The decline of industrial agriculture

The following excerpt was taken from conservative blogger, Gracy Olmstead, writing about how a “bust” in the farm economy might open up opportunities for a more sustainable food system.  The full article is published here.

The negative impact of industrial agriculture on environmental quality and social justice is well recognized.  Industrial agriculture however has been justified by an assumed positive impact on the economy.  This article questions that assumption.


The History Of American Agriculture’s Decline

How did we get to this point? The Wall Street Journal gives a mini history lesson:

From the early 1800s until the Great Depression, the number of U.S. farms grew steadily as pioneers spread west of the Mississippi River. Families typically raised a mix of crops and livestock on a few hundred acres of land at most. After World War II, high-horsepower tractors and combines enabled farmers to cover more ground. Two decades ago, genetically engineered seeds helped farmers grow more.

Farms grew bigger and more specialized. Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

 This short account of the jump from subsistence-style farming to today’s industrialized farming could easily fill thousands of pages (and indeed has—from John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” to Wendell Berry’s novels).

Today’s Farms Still Follow an ‘Industrial Paradigm’

The Industrial Revolution shaped and transformed farming in seismic ways. As I wrote for Comment Magazine last year, “farming in the new, industrialized era began to favor quantity and specialization—because new machines worked most efficiently when farmers chose to harvest large, homogenous acreages instead of the small, diversified crops of the past. Farmers sought bigger and bigger swaths of land, seeing in them the promise of greater funds in the bank.”

American farms are still stuck in this “industrial paradigm,” says sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms. “Just like the agrarian economy gave way to the industrial, and the industrial to the information, and now the information is giving way to the regenerative economy, agriculture is changing. Because farmers tend to be conservative, agriculture is the slowest of all economic sectors to embrace the new economy.”

When Salatin’s father bought their family-operated farm in Swoope, Virginia, the land was severely eroded, and soil health was poor. “When my dad, in the early 1960s, asked agricultural advisors to tell him how to make a living on this farm, they all encouraged him to abuse the land more aggressively,” remembers Salatin. “He eschewed that counsel and did the opposite of everything they said. Today, we are healthy and profitable. Every person must decide whose advice to follow.”

Incentivizing Farmers to Destroy Neighbors’ Businesses

The WSJ piece goes on, “For some, the slump is an opportunity. Farmers with low debts and enough scale to profit from last year’s record harvests could be in a position to rent or buy up land from struggling neighbors.” In other words, large (most likely government-subsidized) farms can use this opportunity to buy out their smaller counterparts. Sounds like a great thing for the economy long-term, doesn’t it?

One chilly afternoon in October, Mr. Scheufler steered his combine across the first field he bought. The machine’s giant claw spun through rows of golden soybeans. A hawk circled the combine’s wake, hunting for exposed field mice. He recalled farmers whose land he has taken over: Ted Hartwick ’s, the Matthews’, the Profits’, his father’s.

Yes, building a large and profitable business is usually seen as an integral part of free market economics. We don’t want to prevent successful farms from getting larger. But it’s crucial to ask a few questions here: first, are these farms growing via their own merits—or via the support of the federal government? (Often, the answer is the latter.) Is their business model truly sustainable (and therefore, “successful” long term)?

Too often, the growth of a commodity farm means taking diversity, sustainability, and community, and turning these goods into homogeneity, depreciation, and solitude. This may not be Scheufler’s story. But it is, increasingly, the story of America’s heartland.  As another interviewee tells the WSJ,

There were 28 students in Mr. Scott’s graduating class at Ransom’s high school nearly four decades ago. Most were farmers’ children. This year there are nine students in the school’s senior class. ‘Farms got bigger to be more efficient, but it’s caused these towns to die a slow death,’ Mr. Scott said.

It’s not just farm towns that are ill-served by the way agriculture currently works. Land erosion, water contamination, and soil pollution are just a few of the ecological consequences of bad farming practices. “The current debacle has been coming for a long time,” says Salatin. And, he adds, “It will not end quickly. Rectifying our decades of abuse will not be easy. Healing will be disturbing.”

Farmers Aren’t Encouraged to Diversify Their Operations

Part of the problem here is that farmers, rather than diversifying their farms to protect against commodity price drops, have been encouraged (largely by subsidies, sometimes by the market) to always produce more of the same.

“Rather than studying how nature works, the informational component of the agriculture sector tends to throw out historic templates and remake life in a mechanical hubris of fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper,” says Salatin.

Many farmers who’ve expanded their enterprises have continued to grow the same exact crops on all that land. Now, writes Newman and McGroarty, “Corn and wheat output has never been higher, and never has so much grain been bunkered away.” So when the price of corn, soybeans, and wheat drops—as it is now—farmers don’t have another crop to fall back on.

In the short term, diversifying your farm operation can be more expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. But it also creates job security. Long-term, it protects both your farm and soil health.

When we focus on producing a few commodity crops, any country can beat us at our own game. We produce a glut of grain that global markets are no longer buying. Meanwhile, Americans living in the heartland of Iowa buy their tomatoes and peppers from South America. It seems strange, doesn’t it?


For more on industrial agriculture and the sustainable alternative, see this list of books used in classes offered by the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

SFF Film Showing and Poster Contest

The following is a note from SFF student Sierra Torres….

I am reaching out to you all today with a really awesome opportunity to help plan some events for SFF community and beyond this semester.  Currently I am organizing a three part film series surrounding issues within the food system or related to climate justice in general. 
 
Because this event is being designed for your enjoyment, I wanted to get feedback on which films you would like to see this semester. The following link is a brief poll where you can vote on which film you would like to see. There will also be links to the trailers if you have not heard of the films.

 Click to Vote Here

The top two films will be shown in March (dates to be determined). This poll will close on February 20th.
 
Based on what movies you all choose, we hope to also host a panel of local speakers in the field of study related to the films after the showings. If you have someone in mind who might be a perfect speaker for one of the films, feel free to leave a comment on the last question on the survey or feel free to email me personally. 
easelThere will also be a contest for you all to submit designs for the poster. So if you love drawing or working with digital art, we will be running a contest for you all to submit designs of your original art work for the posters. The person with the best poster will win a Stockbridge Sweatshirt. Attached below is a PDF with the contest details.  Feel free to email me with questions.
 
Thank you all so much and I look forward to your help,
Sierra Torres
University of Massachusetts Amherst, ’20
College of Natural Sciences
Sustainable Food and Farming Major
sff-poster-contest_page_1

The Rise of Women Farmers – a few readings

Did you know that over 65% of the recent graduates of the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture are women? 

Here are a few books & websites from the Women’s Agricultural Network which showcase how women farmers are changing the food system:

The Female Farmer Project Through photographs, blog posts, podcasts and now coloring books, author and photographer Audra Mulkern and her team are working to “accurately portray a group of people who” Mulkern believes have been “invisible for far too long: The female farmer . . . This group of women who had been doing amazing things.”

Drawing on 10 years of research and work with women farmers, the Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture, published in 2016, explores the societal changes that have empowered women to claim the farmer identity, describes barriers that are broadly encountered by women farmers, and offers a framework to shift the US food system to one that better supports women farmers.

Soil Sistersalso published in 2016, provides a blue-print for women who want to farm. Author Lisa Kivirist, founding coordinator of the Rural Women’s Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, synthesizes key information and advice from seasoned women farmers committed to sustainable agriculture.


Original Source  – Women’s Agricultural Network

Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

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Sara Tower at Nutwood Farm in Cummington, MA

or the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Monday, February 06, 2017

CUMMINGTON — When Sara Tower began farming about eight years ago, she worked mostly with vegetables, which is typical of many farmers in the area. Next fall, though, she and her partner will harvest a crop that is new to western Massachusetts — nuts.

Last year, Tower and Kalyan Uprichard, co-owners of Nutwood Farm in Cummington, planted 350 nut trees on their 8-acre farm. By 2026, they expect to harvest 10,000 pounds of nuts, including chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.

“We’re changing the food system,” Tower said. Continue reading Pioneer Valley is home to food entrepreneurs! NUTS….

Veteran Farm Training

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Jake Alexander welcomes Chip Pinder as the new farm manager for Vets and Veggies!

We want to congratulate one of our recent Stockbridge alums, Chip Pinder, who is the new farm manager at Vets and Veggies in Athol, MA.  Chip completed the Bachelor of Sciences degree program in Sustainable Food and Farming in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture just last month.

We hope you will help support this new community building and training operation for Veterans at their GoFundMe link.

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Vets and Veggies offers housing to veterans that are interested in learning how to become a sustainable farmer. Through a small scale sustainable farming operation veterans will be guided through the process of planning crops, planting, integrated pest management, and proper harvesting techniques. Veterans will work together and create a local food systems for the residents in the community.

Here are a few resources that may be of use to Veterans interested in farming:

The Stockbridge School of Agriculture welcomes Veterans to join our Bachelor of Sciences degree program in Sustainable Food and Farming.  For those Vets who are not able to join us in Amherst, MA, you may be interested in either our 15-credit online Certificate Program or our online 60-credit Associate of Sciences degree.

Jobs Listings Related to Sustainable Food Systems

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I have a list of list serves along with a bit of advice on finding good work here:

https://stockbridge.cns.umass.edu/SFF-good-work

In addition, here are more resources compiled by the C0rnucopia Institute.

Ag & Food LLM program at the University of Arkansashttp://agfoodlawjobs.blogspot.com/.  To announce an opening, email Sara Hiatt  at LLM@uark.edu.

Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and other programs http://forms.vermontlaw.edu/career/carpos.cfm or email a job description to Shelly Parker at Career Services, sparker@vermontlaw.edu

 

Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN), https://www.wfan.org/

Idealistwww.idealist.com

 

Good Food Jobs https://www.goodfoodjobs.com/

 

Southern SAWG http://www.ssawg.org/jobs

 

The Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network www.wsffn.org. Write Clara Duff, Development Associate, WSFFN, cduff@wsffn.org, to subscribe to their listserv.

 

International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email margaret@iacp.com to share opportunity with membership. Check out our newly launched website here: www.iacp.com.

 

Sustainable Agriculture Listings (National)

ATTRA Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships List: This directory of on-the-job learning opportunities in sustainable and organic agriculture has been published since 1989 as a tool to help farmers and apprentices connect with each other. It is available for farms in the U.S and its territories (there are a few in Canada and the Caribbean as well). Anyone can browse the listings for free. As a subscriber, you can maintain a personalized listing to connect with internship seekers. The listed farms are primarily seeking interns/apprentices from North America

BackdoorJobs.com has a “Sustainable Living and Farm Jobs Page” that lists employment, internship and volunteer opportunities throughout the country.

The Farm-Based Education Network lists food and farm jobs

Helpx.net “is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation.”

Local Harvest, though not a job search site, lists many small, local farms. If you’re looking for an internship, apprenticeship, or job in a particular area, you might want to look up farms this way and contact a farm of interest directly.

Orion Magazine lists jobs related to the environment, including some farming and agriculture-related jobs.

Sustainable Agriculture Jobs, Internships, and Apprenticeships is a facebook group formed to create an outlet for some of the sustainable agriculture-related opportunities frequently posted on the Tuft’s COMFOOD listserv. Includes

WWOOF-USA lists opportunities for “Visitors, or ‘WWOOFers.’” They “spend about half a day on a host farm, learn about the organic movement and sustainable agriculture, and receive room and board – with no money exchanged between hosts and WWOOFers. WWOOF is an educational and cultural exchange program. WWOOFing is a way to learn practical farming skills, be part of the organic agriculture movement, and experience the heart of American agrarian culture.”

Stewards of Irreplaceable Lands (SOIL) is “Canada’s Sustainable Farm Apprenticeship Program.

Sustainable Agriculture Listings (Regional/Local)

North East Workers On Organic Farms (NEWOOF) is a regional farm apprenticeship placement service sponsored by the New England Small Farm Institute. NEWOOF annually publishes an annotated list of farms, primarily in the northeast, seeking apprentices.

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) lists jobs on organic farms throughout the Northeastern U.S.; NOFA NY also has an Online Apprenticeship Directory

Cornell Cooperative Extension County Association Positions – lists jobs available through the Cooperative Extension Association by County.

Cornell University Jobs – Lists jobs available through Cornell University.

General Agriculture Listings

AgCareers.com is a good source for finding employment in a range of agricultural fields. 

AgGrad.com is a new website that posts jobs and internships for aspiring agriculture professionals.

Agriculture Jobs allows you to search job boards, company career pages and associations for USA Agriculture jobs.

Agri-Management Group lists jobs submitted by employers; jobs are searchable onfarmjobsearch.com.

AgriSeek combines a worldwide news service with an interactive business directory and international online job market focusing on agriculture and related fields.

AgriSupport Online helps people looking for careers in agriculture.

CareerBuilder.com has an agriculture job listing section.

Job-Applications.com lists free applications and jobs for some of the nation’s largest farm and heavy equipment companies.

Learn4Good lists agriculture jobs in the USA and internationally.

Nationaljob.com lists agriculture jobs.

PickingJobs.com has information on seasonal jobs picking fruit and vegetables in the USA and internationally

The Science Societies Career Center lists jobs, and links to the American Society of AgronomyCrop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America webpages.

United States Department of Agriculture posts government jobs in agriculture.

International Job Listings and Opportunities

Agriseek.com has a listing of international agriculture jobs

BASF often has many international jobs listed.

CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) “is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for a food secure future.” Job vacancies are listed on their website. 

Devex.com lists jobs in international development related to agriculture.

Goabroad.com lists agriculture jobs overseas.

Indeed.com lists international agriculture jobs.

JuJu’s job search engine can help you find international agriculture jobs.

Learn4good.com lists international agriculture jobs by location.

Transitions Abroad lists various organizations that provide opportunities or facilitate doing farmwork abroad. Some of the sites listed on Transitions Abroad may already be listed in our international listings.

USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service “links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) provides opportunities to work on farms worldwide.

Ecological Farming Association lists posted jobs in agricultural and related fields

 

 

Local Harmony creates public space

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Owen Wormser designed this public space near the Hungry Ghost in Northampton, MA

Creating vibrant public spaces is no easy matter. Parks and other such places require a serendipitous combination of scale, public access and visual appeal to make them come alive.

As Jane Jacobs, the 20th-century journalist and urban theorist who championed city street life, wrote in her highly acclaimed “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), “The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks.”

Local Harmony, a Pioneer Valley-based non-profit organization, is creating an intimate stone amphitheater and medicinal garden on the small, grassy hillside owned by Smith College that runs from the Hungry Ghost Bakery to State Street in Northampton. Jacobs would undoubtedly give Local Harmony two thumbs up.

Local Harmony is the collaborative creation of Owen Wormser, owner of the Leverett-based landscape design company Abound Design, and Chris Marano, an herbalist who owns Clearpath Herbals in Montague (and teaches at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture). Wormser said the organization’s goal is “to harness the skills of professional landscape designers, horticulturalists and gardeners to join forces with volunteers to create beautiful and accessible public spaces.”

Wormser, a landscape designer who is trained in architecture, said the idea for Local Harmony originated in a project he undertook several years ago. After launching his landscape design firm, Abound, he created the public fountain space at Cooper’s Corner store in Florence as a promotion for his fledgling business.

“I found it was really meaningful for people,” he said. “Cooper’s Corner was very successful in terms of people wanting to use the space. People are very appreciative of it. They take pride in their surroundings.”

After Cooper’s Corner, Wormser kept his eye out for other spaces.

“You need to have sympathetic property owners, and I figured that Smith College and the Hungry Ghost Bakery would be supportive,” he said.

A multi-use space

Local Harmony’s garden will have a variety of uses. It will be a place for educational activities and performances as well as a pleasant space for the public, including patrons of the bakery, which overlooks the garden.

“We want this to resonate with the public so they feel it’s theirs and that they want to be part of it,”Wormser said.

Among its functions will be that of a teaching garden; it will be composed only of medicinal plants. Marano called it a “sister garden” to a similar one at Clearpath Herbals in Montague. But the plants also have been chosen for their aesthetic appeal.

“People who don’t know anything about medicinal plants will still find it beautiful,” Wormser said. The herbal plants include commonly known varieties such as catmint (Nepeta) and coneflower (Echinacea) and others including Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Taller perennials will be placed along the border to create a sense of seclusion for the garden.

In addition to the medicinal perennials, the garden will include a border of serviceberry trees (Amelanchier) along the edge where Bedford Terrace curves into State Street. Serviceberry, also known as shadbush or shadblow, is a small tree that’s well-suited to the garden. It has delicate white blossoms in spring and colorful fall foliage, it’s drought tolerant and attracts birds.

Generous hosts

According to Wormser, Smith College, which owns the property, has provided generous funding for the project.

“Smith and Roger Mosier, the college’s associate vice president of facilities management, understand that this was an extremely valuable offer and that Smith, the Hungry Ghost and the entire community will gain from it, Wormser said. “The project wouldn’t happen without Smith’s level of support.”

The Hungry Ghost Bakery also has donated to the project, and will take on a major role in maintaining the garden.

In his role as owner of Abound Design, Wormser provided the professional landscape design, while Marano of Clearpath Herbals has provided expertise and advice about suitable medicinal plants for the garden beds. Ashfield Stone donated the Goshen stone for the amphitheater and pathways. Local Harmony will provide plants and materials at cost. Wormser estimates that $40,000 has been contributed to the project in terms of materials, time and labor. He noted that this is less than half what such a project would cost on the open market.

Another cost-cutting feature of the project is that, with the exception of some of the stonework, volunteers will install it. Wormser projects that between 400 and 600 hours of work will be donated in total.

“We have a large population of younger people in the Valley who want to work, grow food and gardens,” he said.

Enclosed in color, texture

Kevin Potter, 27, was one of the volunteers who helped excavate the site when the project broke ground Oct. 17. He has worked for Abound and studies herbalism with Marano at Clearpath Herbals.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to create a high-visibility community garden,” he said. “It’s huge to have a place to plant herbs and learn about them. It’s a great resource for people. And it’s accessible by foot and by public transportation.”

Wormser and Marano say they plan to have 70 percent of the plants in place this fall, with the remainder to be planted next spring.

“Once it’s completed and the plants are growing, it will feel enclosed with color and texture,” Wormser said. “It will feel like a sanctuary.”

Wormser said he is pleased with the garden’s size and location.

“It’s just manageable. We are able to do most of the work by hand,” he said. It’s not exactly in the middle of the city; it’s a little quieter here. It’s a good spot to watch the city go by.”

Sustainable inspiration

The State Street garden is one of several Local Harmony initiatives. The non-profit recently renovated five large concrete planters in downtown Turners Falls, with help from students at the Franklin County Technical School. Local Harmony is also working with the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst to create an extensive teaching garden that will be installed next spring at the center’s new site on the Hampshire College campus.

“We went through a great design process with Local Harmony that involved thorough thinking about all aspects of the project, including community collaboration, accessibility and the teaching function,” said Casey Beebe, community programs and special projects manager at the Hitchcock Center.

Wormser said he hopes the State Street amphitheater and garden will inspire people to launch similar projects.

“I want people to come here and say, ‘I could do that,’ because anyone can do this,” he said. “I want this to be a model that’s sustainable over time and that can work in any community.”

Inspiration is an important part of the work, he added.

“Our long-term goal is to remind people that our planet is a garden and we’ve wrecked it. But that we can rejuvenate it, make it beautiful and productive again for all living things.”

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Adam Barnard (the creator of the “Yes Farms Yes Food” slogan for the Sustainable Food and Farming program volunteered to help install the new herb garden.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com

Original Article