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Mark Keating's picture

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been!

It’s not too often that we discover a new masterpiece by Georgia O’Keeffe, or even an unknown soundboard recording of our favorite musicians.  Reading the journal article “Organic Agriculture in the United States: A 30 Year Retrospective” induced a similarly revelatory and exhilarating experience for me.  Co-authored by Dr. Garth Youngberg and Suzanne DeMuth, the article itself is new, yet it speaks authoritatively and insightfully about the genesis of the organic movement in America and brings into remarkable focus what we have achieved since then.

Maureen Wilmot's picture

Live Long & Prosper… Organically

As I wait to see how Congress will set the future food and farming policies for this country, my attention shifts to the other side of the country where more than 130,000 people were focused on the future of the worlds. Which worlds? I’m not entirely sure.

Karen Adler's picture

Reducing Dead Zone through Organic Practices

The concept of Organic Agriculture moves center stage in the global sustainability debate.
--One Earth, One Future: 2012 Consolidated Annual Report of the IFOAM (Integrated Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Action Group.

map of the dead zoneDid you hear that the area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the dead zone is soon expected to reach the size of New Jersey?  Due to heavy spring flooding in the Midwest, with a lot more nitrogen-based fertilizer ending up in the Gulf, this year’s dead zone could be the biggest on record. And there are, unfortunately, many other areas in the U.S. and around the world with dead zones created by unsustainable practices.  Dead zone is a term commonly used to describe the results of hypoxia. This dramatic impact of chemical-based agriculture on biodiversity and the environment occurs when agricultural nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, leach into waterways and wash downstream, accumulating in the waters of an estuary or bay. The decomposition process depletes the oxygen. Marine life flees or dies when oxygen levels get too low for their survival. Bird and animal populations that feed on marine life also shrink as their food sources disappear.

Maureen Wilmot's picture

Summertime Sustainable Solutions

The other week, while the House of Representatives were fumbling around with the farm bill, I had the privilege of joining more than 200 funders who work to create a healthy, safe and secure food and agriculture system in this country. I attended the Sustainable Agriculture Food System Funders annual forum in Providence, Rhode Island – Rethinking, Risk and Resilience. We spent three muggy and dynamic days delving into issues that impact how our food and fiber is grown, distributed and accessed.

We toured a health center that ‘gets’ the connection between healthy food and healthy humans.  It included non-clinical programs such as a fully accessible community garden, on-site farmers’ markets and even bicycles! The waiting room is filled with samples from the on site vegetable garden and healthy recipes.

Mark Keating's picture

Farm Bill Update

Basketball legend John Wooden cautioned not to confuse activity for achievement and his advice certainly applies to the “Farm Bill” passed last Thursday by the House of Representatives.  I use quotes here because the House bill contained only the agricultural provisions of the Farm Bill while voiding its single largest section, the nutrition programs.  Not simply ignoring, but voiding; should this House bill become law, the entire slate of USDA nutrition assistance programs would disappear.

While that outcome might please some members of the House, it’s not going to happen and that’s where the distinction between activity and achievement comes into play. The House leadership was badly damaged by the defeat of its first attempt to pass a Farm Bill back in June. That defeat highlighted underlying concerns about the House leadership’s competency and even called into question its future viability. 

Karen Adler's picture

Freedom’s Just Another Word for Organic

photo of farmer in the fieldOrganic agriculture provides real independence for farmers, for consumers, for communities, and for the world. As we know, organic farmers and ranchers use production methods that are independent of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. The avoidance of these substances, coupled with holistic approaches that foster the cycling and conservation of resources through composting, cover-cropping, and other soil and nutrient-management practices, spells independence from the costly and toxic chemical agriculture treadmill.

Karen Adler's picture

Knowledge is Power: The Natural Farmer Shares Its Bounty

A wealth of practical organic farming information has been gathered over the years by farmers and researchers all over the country, and is shared through a variety of methods. One storehouse of knowledge is The Natural Farmer (TNF), which is the quarterly journal of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), a 5,000-strong membership organization with chapters in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

photo of Jack KittredgeThe Natural Farmer, edited since 1988 by Jack Kittredge, a Massachusetts organic farmer, has published hundreds of useful articles since 1988, with each issue focused on specific production and marketing topics ranging from crops such as cucurbits, potatoes, and minor fruit, to explorations of climate change, internet marketing, and manure. And now, with the support of a grant from Organic Farming Research Foundation, 101 of these articles, from twelve issues, are available in a searchable archive by topic and key phrases, such as “organic potatoes,” or “forages for swine.”

Mark Keating's picture

House Farm Bill is Resoundingly Defeated

The journey towards a new Farm Bill took another detour last Thursday when the U.S. House of Representatives rejected by a vote of 234 to 195 the proposal which Republican leadership brought to the floor.

Multiple factors contributed to this outcome: Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the bill which included onerous changes to federal nutrition assistance programs and many Republicans who wanted to see more reform and savings from the commodity programs joined them. The House Agriculture Committee acknowledged when submitting this bill that they had a narrow pathway to passage and in the end, they could not attract enough support to get there.

Karen Adler's picture

More Buzz on Pollinators

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, we are following last week’s post with some great buzz on native bees, courtesy of our friends at The Xerces Society and the Wild Farm Alliance.

While we love European honey bees, and promote practices to ensure their survival and safety, they are, as the name says, not native to North America. Many crops are dependent on honey bees for pollination, but native bees are often better adapted to various climatic conditions than honey bees. Also, some native bees can be more efficient pollinators than honey bees for native American crops such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and blueberries, as well as many old world orchard crops, such as apples and cherries.

Fast facts on native pollinators:

  • Native bees are more effective than honey bees at distributing pollen.
  • Native bees get to work earlier in the day and put in longer hours.
  • Many native bees are more active in colder and wetter weather: mason and bumble bees fly at lower temperatures than honey bees and work in the rain.
Karen Adler's picture

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Seeds…

With more than two-thirds of all agricultural plants dependent on insect pollinators, primarily bees, to produce seed, effective pollinator management is important to organic seed producers, especially in light of increasing pressures from two key challenges.

Challenge #1: Genetic contamination of seed crops

Undesirable outcrossing can occur when wind or pollinators transport pollen from an outside source into a seed crop field. This can produce a number of different results for organic seed producers; if two organic varieties are crossed, the result may be a new, undesirable variety, even if organic. However, when the movement occurs between an organic seed crop and a genetically modified seed crop, the result might be a seed crop with the genetically modified trait.

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