Tag Archives: sustainableag

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

Auburn Alabama Going Bananas!?

Catching up, I wanted to report about some intriguing research I stumbled across regarding growing bananas in the Coastal South, while attending the recent Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference held at Auburn University.

That’s right: Bananas. In Alabama. At Auburn. Is Auburn going bananas? It gets cold down South!

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Dr. Elina Coneva, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service fruit crops specialist, and Edgar Vinson, research associate, Department of Horticulture, Auburn University, explain their research into the feasibility of growing bananas in south Alabama during a demonstration farm tour at Auburn University. The tour was held during the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Conference Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The field trials are being held with hopes that local growers can provide a crop that competes with grocery imports. The trials are in their infancy; but so far 2 varieties survived last year’s 21- and 25-degree lows to harvest; they think at least one will survive this year’s 9-degree low; and this was in central Alabama, not the Coast. Trials are being held further south in Alabama, as well.

According to literature from the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service (ACES), the banana variety research plot at Auburn University’s Plant Science Research Center in Auburn, Ala., was established in 2011. Banana plants were provided by Dr. Greg Fonsah, an Extension ag economist and international banana production and marketing veteran from the University of Georgia at Tifton, GA.

This research, in my opinion, offers a huge potential resource for local and sustainable growing in the South. As ACES reports, bananas offer many different products that small, local growers can produce. “The fresh fruit can be used as dessert. Banana fruit can be cooked, fried or eaten ripe with stew. They can be used to produce beer, livestock forage, cooking wraps and plates, can be utilized as shade trees and for medicinal purposes. Banana fruit has low fat, cholesterol, sodium and salt content, and is extremely rich in potassium.” And they can be used for ornamental purposes, too.

But a major consideration for consumers interested in buying locally produced fruits and vegetables is that such locally grown products can be sustainably grown: not shipping them for thousands of miles and using up fossil fuels, or bringing up Fair Trade issues regarding worker health and equity. They can be grown as a local resource returning value to the local community.

Admittedly, I have not seen the UGA test site where ACES obtained its first varieties. Here’s an article about Dr. Fonsah and his work: http://www.caes.uga.edu/applications/gafaces/?public=viewStory&pk_id=4983

But I can say that I’m totally intrigued by the concept and hope that small, local and artisanal growers can add this crop to their offerings.

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Thirteen varieties of bananas are being tested at Auburn University for their feasibility as a Gulf Coast cash crop. So far, two have shown promise, bouncing back from cold winter temperatures to produce a harvest. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Varieties being tested at Auburn: ‘Gold Finger’, ‘Saba’, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’, ‘Pisang Ceylon’, ‘Double, ‘Dwarf Green’, ‘Dwarf Red’, ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Grand Naine’, ‘Cardaba’, ‘Viente Cohol’, ‘Sweet Heart’, and ‘Ice Cream’.

The tests will be carefully watched not only in Alabama, but across the Gulf States, I’m sure!

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.

Taking a Soil Sample for Testing Step by Step

Following up on my previous post about testing for soil fertility: For those who don’t know how to take a soil sample, it’s real easy. Here’s a step-by-step walk-through with photos.

The process: Tale a shovel, small trowel or just a spoon and collect a soil sample, send it off with your payment to the soil laboratory you select, and in a few weeks, you’ll get your results. If you don’t have an “official” box, that’s fine. Just use any clean container. For example, I used a box that held cans of catfood.

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it's not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

To obtain a soil sample for testing, take a shovel or implement of some kind and put small amounts of soil in a clean box. Make sure it’s not covered in turf grass; but only an inch or so below the roots, so the sample includes only topsoil, not subsoil. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Go around your garden and take a small amount and put it in the box. Dig below the rootline; you don’t want grass or turf or weeds in it; but just an inch or so deep, so you are getting topsoil and not the harder, more compact subsoil.
Go to another area and do the same.

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Once you have put a few spades of soil from various places in the garden, mix them up, so the soil is uniform; pick out any rocks or grass or other debris. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Crumble it all up and mix it up and either take it to your local extension service office or send it off. Most states have a testing facility, usually affiliated with a university, university cooperative extension service, or a state department of agriculture or natural resources.

In Mississippi, the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service Soil Testing Laboratory analyzes soil. It only costs $6 for a routine analysis. For additional information, see http://msucares.com/crops/soils/testing.html, visit your local county extension service office or write: Soil Testing Laboratory, Box 9610, Mississippi State MS 39762; or call (662) 325-3313.

Land grant universities nationally are dropping soil testing programs. So, if you are reading this in a state where it is no longer available, here is a list of commonly used private labs compiled by Colorado State University: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/crops/00520.html

Collecting a soil sample is required annually for certified organic growers; but if you’re not organic, it’s still a good idea to see what’s going on with your soil. As stated in my earlier blog, when I first started sending off samples in Lena, because we lived in a terrain with red clay and sandy soils basically only good for growing pine trees, the tests came back showing high acid in the soil, in the 5.0 range.

Over several years, amending the soil with tons of composted horse manure and growing cover crops year round to build up vegetative matter (called “green manure”) and balance out the acid soil, we managed to bring the soil to a neutral level: 6.6 pH. That was a huge success.

Additionally, by digging a soil sample each year before you plant, you also get a good idea of how your topsoil is doing. Each year, your topsoil should be thicker, the consistency of the soil showing better tilth, and the fertility of the soil greater. If it’s not, then you should address that with more soil amendments and crop rotation.

You want to add humus and composted material to hold moisture and build tilth, increase fertility and provide optimum conditions for microbial life.

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.

FoodCorps Group Tours Alabama Sustainable Farms

Went to Montgomery, Ala., last week to tour some sustainable farms, as part of our NCAT Gulf States Office mission to promote sustainable agriculture in the 5-state region. It was a bringing together of some real heavyweights when it comes to local food, urban ag and community activism.

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

Members of the NCAT Gulf States Regional Office, Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity and FoodCorps service members pose with EAT South Executive Director Edwin Marty (right) in Montgomery, Ala., Oct. 16, 2013. From left: front: FoodCorps Members Mariel Parman, Claire Brown and Rebecca Rosenthal; Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt and NCAT Ag Specialist Felicia Bell; back row: FoodCorps Director Willie Nash, FoodCorps Fellow Liz Broussard, NCAT Gulf States Regional Director Rockiell Woods and Marty. (Photo by Jim Ewing)

The FoodCorps service members who went on the trip seemed to have a good time and learned a lot. I can’t say enough good things about FoodCorps. Those who are based at Mississippi Roadmap for Health Equity next to our office at the old New Deal Grocery in Jackson are top notch! I see them every day going out to the local schools helping kids and moms appreciate fresh, local food that they grow right there at the inner city schools.

I also can’t say enough good about Roadmap Executive Director Beneta Burt, who has created a food oasis in the inner city of Jackson. Roadmap is located in Ward 3, the poorest of the city’s wards. She started a farmers market, providing a place where people in the neighborhood can come buy fresh, healthy, nutritious food locally.

She put in a fitness center so that neighborhood moms and elders can stay in shape. She started a summer school program that teaches kids good health habits and the importance of fitness and nutrition. She sponsors the FoodCorps volunteers for the local public schools.

She muscled through a rule with the capital city’s school board that food service personnel in the public schools can actually get paid to take fitness classes (which, in turn, make them more fitness aware in creating the food in the public schools). She’s a pillar of the state food policy council. And more than I can ennummerate here. Suffice it to say, she’s a real powerhouse.

Now, with this visit to Montgomery, Ala., she’s seen how E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty has created an urban ag program in the inner city there. E.A.T. stands for Education, Act, Transform! The organization encourages healthy lifestyles through education and sustainable food production in urban areas throughout the Southeast.

Burt had already started such a program; she was able to see how an established program works. E.A.T. South ushers some 5,000 school kids through its site annually, offering a demonstration for local folks there on how to grow their own food.

I can’t say enough good about Edwin, either. He literally wrote the book on urban agriculture, called Breaking Through Concrete, published by the University of California Press in 2012. See: www.breakingthroughconcrete.com.

I’m honored to know and be friends with both people. They certainly are incredible role models. If every city had a Beneta Burt and an Edwin Marty this would be a much healthier, happier planet!

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc. , and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

E.A.T. South Executive Director Edwin Marty (left) of Montgomery, Ala., is shown with Beneta Burt, of Jackson, Miss., executive director of Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity Inc., and Jim Ewing, outreach coordinator for the National Center for Appropriate Technology Gulf States Region. (NCAT photo)

For more, see:
NCAT blog: https://www.ncat.org/gulf-states-office-tours-sustainable-farms-in-alabama/
Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity: http://mississippiroadmap.org/
E.A.T South: http://www.eatsouth.org

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

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.