c.     Long term financial viability

These are lofty goals.
So, now, Why?

Why Sustainability?
The “Why” closely follows the “How” of sustainability when it comes to sustainable agriculture.

Globally, we are witnessing incredible changes in our planet that cannot be overlooked, from climate change to destruction of critical ecosystems such as the tropical rain forests, to depletion of fish stocks to degradation of air, water and land. The burning and depletion of fossil fuels is a major element in this environmental change, and agriculture is a major part of global environmental distress.
In fact, there is a growing movement to name a new geologic era, the Anthropocene, to reflect the cumulative ill effects of human impacts upon Earth starting with the beginning of agriculture some 10,000 years ago.
While these larger issues are of concern, and require action — from curbing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting recycling, approving international agreements to protect our soil, water and air — our focus is on what we as farmers can do to minimize impacts upon the areas where we live, work, eat and breathe.

Certifying agencies — USDA certified organic, Certified Naturally Grown, etc. — can define farm practices they will or won’t allow. It is not GGSIM’s aim to tell people what they can and cannot do. We can support sustainable practices that do not result in negative outcomes or ecological unsustainability.

Some of those would include: Decline in soil productivity; wind and water erosion of exposed topsoil; soil compaction; loss of soil organic matter, water holding capacity, and biological activity; salinization and/or desertification. These topics go hand in hand with biodiversity vs monocultures; use of natural vs synthetic inputs; crop rotation and cover crops; composting; soil and water contamination/pollution/treatment.

Those concerns lead to this truth:
The more toward ecological in the farming practices, the more resilient and sustainable the system; the more artificial, chemical, manufactured and synthetic the practices, the less sustainable the system.
For these reasons, I would suggest that as a practical model, sustainable farmers use the evaluation forms provided by Certified Naturally Grown.
CNG is a private, nongovernment, nonprofit certifying agency for small direct market farmers and beekeepers. (I am on the national CNG board of directors and helped craft the guidelines.) While it’s up to farmers themselves whether to be certified by CNG, USDA or any other group, or not, the reason I suggest using the form is that it generally follows the National Organic Program guidelines, but it is also crafted as a worksheet for farmers to determine their own goals — where they are and how they want to get to a more sustainable, natural growing system.
See: http://www.naturallygrown.org/programs/documents

In coming months, MSAN will be working with farmers to develop model farms.
Sustainable farmers will benefit not only from input and expertise from outside groups but from among themselves.
Afterall, that’s central to MSAN: Encouraging Growth of the Sustainable Farming Community in Mississippi through workshops and conferences, farm tours and mentorship programs.

Now that we have a definition of sustainable agriculture that we can live with, and know why we have to have it, let’s apply it, shall we?

Jim PathFinder Ewing is an organic farmer and author, a GGSIM board member and chairman of the GGSIM Food & Farming Committee. His most recent book is “Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating” (Findhorn Press).

For more on Ewing, see: http://www.blueskywaters.com

For more on GGSIM, see: http://www.ggsim.org

For more on MSAN, see: http://www.ggsim.org/gardening/ms-sustainable-agriculture-network

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.

GMO Labeling Movement Continues

Nov. 21

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

The Big Ag and Big Food cartel may be chortling now that it “won” Nov. 6 by defeating California’s Proposition 37 that would have mandated labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), but that victory may be short-lived.

Already, Connecticut, Vermont and Washington state are preparing 2013 initiatives, 23 states are working on legislation to require labeling, and Canada is considering legislation for a national ban on GMOs. Sixty-one countries already have mandatory labeling.

A massive disinformation campaign that snowed even otherwise reputable voices killed Prop 37. A consortium of food giants funneled more than $46 million into defeating it; Monsanto alone spent $8.1 million. By comparison, the anti-GMO side only had $9.2 million to spend, despite more than 3,000 food safety, environmental, and consumer organizations endorsing them.

The endorsers included most of the major health, faith, labor, environmental and consumer groups in California, including the California Nurses Association, California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, United Farm Workers, American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Sierra Club, Whole Foods Market, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund, Mercola Health Resources, Public Citizen, MoveOn and Food Democracy Now! (For a full list, visit carighttoknow.org/endorsements.)

So, how did it lose? The massive funding by Big Ag and Big Food raised so many questions about the proposed labeling law that those who were undecided or feared the scary, untrue claims that it would increase grocery prices voted “no.” Even so, 47 percent of California voters voted yes — some 3.5 million families!

That sends a powerful message: Despite fears about the specific legislation of Prop 37, a majority of Californians probably would vote for a mandatory GMO labeling law if the questions raised were honestly addressed. (National polls show up to 90 percent of Americans want GMO labeling, see: rodale.com/gmo-labeling)

Moreover, because the publicity raised consciousness about the issue, now, millions of Californians and those who followed the Prop 37 debate around the nation are looking at the food products they buy to determine if they contain GMOs simply because Prop 37 was on the ballot.

Bottom line? If food manufacturers want to stay in business, they will start labeling and switching over due to self-preservation. Regardless of specific labeling requirements, or how long state or national governments drag their feet, consumers will win this food labeling battle by voting with their wallets!

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.

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

Although a GMO labeling bill was killed in California, the movement toward universal labeling continues, as seen in this graphic by nongmoproject.org. Screenshot via @unhealthytruth twitpic

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.

American Cheese No Longer ‘Cheesy’

American Cheese No Longer ‘Cheesy’

November 7, 2012

Probably  most Americans who grew up prior to the millennium consider American cheese to be synonymous with “cheesy,” or of little worth.
They  may think of “processed ‘cheese’ product,” or individually wrapped slices of a yellowish substance masquerading as cheese. But, today,  there are
artisanal varieties of truly astounding American cheeses that  measure up well against European offerings.
That’s  because there is a growing movement of artisanal cheesemakers who sell  raw-milk cheeses. Most cheeses found in the grocery are extensively
pasteurized; that kills germs, including “good” bacteria that make  cheese healthful and flavorful. European cheeses are not commonly  pasteurized.
As  the holiday season nears, our family enjoys raw milk cheeses. While  only a few varieties are available locally (extensively aged), the  Internet is ripe
(excuse the pun!) with such cheeses. I prefer to order  from artisanalcheese.com.
Doesn’t  cheese have a lot of fat? Well, yes. But most health professionals  point out that the amount of fat in a food is not the sole determinant  of
whether one becomes fat; it’s the total intake of calories and the  amount of calories expended through exercise.
The Artisanal Cheese blog (News From the Cheese Caves,blog.artisanalcheese.com) gives a more complete picture. Fat curbs our appetites by triggering  the
release of cholecystokinin, a hormone that yields a feeling of  satiety and is directly involved in the metabolysis of proteins and  fats. Other hunger suppressors found in cheese include certain peptides  and their amino acids.
Many of the proteins, as well as many of the  vitamins and minerals that cheese contain, all help to metabolize the  foods we consume.
Cheese  is simply preserved milk; a near-complete food which (except for  vitamin C and fiber) provides all the nutrients we require.
If the Legislature would allow raw milk cheese production and sale, Mississippi could join this movement, too.

Make Your Own Cheese
Why  not make your own cheese? And serve it over your own homegrown organic greens? While most the exquisite artisanal cheeses are the product of painstaking effort, you can make a simple cheese at home using even  regular milk found at the grocery (if it’s fresh and not  ultrapasturized).

Saag Paneer (curried greens with cheese)
Paneer (Simple Cheese)
6 cups milk
1 cup water
Half cup vinegar
Heat  milk gently to simmer, not boil. Add water to vinegar, then slowly pour it into the milk. When the milk curdles (separates) completely, stop  pouring.
Strain the curds in a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Let  it dry for 15-20 minutes.

Curried Greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric (optional, can use 1/4 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili power or curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
A mess of mustard, turnip, spinach or other greens, chopped
Gently  fry spices and nuts in a few tablespoons of olive oil, add greens cover
and cook until tender. You can crumble the paneer into the cooked  greens before
serving as is, or brown it in an oiled non-stick pan  first.
Serve over mixed whole grain rice, with a carrot or apple salad as a side dish.

Online About Cheese
Handmade cheese makers (video): cheesebyhand.com
Cheese blog (Wisconsin): cheeseunderground.blogspot. com
The American Cheese Society, for all things cheese: cheesesociety.org
Cheese blog for the serious caseophiles, translated from the French about international cheese competitions, etc.: fromagium.typepad.com/caseophile

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.

Let Trees Do The Work For Next Spring’s Garden

Oct. 10, 2012
Honor the Tree: Let it do the Work for next Spring’s Garden

People  who garden can always find things to do. Sometimes, it seems we have too little time to actually enjoy our gardens. So why waste time, or a  season, for that matter? You can get a head start on next spring’s  organic garden now
and free yourself for relaxation and enjoyment.
How? Take advantage of “free” vegetative matter to build up your next year’s garden bed with leaves.
Fall  brings leaves by the ton, not only in our yards but around our neighborhoods and, well, everywhere there’s a tree. People are busy  raking and
bagging them up, in fact, so they can be picked up in urban  areas to be thrown away. Country folk often just pile them up and burn  them. Why let this free vegetable matter go to waste? Or, worse, add to  pollution?
Think  for a minute: The trees took nutrients from the soil last spring and mixed with sunlight, air and water came up with these glorious leaves to  shade us all summer. That’s a lot of energy expended. That’s a lot of  soil nutrients.
Why dump it in a landfill?
Honor  the tree. Recycle! Ask your neighbor (if you are sure he or she hasn’t been spraying trees with poison) if you can take those piled leaves.
You  can just dump them in your garden, as thick as you like, and cover them with plastic (black or clear, doesn’t matter), and next spring you will  have
nicely composted leaves with added nutrients from the other yard(s) to your garden—free imported fertilizer. It should be decomposed  enough to mix with compost you have saved also to provide a rich, dark,  loamy growing medium ready
to plant.
It’s  also a great way to expand your garden. If, say, you have a 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s plot and want to double it in size, just put down cardboard  or
layers of old newspapers (to block weeds) in the new area, and put  leaves on it and cover it with plastic. When you uncover it in  the spring, voila! New
garden!
It’s  called “lasagna gardening.” That is, layering paper or cardboard and leaves like lasagna to create a raised bed for plants. No tilling. No  muss, no
fuss.
Some  purists will say that one type of leaf—say oak, or pine or pecan—is too acidic or whatever to use in this way. Don’t worry about it. If you, as  I
always recommend, take a soil sample each spring to be tested for  fertility, pH, etc., you can determine exactly which amendments are  needed to produce the food you want to grow.
The  main thing is to not waste this opportunity. Now is the time to prepare for spring. Let the seasons do the work for you, so you can enjoy your  garden come spring.
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.

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Backyard: Prepare for Frost

Oct. 10, 2012

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Garden: Prepare for Frost

Some  folks may remember that first frost came early for central Mississippi last year, at the end of October. While frost is a pleasant milestone of  the
seasons for most people, it can be tragedy for fall gardeners. At  least, without precautions.
Commercial  growers use a lightweight, white material called Agribon to protect their crops from frost. It comes in different thicknesses for ever  greater
frost protection, some as much as 8 degrees below freezing.
You  can order it from any of a number of commercial suppliers online. A 50-foot by 83-inch roll costs about $20 at growerssupply.com.
Unfortunately,  if all you are trying to protect is 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s Plot, that’s  something of a waste—unless you cut it up and give away what you
don’t  need to friends or neighbors. Get a smaller size (two 14×14-foot pieces for $39.99 at Peaceful Valley: groworganic.com.)
Urban  homesteaders are always looking for a cheaper way to use, reuse or repurpose what’s on hand, so they shouldn’t feel obligated to spend  money to protect from frost when it can be done for free. Such a route  is to use old bed sheets or a light blanket, just enough to keep the  frost off tender shoots.
The  main concern is that the covering must be light so that it doesn’t  crush the plants. If the weather is really cold, rather than just  throwing it on at
night, it should be white or translucent to allow some  sun to penetrate and hold heat if it’s left on during the day. (You  don’t want to smother your
plants.)
Some  farmers use Agribon as a seasonal cover that performs multiple tasks: keeping plants protected from frost; acting like a mini-greenhouse,  holding in solar heat for greater soil temperature; and protecting from  insects. They usually use the lighter weights of Agribon, rather than  the heavy, thick versions. It won’t protect much below 32 degrees, but  it does offer protection from a dip in temperature and/or biting winds.
That  should be enough for any cold snap we might get now. We normally don’t get a hard, killing frost until around the end of November to the first  of
December. As winter approaches, more intensive measures may be  required.
For  example, a simple way to keep winter greens from freezing is to simply take a few plastic soft drink bottles or milk jugs, fill them halfway  with
water, and put them between the rows of your plants. That passive  solar heating will keep the plants from freezing below the level Agribon  alone offers and especially if placed under Agribon with the plants.

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.