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Farming as the climate changes

The world is facing a climate crisis that is dramatically impacting farmers and growers across the world. As temperatures rise, rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, extreme weather events happen more frequently and soils are eroded through desertification. These changes mean that crop yields are increasingly inconsistent, and agricultural businesses are struggling to adapt.

However, in the United States, climate change divides opinion with many still questioning its scientific validity. Former President Trump said climate change was ‘an expensive hoax’ and curried political favour by pulling the US out of the UN Paris Agreement in 2017. However, under President Biden, the new administration has put climate change at the heart of its plans. Within hours of being sworn in on January 20th, President Biden ensured that the US re-entered the Paris Agreement and he reversed President Trump’s authorisation of the Keystone XL pipeline. For many Americans, the Biden Harris administration offers hope that the US will take its climate responsibilities seriously once more, with the goal of keeping us within the two-degree Celsius limit.

In light of this new US leadership, the Sustainable Food Trust talked to farmers across the US to understand how they view climate change and what steps (if any) they were taking to address it. Over the course of 2020, the SFT interviewed a range of American farmers, growers and producers, in order to hear how they are farming as the climate changes. This report provides a summary of those conversations.

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

Extreme flooding from slow hurricanes a danger to farms

Extreme flooding from slow hurricanes a danger to farms

Preface. Yet another danger from climate change for agriculture will be slow hurricanes and cyclones dumping a foot or more of rain over a few days such as the recent hurricanes Harvey (2017), Florence (2018), and Dorian (2019).

Journal reference: Zhang G, et al. 2020. Tropical cyclone motion in a changing climate. Science Advances.

***

Le Page M. 2020. Slower-moving hurricanes will cause more devastation as world warms. NewScientist.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in 2017, killing 68 people and costing $125 billion in damages. One reason it was so destructive is that it moved unusually slowly and remained over the same area for days – and as the world warms, there are going to be a lot more slow-moving tropical cyclones like Harvey, according to high-resolution climate models.

A slow-moving tropical cyclone dumps far more rain in one place than a fast-moving storm of a similar size and strength. The winds can also do more damage, because they batter structures for longer.

Harvey, for instance, dumped more than a metre of rain in parts of the Houston area. “Imagine that much water falling in one spot,” says Gan Zhang at Princeton University. “It is too much for the infrastructure to handle.”

Other recent storms, including Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019 have also been slow-moving, leading to suggestions that climate change is increasing the odds of slow-moving storms.

Now Zhang and his colleagues have run about 100 high-resolution simulations of how tropical cyclones behave in three types of conditions: those between 1950 and 2000, those similar to the present and also various future scenarios.

They saw a marked slowdown as the world warms, due to a poleward shift of the mid-latitude westerly winds. It is these prevailing winds that push cyclones along and determine how fast they travel.

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

Running Out Of Soybeans?

Several factors are conspiring to weaken the reliability of our food production systems, warns Christian Westbrook, publisher of the website IceAgeFarmer.com

We’re seeing a shortening of the growing season for important crops due to weather trends and changes in the solar cycle.

Our food production system, which is highly dependent on chemical inputs and fossil fuels, is becoming increasingly brittle.

And we have more vulnerability due to the global nature of modern food supply chains. Crop shortages/failures in one part of the world impact all markets now.

For example, soybean supply is tightening as bad weather in South America and increased buying by China are hitting at a time when global stocks are already low.

As the world population grows, climate instability continues, and more countries are able to economically compete for resources, experts foresee future demand that may prove overwhelming vs supply:

What if several of the world’s biggest food crops failed at the same time?

In the past several decades, many of the world’s major breadbaskets have experienced shocks – events that caused large, rapid drops in food production. For example, regional droughts and heat waves in the Ukraine and Russia in 2007 and then again in 2009 damaged wheat crops and caused global wheat prices to spike by substantial amounts in both years. In 2012 heat and drought in the United States slashed national corn, soybean and other crop yields by up to 27 percent. And yields of important food crops are low and stagnating in many countries due to factors including plant diseases, poor soil quality, poor management practices and damage from air pollution.

At the same time, many experts assert that world food production may have to double by 2050 to feed a growing population and satisfy rising demand for meat, poultry and dairy products in developing countries.

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

Rekindling Family Farming at Owl Oak Acres

Rekindling Family Farming at Owl Oak Acres

Just before the sun sets, Evelyn (Evie) offers up the evening feed to all the animals on her family’s small ranch, Owl Oak Acres, in Red Bluff, California. She goes around from pen to pen, patiently throwing dinner over the fences to the eighteen ewes, the thirteen lambs, the two rams, the two goats, the twenty chickens, and the two horses. At twelve years old, she’s more than competent; in fact, it seems like second nature to her. But, for a young kid, it’s not always the most fun thing to do.

Her mother, Dawn Graham, explains this well. “When it’s dark, rainy and cold, and Evie has to put on her muck boots, overalls, and coat; when she has to go slop through the mud and deal with screaming animals and drive out to the barn to keep the feed dry… Yes, she gets very frustrated. But, there’s this understanding: ‘this is where my food and clothing come from. I’m the one doing this.’”

Dawn knows very well the rewards of this deep intimacy of relationship, as she was raised this way just a few miles down the road. “Growing up,” Dawn says, “we didn’t have a whole lot of money, but we ate what we raised.” This was, she states, a truer wealth. “We lived on a creek, so we had fresh blackberries. Mom would make soups, broths, sauces; she was always canning vegetables and spinning wool.”  Dawn’s mother, Jane, was the one who started it all. She got a few Corriedale sheep and never turned away from them. “We were too poor to have a TV growing up, so I would sit with her and scour a fleece with her. We’d flick it, card it, comb it. I remember collecting oak galls and dying the fleeces with them too.”

When it was time for Dawn to attend college, she left the farm and moved to upstate New York. There, she met her husband, John, and with him, a very different life’s journey began. They traveled all over the country together, living from suburb to suburb. They started a family — a son, Jarod, and daughter, Evie. Eventually, Dawn began dreaming of returning to the country. It wasn’t until five years ago that they auspiciously ended up finding a home within a few miles from where she grew up.

It was six weeks or so before Evie’s 8th birthday when Dawn and Evie went to look at a farmhouse on 40 acres in Tehama County that John had found on Zillow. Evie walked into the house, took one look, and immediately said, “yep, this is the one. I’m home!” And so it was. For the first year, Evie and Dawn hunkered down at the farmhouse while Jarod and John lived closer to the city, for John’s work. After that first year, they were all able to live together at the ranch. They started collecting a few sheep so that Evie could participate in the local 4H club. Their herd grew quickly, and currently, they manage eight Merino sheep for wool and twenty-five Dorper sheep for meat.

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

Who eats local food?

The question of who eats local food is a tricky one to pin down.

There is first the question of what constitutes ‘local food’ – if you’re a farmer raising grass-fed beef or lamb in Wales that you then sell across country, most people would say that’s local enough; but what if you sold across the UK? How about the local jam producer that sells locally at farmers’ markets in their region but buys in fruit from Spain to make the jam? It’s something of a conundrum. You’ll also find that distance is yet another variable – many would agree that ‘local’ in the UK is within 50 miles, but in a big country like the US, food 500 miles away can also be ‘local’. So, it’s complicated and to a certain extent, how we define it may be idiosyncratic and particular to how each individual feels about the food they are eating.

‘Local food’ also suffers from an image problem – it’s assumed to be niche, more expensive and the purview of the upper middle-classes. A number of years ago, food critic Jay Rayner had a notable go at farmers’ markets, touting them as selling ‘over-priced fare’ as a ‘status symbol’, angering Welsh food producers. But ‘local food’ isn’t what many people posit it is – I know, because I’m a local food producer. While my evidence is inevitably anecdotal, I know we feed a diverse range of people. We run a box scheme serving well over 100 households and also do a weekly producer’s market in Newport, Pembrokeshire. The people who buy from us are anything but uniform in terms of their demographic make-up – I say this because we know a lot of our customers…

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

A global movement for localised food and farming: The beginning of agriculture in Europe

Image: Kelly Reed, Reconstructed Neolithic house at Sopot, Croatia

Image: Kelly Reed, Reconstructed Neolithic house at Sopot, Croatia

The world we inhabit today has changed dramatically since we first began farming thousands of years ago. Yet the challenge to provide food security to all is not new and has been a common struggle throughout our past. By looking back, we can see how things have developed and use our knowledge to think in different ways and open up new possibilities for the future of our food system.

This blog starts at the beginning, when early immigrant farmers moved into Europe from southwest Asia, gradually replacing and assimilating mobile hunter-gatherers who lived in this region. A new sedentary farming lifestyle provided greater control and stability over food supplies, which in turn allowed people to have more children and join together in larger, denser communities. This global movement allowed for demographic expansion of people across the globe, the formation of denser villages and eventually cities, and ultimately the accumulation of wealth and the formation of political and craft specialties. These features enabled the development of early states and empires, which engaged in increasingly more complex food procurement activities at varying scales across the globe.

How did the advent of farming change the scale of food production in Europe?

Agriculture originated in several small hubs around the world. The earliest started in the Fertile Crescent, a region of southwest Asia that includes parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. The factors that drove people to first settle in one place and then more intensively focus on a few wild resources is widely debated, but between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago early Natufian people started to adopt a handful of key behaviours, notably sickle harvesting, grain grinding, seed saving, seed sowing, and tilling (e.g. Arranz-Otaegui et al. 2018)…

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

The Quiet Resilience of Willowbrook Farm

Willowbrook Farm is a fifty-acre plot near Oxford on which the Radwan family grows vegetables and rears chickens, cows and sheep to produce ethical and sustainable Halal meat. Throughout the tumult of the pandemic, this farm’s small-scale model lent it incredible resilience; while much of the UK’s food system was disrupted, Willowbrook, the UK’s first Halal and Tayyib farm (meaning a farm where Muslims can be assured that their meat has been reared according to ethical principles & which has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic scripture), sustained a steady supply of meat to its customers, thanks to its deep roots in an established local and faith-based network. As they closed the farm’s gates to its usual visitors at the start of the lockdown, the Radwans had time for deep reflection, and a chance to finish ongoing projects, without having to worry about massive income loss.

COVID-19 has raised significant questions about meat production, and Lutfi and Ruby Radwan have added their voices to the chorus of environmental campaigners, scientists and animal welfare advocates arguing that the pandemic is a direct result of industrial-scale meat production.

“Healthy animals can withstand environmental and health stressors; when their bodies and immune systems are functioning well, they are able to fight off a host of viruses and diseases,” Lufti said. It is only when the animal’s health is compromised, as happens in intensive meat production, that these illnesses are able to develop into a more dangerous form.

“The whole issue is actually an environmental issue,”’ he said. “You can’t separate the morals and the ethics, and you can’t keep seeking profit by stripping farming of any connection to sustainability and the land.”…

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

Farming as the Climate Changes: Molino de la Isla, East Pecos, New Mexico

The world is facing a climate crisis and the changes this brings are dramatically impacting farmers across the world. As temperatures rise and rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, production is dropping and businesses are struggling. However, in the United States, climate change still divides opinion. Many still question its scientific validity, including the President who said climate change was ‘an expensive hoax’ and pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement.

However, in opposition to those climate-deniers, there are passionate and engaged people across America who are desperately working to keep us within the two-degree Celsius limit. In light of that division, we wanted to talk to farmers across the US to understand how they view climate change and what steps (if any) they were taking to address it.

The SFT will run this series over the coming months, featuring a diverse range of American farmers. This week we interviewed Ralph Vigil who runs Molino de la Isla in northern New Mexico. Molino de la Isla Organics is an organic farm created to promote and to protect the acequias of Nuevo Mexico through organic agriculture, regional marketing and consumer education for the socio-economic benefit of local communities. The acequias are an organised system of waterways for agriculture and there are over 100 throughout the state. Molino de la Isla runs a CSA veg share scheme and works with young people to preserve traditional agricultural practices.

What are your biggest concerns about climate change and its effect on your farm in particular?

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

 A Small Farm Future: Excerpt

Culture Crisis

This is the crisis of modernist culture – the ability to create ourselves as individuals and protect ourselves from the vicissitudes of the non-symbolic world, set against the ability to alienate ourselves as individuals and offload the consequences of our self-creation onto other people (including future people) and the non-symbolic world. In view of the other crises we face, the only convincing way I can see of transcending this crisis is to start making ourselves as individuals in less materialised ways that are more engaged with the Creation, the non-symbolic world, around us. The small farm future I describe is the most convincing form I can see that transcendence taking.

One reason the prospect of a small farm future sits awkwardly with modern culture is that it flouts a sense of progress. Small-scale agriculture was what people did in the past, but we’ve now progressed beyond it. It’s hard to shake off this view because when we think about history through the lens of modernity we tend to use spatial metaphors with binary moral overtones. We move forwards, upwards or onwards, we lift people up out of poverty, we support progressive ideas and we don’t look back – but when we do, we see backward societies where a lot of people farmed.

In one sense, such objections are easily dealt with. A small farm future needn’t be the same as a small farm past. We don’t have to go back. But that’s not quite good enough, because the culture of modernity involves a sense of radical rupture with the past, and a wholly new destiny for humanity – a destiny that’s regarded as better than everything that went before it, largely because people quit farming, left the countryside and got busy with their modernist life projects.

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

On the efficiency of my scythe

On the efficiency of my scythe

The time is nearly upon us when the feature-length version of my musings here will be released upon an unsuspecting world – A Small Farm Future (the book) will be available from 15 October in the UK and 21 October in the US. Various launch events are in the offing, and I’ll be gearing the blog for a while to come to riffing on various themes from the book. So watch this space…

Meanwhile, I have one final bit of outstanding business to attend to before turning my attention to the book – though in many ways this post serves as well as anything as an introduction to its themes. Whereas my last couple of posts addressed the politics of an agrarian localist future, this one addresses farm scales, styles and technologies in such a future. Again, it comes in the form of a critical engagement with a specific individual, in this case grower and small-scale farmer Seth Cooper, who I debated with a little while ago online. I promised I’d respond further to some of his points, hence the present post. Apologies if my excerpting of his comments and interpolation of replies seems combative (I’m going to try to stop doing this kind of thing!) – hopefully it will also be illuminating, and my thanks to Seth for drawing out this discussion.

Our debate focused in large part on the kind of tools and equipment appropriate to farming, small farming in particular, so I’m going to go with that in this post – but hopefully it’ll work obliquely as an entry into wider issues. Even more specifically, we talked about the virtues or otherwise of the scythe.

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

To Be Farming and Fortunate

To Be Farming and Fortunate

Photographed by Paige Green

To arrive at Fortunate Farm, you have to drive along the California coast, either north or south, passing some of the most epic viewsheds to be seen on Coast Highway 1. The farm is hours away from any major city, and just south of Fort Bragg, a small fishing town and tourist destination where the land meets the Pacific Ocean. Here the water and sky melt into each other, in a gleaming marriage of silver light.

Any road to get to this part of the Mendocino coast involves twisting turns through gorgeous and ancient old-growth redwood forest. Still, according to farmer and co-owner Gowan Batist, “We’re in the middle of everywhere if you think about it.”  She explains, “we’re equidistant from Arcata to the north, the Bay Area to the south, and people come here from Davis and Sacramento to the east when they’re trying to escape the heat… we aren’t close, but we are on the way to everywhere people go in Northern California.”

Wherever you go, there you are. At Fortunate Farm, the farm is at the center of its own universe, the center of its own community, the center of the Northern California coastline.

If a farm is a living organism, the farmer is wedded in a deep relationship to it. The land, the domestic and wild animals, the plants and microorganisms, the weather patterns, and water/mineral/elemental cycles make up its living system, and the farmer is there to tend to it. It’s a relationship of care, an emotional relationship, and financial relationship, similar to a marriage, similar to a family.

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

The return of home-grown cereals

Our daily bread was for centuries the product of a community-oriented and collaborative food system.

The Book of Exodus recounts the tale of the Hebrew slaves, who in their haste, fleeing for their lives from Pharoah’s Egypt, had no time for their bread to rise and so carried it upon their backs. Now, Jewish communities around the world remember that story, recalling their time in bondage, by eating unleavened bread during the Passover festival.

Bread is intrinsic to cultural knowledge for people the world over. In Britain, even relatively recently, bringing in the harvest would have been a community enterprise, different members of the village taking on roles from cutting or reaping to putting the sheaves into stooks to dry.

Sustainable grain

Bread can be so much more than a pillowy, processed loaf of sliced white, a vehicle for sandwich fillings. Fresh bread can be a revelation: richly satisfying, full of nutrition and bursting with flavour, inviting you to slather a slice with something at least as tasty. As part of a regenerative food network, it can speak volumes on cultural sharing, economic fairness and the joy of breaking bread together.

I’ve been involved in the Welsh Grain Forum with miller Anne Parry at Felin Ganol watermill for some years. We’re working with farmers, millers and bakers to help get good home-grown food into more Welsh kitchens. We’re seeing a move back to collaborative food systems with modern ecological approaches and on a more regional, and we believe, a more resilient, reliable and relatable scale.

Right up until World War II, Wales was covered in cereals. Grains were grown right across the country. Old reference maps show Wales pockmarked with many small arable fields (detailed in brown).

Anne says that in her village of Llanrhystud there would, at one time, have been four grain mills. Now, hers is the only one.

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

Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues

Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues

Bees are responsible for pollinating key crops like apples, and their decline now threatens crop yields. Pikist

Without bees, future generations may not be able to identify with adages like, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’

Crop yields for key crops like apples, cherries and blueberries are down across the U.S. because of a lack of bees in agricultural areas, a Rutgers University-led study published Wednesday in The Royal Society found. This could have “serious ramifications” for global food security, reported The Guardian.

The scientists wanted to understand the degree to which insect pollination, or lack thereof, actually limits current crop production. Surveying 131 locations across major crop-producing areas of the U.S., they found that five out of seven crops showed evidence of “pollinator limitation” and that yields could be boosted with full pollination, the study said.

“The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production,” said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert and the senior author of the paper, reported The Guardian. “I was surprised, I didn’t expect they would be limited to this extent.”

The research further noted that pollinator declines could “translate directly” to decreased production of most of the crops studied and that wild bees “contribute substantially” to the pollination of most studied crops.

Declines in both managed honeybees and wild bees raise serious concerns about global food security, the study said, because most of the world’s crops rely on pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators like bats and birds underpin the global food system, but their populations are dwindling due to human activity including settlement building, pesticide use, monoculture farming and climate change. This is part of what many are calling the “insect apocalypse,” a precipitous decline in insects across the globe.

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

Farms to Feed Us

Farms to Feed Us

If you need something done, give it to a busy person, goes the old saying.  Here Catherine St Germans, founder of the Port Eliot Literary Festival and last year’s regenerative agriculture gathering in Cornwall, details how she and a group of other busy people collaborated to create a database that is now helping to feed nearly 8,000 people nationwide.

On April 24th, the night the UK went into lockdown, I arranged my first Zoom gathering with some members of the Regenerative Agriculture WhatsApp group I am a part of, to talk about what was happening and how we could help each other. On the Zoom was Fred Price from Gothelney Farm near Bristol, Abby Rose of Farmerama Radio, Neil Heseltine of Hill Top Farm in the Yorkshire Dales, Oil Baker, a young grower with a seven acre farm near Liskeard, Sophie Chatz of Earthly Creative who had been helping the local food movement in Bristol, while others called in from Cornwall to London. 

We had all heard about the CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and veg box schemes  being overwhelmed with thousands of new customers, andalso knew that farmers had been left with none and were trying to set up new routes to market.I came to the group with an idea I’d had a few days before: a national database to help connect citizens with small scale farmers and local producers and their new businesses. The crisis had laid bare the fragility of our food system and I wanted to highlight the farmers that were waiting to bring well farmed and delicious food straight from a resilient food and farming network that was still flowing! No supermarket and middleman required. 

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

Do we need farmfree food?

Do we need farmfree food?

Because of how badly we humans have treated soils and animals and how we destroyed bio-diversity, it is understandable that people are looking for other ways of producing food.  The food tech sector hosts legions of entrepreneurs (mostly with background in the IT sector) seeking venture capital and researchers looking for grants to “disrupt” a sector which they claim is archaic. Most of them are based on the view that farming in general, and livestock farming in particular, is inefficient and wasteful. The environmental journalist George Monbiot writes in an article in the Guardian titled Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet.

“Eating is now a moral minefield, as almost everything we put in our mouths – from beef to avocados, cheese to chocolate, almonds to tortilla chips, salmon to peanut butter – has an insupportable environmental cost. But just as hope appeared to be evaporating, the new technologies I call farmfree food create astonishing possibilities to save both people and planet. Farmfree food will allow us to hand back vast areas of land and sea to nature, permitting rewilding and carbon drawdown on a massive scale.

“One of the promising initiatives mentioned in the article is the Finnish company, Solar foods. It claims that it has found a way to commercially produce hydrogen oxidized bacterial protein from electricity. The technology is actually known since the 1960s and has not taken off because of the prohibitive costs. In a research article, co-written by the founders of Solar Foods as late as 2019, it is concluded, that only the cost of energy required to produce microbial protein is higher than the price of soybeans, even if capital and other operational costs are not taken into account.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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