All posts by jgerber123

I teach sustainable food and farming at the University of Massachusetts and try to live in a way that doesn't exploit people or the land.

Landscaping as if ecology mattered

by Dr. Randi Eckel

In the fragmented ecosystems where we live and work, the importance of diversity in our landscapes cannot be over emphasized. Diversity of native plants, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians…. They all play a crucial role in sustaining a healthy environment. 

When we encourage a diversity of native plants in the landscape, we provide just one component of a successful habitat. We all learned the components of sustainable habitats when we were in elementary school – all creatures need food, shelter, and water. But what does this mean in a landscape? We need diversity of food: native plants that supply food for insects that in turn become food for other insects, birds, and animals large and small. We must have plant diversity to feed a diversity of creatures, but we also need structural diversity. Places for butterflies to hide at night and moths to hide during the day. Places for all sorts of creatures to shelter from weather, both summer and winter. Places for cover and nesting sites. We need diversity of form: trees, shrubs, evergreens, Continue reading Landscaping as if ecology mattered

Unfair Food Pricing is Hurting Regenerative Farms

Farmers who are constantly worrying about financial viability have little bandwidth for new practices or long-term improvements that take initial investments. As Robert Leonard and Matt Russell noted in an opinion piece in The New York Times:

“Government programs like the current farm bill pit production against conservation, and doing the right thing for the environment is a considerable drain on a farmer’s bank account, especially when so many of them are losing money to low commodity prices and President Trump’s tariffs.”

The farm debt crisis of the 1980s never completely went away and has now resurfaced with a vengeance. In 2017, aggregate farm earnings were half of what they were in 2013 due to vast overproduction of basic commodities, and farm income has not recovered. The North American Free Trade Agreement resulted in the loss of mid-sized and smaller farms in all three signatory countries as integrated production and marketing favored larger farms.

Continue reading Unfair Food Pricing is Hurting Regenerative Farms

Leveling the playing field for America’s family farmers

By Elizabeth Warren – March 27, 2019 in Mediumo-FAMILY-FARMS-facebook

For generations, America’s family farmers have passed down a tradition of hard work and independence. Today’s family farmers share those same core values, but the economics are more and more tenuous. Last year, farmers got less than 15 cents of every dollar that Americans spent on food — the lowest amount since the Department of Agriculture began tracking that figure in 1993.

Today a farmer can work hard, do everything right — even get great weather — and still not make it. It’s not because farmers today are any less resilient, enterprising, or committed than their parents and grandparents were. It’s because bad decisions in Washington have consistently favored the interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists over the interests of family farmers. Continue reading Leveling the playing field for America’s family farmers

Women Who Dig…. How Cuba’s Women Farmers Kept Everyone Fed

Did you know that 60% of the students majoring in Sustainable Food and Farming at UMass are women?  Check it out here: https://sustfoodfarm.org/new_students/

Fernando Funes Monzote, 44, of Finca Marta, a 20-acre organic farm
In Cuba, women were an integral part of revolutionizing the way food was grown and distributed in the country.
Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Cuba’s former agricultural system—large-scale, mechanized, and “modern”—relied on a steady flow of resources from the Soviet Union. Before 1989, the Soviet Union sent vast amounts of agricultural supplies, including petroleum, pesticides, fertilizers, and livestock vaccinations, to fuel Cuban production of cash crops such as sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, and bananas. The Cuban government prioritized the export of cash crop products and imported 80 percent of what the country consumed: rice, beans, grains, and vegetables. To the north, the United States enforced el bloqueo, an economic blockade against Cuba first established in 1960, prohibiting the flow of goods, including food and medicine, to and from the socialist island. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, severing the supply of food and farming supplies, Cuba woke up to a major economic crisis. Without food imports to stock the grocery store shelves, how would Cuba feed 11 million people? How would Cubans till the soil without diesel to run the tractors? How could farmers stimulate yields without synthetic fertilizers? Agricultural production plummeted dramatically. State farms and factories shut down. Livestock perished. Precious cash crops rotted in the fields and, as a result, revenue from exports crashed.

Continue reading Women Who Dig…. How Cuba’s Women Farmers Kept Everyone Fed

Sarah Berquist receives major award

UMass Instructor and Program Coordinator of the Sustainable Food and Farming B.S. sarahbdegree program in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Sarah Berquist, was chosen as the 2019 recipient of the Massachusetts Distinguished Service Award by Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most selective all-discipline honor society.  According to society President, Professor Theresa Y. Austin, the UMass Chapter recognized Ms. Berquist for her outstanding service to the University in ways that are consistent with the Society’s motto of Let the love of learning rule.” 

With a focus on farm-based education and social equity in the food system, Berquist connects her passion for teaching with community engagement through hands-on projects that are actively working toward a more just and sustainable food system.  In collaboration with the UMass Student Farm, she co-founded and manages the Food for All Program that donated 10,000 pounds of recovered “excess” and “seconds” produce in 2018 to the local relief organizations Not Bread Alone and Amherst Survival Center.  She Continue reading Sarah Berquist receives major award

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

“When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.”
 ‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’ Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities.

Continue reading Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food Systems and Climate Change

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After a decade of work to connect food and climate, four experts say the link is being made, but much work remains to be done.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen a tidal shift in awareness about the dangers that climate change poses, and the fact that it’s only going to get much worse if we don’t quickly take dramatic action. In fact, data released just last week found that alarm over climate change in the U.S. has doubled in just the last five years.

Despite the growth in coverage, dialogue, and action to address climate change, food and agriculture remain far from the conversation. And yet we know that food and agriculture play a major role in the production of global greenhouse gas emissions—as much as 30 percent by some estimates. Take the recent interactive report from the New York Times highlighting the ways in which countries can dramatically reduce emissions; it gave less than one full sentence to food and agriculture.

Jon Foley, the executive director of Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization focused on dramatic reductions of carbon in the atmosphere, has witnessed first-hand the Continue reading Food Systems and Climate Change

Food: Low Price but High Cost

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Left, Jose, 25, cuts and ties cilantro, and Beatriz (far right), 31, picks jalapeños in the Rio Grande Valley. They work not far from one of the border fences (center).
Dan Winters for Fortune Magazine

There’s a price war raging in the grocery aisle—but the people who actually grow and gather our food may be the battle’s true losers. Meet the produce pickers of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, whose penny-per-bunch harvest helps stock your pantry for less.

January 14, 2019

Our food is cheap—by some measures, cheaper than it’s ever been. Americans now spend less than 10% of their disposable income on what they eat. When researchers first began tracking this figure some 90 years ago, it was closer to 25%.

But the inexpensive supermarket fare that consumers now expect doesn’t come without a hidden human cost. To see, firsthand, the true price of keeping those shelves stocked, Fortune traveled down to the Rio Grande Valley—among the best areas in the country for growing food crops, and one President Trump put in the spotlight last week when he visited the region to make his case for the border wall. Continue reading Food: Low Price but High Cost

Why We Can’t Separate Social Justice from Sustainability in the Food System

NOTE:  when we first started talking about “sustainability” it was rejected by those who held power and privilege in the food system including many academics.  When it became clear that sustainability wasn’t going away…. the next step was to co-opt the term and focus on environmental sustainability.  Many people, programs, universities and especially businesses would gladly leave the requirement that we focus on social justice out of the conversations and our work to create a more sustainable food system.

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IN: Union of Concerned Scientists by , SCIENTIST, FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT | JANUARY 31, 2019

Most of us wish we could eat with the confidence that everything on our plate has a story we can feel good about, a story about taking care of both people and the environment. In the food system (as elsewhere) these twin issues, justice and sustainability, have often been talked about as if they were unrelated, independent problems with separate solutions.

This disconnect has consequences. Our understanding of the connections between justice and sustainability shapes our work in the food system and determines our chances of making real progress toward our goals. We know that industrial agriculture–large-scale, highly mechanized monoculture farming systems making intensive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers–does not meet these aspirations. We know that the food system with industrial agriculture as its foundation does not protect the environment, does not protect human health, and doesn’t produce enough nutritious food or distribute it equitably. Sustainability and justice are connected, in part, because injustice and environmental degradation are connected. And if we don’t see the connections between Continue reading Why We Can’t Separate Social Justice from Sustainability in the Food System

Unearthing soil’s role in climate protection

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Soil plays a critical role in global carbon cycling, in part because soil organic matter stores three times more carbon than the atmosphere.

Biogeochemist Dr. Marco Keiluweit, University of Massachusetts Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the UMass School of Earth & Sustainability, and colleagues, for the first time provide evidence that anaerobic microsites play a much larger role in stabilizing carbon in soils than previously thought.

Further, current models used to predict the release of climate-active CO2 from soils fail to account for these microscopic, oxygen-free zones present in many upland soils, they say…

“Without recognizing the importance of anaerobic microsites in stabilizing soil carbon in soils, models are likely to underestimate the vulnerability of the soil carbon reservoir to disturbance induced by climate or land use change,” write first author Keiluweit and colleagues at Stanford, Oregon State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Institute of Soil Landscape Research, Germany.

Findings add another twist to the ongoing debate, they add, over “the mechanisms controlling long-term stabilization of carbon in soils.” Details appear in the current issue of Nature Communications.