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Carbon Starvation – A Crisis Of Our Time?

Carbon Starvation – A Crisis Of Our Time?

Are we beginning to see carbon – the fundamental building block of all life – as a pollutant? Instead of demonising carbon as a cause of climate breakdown, we need to restore balance in the natural carbon cycle that has been disrupted by the use of artificial fertilisers. In advance of his upcoming series on farming within planetary boundaries, Stuart Meikle offers a primer on the complex role of carbon in our soils. 

Carbon is everywhere, in us humans, in all animals, birds and aquatic life, in all plant life, in the soil, be it alive or dead, and in the atmosphere. With the agenda increasingly dominated by Climate Change, we could, however, be forgiven for thinking that the only carbon that counts is in the atmosphere. We even count other greenhouse gases, which may not even contain carbon (like nitrous oxide), in terms of carbon (dioxide) equivalents.

As a consequence, are we beginning to see carbon, the fundamental building block of all life, as a pollutant?

In recent months, building upon other published articles, some of which appeared also on the ARC2020 website, I have been researching and thinking about what sustainable food systems look like. They start with the soil. And that becomes more apparent when one considers artificial fertilizers in the context of fossil fuel availability, their physical availability, and their propensity to pollute and emit. Agriculture is beginning a whole new ball game.

When it comes to understanding the vital plant-soil-plant interactions, I would highlight the work of three soils specialists: Dr Christine JonesDr Elaine Ingham and Jon Stika. And there are many others…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our household farming future

Our household farming future

Back to the blog cycle about my book A Small Farm Future with a little more about household-based farming.

A couple of posts back Greg Reynolds suggested I might write some short declarative sentences about my case for household farming, which struck me as a good idea. So here’s my best shot at it.

  • To reiterate my basic position, I think we face a future of high climate, water and land/soil stress, lower energy and capital availability, and socioeconomic/political turbulence and contraction. In these circumstances, I think farm societies will emerge that are strongly based on smallholder households devoting much or most of their attention to the intensive cultivation of small land areas for meeting their own food and fibre needs.
  • This is not my vision of an ideal society – it’s just what I think a feasible human ecology will look like in probable future circumstances. As I see it, there could be better or worse kinds of household farm society, and in future posts I’ll discuss some of the possibilities for creating better ones within the framework of what I’ve called ‘least worst politics’ – in other words, how people can try to make the best of the challenging circumstances to come. But I’m not going to get into that here. In this post, I’m just going to lay out why I think we’ll see household farm societies in the future.
  • Where there are global commodity chains supported by cheap energy and cheap capital, producers tend to concentrate on a handful of highly processable and transportable crops (mostly cereals, grain legumes and oil crops). This enables them to maintain profitability through seeking economies of large scale (large farms with few workers and a lot of energy and capital-intensive infrastructure)…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who Will be the Last Farmer Left?

Who Will be the Last Farmer Left?

A dwindling number of GTA growers worry that aggressive provincial development plans will make it tough to survive

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Homes lose running water in Klamath Basin as houses compete with farmers, ranchers

Homes lose running water in Klamath Basin as houses compete with farmers, ranchers

Water well pump servicers with TW Wells get a water well outside Klamath Falls running again on Aug. 5.
Water well pump servicers with TW Wells get a water well outside Klamath Falls running again on Aug. 5.

JPR News

Homes in rural areas of the Klamath Basin have lost running water as their wells fail. Part of the reason: more farmers and ranchers are pumping water from underground than any other year, because they didn’t get any irrigation water from a nearby lake.

In a small residential town called Midland outside Klamath Falls, Terry Smith stands in her driveway with her neighbor’s garden hose in hand.

That’s been her primary source of water since the well to her own home went dry several weeks earlier.

“I have no water,” Smith says, exasperated. “I can’t take a bath. I can’t clean my house. I can’t cook. And now my well is probably not going to work. I’ve lived in this house for 30 years. This is our retirement.”

Smith is waiting for emergency officials to fill her new storage tank with water, which will eventually be delivered in a tanker normally used for delivering milk. In the meantime, she’s been filling 5-gallon jugs with water at a filling station in Klamath Falls and taking up her neighbor’s offer to use water from their hose.

When Smith’s well stopped working, she called a contractor to drill it deeper. This was going to be a gamble, since there wasn’t a guarantee that it’d work, and she’d have to pay the contractor several thousand dollars regardless.

“I keep thinking today’s going to be the day that the [water] tank gets filled,” Smith says. “Today’s going to be the day when the well gets drilled. But it isn’t.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food and farming reads of 2021

We share some of the most interesting reads from the past year, on everything from toxic weedkillers to bringing back beavers.


Toxic legacy: How the weedkiller glyphosate is destroying our health and the environment

Stephanie Seneff

Stephanie Seneff is an MIT scientist who has now dedicated her life to debunking the myths around the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Her book, Toxic Legacy, rests on a foundation of comprehensive, objective and accessible science – the credibility of which is assured through Seneff’s impressive academic credentials, achieving four different degrees and publishing over 200 articles.

With a dry wit and powerful sincerity, Seneff takes readers on a meticulous journey that details the toxic impact of glyphosate on people and the planet. First navigating the history of glyphosate and how it works as an herbicide, Toxic Legacy unearths the roots of our glyphosate dependency and extent of our exposure. Seneff then unravels the science exposing glyphosate’s toxicity, exposing its links to the degradation of the microbiome, liver disease, infertility, antibiotic resistance, depression, soil degeneration, water contamination and mass biodiversity loss. Ending on a note of cautious optimism, Toxic Legacy concludes with a call to transition towards organic, regenerative and sustainable agriculture, offering guidance on how to ‘take control’ of our health and protect ourselves against glyphosate’s toxicity.

The tone of Seneff’s writing is understated yet powerful, scientific but accessible, providing a fresh and vigorous review of research on glyphosate. But considering such a wide scope of evidence often comes with drawbacks. While Seneff’s credentials are flawless and the evidence persuasive, Seneff often draws a correlation between rising disease rates and glyphosate use, the relationship of which is unsubstantiated in certain cases…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Collective Farming, Community and Connection

Collective Farming, Community and Connection

Cédric, Mathieu and Hervé of the collective farm (GAEC) La Ferme des 7 Chemins in Brittany. Image courtesy of La Ferme des 7 Chemins via Facebook

What does a socio-ecological transition mean for farmers? Farmers from the Nos Campagnes En Résilience project share their thoughts on social issues in farming, the role of farms in the community, and how Nos Campagnes En Résilience can help to build rural resilience in France.

In France, collective farms are quite common (known as a Groupement Agricole d’Exploitation en Commun, or GAEC). Social issues on the farm are central to farming in a collective set-up. But these farmers are also keen to look beyond the farm to build community and connection.

Cédric Briand is part of a collective dairy farm in Brittany with two other partners (pictured above). They manage a a herd of Bretonne Pie Noir, a local heritage breed of dairy cow. All of their milk is processed on-farm, where they produce artisan cheeses. 

Ludovic Boulerie is an artisan baker and farmer in a collective farm in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the West of France. Together with his two farming partners (pictured below) they produce cereals and aromatic herbs and bake bread in the on-farm bakery.

Gilles and Marie Avocat are retired sheep farmers and cheesemakers who were part of a collective farm in the French Alps. They have always been very involved in the community as advocates for local organic food.

Ludovic (on the right) with farming partners Cécile and Youry of the collective farm GAEC La Billardière. Image courtesy of GAEC La Billardière

Farming can build community through food

Ludovic puts it succinctly: The end goal of farming is to feed the population. So there’s a direct link between farmers and their local communities. Farming can build community through food.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Finding meaning in the hard work of farming and growing: What will drive the next generation?

My husband Nathan and I run a small-scale organic farm in West Wales that specialises in edible horticulture and we are currently looking for an assistant grower. Having lost our last assistant grower after about a year and half of employment, we have been posting the job description pretty much anywhere we can for more than three months now. We had two good applications that went nowhere and a few conversations with less experienced people who didn’t really want a full-time job. In the interim, we have taken on a temporary assistant grower finishing up a postgraduate degree in Sustainable Food and Natural Resources – that’s a road that likely doesn’t lead to the field. And we don’t seem to be the only ones struggling to hire…

There’s been a lot of talk post-Brexit about where farm labour is going to come from. We all know the story – the average age of farmers is around 60 and while there are young people interested in farming and growing, especially on the organic and regenerative end of it, it’s not something that’s seen as either lucrative or easy. And the rush of interest in farming and growing that brought in many young first-generation farmers in the last decade is waning, I fear. The seminal 2014 New York Times piece, Don’t let your children grow-up to be farmers argued for the futility of the endeavour in the face of well-heeled ‘non-profit’ farms sucking up grants, ‘hobby farmers’ taking space in local farmers’ markets and the brutality of carrying heavy student loans while breaking your back in the field. While this is an American context, it is still not so very far from the reality in Britain – that economic playing field is still very uneven.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Teaching (or Cultivating) Sustainability (or Inhabitance), Ten Years On

Teaching (or Cultivating) Sustainability (or Inhabitance), Ten Years On

For ten years now, I’ve been teaching one version or another of a class on personal simplicity and economic and environmental sustainability here at Friends University, a formerly Quaker, non-denominational Christian, small liberal arts college in Wichita, KS. Though I teach at a religious university, I don’t teach religion myself–and for that reason, I at first doubted that Jennifer Ayres’s Inhabitance: Ecological Religious Education would much that would be pedagogically relevant to me, despite my strong sympathy with her subject matter. In this, I was partly wrong. While Ayres’s book includes many intriguing (and a few borderline outrageous) educational suggestions, its greatest value to me as a teacher is the way it inspires me to take stock of what I’ve tried to do with with my sustainability class, and to perhaps rethink what my primary goals in that course should be.

My original aim in the design of this class–about which I’ve probably shared my thoughts about too many times already–was always primarily getting students out of the classroom and into the growing, producing, fecund Kansas ecosystems all around us, showing them that there are patterns of life that can keep people fed and housed and happy without committing oneself to the rat race. It shouldn’t have been a shock to me, after I’d lived in Kansas for a few years, to realize how many of my students really had no connection with farming or food systems–but it was, nonetheless. Sometimes broad popular stereotypes about “living in the heartland” would be confirmed as I talked with the students taking the class, and some of them would end up taking the lead in teaching me about cattle ranching or winter wheat or regenerative agriculture…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

Agriculture In A Post-Oil Economy

The decline in the world’s oil supply offers no sudden dramatic event that would appeal to the writer of “apocalyptic” science fiction: no mushroom clouds, no flying saucers, no giant meteorites. The future will be just like today, only tougher. Oil depletion is basically just a matter of overpopulation — too many people and not enough resources. The most serious consequence will be a lack of food. The problem of oil therefore leads, in an apparently mundane fashion, to the problem of farming.

To what extent could food be produced in a world without fossil fuels? In the year 2000, humanity consumed about 30 billion barrels of oil, but the supply is starting to run out; without oil and natural gas, there will be no fuel, no asphalt, no plastics, no chemical fertilizer. Most people in modern industrial civilization live on food that was bought from a local supermarket, but such food will not always be available. Agriculture in the future will be largely a “family affair”: without motorized vehicles, food will have to be produced not far from where it was consumed. But what crops should be grown? How much land would be needed? Where could people be supported by such methods of agriculture?

WHAT TO GROW

The most practical diet would be largely vegetarian, for several reasons. In the first place, vegetable production requires far less land than animal production. Even the pasture land for a cow is about one hectare, and more land is needed to produce hay, grain, and other foods for that animal. One could supply the same amount of useable protein from vegetable sources on a fraction of a hectare, as Frances Moore Lappé pointed out in 1971 in Diet for a Small Planet [12]. Secondly, vegetable production is less complicated…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Two hundred miles from Hartlepool

Two hundred miles from Hartlepool

I’m going to interrupt my present blog cycle about my book A Small Farm Future for one post to comment on recent political events in Britain. Where this post ends up in fact is pretty relevant to some of the larger arguments of my book.

The events I’m referring to are last Thursday’s elections in which, among other things, many people across the country voted for their local councils, electors in Wales and Scotland voted for their national assemblies and – most prominent in the news – a byelection in the ‘postindustrial’ northeast English town of Hartlepool that had previously only ever elected a Labour MP opted for the Conservative candidate by a large margin.

That candidate, Jill Mortimer, has been described in the press as ‘a farmer’, but I haven’t seen any descriptions of her farm nor any discussion of agricultural issues around the election. As I’ll relate below, the issues thrown up by this election do seem destined ultimately to devolve towards farming, but only by a roundabout route which I shall attempt to unpick here.

Mortimer’s main electoral pitch seemed to be about creating more local jobs by ‘cutting red tape’. It surprises me that anybody would still buy the line that the lack of jobs in Hartlepool arises from an excess of ‘red tape’, especially when that line is spun by someone from a party that has increased red tape and reduced jobs by exiting the European Union. But Brexit has always been more about political symbology than rational calculation. It’s the Excalibur of contemporary British politics – the true leader in these times of trouble shall be known by the fact they can extract a well-honed Brexit from the recalcitrant stone of Brussels.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Agroforestry: An ancient practice with a promising future?

How are we going to tackle agriculture’s enormous contribution to the climate and biodiversity crises? One of the few things everyone agrees on is that it won’t be easy, and part of the reason for this is the huge amount of disagreement around the viability and sustainability of many of the proposed solutions. Moving to faster-growing breeds of livestock, for example, could risk delivering carbon gains at the expense of biodiversity and animal welfare. There are, however, some measures with more universal support, and one of the most potentially significant of these is agroforestry.

Traditionally defined as the growing of commercially productive trees and agricultural crops on the same piece of land, agroforestry is, despite its new-found fame, a very old practice –  though one which has sadly been almost entirely lost from our landscape. In contrast to the prevailing mindset around trees and food production, which largely sees these two land uses as mutually exclusive, agroforestry systems are designed in a way that provides benefits to both enterprises, while also generating a range of environmental gains such as improved soil health, reduced runoff, increased biodiversity – and of course, carbon sequestration.

It’s no wonder, then, that agroforestry has received widespread support from many different quarters over recent years. But with a range of different possible approaches and few on-the-ground practitioners, what might its implementation at scale actually look like? Thanks to the pioneering work of the likes of Stephen Briggs and his alley cropping system of apples and cereals, we have proven models that show how agroforestry can work on cropland. But with the exception of some research trials carried out in the 1980s, there has, as far as I’m aware, been very little research done into how agroforestry might be best implemented in grassland areas…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

One Blue Earth

One Blue Earth

blue earth


Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

– Harriet Tubman


Here are three memories from backpacking trips in the virgin wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia:

  • Finding peace and perspective at the top of Mount St. Helens in the breaking dawn, after climbing through the night beneath the full moon
  • Watching the concentric circles ripple outward from my hand as I drink from pure, ice-cold Clearwater Lake
  • Staring from my sleeping bag in awe into the immensity of the night sky and the infinitude of stars

These experiences and other moments in nature inspire my passion for environmental activism. As a teenager, I have organized park and beach clean-ups; championed recycling and waste reduction, and joined in climate-related marches and strikes from high school. But the severity and complexity of the global threats to our ecosystems have led me beyond protesting and making demands. I want to learn more about hopeful strategies for restoring our planet and share this knowledge with others so that they also may be inspired and choose to help.

One Blue Earth

I launched One Blue Earth as a platform for change, and to be a bridge between research and action. One Blue Earth seeks to raise public awareness about the consequences of global warming and to educate our communities about current scientific and grass-roots efforts to develop workable solutions to mitigate and reverse climate change. Our goal is to spotlight and partner with specific projects. In our fundraising campaigns, we ask for individual donations of only $1 to encourage more democratic and inclusive participation. The number of people we can motivate to contribute is as important as the amounts we raise…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the public sector needs more dynamic procurement 

Major change from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture involves a shift from monocultural (largely) grain crops towards a more diverse harvest with smaller volumes of different products, many of which are more perishable than grain, coming available at different times of the year. This makes long-distance distribution less feasible and farmers more reliant on the domestic market. It also requires purchasers to appreciate the seasonality of products and the fluctuations in supply and respond with greater flexibility through their menus. The public sector is ideally positioned to support local farmers and public sector caterers can provide regular business, considerable spend and reliable payments. However, typically they are not seen as an easy route-to-market.

The response of many would-be suppliers, as well as the public in general, is to assume that price is a barrier to sourcing more locally within the public sector. While this can be the case, especially on certain products like lamb, more often than not the real barriers are the procurement frameworks themselves. These often make it impossible for local businesses to fulfil the requirements, so many never apply in the first place. The frameworks tend to demand consistent supply and reliable distribution to cover the whole annual requirement for a range of products over a potentially large area. Local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may have excellent products and even be able to outbid national suppliers on price, but they are less likely to be able to support the volumes and distribution service required.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

The battle for the future of farming: what you need to know

It is widely agreed that today’s global agriculture system is a social and environmental failure. Business as usual is no longer an option: biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are exceeding planetary limits, and catastrophic risks of climate change demand immediate action.

Most concede that there is an urgent need to radically transform our food systems. But the proposed innovations for more sustainable food systems are drastically different. Which we choose will have long-lasting effects on human society and the planet.

Suggested innovations in food systems can be broadly understood as either seeking to conform with – or to transform – the status quo.

The future of farming is ours to decide. Raggedstone/Shutterstock.com

A technological future

Some want to keep the agriculture industry as close to existing practices as possible. This is true of the increasing number of corporate and financial actors who seek to solve the food crisis by developing new technologies. These technologies are envisaged as being part of what is being called the “fourth industrial revolution” (4IR). The “answer” here is thought to lie in a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between physical, digital and biological domains.

For example, the World Economic Forum is currently supporting agricultural transitions in 21 countries through its “New Vision for Agriculture” initiative. This initiative supports “innovation ecosystems” to re-engineer food systems based on “12 transforming technologies”. In this imagined future, next generation biotechnologies will re-engineer plants and animals. Precision farming will optimise use of water and pesticides. Global food systems will rely on smart robots, blockchain and the internet of things to manufacture synthetic foods for personalised nutrition.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Here’s the catch

The journey of an agricultural pollutant from its source, along its flow path (often in surface water flooding across fields), to its end destination, where it has the potential to do damage to the natural environment, is an essential concern of Catchment Sensitive Farming officers (CSFOs) on every farm they advise. Understanding how pollutants manifest on a farm, and the journey they subsequently take into the surrounding environment, enables farm advisers including CSFOs to evaluate how to address water and air pollution from agriculture.

Successful reduction of this diffuse pollution from food production can best be achieved by the adoption of practices which stop nutrients or pesticides becoming a pollutant in the first place. This not only has benefits for the environment but also for the farmer who saves money by wasting fewer inputs. Inevitably though, some agricultural inputs (such as fertiliser and manure) escape down a field or out of a livestock shed. Here, measures to intercept the errant material along its flow path come into play.

To mitigate this, a buffer strip of grassland and trees protecting a river or a ditch from waterborne nitrates or a shelterbelt of trees trapping ammonia emanating from a poultry house are just two examples of how Catchment Sensitive Farming is helping farms to address such diffuse pollution. And in flood prone areas of farmland, these practices can also help slow the flow of surface water encountered during storm events, enough to reduce the worst of its impact further down river catchments.

It takes careful consideration of each field and cropping rotation, each hedge or drystone wall boundary, farm track and gateway for the full benefits of Catchment Sensitive Farming to be realised…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

David Burton , sustainable food trust, pollutants, farming, food production

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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