November 29th, 2011 - Jill Ettinger
More good news for organic farming enthusiasts. Despite longstanding opinions that organic farming could not successfully challenge the perceived efficacy or durability of conventional farming, or the big push from Monsanto and other manufacturers of genetically modified seeds that claim to provide higher yield and less dependence on pesticides, the benefits of organic farming are becoming more apparent and desirable.
Read More:New Research Shows Organic Farming as Viable as Conventional
April 19th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Thursday is Earth Day!
PBS stations will air Dirt! The Movie tomorrow evening as part of the network’s Independent Lens series. (Please check your local listings for time.)
Filmmakers show how 4 billion years of evolution have created the dirt that recycles our water, gives us our food, provides us with shelter, and serves as a source of medicine, beauty and culture.
But as the 1-hour documentary demonstrates, mankind has become greedy and careless, endangering this vital living resource with destructive methods of agriculture, mining and urban development—and with catastrophic results: mass starvation, drought, floods and climate change.
The film uncovers ways we can repair our relationship with dirt and create new possibilities.
“Dirt is a living engine for life on Earth,” says director/producer Bill Benenson. “It recycles everything that falls to the ground. If we didn’t have a living skin on the Earth, we wouldn’t exist.”
“We are treating dirt as a story, not a topic,” adds director/producer Gene Rosow. “We want people to start off with an emotional connection to dirt. Then, we want to instill a sense of caution about the destructive things we are doing to nature and dirt and how those behaviors impact our daily lives.”
The “Ecstatic Skin” of the Earth
The film was inspired by natural-history writer William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, a collection of essays on the important role dirt plays in everyday life.
“After reading the book, I realized how out of touch I had become with the ground beneath my feet,” Rosow says. “Like most city people, I take dirt for granted.”
“The challenge for a filmmaker was, how do you make this subject interesting?” Benenson adds. “We try to give people hope and empower them to see the possibilities and their potential to change things.”
Interviewing Global Visionaries
In their 3 years of filming, Benenson and Rosow “got dirty” filming in more than 20 locations, including Argentina, Brazil, France, India, Kenya and several regions of the United States. They wanted to interview 25 renowned global visionaries who are leading the charge to repair this critical natural resource, including:
- Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that works to “green the ghetto”
- Chef Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s sustainable Chez Panisse restaurant and founder of the Edible Schoolyard, a 1-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom at an urban middle school
- Andy Lipkis, found of the Los Angeles-based environmental group TreePeople
- Wes Jackson, PhD, president of The Land Institute and author of Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth
Hope for the Future
On their journey, the filmmakers found:
- Farmers and agronomists rediscovering sustainable agriculture
- Tiny villages standing up for their right to feed their families
- Scientists discovering connections with soil that can help reduce global warming, including ways to generate electricity from soils and sediments
- Prison inmates who are finding inner peace and job skills in a prison horticulture program
- Children uncovering the secrets of soil fertility and eating from edible schoolyards
“This film is not about environmental disasters,” Benenson says. “It’s about environmental potential. There are a variety of solutions to the problems we face. There’s a lot of hope for the future, if we come back into balance with dirt.”
Photo courtesy of Dirt! The Movie
Read More:“Dirt! The Movie” Airs Tomorrow on PBS
March 28th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Somerville, MA-based Farm Aid is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews remain committed to creating a family farm-centered U.S. food system.
The nonprofit organization is now planning its annual concert events, which will showcase the positive, sustainable future that family farmers are growing through their hard work every day. Across the country, these farmers are rebuilding local and regional food systems and reenergizing the economy.
“In 1985, we started out to save the family farmer,” Nelson says. “Now, it looks like the family farmer is going to save us. As our nation continues to endure an historic economic downturn, America’s family farmers offer us much hope.”
The economic and employment crisis that so many Americans face today mirrors what family farmers endured during the mid-1980s, when they found themselves threatened with foreclosures, bankruptcy and eviction. Hundreds of thousands of farms were lost. In response, the first Farm Aid concert was held in 1985; since then, the organization has been a relentless champion for family farmers.
Since its inception, Farm Aid has raised more than $36 million to support programs that keep family farmers on their land, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.
We’ll let you know about the concert date and talent lineup as soon as info becomes available.
Photo: Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve Inc., 2009
Read More:Farm Aid Celebrates 25th Anniversary
March 2nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Climate change is responsible for some of the weird winter weather we’re seeing in the northern United States, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
“Oddball winter weather is yet another sign of how uncontrolled carbon pollution amounts to an unchecked experiment on people and nature,” says NWF climate scientist Amanda Staudt, PhD. “While global warming means shorter, milder winters on average, some snowbelt areas will see more heavy snowfall events.”
Among the report’s findings:
- In areas where winter is milder, ecosystems are disrupted.
- Natural habitats and agriculture are vulnerable to changing winter weather.
- Many communities will face greater economic uncertainty and losses.
- Snow removal and flooding will tax community resources.
“Disruptions to tourism and recreation economies will become increasingly common—for example, to skiing and ice fishing, which depend on predictable conditions,” Dr. Staudt says.
“More oddball winter weather is terrible news for skiers,” adds former Olympic slalom skier Chip Knight, an NWF project coordinator. “The mountain snow sports that depend on reliable snow conditions provide about $66 billion to our economy, and the local economies that rely on those dollars are becoming increasingly vulnerable. The extreme efforts necessary to provide snow for the Vancouver Olympics are a startling example of what’s at stake.”
Despite what some may think, we can take steps to minimize the severity of weather events by:
- Curbing pollution
- Safeguarding wildlife, fish and habitats from more unpredictable winter weather
- Planning for greater variability in snow-removal and flood-management programs
Ultimately, however, “we can no longer plan based on the climate we used to have,” Dr. Staudt says.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Read More:Expect More Weird Winter Weather
January 31st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
A farmer may have more than 1,000 cows on his land, which create a steady stream of revenue—and manure.
In fact, a dairy cow typically produces 150 pounds of manure per day. Multiply this by scores of cattle, and you get a large—and odoriferous—waste situation.
Concerned about groundwater contamination and fecal-borne disease, farmers are continually on the lookout for ways to ensure safety and make cleanup easier.
One approach involves methane digesters, which operate on an old technology and handle cleanup effectively. As an added bonus, they produce electric energy.
By definition, a methane digester is a wastewater and solids treatment technology, according to Sustainable Conservation, a San Francisco-based environmental advocacy organization. When used on a farm, a digester processes animal waste under anaerobic conditions, yielding methane gas and reducing the volume of solids and treated liquids. The methane can be sold or used to generate electricity on the farm. The solid matter left behind is a valuable soil amendment. And the liquids become an easily applied fertilizer, with plant-available nutrients and low pathogen levels.
Typically, large farms will store liquid and solid manure produced by livestock in large waste ponds. The manure is later pumped back onto fields as a source of fertilizer.
But this type of storage scenario poses a host of problems, including strong odors, pathogens in the manure, and flooding of ponds and land when heavy rains or storms occur (allowing manure to reach local water sources). A methane digester provides a workaround solution, and harnessing the methane—a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide—benefits the environment.
To offset costs, the U.S. government has started giving subsidies to farmers who wish to install methane digesters. Some, however, believe digesters may not be the best solution for small farms. Other communities fight large-scale digester installation because of their industrial appearance and added traffic from waste haulers.
Nonetheless, many environmentalists say the positives outweigh the negatives.
- Organic Dairy Powered by Methane Digester (Straus Family Creamery)
- Manure Power: Dairies Harness Methane to Create Renewable Energy (Checkbiotech)
- Idaho Energy Czar Aims to Harness Cow Pie Power (Associated Press)
- A Refreshing Idea for Barnyard Odor (Boston Globe)
- A German Town Embraces Manure Energy (Fast Company)
- Introduction to Methane Digesters (Oregon Department of Agriculture)
- Energy Savers: Anaerobic Digesters for Farms and Ranches (U.S. Department of Energy)
- Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Wastes: Factors to Consider (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service)
Read More:A Possible Solution to the Methane Menace
October 12th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Leanne Skelton, chief of the Fresh Products Branch of the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, is working with the FDA to help develop new food safety rules.
Through this coordinated effort, the FDA will gather information and feedback from the fresh produce industry—including small and organic farmers—on the impact food safety rules have on their businesses.
“President Obama, like most Americans, wants immediate improvements in our food safety system,” says Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “As such, we are pulling together all our best resources—state and federal—to improve the safety of our foods and to work with growers to protect and promote the health of our nation.”
“The USDA and the FDA have joined together on listening sessions and farm tours, and are eager to develop a system of regulation that will work for American families and the growers,” adds the USDA’s Rayne Pegg.
In media statements, the Feds are emphasizing that they want to speak with local growers across the country to hear their ideas, concerns and experiences.
Time will tell whether local and organic farmers get the attention they deserve.
Read More:Feds Reach Out to Organic Farmers
December 1st, 2008 - Gerald "Gerry" Pugliese
As a fast-developing country, China has become one of the world’s major emitters of climate warming greenhouse gases. This has sparked major concern among agriculture experts, claiming raising temperatures could worsen normal farming problems.
“Warm winters create an environment in which plant diseases and pests thrive, and these pose a serious threat to crops,” Xiong Wei, an expert on the correlation between climate change and agriculture with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told China Daily.
Drought is also a concern. Lack of rainfall, some associate with climate change, has forced officials to deliver clean water to regions of Southwest China, areas dependent on local farming. As of 2007, severe drought in Sichuan province has cost farmers nearly $38 million.
Read More:High Temps Threaten China’s Crops, Water