Tag Archives: permaculture

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Earth Day & The Future of the Organic Movement

Earth Day and the Organic Movement

April 18, 2012

Forty-two years ago, a new way of looking at our Earth arose in human consciousness.
It came about on Christmas Eve in 1968 when Astronaut William  Anders looked out the window of Apollo 8 and snapped a photo that he  dubbed “Earthrise.”
The photo was featured on the cover of the first “Whole Earth Catalog,”  which celebrated natural living and a back-to-the-earth credo in 1970.  It became the icon of a movement that saw the first Earth Day that same  year.
That holistic way of looking at the world—seeing us all as voyagers on a  tiny, bobbing blue and green vessel in the vastness of space—gave vigor  to another movement that came to be called organics.
On Earth Day this year, it’s time to review where that movement went, where it is likely go and maybe even where it should go.
For those deeply involved in the organics movement, this year could  prove transformative. Some of its pioneers believe that industrial  agriculture has
co-opted the movement since the U.S. Department of  Agriculture took over administration of organics, and that the movement  has lost its spirit. The USDA has even made it illegal for a farm to use  the word  unless it us USDA certified.
Most of the USDA Certified Organic produce you see in your local  grocery store is grown on huge factory farms using migrant laborers who  are often abused and exploited, paid pennies on the dollar, housed in  shanties and, because they are often undocumented, are afraid to  complain for fear of being deported. That’s if the produce is grown in  the United States.
Much of the produce marked USDA Certified Organic in your market is  imported from foreign countries where inspections to ensure harmful  synthetic chemicals, fertilizers and poisons aren’t used or may be lax.  Corporate ownership of organic brands is becoming the norm. (For a list  of corporations that own certified organic farms and their brands, see http://www.bit.ly/i6zF44.)

Beyond the Label
Eliot Coleman, author of “The Winter Harvest Handbook” (Chelsea Green  Publishing, 2009, $29.95) among other titles, grower, and owner of Four  Season Farm in Maine (fourseasonfarm.com), was a founder of the organics  movement in the 1960s and helped set up the original National Organic  Program guidelines.
Now, however, he rejects USDA certification.
Indian Line Farm in Egremont, Mass., one of the first Community  Supported Agriculture farms in the U.S. and a founder of the CSA  movement, also rejects USDA certification, choosing instead to be listed  with Certified Naturally Grown, a nonprofit alternative eco-labeling  program for small farms that grow using USDA organic methods but are not  part of the USDA program. (Disclosure: My ShooFly Farm in Lena is CNG  certified.)
The organics movement faces a dilemma, even from within: whether to  embrace “evil” Big Ag and all it entails, including greater corporatism  and devaluing of workers, or to reject the mainstreaming of organics and  its promise of a better planet.
This schism is playing out around the world. Countries in Europe and  elsewhere have rejected genetically modified, or GMO, seeds and food  because they believe these mutated strains are untested for human health  and safety and could pose a threat to the environment. However, under a  quirk of U.S. law, GMO doesn’t have to meet independent testing and  analysis to be proven safe. The foods are safe because companies that  genetically engineer them say they are safe, and they fund their own  studies to prove it. Hence, companies can market GMO food and seed to an  unsuspecting public even without labeling.
Organic growing practices do not allow GMO seeds or plants. But even  here, corporate agriculture is pushing to include GMOs in USDA organic  certification rules. (For more, see: OTA ‘Modified’ by GMO interests,  Organic Consumers Association, June 9, 2011: http://www.organicconsumers.org/bytes/ob280.htm.)
A real risk exists that, ultimately, the food and farming label of “USDA Organic” will be a distinction without a difference.

Organics’ Gordian Knot
This growing divide forces a dilemma for the consumer as well.  Certainly, Certified Organic is better than conventional chemical  farming. It’s healthier,
safer and more beneficial for the planet. But  it’s a Faustian bargain: In exchange for safe, healthy, pesticide-free  food under the guise of saving the
planet with environmentally friendly  farming methods, consumers may be dooming the planet to worse air  pollution, depletion of natural resources and
exploitation of workers,  while putting land ownership and food production into fewer hands.
Like the fabled Gordian knot that many said was impossible to unravel,  the answer for consumers is almost embarrassingly simple: Grow local,  buy local. In other words, cut through USDA and Big Ag-generated  confusion.
Here is the key to the future of organics if it is to continue in the  spirit in which it began: The organic movement must transition from an  idea of
sustainability using old growing methods to a new model that  embraces modern social change and science. In centuries past, growers  who used organic methods knew the practice worked, but they didn’t know  why. Now, with all the research into soil science that is broadening  horizons as to the vital role of fungi and microorganisms in the soil,  we know and can scientifically prove that organic methods can feed the  world for a safer, sustainable and nourished planet.
Consumers want safe food, and young people have embraced the idea. Many  have started small backyard and “boutique” farms to grow foods. This  small but growing postmodern organics movement embraces a worldwide  awareness under the moniker “ecoagriculture.” I believe this is the next  phase of organic growing.

The Power of Choice
In America, I suspect this movement will likely veer increasingly away  from pure crop production and toward a more holistic view of the  environment, such
as permaculture. Coined in 1959 by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren,  permaculture incorporates two concepts: “Permanent Culture” and  “Permanent Agriculture.” The practice eschews soil disruption, an  agricultural hallmark since its beginning 10,000 years ago.  To the  untrained eye, a permaculture food plot may appear to be a jungle.  However, if it is well crafted, it can serve as a continuing ecosystem  through the seasons, providing food with a minimum of human  intervention.
Consumers’ continued demand to label genetically engineered foods will  boost natural growing techniques and, perhaps, reverse the decline in  seed diversity. Demand can revive heritage foods and crops, while  shifting attention toward fruits and vegetables, lessening health  threats caused by high-fat, high-sugar, processed “food products.”
The future of organics is in our hands. We each can do our part in  keeping our precious Earth of Anders’ iconic photo blue, green and clean  by growing our own food — whether in our backyards or with our neighbors  in community gardens — and by buying organic, rejecting GMO, supporting  locally grown food and only voting for those who look out for the  consumer first.
This is the type of organic growing that those of us who  marveled at that little planet in the black void of space envisioned  some 42 years ago.

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.

‘One Straw’ – Zen and The Art of Farming

Aug. 19, 2011
Japan’s ‘One-Straw’ approach: Zen and the art of farming
Organic farming is the term that most in the U.S. relate to growing food without chemicals, but there are various other terms, including eco-farming, permaculture, biodynamic farming and natural farming.
In Japan, the One-Straw Revolution of natural farming has been under way since 1975, when the late Masanobu Fukuoka published his book, The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (New York Review of Books Classics, $15.95, 2009).
One might call it an organic Zen and the art of farming.
Fukuoka, who died in 2008, believed that natural farming is tied to the spiritual health of the individual, and his growing methods were influenced by Zen Buddhism, Taoism and the Bible. He developed his method of “do-nothing” farming over 30 years. A man after my own heart, he believed weeds are beneficial to the crop, and that
reliance on chemicals and poisons is anathema to healthy plants or humans.
His way of farming is based on two main observations:
— Japan grew food for 1,500 years without artificial fertilizer or deep plowing or chemical herbicides, insecticides or other poisons on the same land with excellent results, but these fields “have now been laid waste by the exploitive
farming practices of a single generation”;
— Left on its own, soil will always be replenished by nature: weeds, animals, brush and trees. There is no need for fertilizer or chemicals to kill insects or weeds.
The success of his method is based on seeing agricultural practices strictly for their utility.
For example, he grew rice on dry land, rather than flooded fields, because he found that he can produce as much without the greater effort. The reason fields had been flooded when the practice began 1,500 years ago was to reduce weeds. He could do the same by planting white clover, with the beneficial result of adding fertility to the soil.
His four principles are:
— No cultivation. It stirs up weed seeds deeply buried and promotes erosion and loss of topsoil.
— No chemical fertilizer or prepared compost. “Left to itself, soil maintains its fertility naturally.”
— No weeding by tillage or herbicides. Weeds balance the biological community.
— No dependence on chemicals. “Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance.”
Those who practice organic methods will recognize these principles as, essentially, what has been called “deep organic,” or growing without chemical inputs of any kind – even those approved for certified organic.
His approach should be enlightening to anyone who seeks to grow food crops naturally.
You should be starting your seeds now for planting in a couple of weeks for a fall garden. Count back the number of days on the seed packet for full fruition before frost (around here, about Nov. 1).
We’ll be planting Labor Day!

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.