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Brent Preston is Farming Sustainably for the Next Generation

In his book ‘The New Farm,’ Preston shares his experience and wisdom for successful organic farming.

Author: Lela Nargi | Published: August 2, 2018

In 2003, Brent Preston and his wife, Gillian Flies, packed up their two kids and moved to a rural town about 100 miles northwest of Toronto. Their initial aim was to live less chaotically and to raise some of their own food. But this morphed into a plan to make a living farming organically.

The inevitable years of mistakes, false starts, financial hardship, emotional and physical exhaustion, scorn from local conventional farmers, perseverance and—at very long last—success, are documented with candor and humor in Preston’s book, The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution, released in the U.S. earlier this year.

Civil Eats talked to Preston about the lessons he and Flies learned from their first decade of rural experience, advice for other well-intentioned (and sometimes naïve) aspiring farmers, and what it might take to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gap between conventional and organic farming.

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Can Farming Save Puerto Rico’s Future?

As climate change alters how and where food is grown, Puerto Rico’s agro-ecology brigades serve as a model for sustainable farming.

Author: Audrea Lim | Published: June 11, 2018

Our climate is changing, and our approaches to politics and activism have to change with it. That’s why The Nation, in partnership with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, is launching Taking Heat, a series of dispatches from the front lines of the climate-justice movement, by journalist Audrea Lim.

In Taking Heat, Lim will explore the ways in which the communities that stand to lose the most from climate change are also becoming leaders in the climate resistance. From the farms of Puerto Rico to the tar sands of Canada, from the streets of Los Angeles to Kentucky’s coal country, communities are coming together to fight for a just transition to a greener and more equitable economy. At a time when extreme-weather events and climate-policy impasse are increasingly dominating environmental news, Taking Heat will focus on the intersection of climate change with other social and political issues, showcasing the ingenious and inventive ways in which people are already reworking our economy and society. There will be new dispatches every few weeks (follow along here).

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A Well-Balanced Agro-Ecological System Is Needed

Author: Bryan Simon, Land Stewardship Project | Published: May 22, 2018

It’s not the cow or the sow, but the how. I hate to break it to all the conscientious consumers who have bought into the idea that completely avoiding meat is the answer to our planet’s environmental woes, but they’ve been misled. That’s right, I’m calling you out, Beyonce, Brad Pitt, Al Gore and others who are coaching fans to become vegan to save the planet. Such a message, while well-intentioned, misses the mark. Animals are not the problem; the problem is how they are managed.

Animals provide valuable goods and services, like nutrient cycling, habitat diversity, clean water and soil health, but only when integrated with the land.

Unfortunately, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have removed animals from the land, and the consequences are evident: a rapidly changing climate, polluted water, soil loss, rampant pest problems, and barren landscapes devoid of wildlife. Then there are the social costs: CAFOs are highly extractive and exploitative. They put small- and mid-sized farms out of business, and leave rural communities diminished.

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Industrial Agriculture Isn’t Feeding the World, Only Agroecology Can

A transition towards agroecology is needed to beat the diktats of a production model that is poisoning our Planet and our lives. The op-ed by Navdanya International.

Author: Ruchi Shroff | Published: April 27, 2018

Agroecology represents a solution to the interconnected crises of our time, not only in the agricultural sector, but also in the economic and social spheres. For over thirty years Navdanya, together with other civil society organizations from all over the world, has been promoting a regenerating and ecologic circular approach to contrast the rising environmental degradation, poverty, sanitary emergencies and malnutrition. Changing the current extractive agricultural paradigm, based on the one-way exploitation of nature’s resources and wealth, is to be considered a priority of our times.

The green revolution is no longer sustainable

A paradigm change of which, at last, the FAO has taken notice in the occasion of the Second Symposium on Agroecology held in Rome from 3 to 5 April. This is an important step in the right direction, considering that both the intervention of FAO Director General Graziano da Silva and the final document of the Symposium are denouncing the un-sustainability of the industrial agricultural model of the Green Revolution. In fact, they highlight how agroecology directly contributes to some of the most important SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), such as poverty and hunger eradication, guaranteeing the quality of education, the achievement of gender equality, increased efficiency in water use, the promotion of decent work conditions, guaranteeing sustainable consumption and production, consolidation of climate resilience, sustainable use of marine resources and stop the biodiversity loss.

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Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People

From Alaska to Australia, scientists are turning to the knowledge of traditional people for a deeper understanding of the natural world. What they are learning is helping them discover more about everything from melting Arctic ice, to protecting fish stocks, to controlling wildfires.

Author: Jim Robbins | Published: April 26, 2018

While he was interviewing Inuit elders in Alaska to find out more about their knowledge of beluga whales and how the mammals might respond to the changing Arctic, researcher Henry Huntington lost track of the conversation as the hunters suddenly switched from the subject of belugas to beavers.

It turned out though, that the hunters were still really talking about whales. There had been an increase in beaver populations, they explained, which had reduced spawning habitat for salmon and other fish, which meant less prey for the belugas and so fewer whales.

“It was a more holistic view of the ecosystem,” said Huntington. And an important tip for whale researchers. “It would be pretty rare for someone studying belugas to be thinking about freshwater ecology.”

Around the globe, researchers are turning to what is known as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) to fill out an understanding of the natural world. TEK is deep knowledge of a place that has been painstakingly discovered by those who have adapted to it over thousands of years. “People have relied on this detailed knowledge for their survival,” Huntington and a colleague wrote in an article on the subject. “They have literally staked their lives on its accuracy and repeatability.”

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Plant Diversity Enhances Productivity and Soil Carbon Storage

Author: Shiping Chen, et. al. | Published: April 16, 2018

Significance

Soil carbon sequestration plays an important role in mitigating anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Recent studies have shown that biodiversity increases soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in experimental grasslands. However, the effects of species diversity on SOC storage in natural ecosystems have rarely been studied, and the potential mechanisms are yet to be understood. The results presented here show that favorable climate conditions, particularly high precipitation, tend to increase both species richness and belowground biomass, which had a consistent positive effect on SOC storage in forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Nitrogen deposition and soil pH generally have a direct negative effect on SOC storage. Ecosystem management that maintains high levels of plant diversity can enhance SOC storage and other ecosystem services that depend on plant diversity.

Abstract

Despite evidence from experimental grasslands that plant diversity increases biomass production and soil organic carbon (SOC) storage, it remains unclear whether this is true in natural ecosystems, especially under climatic variations and human disturbances. Based on field observations from 6,098 forest, shrubland, and grassland sites across China and predictions from an integrative model combining multiple theories, we systematically examined the direct effects of climate, soils, and human impacts on SOC storage versus the indirect effects mediated by species richness (SR), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and belowground biomass (BB). We found that favorable climates (high temperature and precipitation) had a consistent negative effect on SOC storage in forests and shrublands, but not in grasslands. Climate favorability, particularly high precipitation, was associated with both higher SR and higher BB, which had consistent positive effects on SOC storage, thus offsetting the direct negative effect of favorable climate on SOC. The indirect effects of climate on SOC storage depended on the relationships of SR with ANPP and BB, which were consistently positive in all biome types. In addition, human disturbance and soil pH had both direct and indirect effects on SOC storage, with the indirect effects mediated by changes in SR, ANPP, and BB. High soil pH had a consistently negative effect on SOC storage. Our findings have important implications for improving global carbon cycling models and ecosystem management: Maintaining high levels of diversity can enhance soil carbon sequestration and help sustain the benefits of plant diversity and productivity.

KEEP READING ON PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

Climate Resilience – A Course for Farmers

While farmers already know just how much we are connected (and vulnerable) to the variability inherent in working with nature, farming connects to Climate Change in profound ways. On the one hand, industrial farming is one of the main contributors to Climate Change. On the other, agroecological farming can actually mitigate and reduce the risks, vulnerability and impacts of a changing climate.
With this contradiction in mind, it is clear that to confront Climate Change rather than just react to it, we need to nurture strong farmer networks, adapt the way we farm to reduce impacts on the environment, and make our farms and farmers more climate resilient.

MESA is proud to offer an online course to help you build the tools to do just that.


Climate Resilience – A Course for Farmers

In this interatctive online course, you will learn and share knowledge with climate resilient agriculture experts, experienced farmers, and MESA’s network of agroecology educators. You will build relationships to a peer group to share expertise and strengthen community-based farmer-to-farmer networks. You’ll learn to create and apply strategies to improve environmental conditions on your farm while helping build resilience and productivity within your management practices, all oriented to confronting Climate Change in your context. After May 30-July 30, you’ll have a break followed by an in-person farmer-farmer field day to wrap up the course.

By taking this course you will: 
  • Understand how your farm or ranch connects with climate change, agroecology, and global agriculture
  • Create a Climate Resilience Action Plan for your farm or ranch
  • Develop new relationships to share best practices and strategies
  • Connect regionally with farmers and ranchers during a Farmer-to-Farmer Field Day and through live, interactive online meetings
  • Increase your farm or ranch’s ability to adapt to the impacts of Climate Change and reduce both the production, social and financial risks of climate variability
  • Gain familiarity with the regional tools, policies and resources available to support you as a farmer in the face of climate change
KEEP READING ON MULTINATIONAL EXCHANGE FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

Economic Impact of Organic Agriculture Hotspots in the United States

Authors: I. Julia Marasteanu, and Edward C. Jaenicke | Published: February 2018

In this paper, we assess whether or not organic agriculture has a positive impact on local economies. We first identify organic agriculture hotspots (clusters of counties with positively correlated high numbers of organic operations) using spatial statistics. Then, we estimate a treatment effects model that classifies a county’s membership in an organic hotspot as an endogenous treatment variable. By modeling what a hotspot county’s economic indicators would have been had the county not been part of a hotspot, this model captures the effect of being in a hotspot on a county’s economic indicators. We perform the same analysis for general agricultural farm hotspots to confirm that the benefits associated with organic production hotspots are, in fact, due to the organic component. Our results show that organic hotspot membership leads to a lower county-level poverty rate and a higher median household income. A similar result is not found when investigating the impact of general agriculture hotspots.

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International Study Indicates Ways to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture

International study indicates ways to mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture

Author: Cristina Pinto, University of Coimbra | Published: March 14, 2018

Extreme weather events are going to be more frequent and longer lasting, and farmers will have to adapt, finding new forms of agricultural and agroforestry management

Extreme weather events “are going to be more frequent and longer lasting, and farmers will have to adapt, finding new forms of agricultural and agroforestry management in order to make this sector more resilient to climate change,” says scientist José Paulo Sousa, from the Center for Functional Ecology of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), coordinator of a team of Portuguese researchers participating in the international study ECOSERVE, which is evaluating the effects of climate change on soil biological processes.

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This Revolution Will Be Farmed

With roots in the Occupy Movement, the Experimental Farm Network seeks participatory plant breeding on a massive scale.

Author: Lela Nargi | Published: March 7, 2018

A long-bearded, bespectacled Nathan Kleinman is standing inside a hoophouse in Southern New Jersey he proudly announces he got for free from a local farmer. Excitedly, he holds up plastic baggies containing his latest accessions of seeds. “These are Chinquapin chestnuts—they’re sweet and small,” he says, pouring what look like dark brown cap-less acorns into his palm. Back into their bag they go so he can show off the rest of his prizes: “Korean stone pines—they’re really rare. Bittenfelder apples, which are good to use for rootstock. Oh, these are cool; they’re from monkey puzzle trees, which are native to Chile.”

The tree seeds are all part of Kleinman’s ever-growing collection of perennials—plants that grow for more than two years and, critical for Kleinman’s purposes, have the ability to combat the effects of climate change. Later today, he will mix these and others with soil, vermiculite, and water, then set them in his fridge to germinate.

Outside, it’s a brutally windy winter’s day, with nothing in the frost-crusted fields beyond the hoophouse except a sprinkling of miraculously still-green sedum and moss, and the barren, woody stalks of a beheaded sorghum crop. But Kleinman is already thinking of spring and the potential it affords for a new season of agricultural activism.

Kleinman is co-founder of the Experimental Farm Network (EFN), a five-year-old nonprofit that aims to start what he calls a farming revolution. On the one hand, EFN is an open-source seed company, with about 80 hardy varietals of tomatoes, beans, squash, and peppers currently for sale on its website. More broadly, it’s a sustainable farming community with a mission to identify and breed carbon-sequestering perennials, relying for labor on a volunteer army of experienced and newbie agriculturists across the country.

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