Tag Archives: urbanag

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.

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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
 
 

 

 

Organic Growing Heals The Earth

Dec. 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These aren’t exotic plants, either.

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

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

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

Plant an ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

Nov. 21, 2012

Plant An ‘Edible Forest’ in Your Yard

While  Arbor Day in Mississippi is in the spring, many experts contend that the best time for planting trees may actually be in the fall.
New  roots can develop when the soil temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Planting in the fall allows the trees to develop roots  before going dormant during the winter.
Budding  can stress trees with inadequate root systems, so, if you are going to plant a tree, it’s best to do it soon, to allow plenty of time for roots  to develop.
Grist magazine reports that urban forests featuring heirloom and indigenous varieties are the next wave of urban agriculture (http://grist.org/food/fruits-of-old-chicago-gears-up-for-an-urban-heirloom-fruit-orchard/). What many Mississippians may not know is that the Magnolia State is ahead of the curve on this, and Jackson foremost.

Mississippi  has an established resource with The Edible Forests of Mississippi, an  orchard program developed and administered though the Mississippi Urban  Forest Council (full disclosure: I serve on the board of directors of  MUFC).  Its teaching project is the Jesse Gates Edible Forest on Bailey  Avenue at Wells United Methodist Church, providing a model for cities across the state, homeowners and community garden groups.
And the Council’s webpage offers a toolkit to follow (see: http://www.msurbanforest.com/edible_forest.html).  But, there is no reason to stay strictly to the orchard model, as at  Wells. Homeowners (and others) can create smaller “savanna” type food  trees and shrubs to fit in with their established gardens.
Think small,  understory-type trees that can thrive in moderate shade.
Groups  might consider a permaculture model. True permaculture is planting a variety of natural plants that require minimal care with little or no  soil disturbance to provide food. It would work well with establishing or established community gardens to provide a mixed variety of food  sources.
Mississippi  State University Extension experts say that the easiest fruits to grow  are blueberry, fig, Oriental persimmon and blackberry. Pecan, strawberry and pear are considered moderately hard to grow; peach, apple and plum are the
most difficult in regard to spraying, watering, pruning, etc.  For more information, see: http://msucares.com.Expert Advice:
Fruit  and vegetable experts will offer their tips and advice at the  Mississippi Fruit  & Vegetable Growers Conference & Trade Show  in conjunction with the Mississippi Agritourism Association, Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Jackson on County Line Road. For more information,  visit: msfruitandveg.com.Suggested Reading:
An  excellent source for ideas is Edible Forest Gardens: The Ecology and Design of Home Scale Food Forests, a website based on the two-volume  set, “Edible Forest Gardens” by David Jacke, (Chelsea Green, 2005, $150  for set).
Visit the site at edibleforestgardens.com.

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

Great Time of Year for Urban Homesteaders

Sept. 7, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Planning for Winter

Those who practice “homesteading”—or self-sufficiency—are busy preserving or “putting up” the produce they have grown this summer. But urban homesteaders who may be limited in the amount of land available to them aren’t left out in the cold. In fact, they have a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables available to them—as close as the local farmers market.

As always, now is a great time to buy what’s available. At this time of year, most farmers are wrapping up their traditional growing time and looking forward to a final fall harvest and a winter season of rest.

The amount of available fresh foods lull consumers who may not be buying as eagerly as they did early in the season—many may even be burned out on local crops. This all works to urban homesteaders’ advantage, because a customer who wants to buy in bulk can usually obtain a bargain.

A tip: Go to the market just before closing time. While some of the items may be sold out or picked over, farmers are usually more than willing to sell the remainder at a huge discount just so they don’t have to haul it back and compost it or give it away.

Another tip: No matter what time of day, you can usually barter down the price of a bruised or picked-over item. In fact, some farmers could throw in the damaged items for free if you buy others in quantity and offer to take them off his hands. You can cut out any bad parts of fruits or vegetables without harming the taste. And remember: If you are dicing them for canning or making preserves, it doesn’t matter what they look like.

Lastly: Quiz farmers over their growing techniques. Organic is the way to go.

Some local farmers aren’t “certified” organic (the Mississippi Department of Agriculture ended its organic-certifying program in December due to budget cuts), but they may still be using organic methods. Most farmers will be more than happy to tell you how they grow their crops. If they don’t—or won’t—don’t buy.

Canning and Preserving Food

The Mississippi State University Extension Service has publications on how to safely preserve food and other issues of interest to urban homesteaders, including: “The Complete Guide to Home Canning” (http://www.msucares.com/pubs/publications/p1152.pdf) and a library of articles grouped under Living In a Recession (http://www.tinyurl.com/clldul3).

Seminars on Agritourism, Growing Fruits & Vegetables

Did you know that agritourism is a growing field in the state? Or that you can hobnob with fruit and vegetable growers to learn from them directly? The Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and the Mississippi Agritourism Association are holding seminars for the public at a conference in Jackson Nov. 28 and 29 at the Hilton Hotel on County Line Road. Early bird registration ends Sept. 15. For more info, http://www.visitmsfruitandveg.com or email info@msfruitandveg.co. You can also contact Candi Adams at 662-534-1916 or cadams@ext.msstate.edu.

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.

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

July 12, 2012

Urban Homesteading: Grow Your Own Sandwich

You don’t have to have a large  garden spread to grow your own organic food. In
fact, you can grow  plenty of food to supplement your diet in a small space.
While  growing enough grain for bread might be a challenge in, say, a small
apartment or tiny yard, you can grow nutritious grain sprouts anywhere  to add
to your sandwiches.
Start  with one to four tablespoons of food-grade organic seeds. Put them in a
wide mouth jar, and cover the jar opening with nylon mesh or tulle  cloth from a
fabric store and affix it with a rubber band. Add water,  swirl it around and
drain. Repeat the water, swirl and drain cycle twice  a day for three to six
days, and you will have sprouts ready to eat.
A  word of warning for growing sprouts: Use only food-grade organic seeds,  as
some seeds are poisonous. Also, non-organic seeds could be  contaminated with
food-poisoning bacteria. Several online companies  offer food-grade organic
seeds specifically for sprouting, including  Johnny’s Selected Seeds
(johnnyseeds.com) and Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com).
Good  sprouts to grow are lentils, garbonzo beans, mung beans, red clover,
sunflowers, radish, rye, winter wheat, alfalfa, arugula, broccoli,  buckwheat,
canola (non-GMO) and adzuki beans.
For  those who are more ambitious — and have more room or access to a  community garden plot — you can grow your own sandwich. With 100 square  feet (a 10-foot by 10-foot plot), you can grow enough amaranth, barley  or rye to bake bread twice a month for a year.
You will have to buy (or rent) a grain mill, or find someone who grind grains in
small quantities. Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com), offers a hand-cranking
grain mill for $149. A bread maker would be nice, too.

Bread From Your Garden?
If you’re interested in growing  grain in your garden, a good book on the
subject is “Homegrown Whole  Grains” by Sara Pitzer (Storey Publishing, 2009,
$14.95).
As  Pitzer notes, in a 10-foot-square plot, backyard farmers can grow  enough
wheat to harvest 50 pounds in a single afternoon—and that can be  baked into 50
loaves of fresh bread.

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

2012 Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

U.S. Farm Bill: Farmers ‘Nationalized’

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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