Tag Archives: sustainable agriculture

Come See Me in Kissimmee

I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on soil health at a small farms conference in Florida Aug. 2.

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

Rachel (right), daughter of longtime friends Nick and Margie Pikarsky, and her friend (and now my friend) Nicole Fiori, were great to be around at the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee, Fla, Aug. 2-4, 2013. While it may appear all fun and games, I’ll be back again this year working hard – operating the booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program, promoting and educating about sustainable agriculture for ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, and moderating a panel discussion on cover crops and soil health featuring experts in the field from the University of Florida and other organizations.

Here’s the who, what, where, why, when:

Conference: Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference
Topic: Soil Health in the Subtropics and Tropics
Presenter: Jim Ewing, Moderator
Location: Kissimmee, Florida
Date: 2014-08-02
Registration Info: Learn more about farming as well as alternative enterprises, through farm tours, a trade show, networking opportunities, live animal exhibits, and hands-on workshops.
Registration Link: http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms/registration.html

I went to the conference last year, operating a booth for NCAT’s ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) program. If you are an organic grower or interested in sustainable agriculture in Florida and the region, it’s definitely the place to be! I wrote about it on this blog, outlining some of the offerings, including detailed information about aquaponics.

Already, the talk I’ll be moderating is quickly filling up. If you are interested in cover crops and soil health, it should be quite informative, with experts and farmers who are actively growing cover crops available to share their knowledge.

I’ll also be operating a booth for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) program. I’ll be handing out lots of free information about sustainable agriculture.

Come see me!

I’ll be on Twitter @OrganicWriter

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.

A Delightful Evening with Michael Pollan

 

Last night, I had a wonderful time visiting with Michael Pollan, American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

There also were about 600 other people in the room for “An Evening With Michael Pollan” in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. Judging by their rapt attention and applause, I’d say they had a splendid time, too! If you care about food (other than stuffing it in your mouth), its history, its social importance, and health effects, then Pollan is an expert worth heeding. The fact that his six books on the subject have all reached bestseller status is testimony that plenty of people are interested in heeding him.

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Author Michael Pollan speaks at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, May 21, 2014. I was thrilled to sit on the third row in the packed auditorium. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

The event was sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and Square Books of Oxford. Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, has just come out in paperback and Pollan was on a book-signing tour.

His talk, which lasted about 70 minutes, started out with background and stories from the gathering of information about the book. He regaled the audience with humorous stories about his immersion into the making of barbecue — and the audience laughed at his tales, which included pork aficionados’ crack-like desire for “skins” or crackling.

The Southern Foodways Alliance had two short films that illustrated the cooking of pork and places featured in the book that were located in North Carolina.

Pollans’ talk vaguely paralleled the layout of the book: Fire (barbecue); Water (soups); Air (bread); and Earth (fermentation). It’s a superlative book; but I’m not an impartial observer. I’m a big fan, and it really made my day to briefly chat with him afterward and give him a signed copy of my book, Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing: Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press, 2012) while having him sign my copy of Cooked.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that my reading the hardcover copy of Cooked last year led me to start baking my own bread. I figured, if Michael Pollan can do it, I can, too! Baking bread – particularly sourdough bread – is now one of my favorite hobbies. I have three different sourdough starters bubbling in the fridge, even now. (Might have to pull one out and bake a loaf this weekend!)

Readers of my book, Conscious Food, will remember that a central question is: How did we become so distanced from the making and appreciation of our food, including its spiritual aspects?

It’s a puzzling and disturbing quality of modern life, and Pollan also brought it up, saying that only a generation ago no one would have bought his books explaining where food came from because it was so tied to daily life. There would be no mystery, no question. Now, of course, that’s not so.

In fact, as Pollan pointed out, there are laws being enacted and proposed to actually prevent people from seeing how food is made, making it a crime to photograph a slaughterhouse or chicken factory farm. The highly processed food we eat, composed of highly refined sugars, starches and carbohydrates often can only truly be called “food products” rather than food. That processed foods also almost certainly contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is also a cause for alarm among many.

That’s how far we’ve come in making something which should be wholesome and good (making food) into something that is feared, insulated, even secretive.

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing.  (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

A long line snakes down to author Michael Pollan in the Music Building at the University of Mississippi, May 21, 2014, where he appeared for a speech and a book signing. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

While Pollan seemed to get the most interest by the audience in his tales of making barbecue, he also explored the other foodstuffs in the book. He discussed the making of bread – not nearly enough in detail for my avid interest, of course. But he did point out in great detail how sourdough bread, and other fermented products such as cheese and krauts are healthful when done in traditional ways.

Illustrating the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria versus bad bacteria) he told of one experiment that showed that raw milk processed into cheese in stainless steel vats and injected with e. coli became toxic while the same milk in reused wooden barrels did not because they contained accumulated beneficial bacteria that held the e. coli in check.  So much for our theories of anti-bacterial cleaning!

He even often insights that what we usually eat – for flavor, texture, etc. – is aimed at only 10 percent of us; the part that tastes food. Ninety percent of real food feeds the “gut” – the microorganisms that do the work of digestion, absorption of nutrients and health protection. Mother’s milk, he pointed out, is 100 percent food. A pizza or cheeseburger or “Supersized” cola would be 10 percent.

Soups, he noted, extended the lifespans of humans since, generally, people lose teeth when they age; it allows nutrients to be obtained with a minimum of chewing. Taking a swipe at raw foods, he said that cooking unleashes myriad nutrients and chemically changes food; but he also said that raw food enthusiasts can obtain premium nutrients by processing their food with a mixer. I love my Vitamixer!

I know I’m not doing him justice here. His talk was insightful, interesting and not only repeated some information in the book but provided his thinking behind it and revealed his zeal in pursuing and promoting a healthier society that exalts good food. He was singing my song, for sure!

If he appears anywhere near you, and you care about these subjects, I’d highly recommend you go hear him and, of course, buy the book. The talk was three and a half hours away from me by car — I didn’t get back home until after midnight. But it was well worth it and I would certainly do so again!

Before the "Evening with Michael Pollan," I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Before the “Evening with Michael Pollan,” I spent a few moments in one of my favorite places: Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford, MS, having a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

I also got to visit for a while beforehand at Square Books in the courthouse square in Oxford — one of my favorite independent bookstores. Naturally, I bought a couple of books while there and since I had a few moments before the talk started, I also had a cup of delicious fresh-brewed coffee and a couple of homemade cookies.

What  delight!

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.

Let’s Update Mississippi’s Local Food Laws!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about a really great small farm operation in Clay County that produces pasture-raised poultry, and grass-fed beef and swine. See: “Farm Field Day Draws Lots of Moms, Kids” – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/tag/grazing/

Operated by Dustin Pinion and his partner Ali Fratesi, it’s truly a model farm for sustainability – and was showcased as a good example for other farmers by both the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) which partnered with Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute to hold a field day there. It was also promoted as a premier example of small farming by the Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network.

But farms like this are in danger of going bust – or never getting started – because of the way food laws are skewed to protect large industrial operations and punish or deter small, sustainable family farms.

Local Food

For many visitors to High Hope Farm, Beaverdam Farm, and other local farm producers that have customer lists and farmers market presence, their operations are often the first and perhaps only time to see a real non-corporate family farm in operation. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Mike and Alison Buehler, founders of GGSIM, are promoting a petition to update Mississippi’s local food laws to allow mom-and-pop farmers like High Hope Farm and Beaverdam Farms to sell poultry at farmers markets. It’s long overdue.

Farmers across the South, I’ve found, have similar issues regarding on-site processing of the food they grow. Joe Salatin is perhaps the best known proponent of the “idiocy” of local food laws. See his book: “Everything I want to do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.”

Here in Mississippi, though, it appears that a very simple change in the law could help rectify the situation, at least as far as selling sustainably grown chicken is concerned.

Alison and Michael write:

The federal poultry regulations provide an exemption for small farmers processing less than 20,000 birds a year in an approved facility. However, only in Mississippi do the regulations say all poultry sold off the farm premises must bear a mark of inspection:

b. All poultry products offered for sale by a vendor at a farmers market must be sold by a vendor who holds a retail mobile food establishment license from the Department. The poultry products must bear marks of inspection from a poultry inspection program administered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce or the United States Department of Agriculture.

 There is no inspection facility located in Mississippi. This significantly cuts off farmers from their customers, and only allows them to sell from the farm.

Every other state allows for farmers under the 20,000 bird exemption to sell off site. Here is an example from Pennsylvania:

Producers who raise and slaughter no more than 20,000 poultry on their premises in a calendar year may, under PDA inspection, sell within Pennsylvania to customers through the following venues:

§  farmers markets

§  farm stands

§  CSA members

§  buying clubs

§  hotels and restaurants

§  schools

§  hospitals

§  wholesale distributors (sales within the state),retail stores

Small farmers are finally on the resurgence in Mississippi. In order to foster their success so we can continue to access healthy food, our regulations need to be updated to reflect this change. They simply haven’t been addressed because there were no small poultry producers in the state. We now have dozens of young farmers coming into the market.

The Mississippi Department of Agriculture wants to support small farmers. They simply haven’t had it brought to the table up until now. After long emails and discussions with them, they encouraged us to create a petition that would show them where public will fell on this issue. They want to hear from us. While the regulations they have dealt with in the past were designed to keep people safe in the face of super-large poultry operations, they also want to know how to create realistic and safe regulations for small farmers.

Here is how you help.

1.    We need an individual present at EVERY farmers market in the state this week, beginning May 17th collecting electronic signatures. All you have to say is, “Do you think farmers markets should be allowed to sell chicken? Let the MS Dept of Ag know!” If you are interested in being one of these coordinators, please let me know.alison.buehler@ggsim.org

I already have covered: 2 Oxford Markets, Starkville, Brookhaven, Jackson, Hernando, and Meridian

2.    Sign up for our 20 Calls for 20 Days campaign to tell 5 people at the MS Department of Agriculture Thank You for aligning our regulations on small poultry producers with the surrounding states. Thank You for supporting small farmers. We appreciate you efforts to increase our access to fresh, local foods. If you sign up, get your spouse to sign up. You will receive a script and a reminder email the day before you make your calls. We need to fill this asap because calls begin the day the petition is delivered.  http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0844ADA829A75-mississippi

3.    Sign the petition. Get your spouse, your mother and father, you kids over 18 to sign it. Share it with your churches, your co-ops, your organizations. We have one week to get as many signatures as possible. Our lawyer is drafting this today. It will be on the FB page tomorrow to start sharing.

This is doable! Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to make this happen for you. Don’t lament that other state have better food options. Make this a reality here!

Me again: If you truly are concerned about promoting local food, take action. This is a simple way to do it!

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

Can Monsanto Change Its Brand to Organics?

Probably no one was more shocked than I when it was reported this week that Monsanto is now focusing on becoming a leader in …. drumroll, please …. organics!

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing -- and filled with 'what ifs….'  Photo: Inhabitat.com

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing — and filled with ‘what ifs….’ Photo: Inhabitat.com 

The multinational chemical company that is notorious for turning open pollinated seeds into genetically engineered varieties is not known for its …. um… sensitivity for natural growing methods.

Nonetheless there it was in Wired magazine, with the headline: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

The article (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/new-monsanto-vegetables/) points out that in addition to its global dominance in buying up seed companies and genetically engineering their seeds to withstand its pesticides and herbicides, etc., Monsanto also has a huge reservoir of traditionally developed seed varieties through its Borg-like acquisition of those rival seed companies.

In addition, it has been ongoing in its clinical genetic research of these seeds and developing new strains.

As the article states, these varieties “may be born in a lab, but technically they’re every bit as natural as what you’d get at a farmers’ market. Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too.”

Credit Monsanto to also come up with a way to speed up the process of cross breeding, using a “seed chipper” to identify genetic traits that make a lettuce crisper or more flavorful, for example, then only cross breed plants with those traits in a traditional manner.

The result is “super veggies” that can be sold as nonGMO, or even certified organic, if one takes the time to isolate and develop them (which Monsanto, of course, has the resources to do).

With this news, I’m perplexed, to say the least, and I’m sure others who have long labored in the sustainable and organics field are, too.

I wish Monsanto had gone this way earlier and developed a strong organic presence that would support sustainability; if it had, it would not be facing such opposition – and would see that it’s a more profitable avenue in the long run, developing partners instead of creating division.

I’m one of the few people, I guess, who remembers Delta and Pine Land Co. at Stoneville, MS, when it developed new seed varieties the old fashioned way — back when investors in Memphis owned it, and before Monsanto bought the company.

Back in the 1970s, when I was covering the Mississippi Delta for the old Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I was a supporter of this research; after all, who could fault “science” and developing agriculture as a modern, international business where farmers were CEOs directly tied to their fortunes on international markets?

It was an exciting concept and heady times! As a journalist, I eagerly wrote about this emerging role for farmers as “agri-businessmen” and women, who were riding the wave of this promising scientific progress.

Sadly, like The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin now, I “bought” the line that “science” would “save” agriculture. And, like Revkin now, even if he doesn’t see it yet, I was wrong. It took me about a decade to see that something was seriously wrong with modern agriculture as it was going that no amount of new chemicals, genetic engineering or expanding markets could fix. It was inherently unsustainable — and toxic — multidirectionally.

Of course, as with GMOs, now we know that big corporate interests can fund enough science labs and control the publication of their results so that even bad science can be passed off as positive. The Big Ag corporate PR machine has “spin” for every criticism. And opponents are simply dismissed as Luddites who don’t want to “feed the world” (e.g. capture world markets through monopolies, patents and forced government treaties).

Of course, back then, few could see how this would turn out — except visionaries like Wendell Berry with books like The Unsettling of America (1977).

Sure enough, farmers started going bust, as the “get big or get out” mentality took hold, and now we have 40 years worth of cheerleaders for Big Ag and Frankenfood telling us bad is good and up is down. The naked Emperor’s clothes look good! Food-related illness – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and food allergies – be damned!

So now, too, the Monsanto leopard wants to change its spots?

I’m not sure how this will go. Certainly, Monsanto can produce lots and lots of seeds at a cheaper cost than the somewhat boutique brands that are slowly developing certified organic seeds from heirloom and other varieties. The company can almost be assured, also, of cornering the market on industrial organic agriculture, particularly in the international market.

Be prepared for the onslaught of new Monsanto veggies at grocery stores, some,  eventually, with the certified organic label.

It’s a smart move on Monsanto’s part: If you can’t beat ’em, join em… sort of… and outproduce them and underprice ’em. We’ll see if its corporate philosophy changes, as well. (I doubt it.)

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.

Exciting Future for SSAWG

I’m just now (sort of) getting my feet on the ground from last week’s Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) conference in Mobile, Ala.

Leaders from organic and sustainable nonprofits from across the South meet to brainstorm on how to better collaborate at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) annual conference in Mobile, Ala., Jan. 19, 2014. (Photo by Daniel Doyle, Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network via  ShooFlyFarmBlog Jim Ewing.)

Leaders of organic and sustainable nonprofits from across the South meet to brainstorm on how to better collaborate at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) annual conference in Mobile, Ala., Jan. 19, 2014. (Photo by Daniel Doyle, Mississippi Sustainable Ag Network)

I’ll post more photos later, but I thought this one was important, maybe even historic. (It was taken by Daniel Doyle, executive director of the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network.)

It shows basically all the heavy hitters for organic and sustainable agriculture in the South. (Though maybe not such a heavy hitter, I’m in the lower left corner.) There are a few exceptions, naturally; I could name a handful of folks who are not in the photo – but you can bet that those who are not in attendance knew what was going on.

The purpose of the meeting was to develop strategies for organic and sustainable nonprofits to better coordinate their efforts. The group has been meeting since last summer. There’s no name for this group; it sort of decided on calling itself a think tank at last Sunday’s meeting; the membership is fluid; its meetings unpredictable. But I have a tremendous amount of hope and optimism that it will accomplish great things.

We’ll see…

More later!

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.

Urban Ag: Backyard Market Gardening

Just a short note: I’ll be speaking on Backyard Market Gardening on Thursday (Nov. 14, 2013) at the Mississippi Fruit & Vegetable Growers Convention.

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I'll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Even a small plot can make big dollars if done right. I’ll be speaking at the Silver Star Resort in Choctaw, MS, Nov. 14, 2013 on Backyard Market Gardening. (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Held at the Pearl River Resort’s Silver Star Conference Center in Choctaw, MS, near Philadelphia, the conference features a host of experts on various agricultural practices.

Specifically, my talk will be on how to turn your home garden into a profit making enterprise, or take a small garden and expand it into a small farm — complete with marketing tips.

It’s an honor to be asked to speak. Some may recall that I’m a former president of MFVGA; I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones!

Those who read this blog regularly probably will recognize some of the information — and photos! — from my writings over the years here. Nevertheless, you may not have seen all the info presented at one time.

So, you if get a chance, come on down. Here’s registration info:

http://www.msfruitandveg.com/

See you there!
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.

Food Movement May Be Torpedoed by FDA

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

Here are my thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this with your friends and like minded folk.

Use the hashtag: #fixFMSA

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

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

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
 
 

 

 

America’s Cup Offers Sustainability Guide

 

Just a little hodge podge today.

Here’s a quote I ran across on sustainability that I like:

 The term sustainability is a complex and widely used term that has come to mean taking into consideration the social, economic and environmental aspects of our actions, as well as recognizing the inter-relationships between these aspects. Sustainability includes protecting our environment and preserving natural habitats and biodiversity, but it is also about promoting a healthy and engaged society and thriving economy. Sustainability requires balancing opportunities and constraints, and taking a longer-term view so that we are able to reach our maximum potential now, and future generations are able to do the same. 

It’s from the America’s Cup website. If you really want to see how to consciously go about trying to create a sustainable event – even encompassing thousands of people and addressing a city the size of San Francisco – check it out:  http://cdn.sparkart.net/americascup/content/documents/sustainability/AC34-Sustainability-Plan_19-March-2012.pdf

 

Here’s a recent photo of me on a farm tour in Alabama.

 Image

 

I’ve really been traveling a lot lately. Was in Starkville, MS, yesterday: north of there earlier in the week: in southwest Alabamacouple of days before that; in Natchez before that. 

 Busy, busy… 

 

Note: iPad and iOS7 doesn’t work well on here; hope they get the bugs out soon – almost impossible to use.

 

Later!

 

 

Leader in Organic Bug Control a Southern Superhero

I met one of the best kept secrets in organic agriculture during my recent travels.

If you live in the South, and grow organically, you know that it can be a challenge. Lots of people, in fact, believe that you can’t grow organic “where the ground never freezes and the bugs never die,” as my friend Nellie Neal calls the South.

Those of us who struggle to be “deep organic” and not use chemicals of any kind to control insects and diseases often feel a bit lonely, in fact. We have only our hard-won experience of losing some crops, saving others, to go by – without any firm scientific basis for our farm practices.

But that may be about to end, somewhat. There is an extension service entomologist in Thomaston, Ala., who is conducting research into deterring the most common insect pests from organic farms and gardens using natural methods.

Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D. – or “Dr. A” as locals call him – has been studying “trap crop” plants that can lure harmful insects from organic vegetable crops. So far, his success has been astounding.

Bug Doctor - Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D., an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service with Auburn University could soon be a "superhero" to Southern organic farmers and gardeners. His research into plant pests is uniquely applicable to the entire region. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Bug Doctor – Ayanava Majumdar, Ph.D., an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service with Auburn University could soon be a “superhero” to Southern organic farmers and gardeners. His research into plant pests is uniquely applicable to the entire region. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

State coordinator for the Southern Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) program, Dr. A is an Alabama Cooperative Extension Service specialist with Auburn University. I met him while presenting a roundtable discussion on “Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities” Sept. 13 for the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center in Thomaston. I was there on behalf of NCAT – the National Center for Appropriate Technology and it’s ATTRA program, the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. (See NCAT.org or @NCAT_org)

Turns out, Dr. A. has a demonstration farm at the Heritage Center and is conducting his research there. I eagerly toured his demonstration plots after the roundtable discussions were over.

Sheephishly, I have to admit, I had actually read Dr. A’s work prior to coming to the Heritage Center. (See his article “Trap Cropping for Flea Beetle & Aphid Management in the July 2013 edition of ACRES USA.)

To be honest, I had no idea he was conducting his experiments in Alabama, or the South, for that matter. Maybe I just assumed he was “out there” somewhere, like the Rodale people in Pennsylvania, or the Land Institute in Kansas, or like our NCAT folks in Butte, MT. Not the South. I mean, really, who would have thought there would be a worldclass organic expert in a tiny town in Alabama?

To me, the most interesting aspect of his work so far has been on creating trap crops. Trap crops, as most organic growers know, are crops set aside to lure “bad” insects away from your valuable produce. (We use pollinator plants to lure “beneficial insects” to our would-be cash crops.)

Unfortunately, most organic growers also know that often our cash crops often become trap crops by default. Many of our “trap crops” become that way because insects attack them.  Every organic gardener or farmer has stories to tell about how one’s intended cash crop became so infested he or she kept it in hopes of keeping bugs there rather than attacking the other plants. Intended trap crops often don’t seem to work or work well enough. That’s where the science is lacking.

Recently, farmers and gardeners have been having problems with a bug called “leaffooted bugs.” If you grow tomatoes, you probably have seen them. They look like a squash bug but have odd shaped flat protruberances on their legs. After a leaffooted bug attack, tomatoes become mottled; with black circular spots. You’ve probably seen attacked tomatoes at farmers markets; most farmers don’t even know what hit them, until it’s too late.

Dr. A has found that sorghum works as a great trap crop to protect organic tomatoes from leaffooted bugs, and may help deter stinkbugs, as well.  This photo is of his trap crop at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center demonstration farm hosted by the Alabama A&M and Auburn universities cooperative extension services at Thomaston, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. A has found that sorghum works as a great trap crop to protect organic tomatoes from leaffooted bugs, and may help deter stinkbugs, as well. This photo is of his trap crop at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center demonstration farm hosted by the Alabama A&M and Auburn universities cooperative extension services at Thomaston, Ala. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. A has found that forage sorghum (NK300) will lure leaffooted bugs from tomato plants, if planted prior to tomatoes so that the panicle is produced before tomato fruition. The bugs don’t even see the tomatoes, they are so intent on the sorghum panicle, he says.

While walking by a row of his sorghum, he pointed to several of the bugs in the panicles, including a pair mating. “They love it!” he said. “This is their bedroom.”

Asked about whether sunflowers don’t do as well to attract leaffooted bugs (which I had found in my own fields), he said that sunflowers have a limited amount of time in which they are in flower to attract the bug. Sorghum stays attractive longer; though, he said, one could plant both, timed to allow an even longer season.

Bingo! If you’re looking at a long season, plant both to succeed each! Moreover, one can plant other trap crops for other bugs and other crops that can also mix and match with these.

For example, he also says that the sunflower/sorghum strategy has worked on stink bugs; but he is still conducting experiments. He suggests using bug vaccums.

Other findings from Dr. A –

— “Blue Hubbard” Squash planted as a perimeter can attract pepper maggots, cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs with a 60 percent to 90 percent success rate.

— Clemson spineless okra can be used as trap crop to protect tomatoes and bell peppers from aphids, flea beetles and grasshoppers.

Dr. A certainly has his work cut out for him, but what he has discovered so far is simply phenomenal and has the potential to give Southern organics a huge boost.

Someone needs to start sewing a superhero suit with a big “Dr. A” on it. This organic crusader is treading where few in the academic and scientific community have dared to go — and finding weaknesses among the mightiest of the South’s insect pests.

For upcoming Food and Farm Forums conducted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, 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: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Farm Field Day Draws Lots of Moms, Kids

Sept. 16, 2013

A sunny, cool farm day greeted about 70 people who visited the farm owned by Johnny Wray, former president of Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, during the field day held Sunday, Sept. 15. He and Elton Dean are partners in a grassfed beef operation, with Dustin Pinion and his partner Ali Fratesi.

Dustin Pinion (center) and Ali Fratesi (left) explain the basics of their pastured poultry/cattle operation at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS, on Sunday, Sept. 15. The Field Day was sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which operates ATTRA, the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, and by Gaining Ground - Sustainability Institute of Mississippi.

Dustin Pinion (center) and Ali Fratesi (left) explain the basics of their pastured poultry/cattle operation at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS, on Sunday, Sept. 15. The Field Day was sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which operates ATTRA, the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, and by Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi.

You may recognize Ali if you frequent the Jackson (Miss.) Farmers Market on High Street. The couple now has about 350 laying hens and 800 meat birds at Wray’s High Hope Farm, said Fratesi, who sells their eggs and pesticide-free produce on Saturdays at the market. They have more than 700 members in their buying club.

The couple has operated Beaverdam Farm in Indianola for about four years. Pinion, 27, came to High Hope Farm to show off what he learned while apprenticing with farmer/author Joel Salatin for six months in 2011.

Visitors at the Field Day at High Hope Farm look at the chicken tractors that follow the cattle across the pasture. The cages allow protection for the young chickens from predators like hawks and coyotes as they are moved incrementally to new pasture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Visitors at the Field Day at High Hope Farm look at the chicken tractors that follow the cattle across the pasture. The cages allow protection for the young chickens from predators like hawks and coyotes as they are moved incrementally to new pasture. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The Gulf States office of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (which operates the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) and Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi sponsored the field day to draw attention to the combined cattle/poultry/swine operation for its sustainable practices.

The farm has recently added pastured swine to the mix, clearing out previously overgrown scrub and sapling forested areas while producing sellable meat. GGSIM and NCAT operated booths to provide more information. (For more info on growing sustainabily, see: ncat.org and ggsim.org)

Margaret Thomas (left) of Hattiesburg and Alison Buehler, president of Gaining Ground - Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, of Starkville, enjoy a discussion on sustainable farming. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Margaret Thomas (left) of Hattiesburg and Alison Buehler, president of Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi, of Starkville, enjoy a discussion on sustainable farming. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

For a lot of folks, it appeared that coming to the farm was a first taste, perhaps, of ever seeing a working farm in operation.

For many visitors to High Hope Farm, it appeared to be the first time to see a real farm in operation. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

For many visitors to High Hope Farm, it appeared to be the first time to see a real farm in operation. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

A number of people chose to walk across the 35-acre farm, but many (including lots of moms with small children, and even a few adults) enjoyed taking a “hay ride” on Johnny’s tractor, sitting on hay bales piled on a trailer.

Kids and moms enjoyed a hay ride at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Kids and moms enjoyed a hay ride at High Hope Farm in Clay County, MS, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Everyone seemed to have a good time. So much so, this might turn out to be a “first annual” event – with another one next year!

P.S. For those who missed it, you can also tour High Hope farm Sept. 29, 2013, with a farm tour by the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network. For more info, see: http://www.mssagnet.net/ Or follow MSAN on Facebook.

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.

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.

Great Talk at Alabama A&M Workshop

August 23, 2013

Just got back from Mobile, Ala., giving a talk for NCAT at the Agricultural Risk Management and Business Development Workshop.

photo

National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing speaks about sustainable agriculture at a workshop in Mobile, Ala., Aug. 22, 2013. The Agricultural Risk Management and Business Development Workshop was sponsored by the Small Farms Research Center of Alabama A&M University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Held at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Jon Archer Agricultural Center, the workshop was sponsored by Alabama A&M University’s Small Farms Research Center and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

I don’t think there could have been a more active, thoughtful, engaging audience. Although I was scheduled to give a PowerPoint presentation, which I did, we ended up having a discussion back and forth about sustainable agriculture, organics, and traditional methods of planting (which many in the audience remembered from their parents’ and grandparents’ times).

The speaking time period actually was extended as we engaged in a dialogue that, I think, was informative and positive for everyone. It was like talking with neighbors across the back fence. There were good questions from the audience and a lot of sharing of personal stories and recollections.

What a wonderful time. What wonderful people. I hope I get to speak there again!

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

Montana Fly Fishing Trip

Aug. 19, 2013

Just got back from visiting the National Center for Appropriate Technology headquarters in Butte, MT, where members of our NCAT Gulf States Region office met with the board of directors to give an update on what we’re doing.

Had a GREAT time, visiting with other like-minded sustainable ag folk. But a big highlight of the trip was going fly fishing.

I started fly fishing about 30 years ago (am I giving away my age here?!). But since I was living in the Mississippi Delta, there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity in fishing – either bream or small bass or occasional crappie. I fly fished during the 1980s and early 1990s, but sort of fell out of it.

But when I was in Butte in June and looked around, I saw that this place is the fly fishing capital of the world. People come from all over to fish the Montana mountain streams. While I was “self taught” in fly fishing, and certainly no model when it comes to casting, fishing for trout on a mountain stream was one of those “bucket list” items. When I found out that they wanted me to come back in August, I was ecstatic!

One of the things I bought in preparation for this trip was a Tenkara rod — because Carl Little, who heads the ATTRA program (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) at NCAT suggested it.

Years ago, during the 1990s, I used to carry a portable fishing rod with me wherever I traveled. It telescoped to about 8 feet, but would collapse to about 18 inches. With a lightweight spinning reel, I fished all over with it: from the Northeast and Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco — I carried it everywhere. But, again, that sort of fell by the wayside.

The Tenkara collapses to about 18 inches, but the one I bought (the Amago) extends to about 13 feet. The Tenkara system is somewhat Zen – which I really like! It’s simplicity itself: just a rod and a line, no reel. And there are only three types of flies, small, medium and large. It’s based on the Japanese system of professional mountain fishermen, who used only this simple method to catch fish.

While I also have a 5-weight Orvis Clearwater rod for traditional Western style fly fishing, I only took the Tenkara rod on this trip. Here’s a video:

As you can see, I didn’t catch any fish. I got a couple of bumps and broke the line on one big one that got away, but that’s not the point. Nor is this video meant to be taken as a way to fish; I found that I couldn’t video and fish at the same time, so I just held the rod with one hand (to show what I was doing) and video taped with the other, with my iPhone, to show the scenery.

The real value as the morning. The sky. The water. The breeze. The Spirit of the Place. Just being there. It was a priceless morning spent slowly fishing along about half a mile of a mountain  stream. The video is just a snapshot, for the memory.

I’m hoping for a return trip. Next time, if I’m called in for business, I intend to take a couple of vacation days and perhaps have my son come along for a father-son trip. (He’s 26 and has a new, 8-month-old son, so maybe there are future trips for Dad, Grandad and Grandbaby, too!)

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

Super Bees — Literally!

June 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Jim PathFinder Ewing’s new book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

Wonderful Time at Holmes #SustainableAg Field Day

June 23, 2013

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

I had a wonderful time Friday at the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production Field Day in Holmes County, MS.

The field day brought in people from all walks — farmers, extension agents, colleges’ staff, state dept. of ag folks, nutrition educators and from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

And, of course, there was a representative from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – me!

Each month, the Alliance brings in experts to discuss various aspects of sustainable agriculture. This month, it featured Elizabeth Myles from Alcorn State University, who gave a presentation on farm marketing, and Gail Kavanaugh, child nutrition director of the Vicksburg Warren School District, who spoke on selling produce farm-to-school. (I gave a brief talk, too.)

Mattie Coleman makes a point as Keith Benson looks on at her demonstration farm during the Alliance for Sustainable Production Field Day in Holmes County near Goodman, MS, Friday, June 21, 2013. Photo by Jim Ewing

Mattie Coleman makes a point as Keith Benson looks on at her demonstration farm during the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production Field Day in Holmes County near Goodman, MS, Friday, June 21, 2013. Photo by Jim Ewing

The field day is held each month at the Alliance’s demonstration farm owned by Mattie Coleman (pictured) in Goodman and is conducted by Keith Benson (also shown). The next one is July 19. I’ll probably be there.

For more information, or if interested in attending, contact Keith, at: 601-988-4999 or keithmdp@yahoo.com.

Jim Ewing is the Outreach Coordinator for the Gulf States Region for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT.org), a nonprofit offering technical assistance for sustainable living — farming, energy, and information — to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources. An award-winning journalist, editor and author, he has served in a variety of executive leadership positions, mostly in the food, farming and environmental sector. He has been called “a pioneer in sustainability” and “a tireless champion for farmers and food” by Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi. He is a 2013 winner of GGSIM’s Sustainable Works Award for his leadership and achievements in promoting organics, environmental stewardship and sustainable living over the past 30 years. He is the author of six books (Findhorn Press). His latest is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating- in bookstores now.

 For more information, see:

His website: www.blueskywaters.com

Or, LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimpathfinderewing

Chill Bumps in Butte, MT

I just got back from a week of training in Butte, Montana, for my new job as outreach coordinator for the Gulf States Region with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. The whole experience gave me chill bumps — literally and figuratively.

First was the incredible ride over the Rocky Mountains, looking down on snow-capped peaks.

Flying over the Rocky Mountains to the Butte, MT, headquarters of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (ncat.org) was breath-taking. Photo by Jim Ewing, c. blueskywaters.com

Flying over the Rocky Mountains to the Butte, MT, headquarters of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (ncat.org) was breath-taking. Photo by Jim Ewing, c. blueskywaters.com

To say the view was breathtaking would be an understatement.

But, once we landed, the view remained stunning — maybe even moreso!  Behind the headquarters building is the Continental Divide. That’s right. The actual backbone of the North American continent is in NCAT’s backyard, so to speak.

The east flank of the Continental Divide is literally at the back door of the National Center for Appropriate Technology. The face of the mountain is a living presence in the city of Butte. Photo by Jim Ewing

The east flank of the Continental Divide is literally at the back door of the National Center for Appropriate Technology. The face of the mountain is a living presence in the city of Butte. Photo by Jim Ewing

I could (and did!) spend hours watching the mountain as clouds drifted over the peaks, and the sun dappled shadows across the tree-covered flanks. Its face always changing, the mountain is a living presence in the town of Butte.

One of the highlights of our trip was learning more about hoop house farming — a technique to extend growing seasons at an affordable cost. Carl Little, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Communities Program Manager Carl Little (center), gave us some tips about SIFT farming. The Small-Scale Intensive Farm Training program was created to help every community increase their food security by producing their own healthy food. SIFT, with NCAT, is developing a working, sustainably managed, demonstration farm on five acres. Pictured (left), Felicia Bell, Gulf States farming specialist, and (right) Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods. For more, see: http://sift.ncat.org/ Photo by Jim Ewing.

One of the highlights of our trip was learning more about hoop house farming — a technique to extend growing seasons at an affordable cost. Carl Little, NCAT
Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Communities Program Manager Carl Little (center), gave us some tips about SIFT farming. The Small-Scale Intensive Farm Training program was created to help every community increase their food security by producing their own healthy food. SIFT, with NCAT, is developing a working, sustainably managed, demonstration farm on five acres. Pictured (left), Felicia Bell, Gulf States farming specialist, and (right) Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods. For more, see: http://sift.ncat.org/ Photo by Jim Ewing.

Of, course, we were there to learn a few farming techniques, among other things (hoophouse growing is pictured; something Butte needs even this time of year in midsummer for some crops like tomatoes).

While we were in Butte, we were treated to the unique experience of watching green grass grow while it was snowing in the background. Green grass and snow? The week before Summer Solstice? Photo by Jim Ewing

While we were in Butte, we were treated to the unique experience of watching green grass grow while it was snowing in the background. Green grass and snow? The week before Summer Solstice? Photo by Jim Ewing

While we were in Butte, on June 13, as the temperature was 93 degrees with high humidity back home in Mississippi, it was misty at its numerical opposite 39 degrees in Butte; I could see it snowing in the mountains overlooking the city.

I have to admit, it was an usual experience. The last day I was there, I got up at sunup and went outside with a cup of coffee. There was heavy frost everywhere, temps in the 30s, but since I was standing in the sunshine, it didn’t “feel” cold! Just wearing a t-shirt and a jacket. The city is a mile high and the humidity hovered around 20 percent, with highs in the low 70s.

The StoneFly Fly Shop in Butte, MT, is a very cool place. If you are a fly fisherman, it's a center of the universe! Photo by Jim Ewing.

The StoneFly Fly Shop in Butte, MT, is a very cool place. If you are a fly fisherman, it’s a center of the universe! Photo by Jim Ewing.

Of course, while in Montana, I had to do a little personal scouting, and found this incredible fishing shop — The StoneFly Fly Shop (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-StoneFly-Fly-Shop/116061955126376). Had a great time talking with Chris, co-owner and outfitter. Check out their Facebook page, with tips on what’s biting.

If a fly fisherperson, come to either spend or drool at Butte's shops (display pictured in The Stonefly Fly Shop). I did both! Photo by Jim Ewing

If a fly fisherperson, come to either spend or drool at Butte’s shops (display pictured in The Stonefly Fly Shop). I did both! Photo by Jim Ewing

I also hung out some at Bob Ward & Sons Sporting Goods and Fran Johnson’s Sport Shop. Both have tons of fishing equipment and supplies, too.

It was a great time, but I’m a bit pooped — arrived home after midnight last night.

I plan to return with my fly rod!

Read more about NCAT, where I now work, at: http://www.ncat.org/

A lot of what I do helps the ATTRA program – the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Farmers and ranchers can call in toll free for information about sustainable agriculture. NCAT has specialists who will answer questions, for free. Call 1-800-346-9140; or en Espanol, 1-800-411-3222.

Picking Strawberries A Sweet Delight!

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

Had a delightful afternoon yesterday picking strawberries at a neighbor’s pick-your-own field.

Although I had ridden past Reyer Farms (about 7 miles from our house) on several occasions, I had not noticed any strawberries before! Strawberries are relatively rare in Mississippi as a crop, though common in neighboring Louisiana. The Magnolia State has the climate for it, but has more of a truck crop history for tomatoes (in South Mississippi) and a booming blueberry industry.

My beautiful wife Annette alerted me to signs pointing down Storm Road that said “Strawberries” on the highway that goes by our house about a mile away that she saw while coming home from the grocery. She followed the signs and came back to the house after picking some of the fruit, saying, “Jim, you’ve got to go check it out!”

I hopped in the car and followed the signs. When I got there, I saw a big field. How could I have missed this?

photo

The mystery was solved after a conversation with farmer/owners Jody and Brittany Reyer. This is only the second year they have grown strawberries, Jody said. They tried them out last year, then expanded to cover the field this year. They’re adding another field for next year.

Jody said that he’s using as few chemicals as possible, OMRI approved (for organic certification), though he hasn’t signed on with any organic growing certifying agencies. He’s interested in sustainable farming and concerned about the safety of the food he grows. “That’s my daughter out there barefoot in the field,” he said, pointing to his little daughter Annie playing next to his wife, exemplifying his concern for safety. He said his family lives with the crop, eats it, and shares it with others. He plans to grow tomatoes for the summer.

photo-1

His strawberries look great. As I was picking, Brittany, who was picking a flat to sell to a restaurant a few rows over, hollered, “Have you tried any yet?”

“Not yet!” I replied. “Maybe I ought to!” I put one in my mouth. It melted into sweetness. That only renewed my picking fervor.

photo-2

I had a blast picking a flat of strawberries, and will probably check back in a week or so to see if they still have some to sell.

Reyer Farms is located near Lena, MS. Phone: (601) 906-8991

For a map and other info, see: http://ms.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/business/907997-reyer-farms

(Note: I happily paid full price for the flat of strawberries; no freebies or inducements; this is not an advertisement, only a sharing of something I think is great!)

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.