By Bec Sloane
Social justice and attending to the planet proceed in parallel; the abuse of one entails the exploitation of the other. – Paul Hawken, “Blessed Unrest”
In a new year, a world stunned by crises remains shaken, its systems undone and notes scattered. It’s a time ripe for the reorganization of rooms and a rewriting of narratives.
Climate and migration: our treatment of the planet is linked to our treatment of the people, and to burn one is to scar the other. While doomsday scenarios are little help, biting depictions may be the jolt we need to snap out of our trance. So let’s drop one hand from our eyes, and fully realize the might of that big, burning star.
By Erin Rodgers
Cherry tomatoes are a staple in home gardens, farm fields and local food markets, but growing them can be a challenging undertaking. Now, a new variety from Cornell AgriTech provides improved yield and shelf-life while enhancing both visual and culinary appeal.
A cross between heirloom tomato varieties, Cherry Ember was developed by Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of horticulture in the School of Integrative Plant Science, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The new tomato is now on sale through Fruition Seeds, an organic seed company based in Naples, New York.
“One of the problems with cherry tomatoes is that they tend to have thin skins, and so half of them crack on the plant, and the half that you pick crack after a few days,” Griffiths said. “Cherry Ember is a little firmer, with more of the post-harvest characteristics of a grape tomato”.
By Elizabeth Henderson
Rural areas in this country are not always welcoming of newcomers, especially if they are LGBTQIA or people of color. Salespeople at farm supply stores may greet feminine-presenting shoppers with demeaning questions like “what did he send you to buy?”
Defying deeply ingrained prejudices as well as the economic assumption that to pay the bills organic farms have to sell to high-end markets, Rock Steady has been able to create a successful farm and welcoming community space with over half of its sales going to low-income households. By responding to the pandemic quickly and skillfully, the Rock Steady farmers have even been able to increase community support. Let’s take a look at this remarkable farm to see what lessons about adaptation and resilience we can learn from the Rock Steady story.
Late in 2015, Maggie Cheney and D Rooney established Rock Steady Farm on twelve acres of leased open valley land next to the Watershed Center, “a retreat center for changemakers,” in Millerton, NY, a two hour drive north of NYC. From the start, Maggie and D and Angela DeFelice (a third partner who has since shifted roles to be a financial advisor to the farm) set out a complex social mission for Rock Steady as “an LGBTQIArun cooperative, rooted in social justice, growing sustainable vegetables and flowers.” People care is at the top of the Rock Steady priority list right next to soil health. Rather than hiding who they are, the partners proudly declare that they are “endlessly grateful to be who we are, and engaging in farming with both care for each other and the earth as best we can.” Creating a space where they themselves are comfortable and providing that sense of openness and acceptance to others is central to their effort. As D puts it, “Rock Steady is at a point where we are catching a groove of who we are that we never had before. There is a lot of knowledge that we believe we have that we can share about how to make it work.”
By Leah Penniman
Chief Zogli looked weary as he scratched a notch in his doorpost to record the weather. “Still no rain,” he says with resignation. The chickens pecked lazily in the dust and the goats foraged for the last of the dropped grains. In this rural community outside of Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, the farmers depend on rainfall as their only source of agricultural water. Zogli explains that the rainy season has been arriving later each year and ending sooner—and the thirsty crops struggle to mature.
From the African continent to the Americas and across the Caribbean, communities of color are on the front lines of and disproportionately harmed by climate change. Record heat waves have caused injury and death among Latinx farmworkers and devastating hurricanes have become regular annual visitors in the Caribbean islands and coastal areas of the U.S.
By Sebastion Interlandi
Methane produced by ruminants including cows, sheep and buffalo is responsible for approximately 3% of recent global warming, while agriculture as a whole is responsible for 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. There are promising solutions on the horizon to the methane problem that are likely to be available by the end of the decade. These solutions include changing both the practices and theories of food production. Going forward,the problem of food on Earth is about quality, not quantity.
I grew up on the coast of New England, and have many familiar thoughts of the seaweed that season- ally washes up by the ton on our beaches each year. The smells, and slimes, the red and green and brown algal free-floating nomads, and the others holding
on tight to rocks and shells, staking out their posi- tions in the tidal flows. I don’t remember thinking of these aquatic plants as potential food for people or cows. However, there is a long history of New Eng- land farmers using seaweeds as fertilizer and live- stock fodder, and an even longer history on Earth of people eating the greens of the seas ourselves.
In January of 2016, Australian researchers reported on some in vitro experiments with the red alga, Asparagopsis taxiformis, that showed that as a supplement accounting for 2% by weight of a cow’s diet, the algae could reduce ruminant methane emissions by up to 99%. This exciting finding was followed up by reports coming out in September
that year, that in vivo, live sheep experiments showed similar promise, with up to 80% reductions in methane emissions in animals. The latest research published just this year again shows that 80% of methane emissions can similarly be eliminated from healthy beef steer in real farm settings, and that the steaks taste great.
What is the exact enzymatic mechanism inhibiting methane formation?
By Grace Oedel
In 2019, the journal Nature Communications published a study then shared widely with titles designed for shock factor, such as MIT Technology Review’s: “Sorry, organic farming is actually worse for climate change.” The study’s authors concluded that, “Organic practices … require more land to produce the same amount of food,” and that “Clearing additional grasslands or forests to grow enough food to make up for that difference would release
far more greenhouse gas than the practices initially reduce.” Articles about this study have been shared widely, and a good friend wrote to me plaintively, “Can this really be true?!”
As a farmer and organic farming advocate, I dove into the research, curious for unexpected facts or something that might actually challenge my direct experience and research. I found none. Instead, what surprised me most was the shockingly simplistic metrics the study employed, coupled with a lack of whole systems thinking, which underpins organic farming.
The study sought to answer the question, “Is organic farming worse or better for climate change?” with a single metric: the amount of food produced per acre in England and Wales. Despite acknowledging that organic production systems had higher yields
of crops such as potatoes, carrots and onions, and ignoring long-term research centers like Rodale Institute that show organic methods can match conventional grain yields, The Nature Communications study estimated that organic production produces 40% less food per acre on average. The study also assumed that consumers would demand the same agricultural commodity products produced currently, and that one-third to one-half of food produced globally would continue to be wasted in perpetuity.
The study acknowledged many ways in which organic practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions, citing that “Organic pig production results in lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per unit of production […] organic dairy, beef and sheep production results in lower total GHG emissions per unit of production […] the direct emissions associated with organic crop and livestock production are smaller for organic farming compared with conventional.” It is only when the estimates of the amount of land that might be converted to crop production overseas were included that the scales began to tip. But this is not an inevitable outcome of converting more production to organic.
Why would we stick with the exact same crops, diets and distribution models? Why not explore the question of what makes most sense for farmers to grow in their region? Are these machinery, land, fossil-fuel-based, and resource- intensive commodity crops that are steadily more consolidated and corporately owned the most sensible choice for the future?
By Richard Robinson
When Corinne Hansch and her family were ready to start a new farm in upstate New York, they were also ready to try a new approach to farming. They arrived with five years of tillage farming under their belts, on four acres in Mendocino County, in California, but they had learned the hard way that that approach came with a major trade-off. “It was kind of a miracle, to be able to go out with the tiller and prepare an entire acre for planting,” Corinne says, no small benefit with three young children to care for. But the weed pressure kept getting worse and worse, and in our final year there, we lost many rounds of carrots, baby lettuce, and beets, because we couldn’t keep up with the weeds.”
So as they planned their new two-acre, intensive vegetable and cut-flower farm in Amsterdam, about 40 miles northwest of Albany, they resolved to try another way. “There was so little information on no-till farming five years ago,” she says, but she and her husband, Matthew, had seen online videos by Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser from Singing Frogs Farm, and met them at the NOFA/Mass winter conference in 2017. After that, “we decided to go for it.”
By Sefra Alexandra
In the past decade The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut has worked toward building a regional food system built on knowing where your food comes, supporting your local farms and knowing your farmers. CT NOFA is now championing the same principle in a new arena: knowing where your landscape plants come from and supporting your local seed savers and nursery growers. The rise of enthusiasm for native plants and pollinators has swept our state in the last few years, thanks to the hard work of organizations like The Pollinator Pathway Northeast and Aspetuck Land Trust. Rewilding our landscapes with native plants enhances our regional biodiversity in ways that make it possible for us all to thrive. What we have learned, however, is that to do this properly – to put the right plants in the right place – we collectively need to understand the language of provenance: where native seed is sourced and where it is being grown. In an effort to renew our commitment to the principles of regenerative conservation agriculture, a few concepts around seed need to be clarified and defined.
We collectively need to understand the language of provenance: where native seed is sourced and where it is being grown.
Ecoregions: When we plant native plants, it is important for us to put our bug eyes on and view the landscape the way our local pollinators see it. They do not see the man-made delineations of where one backyard, town or state ends, but rather interact within the boundaries of different types of habitats. In an effort to create a shared framework by scientists, farmers, conservationists and homeowners addressing the various facets of ecosystem health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created Ecoregions of the Continental United States maps (Figure 1). For our purposes in this article we will look at the Level III map that illustrates a broad-strokes mosaic of habitats and communities comprising Ecoregion 59, which covers most of Connecticut.
By Richard Robinson
No-till is better for the soil, better for production, and better for the farmer. That was the message from three experienced no-till farmers who came together to share experiences and advice at the Farmer-to-Farmer intensive workshop, part of the NOFA-Mass Winter Conference held virtually in January.
Gaining pounds (and pounds and pounds) at Gaining Ground
The birthplace of Henry David Thoreau, in Concord, Mass., is the site of Gaining Ground, a three- acre nonprofit farm dedicated to feeding the hungry. Doug Wolcik managed Gaining Ground from 2013 to 2020, during which he spearheaded the farm’s transition to no-till, beginning in 2016. After five complete seasons of not tilling the soil, Doug’s conclusion: “No-till works!”
The first inkling that no-till could revolutionize production came when Doug stopped tilling in their hoop house. “It is scary to jump in, but we saw a big increase in production in the hoop house from just that change,” Doug said. “From there, it was a no-brainer, and we decided we had to roll this out to the fields,” which they did, converting one acre per year, parking the tractor and switching to hand work.
By Shana Hanson
“Oh, the Amazon!” we say, when thinking of eco- systems and climate mitigation. 2020 was our 5th drought in 6 years in Belfast, Maine, with cumula- tive damage to soil fungi, who are now less able to retain moisture when rain does come. I am up in foliage to cut livestock fodder, and see that even the trees are losing health. How can I awaken people
in the Northeast to join with farmers and tend the living earth?
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is sifting new information on the full climate effects of plants and forests, yet this work is complex and slow, and “the window of opportunity, the period when significant change can be made, for limiting climate change within tolerable boundaries, is rapidly narrowing”. “A growing number of studies suggested that many processes important for interactions between land and climate were missing in the [Ecological Systems Models].”