Posts

Earth Talk: Regenerative Agriculture

Published: February 11, 2018

Dear EarthTalk: What is so-called Regenerative Agriculture and why are environmentalists so bullish on it?
– Jess Mancuso, Montgomery, PA

Regenerative Agriculture (RA) describes farming and grazing practices that help reverse climate change by rebuilding the organic matter in soil and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

“Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density,” reports California State University’s Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (RAI). “Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths.” The net result is a drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and the improvement of soil structure to reverse human-caused soil loss.

According to Terra Genesis International, which helps businesses integrate sustainable farming practices into their everyday operations, key principles guiding the implementation of RA include: progressively improving whole agroecosystems (soil, water and biodiversity); creating context-specific designs and making holistic decisions expressing the essence of each farm; ensuring and developing fair and reciprocal relationships among all stakeholders; and continually growing and evolving individuals, farms and communities to express their innate potential.

KEEP READING ON AUGUSTA FREE PRESS

What’s the Future of Farming? It Can Only Be Agroecology, Says Farms of the Future

Author: Niamh Michail | Published: August 1, 2017

Think of agriculture of the future and you may conjure up images of hydroponic lettuces grown in underground, urban bunkers or massive-scale precision farming using satellites and drones. But for campaign group Farms of the Future, the future is, and can only be, agroecology.

KEEP READING ON FOOD NAVIGATOR

'A Low-Carbon Livestock Sector is Possible', Says UN Chief

The head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for sustainable, low-carbon practices to be built into the developing world’s growing livestock sector.

Published: January 23, 2018

Speaking at the recent 10th Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Belin, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, said:

“With improved and climate-smart practices, we can quickly put in place more sustainable and greener livestock supply chains…A low-carbon livestock sector is possible to achieve”.

The FAO estimates that livestock generates 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from human sources and the industry is expected to expand as demand grows within developing countries.

While the Director-General was keen to point out that an increase in demand for animal products is a good sign among some of the world’s poorest communities, it isn’t without potential pitfalls. This includes how the sector’s growth can align with the Paris climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions and limit global temperatures to below 2 degrees.

However, the FAO believes that emissions can be cut by up to 30 percent by adopting a variety of climate-smart agricultural practices.

These include greater uptake of energy from waste, recycling nutrients, regenerative grazing and managing pasturelands so that carbon is stored within the soil.

KEEP READING ON CLIMATE ACTION PROGRAMME

How California Farmers can Conserve Water and Combat Climate Change

Author: Rich Collins | Published: December 9, 2017

In January and February, no less than 125 million gallons of rain fell upon my 200-acre farm, located off Highway 80 between Dixon and Davis.

Our soil, blanketed with an annual winter cover crop of mixed grass and legumes, absorbed all of those 24 inches of rain. Not one single gallon left our property.

Where did all that water go? Some was used by the cover crop and a small amount evaporated. But most sank down to be stored in the soil and to recharge groundwater.

On conventionally managed fields nearby, copious and disheartening amounts of rainwater ran off, causing some localized flooding. But most it made its way out the Delta, then the bay and beyond. It was an opportunity lost.

Similarly, I fear Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature will be missing an opportunity in the coming budget.

California is a global leader on climate change. Brown and legislative leaders miss no opportunity to remind the world of our model. The state has an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target and many climate change programs to achieve those goals.

Among them are agriculture programs supported by farmers and ranchers that help store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs; fund conservation easements that spare farmland threatened by development; and help dairies reduce methane emissions. More than $200 million has been invested in these programs.

However, our leaders could be missing a great opportunity to support sustainable agricultural solutions to climate change unless they provide at least a modest sum for critically important sustainable agriculture programs.

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program has provided financial assistance to growers for improvements that save water and energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Launched in 2014 during the drought, and oversubscribed by more than 200 percent, this popular program has provided $67.5 million for almost 600 projects across the state. Over the 10-year life of the project, 700,000 acre-feet of water will be conserved, and there will be a reduction of 225,000 tons of greenhouse gas. It will be one of the state’s most cost-effective climate programs.

KEEP READING ON THE SACRAMENTO BEE

Let’s Wrench Power Back from the Billionaires

If we stand together against powerful special interests we can eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and tackle climate change

Author: Bernie Sanders | Published: January 14, 2018

Here is where we are as a planet in 2018: after all of the wars, revolutions and international summits of the past 100 years, we live in a world where a tiny handful of incredibly wealthy individuals exercise disproportionate levels of control over the economic and political life of the global community.

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers.

KEEP READING ON THE GUARDIAN

Let's Wrench Power Back from the Billionaires

If we stand together against powerful special interests we can eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and tackle climate change

Author: Bernie Sanders | Published: January 14, 2018

Here is where we are as a planet in 2018: after all of the wars, revolutions and international summits of the past 100 years, we live in a world where a tiny handful of incredibly wealthy individuals exercise disproportionate levels of control over the economic and political life of the global community.

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.

At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos – founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person – has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers.

KEEP READING ON THE GUARDIAN

Changing Paradigms in Food and Farming — Part 1

Author: Jack Lazor | Published: January 14, 2018

Our world is in a bit of an uproar these days. Never before have we seen so many challenges come to the fore simultaneously. Here in Vermont, we are very fortunate to live in a rather civil society, especially when we consider the toxic political environment that we see on the national level. We still have plenty to worry about right here in our own state, however. Hardly a day goes by without some mention of water quality and environmental pollution in the news. This past August we saw some of the worst-ever blue green algae blooms in lakes Champlain, Carmi and Memphremagog. Fingers were pointed, and the usual blame game transpired. In the last month, the Department of Agriculture has come under fire for lax enforcement of water quality regulations. Some legislators want to know why farmers are exempt from Act 250 jurisdiction. The question of who and how we will pay for Lake Champlain cleanup looms large.

The state’s dairy farmers, both organic and conventional are in the poorhouse. Vermont’s iconic dairy industry has been in an economic pinch for some time. The prices farmers are paid for the milk they produce are well below the costs of production. Until recently, organic dairy production has been an economic lifeline for many producers, but for the first time ever, organic prices have dropped as much as $6 per hundredweight in the last few months. Quotas have been imposed on organic milk production, further lessening farmers’ income potential. Stress levels on dairy farms continue to increase as farmers find they cannot pay their bills.

Meanwhile, retail outlets that sell dairy products are in a war for market share. Something as nurturing as food becomes a “sale item” like a television set or some other consumer good. Food prices are lower than ever while the cost of production back on the farm continues to rise. Why is it that cheap food is standard fare here in America? This madness all began in the years following World War II. After the lean years of the 1930s and food rationing during the war, Americans were ready to eat. At the same time, chemicals like nitrates and phosphates that had been used in the making of munitions were repurposed as agricultural fertilizers and pesticides. By 1950, a new industrial agricultural revolution was in full swing. Crop yields climbed, farms consolidated, and meat consumption increased. Tractors completely replaced horses for motive power. As agriculture became more mechanized, people began to leave their farms and rural communities for more opportunities in urban and suburban areas. If one is looking for the beginning of the long decline in rural America, look no farther than the 1950s. The green revolution was underway.

KEEP READING ON VT DIGGER

Our Best Environment Stories of 2017

From soil to algae and fish to flowers, food and the environment are entwined; here are some of Civil Eats’ top stories exploring the connection.

Published: December 26, 2017

Climate change puts farmers in a double bind: The food system is both a major contributor to global warming, and food producers are also already reeling from the effects of a warming planet. Throughout 2017, Civil Eats profiled the interconnection of food and the environment, both how the changing planet is reshaping food systems and also how to produce food in harmony with the planet.

Below, in chronological order, are our top environmental stories from 2017:

California’s Drought Continues to Harm Native Tribes and Fishermen
By Kristine Wong
Communities that depend on salmon among those that suffer the most during drought.

Can Organic Food Prevent a Public Health Crisis?
By Elizabeth Grossman
From children’s development to antibiotic resistance, a European Parliament report charted the many benefits of organic food.

[Editor’s note: In July 2017, we lost Lizzie Grossman, our senior reporter and a pioneering environmental health journalist, to cancer. We published a tribute to Lizzie after her passing, and all of her work for Civil Eats is published in this archive.]

Mapping the Benefits of Farm Biodiversity
By Liz Carlisle

Scientists are finding that simply growing more kinds of food (and rotating crops) can make farms less reliant on pesticides—and more financially solvent.

Monsanto’s Driverless Car: Is CRISPR Gene Editing Driving Seed Consolidation?
By Twilight Greenaway
Gene editing technology is being heralded as a game-changer, but it raises serious questions as five of the Big Six agriculture and chemical companies seek to merge.

Can California Reverse EPA’s U-Turn on Pesticide Ban?
By Elizabeth Grossman
Lawmakers in the Golden State have the power to go beyond the agency’s recent decision not to ban chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxin that impacts thousands of children, farmworkers, and rural communities.

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS

How Food Survives Extreme Weather Events

Published: December 30, 2017

Who wouldn’t agree? 2017 was a year of mind-blowing events.

We won’t even try to address the politics here. Instead we’ll take a look at a (heretofore) safe subject: The weather. Specifically, what several natural disasters meant for our food supply.

In February, ongoing drought in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia resulted in famine so severe the U.N.’s Under Secretary General described it as “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”

In March, Cyclone Debbie ravaged Queensland, Australia and caused unprecedented losses for vegetable, sugar and horticultural farmers.

April’s monsoon rains in Sri Lanka created the worst floods in decades, compromised up to fifty percent of agricultural land and left nearly a million people food-insecure. (This, by the way, followed the country’s worst drought in forty years.)

In August, more epic flooding in Southeast Asia created severe food shortages and polluted the water supply for 16 million people across Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, costing the United States US$200 million in agricultural losses.

September’s Hurricane Irma damaged up to 90 percent of agricultural lands in the Caribbean, Cuba and the Florida peninsula and Hurricane Maria delivered the same devastation in Puerto Rico.

October brought historic wildfires: Northern California wine country suffered US$3 billion in damages and the fire ruined the livelihoods ofseasonal farm workers.

And, as we write this in December, the largest wildfire in California’s history rages in the biggest avocado and lemon-producing region in the U.S. The agricultural losses are yet to be calculated.

KEEP READING ON THE SEEDS OF VANDANA SHIVA

The Year in Food Policy

As with every other aspect of U.S. politics and policy, 2017 brought upheaval and uncertainty to the nation’s food system.

Author: Twilight Greenaway | Published: December 28, 2017

It was a tumultuous year for food policy in the United States.

The year started off with several efforts by the Obama Administration to safeguard efforts at wide-scale food system change—such as the long-awaited formalization of new animal welfare rules in organics and the so-called “GIPSA rule,” which promised to level the playing field for small-scale meat producers in a consolidated marketplace. But once Donald Trump took office, things began to shift rapidly.

Here’s a rundown of several of the most important food policy changes that took place in 2017 (links to Civil Eats stories are in bold):

Changing Face of the USDA

Just one day before his inauguration, Trump named former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as the nation’s new secretary of agriculture.

At the time, food systems experts from around the nation expressed concern about Perdue’s involvement with the growth of large poultry facilities in Georgia and his overly religious approach to government, pointing to the fact that he once prayed for rain in response to drought in the state. Many also worried that Perdue and Trump’s shared anti-regulatory stance would be bad for farmers and consumers.

Then, in March, Trump proposed $21 million in cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) budget—and some farmers protested cuts to local conservation offices.

A week after being sworn in, Perdue announced—during a visit to an elementary school in Leesburg, Virginia—that the agency would “make school meals great again” by getting rid of Obama-era school lunch standards requiring that schools serve more whole grains and less sodium, among other changes.

It soon became clear that the USDA itself was changing radically. In September, Politico reviewed the resumes of dozens of  Trump agricultural appointees, and found that the president had placed former campaign workers—many of whom had no experience with agriculture, and had worked as truckers, cabana attendants, and landscapers—in the agency.

That month, Trump also nominated Sam Clovis, a birther, conservative talk-show host, and climate-change denier with no science background, to the role of chief scientist at the USDA. (Clovis withdrew his nomination in November after being linked to the current Russia investigation.)

In October, Civil Eats published a wide-ranging look at the changes Perdue had made to the USDA, including a dramatic reorganization.

In November, Vanity Fair published a detailed account of story of a group of veteran USDA scientists who had either left or been forced out of the agency over the course of the transition.

Farm Bill and Other Farm Legislation

For all the reasons above and more, concern is mounting about the 2018 Farm Bill, which has been taking shape since Congress began discussions last February.

In May, as the agriculture committees in the House and Senate began another round of farm bill negotiations, grassroots leaders gathered to discuss the people, places, and issues that have too often been shut out of funding. Some food-reform advocates have also been pushing to incentivize farms to improve their soil in the face of climate change by linking it to crop insurance, which made up a significant portion of the last farm bill.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, and other nutrition programs account for a significant portion of the farm bill (around 80 percent of the initial projected spending in 2014). It’s also always one of the most hotly debated pieces of the legislation. This year, the House agriculture committee considered cutting soda and candy from the SNAP program, but the sugar industry invested heavily to stop it from happening.

Despite the popularity of farmers’ markets, it’s also looking unlikely that the national Farmer Markets Promotion Program (FMPP) will be prioritized in the coming bill.

In August, Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer announced his alternative farm bill—a set of proposed legislation that he has been working with farmers, food advocates, and public health professionals to shape. The suggestions are geared toward strengthening efforts to produce healthy food, rather than animal feed and fuel.

Want to know more about how the farm bill shapes the food we eat? Civil Eats recently published an explainer from farm economist John Ikerd on Twinkies, carrots, and farm policy reality. And here’s an interview with Chellie Pingree about her plan to build a “farm bill for all.”

KEEP READING ON CIVIL EATS