Tag Archives: farming

Young Couple Turns to Crowdfunding for Farm Expansion

(I’ve written about Dustin and Ali several times before in this blog. They are truly role models for young people entering farming. I wrote this piece to highlight their plight as they face regulatory barriers to achieving the American dream of being successful, sustainable small farmers in a world of agri-giants. Please feel free to repost it, share it, retweet it, whatever. They could use a little help. Thanks, Jim)
STARKVILLE, Miss. — By all outside measures, young farmers Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi are the picture of success. They’ve grown their Beaverdam Farm operation from nothing to now having about 350 laying hens and 800 meat birds a few miles from here in Clay County. 
Dustin Pinion (center) and Ali Fratesi (left) explain the basics of their pastured poultry/cattle operation at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS. The couple has been hit by regulations aimed at larger industrial agricultural operations threatening to shut them down and have turned to crowd funding to build a processing center that meets state and federal approval. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Dustin Pinion (center) and Ali Fratesi (left) explain the basics of their pastured poultry/cattle operation at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS. The couple has been hit by regulations aimed at larger industrial agricultural operations threatening to shut them down and have turned to crowd funding to build a processing center that meets state and federal approval.   (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

But the couple, in their 20s, are now what some might say are “victims of their own success.”
Dustin, 27, worked hard to get where he is, apprenticing under now-famous author, speaker and Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, to learn the ways of pastured poultry.
He has been a managing partner of High Hope Farm, a combined pastured poultry, swine and grass-fed beef farm, to try to save enough money to someday buy his own farm.
Fratesi, 26, his partner, works from before first light to well after dark, doing farm chores and tending to their buying club – which has more than 700 members – and carrying their dressed, all natural, chemical-free chickens 140 miles to sell at the Jackson Farmers Market on High Street. These are “better than organic!” they proclaim.
Every day, they monitor or move the netted and open bottom enclosures they have built from scrap tin and old cotton trailers so that the chickens are allowed to free range over the pasture. They follow the cattle that are constantly herded using temporary electric fencing so they might intensively feed on lush, green grass. They follow the swine that have been turned loose into scrub wood land that they are rooting and clearing for food, again herded by temporary electric wire to do the job a bulldozer would otherwise do, but is now done in a natural and sustainable way.
It’s a 7-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day job. And, yes, Ali admitted recently over her farmers market stall with fresh grown vegetables from their garden, it’s a hard life. But it’s one they relish – as countless other young couples have done in building a farm business from a few eggs and a lot of hard work.
Now, though, they’ve met a barrier to their dreams. They have reached the “1,000-bird limit” for small direct market poultry farmers and must build an on-site processing facility.The good part: it will allow them to process up to 20,000 birds a year. They hard part: they have to raise $30,000 to help them meet that goal.
Like a lot of young couples, Dustin and Ali don’t have a lot of money, certainly not $30,000 – and being young people with few tangible assets, they don’t qualify for much in the way of loans. So, they have turned to the public in trying to reach their goal. Called “crowdfunding,” they have turned to friends to help them launch a “kickstarter” campaign to raise the funds. (See: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1682257709/growing-the-farm-feeding-mississippi)
At this writing, they are about halfway toward their goal — a testament to the support they have from the community and their customers. But the goal is still elusive.
To lure donors, they are offering a lot of gifts that people might find enticing: from a mention on their website ($15) to naming a pig after you ($50) to really cool-looking T-shirts ($75), all the way up to $1,200 for a three-day farm stay weekend.
“The biggest problem we are facing is we are charting unknown waters,” they say. “Regulations and recommendations are in place for large scale chicken processing plants in Mississippi, but not for small farms like us.”
While the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce and the state Health Department are helping guide them in designing an on-site facility that should pass inspection, they don’t know what further fees and expenses they may face.
They believe that small, direct market growers like themselves are the future of agriculture in Mississippi and the nation.
It would be a shame if the ability to help make that dream a reality fell short because of state and federal regulations.
Take a look at their kickstarter page, buy a t-shirt, or a day on the farm! Helping young people achieve their dreams is a lasting gift in itself.

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

Advertisements

Can Small Sustainable Farming Succeed in America? Yes!

 

 

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

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

 

 

Sustainable Agriculture Networking Important

Sept. 14, 2013

Thoughts from returning from a conference in Alabama ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spontaneous Combustion of Hay a Real Threat

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

On my daily bike ride (which is more like every other daily maybe), I saw an interesting sight: Spontaneous combustion of a hay bale.

I was riding my bike and kept smelling smoke — not uncommon with people burning off their fields from winter stubble. I came over a rise and there was the hay bale, off the side of the road: smoldering.

I’ve seen it only very rarely. With round bales, it occurs where wet hay and dry hay are rolled up together. The heat from natural degradation or unintentional composting of the wet hay causes the dry hay to ignite. It can happen in stacked square bales, too.

Here’s more on the mechanics of it and how to avoid it from Washington State University: http://ext.wsu.edu/hay-combustion.html

Here’s a photo I took:

Spontaneous combustion of a hay bale occurs when damp and dry hay is mixed.

Spontaneous combustion of a hay bale occurs when damp and dry hay is mixed. Photo by Jim PathFinder Ewing c. blueskywaters.com

What to look out for? According to the WSU article:

There will be early warning signs. Watch for steam rising from bale surfaces and condensing on the roof and eves of the barn. Often molds will start to grow on all these surfaces, too. There will be an acrid, hot, tobacco smell rising from the bales. Even before these visual signs appear, it is wise to take the temperature of the bales in the stack.

If the hay is in round bales, probe the bale ends. If in square bales, probe from the sides. If you do not have a long temperature probe, you can use a crowbar. If the haystack is large, push the crowbar in between bales as deep as you can go. Leave the crowbar there for about two hours. Remove the bar and feel with your bare hands. If the crowbar is easily handled, without feeling heat or discomfort, the hay in that area has not heated yet.
If the crowbar can only be held for a short time, the hay temperature is approaching 130 Fº. If the bar can only be touched briefly, hay temperatures are about 140 Fº. At 150 Fº, the bar is too hot to hold.

There’s an important lesson here: Pay attention when cutting hay for storage. If that smoldering bale had been in an enclosed structure with other bales and other flammable materials, it could have posed a substantial danger. As it is, the farmer is out the $90 or so the bale could have fetched or the cost of feed that s/he would have to shell out to replace it.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. For more, see: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimpathfinderewing/, Facebook or his webpage, blueskywaters.com

Animal ID Plan A Blow to Local Food Movement

Animal ID Plan Punishes Backyard, Urban & Small Organic Growers

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

It’s hard to believe that the U.S. government is attempting to force animal identification on farmers again.

But as the Cornucopia Institute has pointed out (http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/06/5385/), the U.S. Department of Agriculture is resurrecting the proposed national animal identification rule that many thought dead due to massive outcry a year ago.

The rule would subject cattle and poultry owners across the country to new tagging and paperwork requirements that could collectively cost hundreds of millions of dollars, as Cornucopia points out, yet the USDA has designated the final rule it’s proposing as “not economically significant.”

Huh? Small poultry and livestock farmers would be unfairly and tremendously burdened by the cost of this regulation. Many likely would be put out of business or young farmers or beginners decide that the regulatory burden was too much to start. And this is for a problem (tracking diseased animals) that is overwhelmingly the result of large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), not small farmers.

It’s more of a blow to the local food movement than a “solution” to giant industrial farming abuses in the food system. In fact, it seems designed to specifically target and deter small farmers, backyard farmers, and urban farmers. Why? Because it requires extensive documentation and ear tags or expensive transponders with electronic chips implanted for each animal — goat, horse, pig, chicken — for them, while whole herds are treated as one animal for CAFOs (no fuss, no bother!).

These records are for any and all animals, except dogs and cats, but including cervids. If for any reason, a tag or ID device is removed (like, the animal died), it and its documentation must be kept for five years! If you think doing your income taxes each year is fun, add keeping records for your goat and backyard chickens — including those carried off by a fox, died of natural causes, or you ate. Regarding the rest of your flock, you won’t be able to sell them unless they have documentation, and you cannot buy animals without documentation, you cannot transport your animals without documentation and documentation about you and your records are kept on state and national registries to ensure compliance. (Maybe they ought to call it the national small farmer ID system!)

There are more regulations here for owning a chicken than for owning a gun!

Happy Easter, little Johnny or Sue, here’s your baby chick! …. And here’s the 29 pages in the Federal Register of regulations that go with it!

This proposed regulation fails for a number of reasons:

— It would make outlaws of most backyard poultry owners and small farmers who mix birds with their neighbors and grow their own flocks.

— It’s at odds with a government trying to cut costs, for taxpayers, businesses and consumers.

— It would be an “unfunded mandate” for states to track animals, adding regulatory staffs and paperwork even as they are cutting essential services like firefighters, police and schoolteachers to make ends meet.

— It would add red tape and expense to every step from farm to fork but mostly financially punish those who aren’t the problem — and act as a regulatory block and deterrent to new small businesses.

Small farmers everywhere — and the organizations that represent them — must join to block this unnecessary and damaging potential regulation.

Note, this is not legislation that can be voted on; it’s a proposed executive order that, unless stopped, likely will go into effect with the signature of the president’s pen.

Contact your senator or representative. Surely, reason must prevail to stop this regulation.

For more, see the Cornucopia Institute — www.cornucopia.org.

Or, The Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance — http://farmandranchfreedom.org/Animal-ID-2011

Read the proposed rule at: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Proposed%20Rule.pdf

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.

2012 Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Antibiotics in food not an ‘organic’ problem

Sept. 15, 2011

Antibiotics in food a ‘conventional,’ not organic, problem

Now that you’re diligently planting your fall garden, the question arises: How do I fertilize it in an organic way?

The easiest way is to use compost. That’s simply allowing vegetable table scraps, and other natural materials such as grass clippings, old coffee grounds and filters and egg shells to decompose, then applying them.

This rich material spread 1/4 inch deep on top of the soil, or used as a dressing for each plant, goes a long way.

In addition, you can use purchased materials such as nitrogen-rich organic fish emulsion or kelp meal, or blood meal. All are sold in local garden supply stores.

What you put into the soil results in the quality of what you pull out of the soil as food.

Reader response: I thought that it’s not OK to use commercial bagged manure because it has antibiotics in it from industrial agriculture and CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

Some inputs are not suitable for “organic” use, while they may be widespread in “conventional” agriculture. All manures for organic crops must be composted.

Additionally, some certifying agencies recommend against using poultry litter because it contains arsenic from feed.

You can look up brand names of sold manures to see if they comply with the National Organic Program at www.omri.org. They do not contain pesticides, hormones or synthetic chemicals.

Astoundingly, some obviously ignorant people have called organic unsafe for using manure when only organic farmers are regulated for safety in using manure while “conventional” agriculture is not.

The USDA announced Monday that it would begin testing pork for antibiotics. It’s a good first step, along with its plans to begin testing ground beef and beef scraps for six E. coli varieties.

Of course, this ruling dances around the central question of what is causing disease outbreaks. It’s not the E. coli, which is a natural bacterium, but factory farming that’s the culprit.

These pathogens are in the colon of cattle that when fed corn in feedlots and CAFOs are multiplied in number and virulence. When cattle are grassfed and finished (not corn), both E. coli numbers and acid resistance (ability to sicken humans) diminish.

“Conventional” agriculture: Certainly, antibiotic use in “conventional” agriculture should be sharply curtailed from the standpoint of public safety.

In a recent study, almost half of meat in groceries sampled was found to have drug-resistant bacteria – with CAFOs the suspected source (The Los Angeles Times, April 15: http://lat.ms/eL4Fap).

Regarding contaminants in soil from CAFO manures and other sources: Pharmaceuticals in the Environment: Sources, Fate, Effects and Risks by Klaus KŸmmerer (Springer, 2004) says chemicals in human sewer sludge (used in some “conventional” agriculture, euphemistically called “wastewater residuals” and “biosolids”) are the most long lasting in soil and water, and can persist for years, followed by swine runoff.

Drugs and chemicals in beef appear to be the most short-lived, dissipating within days or weeks.

Tested tetracyclines in chicken waste dissipated at varying rates, in as little as 30 days, with an average of 180 days.

Oxytetracycline in fish farm sediment generally lasted 120 days.

Organic standards call for a three-year moratorium on fields that have been used for conventional agriculture before they can be used for organic farm production.

Online: Farmers can sell or donate hay for farmers in Texas to help them feed their livestock during historic drought conditions. See:www.gotexan.org/HayhotlineHome.aspx.

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.

‘Feed the World’ with Organic ‘Dirt Farming’

Aug. 25, 2011
Organic is about about ‘dirt farming,’ feeding the world
Ideas about what constitutes “organic” – especially by people who should know better – surprises me sometimes.
For example, I keep seeing “studies” that purport to show that conventional, i.e. industrial/chemical agriculture “outperforms” organic crops.
It’s become a chestnut that it “feeds the world” (by spraying poisons, using up fossil fuels and destroying plant diversity through genetic manipulation – which are each and all unsustainable practices).
But the boastful claims are often based on “science” that’s skewed toward conventional methods. Notably, a “scientist” will take one plant and will dump synthetic fertilizer on it, spray it with pesticides and herbicides, then take another plant and and leave it alone and call it “organic.”
Naturally, the “conventional” ag plant will appear to thrive. But that’s a false measure. There’s nothing “organic” about a neglected plant in poor soil.
Organic growing, often called eco-farming or agro-ecology, is the opposite of simply applying artificial inputs. Instead, you cultivate the soil for what goes into the plant that, in turn, goes into the human body. In every sense of the word, it is organic – systemic or holistic – providing nutritious food from the ground up and the inside out.
Organic farmers might more accurately be called “dirt farmers,” in the strictest sense of the term: It’s all about the soil. Good soil produces good plants; poor soil, goosed by synthetic means, does not.
And by using artificial and synthetic means, conventional agriculture is destroying soil – by killing micro-organisms that boost plant growth. It also removes trace elements that add to nutrition, while washing away soil nutrients
and often leaving salts, creating desertification (with more than 100,000 acres – and growing – in California alone now useless for agriculture because of this today).
That’s what the “science” on “organic” versus “conventional” agriculture doesn’t tell you.
If crop scientists want to actually live up to the ideals of science – to discover truth – rather than just obtain more grants from Agribiz and be echo chambers for their interests, then they would be more honest in their methods
and assessments.
If you want to read a scientifically based study that does not have as its unstated premise a bias toward chemical farming, then read the United Nations special report released in March: http://bit.ly/om1r2c.
Titled Agro-ecology and The Right to Food, it demonstrates that organic growing can sustainably double food production in entire regions within 10 years – while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty!
Feed the world, indeed!
That’s real science, real food, real organic!
Reader Response: We are putting in 3-4 of your 4×8 (Jim’s Plots) in our backyard and the best spot is covered in thin monkey grass. Do we have to dig up the grass, roots and soil there?
The best way to take care of that is to cover it in cardboard then build compost, dirt, etc., 5-8 inches on top of it. By the time the cardboard decomposes, the monkey grass should be decomposed, as well; and you’ll have a
deeper layer of soil. You can also use old newspapers.
This building up of layers of soil is called “lasagna gardening,” and it works anywhere. We do it with cold frames we put out each fall.
Also, do this on a grassy patch adjacent to your plot, and by next spring, you will have enlarged your garden with new soil ready to plant.

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.

Reach for the stars when planting

Aug. 8, 2011When planting, go ahead and reach for the moon and stars

Cool winds may not be blowing, but now is the time for home organic gardeners to start thinking about their fall gardens.
Yeah, it’s hot, and humid, and the garden may be weedy, but if you want to have fall and perhaps winter greens this year, it’s good to start planning and preparing.
A good time to start actually digging and planting will be Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 3.
Until then, you can start figuring what you want to grow, ordering seeds, starting them so they’ll be ready to plant, and perhaps laying out a map of what goes where.
Last year, for example, we planted: collards, red kale, mizuna, purple mizuna, spinach, rainbow beets, rainbow chard, orange chard, red mustard, red turnips, purple top turnips, golden turnips, white turnips, red lettuce, red romaine, bibb lettuce, iceberg lettuce, hong vit radish, french breakfast radish, red cabbage, purple carrots, orange carrots, radiccio, broccoli and arugula.
Most of the leafy items made it into December (with a little help from Agribon, or row covers meant to counter frost). We also had cold frames that we later planted with carrots, lettuce and chard. Cold frames, simply put, are glass enclosures that can be opened during the day and closed at night during cold weather.
Ours produced throughout the winter and into spring, until they bolted, or went to seed.
Expertise: For many folks, planning how to plant according to the moon and stars – like the old folks did – is a concern. But it’s not information that’s handy anymore.
A good guide is The North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2011 by Maria and Matthias Thun (Floris Books, $13.95).
While some folks might say they would never plant by “astrology,” it should be pointed out that the biodynamic guide is not based on the thousands-of-years-old constellations in the sky per se, but in their rising and setting, or sidereal astronomy. People who follow biodynamic farming, based on the early 1900s theosophical agricultural philosophy of Rudolph Steiner, swear by planting by
the moon and stars.
Maria Thun is an authority on biodynamics. Her annual sowing and planting calendar is published in 18 languages and is in its 49th year. It’s the “real deal” for a “farmer’s almanac,” based on knowledge like the old folks used, as opposed to the kitschy ersatz version sold in convenience stores.
According to the biodynamic calendar, Sept. 4-5 are good times to plant leafy vegetables.
The calendar is available from: SteinerBooks, Box 960, Herndon VA 20172-0960; phone (703) 661-1594.
Fresh in Madison: Check out the Livingston Farmers Market, just outside Madison at the corner of Mississippi 22 and Mississippi 463. Hours: 4-8 p.m. each Thursday.
Vendors, contact Lisa Kuiper atlisa.kuiper@livingstonspringsfarm.com.
Organic key to future? According to CareerBuilder.com career trends, No. 3 of 10 Jobs of the Future is organic farmer! See:http://on-msn.com/nsec5n.

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.

Deer in the garden, and ‘Tomatoland’

July 29, 2011

Deer hate ‘talk radio,’ love organic gardens, and vote Green!


A reader was lamenting his problems with deer eating his garden produce, but said he thought he had found just the ticket for a deterrent.It’s a motion-activated device you connect to your garden hose so that that when set off it squirts the deer with water.

Sounds good to me! (I found one online called the Contech Electronics CRO101 Scarecrow Motion-Activated Sprinkler, list price $50. Ask for it at your local garden store.)

We’ve had problems with deer off and on over the years. Our philosophy is to generally plant enough to share and consider it doing your part to help the local wildlife. (I could go on and on about deer encounters in our garden. But how can you get upset with a momma and her fawn nibbling at your lettuce? Just plant more!)

But, if it becomes a problem, there are a couple of things you can do.

Foremost, build a tall fence. That’s the only surefire method.

But, in our little corner of the universe at ShooFly Farm, we’ve found that deer hate talk radio.

When we had a problem with deer eating too much, we tried putting a battery operated radio out there. Symphonic music seems to have no effect. They may even have liked it. They didn’t seem to like rock music much. But talk radio really kept them away.

Of course, it could be the political viewpoints that explain this phenomenon. I imagine a deer, if given the chance, would pull the voting lever for more wildlife preserves and cleaner air and water with their little hooves.

Some of them might even be more radical, intent on passing local zoning laws requiring all gardens to be organic, thus pesticide-free and purely tasty, and ban tall fences around them.

Yes, I’m sure, deer, if given the chance, would vote Green!

But I suspect it’s probably the radio set low, not blasting, giving an erratic modulation of human voices that scares them away.

I’m told that if a barber will allow you to take swept hair cuttings from the shop’s floor to sprinkle around the garden, that will do the trick, too.

But, for me, I’ll stick with talk radio! For the deer, anyway.

Reader feedback: A reader reports that following organic methods, his turnips from last fall reseeded themselves in his corn field where they were kept cool in the stalks’ shade. He has the best of both worlds: Summer corn and fresh turnip greens!

Sizzling summer reading: For more reasons to grow your own tomatoes specifically, and all veggies generally, read this summer’s hottest food book: Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $19.99).

It’s subtitle explains why: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.

Some of the book’s topics I’ve outlined in columns, such as why storebought tomatoes taste like cardboard (due to hybrid varieties to survive shipping, etc.). But a lot is grim news, too:

•The lengths to which industrial agriculture will go to produce “food” that’s saleable but perhaps not nutritious or safe;

•The truly frightening working conditions that are endured, including documented cases of actual slavery of farm workers, making a compelling case for better laws, more enforcement and implementing fair food practices.

For anyone interested in our food system, Estabrook’s book ranks right up there with Fast Food Nation, Fair Food and the Omnivore’s Dilemma for insightful, relevant food reporting.

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.

Homesteading, canning, grilling

July 22, 2011
Homesteading, canning, grilling offer garden allureWith the summer heat and crops coming in, a lot of folks start thinking about what to do with all this organic produce.
Perhaps you’ve given as much as you can to relatives, neighbors friends, maybe, up to and including strangers on the street.
I’ve actually heard of people who wouldn’t leave their cars unlocked because they were afraid friends would leave bags of produce on their seats.
The solution, of course, is canning and pickling.
Just about everybody has a neighbor, mom or aunt who knows how to do this, and they often may even invite people over to have a big “can-a-thon” for preserving fruits and vegetables over the winter.
With this in mind, there are some books on the market that help with what in former years was considered just home living, but today is called homesteading – or “making do” with your garden, two hands and elbow grease.
One with a great canning section is Modern Homestead: Grow, Raise, Create by Renee Wilkinson (Fulcrum, 2011, $26.95). It’s chock full of down-to-earth instructions and plans for skills as diverse as preserving foods to building a chicken coop to caring for goats.
Filled with beautiful photos and illustrations, Wilkinson tells pretty much everything anyone needs to know to get started in sustainable living, especially in urban and suburban areas. It’s a compact resource that should be kept handy, with a valuable index for looking things up.
Another good book but more geared toward city dwellers is Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan with K. Ruby Blume (Skyhorse, 2011, $16.95).
A little “edgier” in tone, from Oakland, Calif., Urban Homesteading gives the basics of homesteading, but beyond that, it goes into areas such as ways to more efficiently heat and cool one’s home, retrofitting houses and grounds (including “cob” structures of dirt, water and straw) and even building top-bar Kenyan bee hives (more natural and inexpensive do-it-yourself versions).
It’s great for sparking new ideas for looking at your own homestead afresh.
If you are looking for more in-depth information regarding animals and homesteading, there’s yet another book that fills that bill: The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals by Gail Damerow (Storey, 2011, $24.95). It’s subtitle tells all: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh … Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees.
A great book, totally informative, Backyard Homestead will have you staring out the window wondering if maybe a few belted Galloway cows might actually improve the looks of the place, even – and maybe especially – if you don’t have a big spread.
With these three books, one could make a good start at “making do” with modern homesteading.
Canning workshops for farmers market sellers Thursday in Jackson and Aug. 2 in Hernando:The Acidified Canned Foods Training for Farmers Market Vendors is a one-day workshop to teach the basics of food safety and regulations for processing acidified foods.
This training will qualify you for processing acidified foods that can be sold in local, certified farmers markets in Mississippi.
A General Farmers Market Food Safety Training will also take place afterwards.
To register or for more information, see www.fsnhp.msstate.edu/farmersmarkettraining or call: Anna Hood, (662) 325-8056; email: annah@ext. msstate.edu.
Grilled Veggies: For a tasty treat, and to keep the house cool, try grilling vegetables outdoors. My favorite is grilled okra, peppers and tomatoes! (Try okra alone; it’s not “slimy” but with a dry texture and smoky flavor.)
We use a grill wok (stainless steel square with holes everywhere; we bought ours at Walmart) to create great stir fries with veggies that would normally fall through an outdoor grill.
From my beautiful wife Annette: You can grill a cheese sandwich or panini if you lightly brush oil on the exposed bread, cover with a small plate and weight it with something heavy (like a flat rock).
We marinate meats, chicken and fish to greatly reduce HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and other carcinogens caused by grilling (veggies don’t produce HCAs).
Be sure to use anti-oxident rich ingredients, such as rosemary, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onions, red wine, balsamic vinegar and marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Or brief pre-cooking in a microwave (one minute) brings HCAs out with the “juice,” which should be discarded before grilling. Grilled chicken has the highest HCAs, and fish also develops them.

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.

‘Farm on Wheels,’ nematodes, ‘greenhorns’ helpful

July 14, 2011
‘Farm on Wheels’ offers hands-on organic food outreachRecent graduates of the Mississippi School of Math and Science have converted a school bus to biodiesel and turned it into a sustainable “Farm on Wheels.”
Based in Oxford, it’s a rolling greenhouse, chicken coop and more that will serve as an educational outreach tool.
The Farm on Wheels made stops in Jackson, Starkville and Hattiesburg in recent weeks. It plans to travel throughout Mississippi and the South and return in time for the fall school year so Mississippi schoolchildren can take a look.
The Legislature this past session passed legislation to study alleviating “food deserts,” or areas in the state where no fresh produce is available. This Farm on Wheels could be a great tool for outreach so people in underserved areas can be reintroduced to self-sufficient living by growing their own food.
I say, “reintroduced,” because within the living memories of many Mississippians, growing vegetables and having a few chickens was the norm. But, unfortunately, since World War II, the mechanization of farming, the use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides, and elders having died off, too many rural people have lost the knowledge of how to grow for themselves.
The surging popularity of Community Supported Agriculture is one helpful method, where farmers obtain subscriptions for growing food for others by selling shares in the crops, thus raising needed money upfront to be able to afford to plant.
That is bringing fresh, nutritious, organically grown foods to ever increasing numbers. Community gardens are also springing up in urban areas of the state; for example, at Tougaloo College, operated by Rainbow Natural Foods Co-op in Jackson.
Where it’s not economically feasible to run full-time stores in rural or urban areas, such community oriented ventures can fill in the gap.
They are a benefit to everyone and are becoming popular across the Magnolia State, along with ever more local farmers markets being created under the auspices of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture & Commerce.
For more about the Farm on Wheels, see: http://msmobilefarm.com/Or, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/farmonwheels.
It’s getting a little late in the season for it, but some bug issues can be solved by using beneficial nematodes – roundworms that live in the soil.
Nematodes can be a “bad” thing – some spell death for tomatoes, for example. But others only attack insects that prey on plants.
They are most effective when ordering by soil type.
Arbico Organics (www.arbico-organics.com) sells a variety for use on sandy soil that attacks armyworm, artichoke plume moth, Asian cockroach, beet armyworm, black cutworm, bluegrass weevil, codling moth, corn earworm, cotton bollworm, cucumber beetle, fall armyworm, fly larvae, fruit fly, German cockroach, leaf miners, mole crickets, tobacco budworm, wireworm and more.
Other varieties are for lawns or high clay soils, and even attack ticks and fleas.
They can be ordered for garden sizes up to fruit growers’ orchards and full farm sizes. Check it out. If nothing else, it could disrupt the cycle for next year or help with fall planting.
•Online: Here’s a blog for young people by self-described farming Greenhorns for Greenhorns, with links to farm-related blogs by and for young people getting into farming:http://thegreenhorns.wordpress.com/
•Online: In Kansas City, there’s a food truck called The Beans and Greens Mobile to combat local food deserts; see: http://bit.ly/lQNlAc.
•Online: Farmers markets beat supermarkets on affordability:http://tinyurl.com/ylzpkwv.

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.

Beneficial insects, bug database helpful

July 8, 2011
Beneficial insects, bug database can help organic gardens
In midsummer, the number of blights, pests and other issues that can plague the organic garden can seem overwhelming.
There are two resources we’ve used to address some of them; first is adding beneficial insects to control pest outbreaks; second is a computer database that can instantaneously diagnose the various symptoms and offer certified organic solutions.
Ladybugs are the most popular beneficial insect for the garden. We bought some to control an aphid outbreak the year before last and they are still prolific; we have also bought praying mantids.
According to Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, which sells ladybugs, they are capable of consuming up to 50 to 60 aphids per day and one ladybug can consume many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.
They also eat a variety of other insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites and various types of soft-bodied insects.
Typically, ladybugs are sold in large numbers; 70,000 ladybugs per gallon, or 18,000 per quart. Use one gallon for up to three acres. In orchards, use one gallon per acre. Grain crops may require as little as one gallon for every 10 acres.
For melons and cucumbers, use one gallon for every 15 acres.
Next year, you might consider the praying mantid. It eats aphids, beetles, flies, mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, wasps, generally, any insect it can catch. The praying mantid’s egg sac can contain up to 40,000 eggs. They usually hatch in spring.
You can buy live ladybugs and praying mantid egg sacs online (even Costco sells the latter). We bought ours from Peaceful Valley, Box 2209, Grass Valley CA 95945, phone: 1-888-784-1722, or: www.groworganic.com. And, yes, praying mantids will eat ladybugs. So, you might want to stagger them out a bit.
If you are finding strange plant symptoms, here’s a handy online resource for finding safe, organically OMRI approved non-toxic pesticide solutions at the Organic Pesticides /predators Database: http://bit.ly/g6Eqgu.
The service is provided by National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Box 3838, Butte MT 59702; phone: 1-800-346-9140.
Treat your kitties: Try growing catnip in your garden, or in a pot. It’s easy to grow (it’s a member of the mint family) and comes back year after year. Just take a few leaves, chop them or crumble them up, and put them on the floor or in a sock or kitty’s favorite place (not in food).
Catnip also makes a nice tea for humans. It contains nepetalactone, a natural sedative, and is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and muscle-relaxing. (Not recommended for expectant or nursing mothers.)
Fresh produce: Just a reminder for those looking for fresh fruit and veggies: The Mississippi Farmers Market, located at 929 High St. adjacent to the fairgrounds, is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, call (601) 354-6573, email FarmersMarket@mdac.state.ms.us or visitwww.msfarmersmarket.com.
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

‘Tilth’ helps hold soil moisture

July 1, 2011
Check ’tilth’ in organic garden for soil moisture
I guess weird weather is the “new normal” now, with weeks of no rain, crops fried in 100-degree days, then rain falling finally, blessedly, but perhaps too little too late for many this season.
Given the heat, now’s a good time to check the moisture holding capacity of your soil. If you have adequate tilth (loamy material) and regular watering, you should have only a light crust on the top but can push in your finger without a great deal of effort.
But if it’s too hard for a gentle push of the finger, don’t despair. It can take years to build up the soil. We’ve dumped tons, literally, on our plots and they break down rapidly with acidic, sandy soil.
Remember, with organic gardening, the soil is everything, but it’s a moving target. It’s a constant balancing act between biomass and soil digestion activity.
Take this as an opportunity for future growth: Just keep adding more compost and, in fall, more leaves or other vegetative matter to build up your tilth.
By the way, old folks used to put sawdust in their gardens. That’s fallen out of fashion, as it tends to eat up nitrogen breaking down. But if you are using foliar feeding – spraying kelp or fish emulsion to feed nitrogen for it to be absorbed through leaves – I believe sawdust could help hold soil moisture. That is, as long as it’s not chemically treated wood.
It was good enough for our Mississippi forebears and Helen and Scott Nearing – homesteaders in 1930s Maine (see their book: Living The Good Life). So, if you’ve got it, I’d use it.
Growing tip: You can grow your own natural sweetener using leaves from the Stevia plant. It’s not too late to plant to get some leaves by fall.
According to WebMD, it is useful for those who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and other weight-related medical problems.
The leaves contain the sweet glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside, which are 300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Seeds are commonly available and can be purchased from Burpee, if not locally. It grows prolifically, like mint.
We grow it and use it. Tastes great. I like it in my tea instead of sugar.
Summer reading: I recommend: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs, $24.99).
Founder and head of the nonprofit Fair Food Network and a former agronomy professor at Michigan State University, Hesterman is quick to point out that he is not writing about our broken food system from the standpoint of a chef or journalist, but as someone who has experienced it from plow to plate.
The observations he makes are similar to the popular notions of journalist Michael Pollan and chef Mark Bittman, but his methods are more direct, from developing locally profitable food distribution systems in urban and rural “food deserts” to joining corporations such as Costco in developing transnational fair trade supply trains that ensure living wages for producers and reinvestment in local communities.
Fair Food is a serious book about a serious subject. It offers ideas for local communities, as well as suggestions for local, state and national policy makers (I hope members of the Legislature read this book!) It should add immeasurably to the national conversation about fixing our food – and world! – for the better.

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.

Permaculture, Organic, Slow Gardening

June 24, 2011
‘Permaculture,’ ‘organic’ and Felder all provide surprises
A reader asked, “What you do, this ‘deep or pure organic,’ is more like permaculture, isn’t it?”
I’d have to say that’s a pretty good stab at an explanation, but only part of growing organic.
The term “permaculture” was coined by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, one of his students, to incorporate two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and “Permanent Agriculture.” Mollison said the concept came to him in 1959 while watching two marsupials browsing in the rain forests, seeing how flora and fauna worked together to be sustainable.
Since then, the term has grown to include a lot more than agriculture or gardening, embracing even political activity and international problem-solving.
One of the leaders in the field is Portland State University Professor Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (2000, updated 2009, Chelsea Green, $29.95) which I highly recommend.
So, what is a permaculture garden? Let me say that, the clearest way of understanding the concept would be to consider alternate phrases that essentially mean the same thing, such as eco-gardening, or creating an ecological or biodiverse garden with few human interventions.
Many of the practices of organic farming, such as nurturing natural insect, fungus and bacterial life in the soil, promoting vegetative decomposition and encouraging beneficial insects to keep balance in the garden, are elements of permaculture.
But, while organic gardeners may attempt to till the soil as little as possible, disturbed ground is anathema in permaculture, since it allows nonnative invasives (or opportunistic plants) to spring forward altering the ecosystem.
In our organic garden, we rotate crops, add amendments, and are constantly working the soil with compost to return the nutrients lost in crop production.
But in permaculture, the goal is to recreate dynamic, vibrant landscapes found in nature, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem with little if any human intervention.
So, they share some processes and aim toward the goal of sustainability and natural balance, but differ in degree and kind.
It’s not “all or nothing,” however. One can incorporate elements of permaculture in one’s food or flower garden.
See Hemenway’s book for photos of some wonderful garden designs that can incorporate permaculture in your backyard.
Felder’s book to be a classic! Speaking of good reads, our own fellow local garden columnist Felder Rushing has a new book coming out in July titled Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and All Seasons (Chelsea Green, $29.95).
I was sent a review copy, and I’m going to tell you the absolute truth: What a great book!
It covers everything a beginning – and expert! – gardener would need to know, including such “exotic” items as growing a “green” roof, creating a backyard wildlife habitat, secrets of fertilizing and more.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this book is that it lays gardening out as not a hard-to-do chore or activity of “experts,” but something everybody and anybody can do, without much fuss or muss. The purpose of gardening, as Felder points out, is to have fun. How often we forget that!
The photos are incredible, the book laid out well, with large type, and lots of
easy-to-follow instructions. It reads like an old friend, sitting on the porch, rocking, sharing ideas.
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.

Gadgets for organic dads

June 17, 2011
Organic ‘gadget’ dads can check their ERGs, ORPs, Brix and sap!
Father’s Day is Sunday and folks looking for something for Dad might consider some gadgets.
I’m not much of a “gadget guy,” but even I find myself mesmerized by some devices.
Some call the Baker Creek Seeds catalog, with its full-color, glossy photos, “vegetable porn” because the depictions are just … well, any gardener would lust for such plump ripeness! Peaceful Valley, for gadget guys, must be similar.
Just looking at the catalog (www.groworganic.com), I find myself wanting “stuff.”
I mean, what garden gadget guy could do without an Oakton ERGS Meter ($79.99)?
What’s an ERG? Why, glad you asked: that’s Energy Released per Gram of Soil – “the amount of energy available to the growing crops and microorganisms,” the catalog helpfully explains.
A reading above 1,000 means a salt problem and potential for root burn and nematodes; below 200 indicates no crop growth.
Now, presumably, you’ve got your pH level ascertained, via a soil sample, but they have meters for that, too.
But who could be without knowing how his ORP is doing?
Don’t know what an ORP is, you say? That’s Oxygen Reduction Potential (or available oxygen) in the soil. ORP and pH readings, together, provide an rH value. That Redox Value (rH) can determine the ability of humus building for the soil, or with a high reading, loss of carbon.
So, I guess you need your ORP Tester ($159) and possibly pH Test Kit ($14.99) to ensure that you’re not accidentally adding to global warming!
And, if you really want to be a hotshot, and show how your organic produce is measurably better than the cardboard stuff on grocery shelves, you need your Sap Extractor ($39.99) along with your Refractometer ($69.99) for measuring Brix.
High Brix indicates adequate nutrition, fertilization success and good immune systems in the plant; sugar content measures maturity. Take that, industrial agriculture!
The only problem with all this is that if I bought all of this “stuff,” I couldn’t afford to buy any seeds!
Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Organic practices lessen E. coli threat

 

June 9, 2011

Organic practices lessen threat of disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heat, drought hard on organic garden

June 2, 2011

Be nimble to adjust to hot weather in organic garden

This hot, dry spell we are in can wreak havoc on plants, so here are a couple of suggestions tailored for the organic garden.

First off, if you are having to water a lot, remember that city water treatment chemicals can build up and also stunt microbial life in the soil. So, it would be worth your while to invest in a chlorine filter. It screws into your garden hose. Filters are available at pool supply stores or online. If you don’t have a pond that’s untreated or rain barrels, this is the next best thing.

Second, frequent watering leaches nutrients from the soil. The best and easiest way to replenish the soil short term is by a top dressing of worm castings. Just apply a thin layer at the plants’ roots.

Third, the high humidity and cool nights with blazing heat during the day is stressing plants so that many may exhibit powdery mildew or blights, especially on tomatoes. You can remedy this organically by using Serenade Garden Disease Control. It is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed, approved for certified organic crops. It is not a chemical or poison but contains Bacillus subtilis, a soil-dwelling bacterium that controls leaf blight, black mold, powdery mildew and many other diseases.

Nothing beats rain water, but these steps can help your 4×8-foot Jim’s Plot weather the drought.

Another tip that may not endear you to your neighbors, but helps, is allowing the weeds to grow between your plants. In this heat and humidity, the weeds trap moisture in the soil and shade the plants’ roots. This goes against the fencerow-to-fencerow monoculture industrial farming scenario, but it works well on small plots.

Allowing buffer zones, also, that is tall grass weeds to stand between rows or at various junctures, also encourages beneficial insects and gives cover to helpful fauna, such as toads, birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

While we’re at it, don’t be afraid to allow a planting to “go bad.” For example, we had some pretty expensive lettuces we planted in early spring that were almost immediately attacked by insects. But we waited to see what would happen and were rewarded to find that the bugs went for the lettuce but left our chard, carrots, beans, peas and other plants unmolested. The lettuce patch became what’s called “a trap crop,” that is, a patch specifically set aside for bugs to feed on, so other patches are left alone.

The main thing in growing organic is to allow your crops to discover their “feet,” and come into balance. You’ll win some and lose some, but by encouraging good soil and soil nutrients, and supporting helpful methods, rather than poisoning or destroying, allowing growth will be beneficial for you and your garden.

Reader response: I planted clover as a cover crop and now it’s taken over my garden!

Boy, that’s a problem I wish I had – and am actually trying to achieve with one of our fields!

For a cover crop, we planted a mix of New Zealand white clover and strawberry clover that’s supposed to be heat tolerant and withstand drought, while also crowding out weeds. It also provides 110-165 pounds per acre of nitrogen, which is sorely needed in our field.

To “solve” the clover “problem,” just till your crop strips about 3 feet across with 3 feet or more between the rows, and cover the strips with either newspaper, WeedGuard paper or cardboard. Poke a hole in the cover and plant your seed there. Next year, repeat the procedure 3 feet over, sliding your cardboard or redoing your WeedGuard or newsprint (both of which should have biodegraded).

In this fashion, you are allowing the clover to grow except where you are directly planting.

You also are constantly replenishing the soil in old areas while also enriching next year’s plot – essentially labor free. It’s also great for honeybees!

Organic Ag Grants: On May 24, the USDA released the Request for Applications (RFA) for its Organic Transitions Program.

The goal of the program is to support the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are newly adopting organic practices.

The deadline is June 30. For more info, see: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/organic-research-rfa.

Food desserts: Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed into law a bill to establish a panel to study “food deserts” – that is, rural and urban areas in Mississippi where there are no outlets for fresh produce.

They might consider what local folks in Nashville are doing. In cooperation with Vanderbilt University, grocers, local farmers and health care professionals have started a mobile market. It’s essentially a walk-in trailer with healthy, nutritious food.

They identified the major issues as distance, time, childcare and transport. So, it travels to food deserts with produce for sale and is operated by volunteers.

Good idea! For more information, visit www.nashvillemobilemarket.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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Better food, a better planet

May 26, 2011

Growing organic makes for better food, a better planet

I had a nice email exchange with a reader about organic gardening, in which he essentially said he “sort of” did it.

As I wrote to the reader, back in the 1980s and ’90s, I was doing as he is now, planting hybrids (Better Boy tomatoes were my faves) and lightly using chemicals. I thought that if I just limited the amount of synthetics, that would be “organic” enough, and I reasoned, what was wrong with hybrids, anyway?

It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I found that even a “smattering” of chemicals destroyed the delicate balance of organisms that make up a truly organic garden. By using chemicals to change one issue, such as blight, or bugs, or using harsh, synthetic fertilizer, necessitated even stronger artificial methods in a self-perpetuating cycle. And, all the while, I was destroying the delicate microbial life that enriched the vegetables, ensuring nutrients were going from the ground into my body.

I had no idea that when I occasionally threw a handful of anhydrous ammonia into the compost or soil, I was killing the unseen universe that supported abundant, nutritious, healthy produce.

Further, I had no idea that by relying on hybrids that I was voting with my dollars to decrease planet’s biodiversity.

Every year, between consumers not planting rare seeds and giant Ag Biz conglomerates buying up seed stocks and either converting them to genetically engineered products or discontinuing those lines, we’re reducing food plant diversity.

What happens when we no longer have access to diverse seeds? We set up our food seed supply to be owned by a handful of private multinational corporations and open the way for potential famine when a pathogen inevitably mutates to attack those few lines of patented seeds. And, by the way, do you think that entire nations will calmly starve to death when crops fail and there are few commercial seeds available except those genetically vulnerable to disease?

So, I changed my thinking and behavior to true organic. This is the path I believe is something of a “back to the future” approach, away from petrochemicals and artificial fertility and working toward restoring the earth and bringing balance for healthy crops – and people!

Grow organic. Cultivate heirlooms and rare seeds. Enjoy the rich bounty of the earth. And know you are doing your part for better food, a better planet, for future generations.

Reader response: Ratio for applying compost?

A little bit of compost goes a long way. Apply 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch on your garden. That translates to 1-4 cubic feet of compost for 100 square feet. Incorporate that into the the top 2-4 inches of soil by digging or raking or tilling. Apply more thickly to poorer soils, more lightly to richer soils.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to lay it on more thickly if you have it. Just work it in the soil. At ShooFly Farm, we have several 50-gallon “spin” composters that we use, and they digest down to about 1 1/2 to 2 cubic feet every 90 days. We just keep filling them in sequence, so we generally have compost routinely available. You can also use windrows; that is, pile up the material and turn it from time to time until it’s digested into dark, rich matter.

Author Michael Pollan makes fun of organic gardeners’ fixation with compost, but it’s for a reason: The plants you put into your body contain the nutrients that are in soil. If your soil does not contain the full array of minerals and trace elements, along with the proper beneficial bacteria that allow the plants’ roots’ efficient intake of them, then your food and your body will be lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

It’s called “full belly” syndrome. You can buy processed food, or vegetables grown in depleted soils, and fill your belly, but won’t receive all that you need for strong muscles, bones, hair and teeth. Nurture your compost. By saving such waste as food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, melon rinds and yard clippings, you are turning trash into gold. Your compost is like money in the bank – in the coin of health for you and your family!

Reader response: I have a big problem with fire ants taking over my raised beds. How can I control them organically? There is an OMRI-approved fire ant bait called Garden Safe; it’s sold at some Walmarts. You may have to order it online. Although it’s OMRI approved for certified organic gardening, we usually dump coffee grounds on the mounds if they are in the garden per se, then use the Garden Safe around the garden. The active ingredient is Spinosad, which is a bacterium. You can also pour boiling water on the mound.

Online. Plants looking bedraggled? Clip this out and save it: Common symptoms of soil deficiencies: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/nutrient-deficiency-problem-solver.

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.