Category Archives: Business

For Young Farmers, Hemp Is a ‘Gateway Crop’

Repost from Civil Eats (great resource!) : Original HERE

After the recent legalization of hemp production, new and beginning farmers are following the green rush, though obstacles abound.

Asaud Frazier enrolled in Tuskegee University with plans to study medicine, but by the time graduation rolled around in 2016, he’d already switched gears. Instead of becoming a physician, Frazier decided to farm hemp.

“I was always interested in cannabis because it had so many different uses,” he said. “It’s a cash crop, so there’s no sense in growing anything else. Cannabis is about to totally take over an array of industries.”

Frazier doesn’t come from an agricultural background, but while he was growing up in Ohio, he watched his father become a master gardener. He also made frequent trips to visit relatives in Alabama, where his family owns a five acres farm. Today, he’s growing hemp on that land as part of a two-year pilot program for small farmers in the state.

“I love getting an opportunity to grow such a beneficial plant,” Frazier said.

A graduate of a historically Black college known for empowering African-American farmers, Frazier said he’s received the training necessary to thrive in agriculture. He has two degrees from Tuskegee—a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences that he completed last spring. Having created a farm LLC in 2018, the 26-year-old joins a growing number of young farmers across the country who are investing in hemp.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, released in April, found a small but significant rise in the number of farmers younger than age 35. And the 2018 federal farm bill’s reversal of a decades-old hemp ban has led agricultural experts to predict that the percentage of young farmers will keep rising.

That’s largely because the market for the hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia, is predicted to reach $23.7 billion by 2023, up from approximately $5 billion this year. The immense interest in CBD oil has seen the estimated quantity of hemp planted in the U.S. more than triple—from 78,000 acres in 2018 to 285,000 acres this year.

While veteran farmers are among those planting hemp, so are young farmers, both from agricultural backgrounds and none whatsoever, hoping to capitalize off the “green rush.” But the newcomers face obstacles in their bid to strike it rich, including trouble securing bank loans, processing bottlenecks, fierce competition, and inexperience cultivating cannabis.

“It’s harder to grow than most people think,” said Shawn Lucas, an assistant professor of organic agriculture and industrial hemp specialist at Kentucky State University. “You have to understand the life cycle of the crop, understand your soil, and how to feed the crop. If you’re going without [an understanding of] basic biology and good quality soil, you’ll be in trouble.”

Drying the hemp harvest. (Photo credit: Anna Carson Dewitt Photography)

Drying the hemp harvest. (Photo credit: Anna Carson Dewitt Photography, courtesy of Third Wave Farms)

Lucas and his KSU colleagues have recently seen so many newcomers pursue hemp farming, they now jokingly refer to it as the “gateway crop.” Since the average age of the U.S. farmer is 59.4 years old, KSU has worked to get young people interested in farming, but high land prices and a lack of expertise pose barriers, said Lucas.

Alongside that growth of and interest in CBD are concerns about encouraging sustainable practices among hemp farmers and CBD producers. Since the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t approved pesticides for hemp use, the plant is, at least in theory, typically grown without synthetic chemicals. The watchdog group Center for Food Safety (CFS) has raised concerns about the byproducts of the growing hemp market, and recently evaluated 40 companies that make CBD tinctures, capsules, and lotions, giving almost half a failing grade on its “Hemp CBD Scorecard.”

Findings like these point to the larger issue of whether the rush to enter the market will also spur growth in sustainable production. The public benefit company First Crop, which promotes regenerative hemp farming, launched this year to give cannabis farmers support and services. Michael Bowman, the company’s cofounder, said that hemp has gained such popularity in recent years that farmers in all parts of the country—from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South—are gravitating toward the plant.

“I could probably point you to someone in every state, to a small group of farmers, who want to grow it,” Bowman said. “We’re seeing red states politically that are grabbing this and embracing hemp at a pace equal to blue states, regardless of ideologies and politics, which is nice.” According to the advocacy group Vote Hemp, 13 new states—including Illinois, Massachusetts, Alabama, Oklahoma, and California—legalized hemp growing in 2019, while 21 new states—including New York, Indiana, Colorado, Washington, and the Carolinas—did so in 2018. Every state has enacted pro-hemp legislation but four: Idaho, South Dakota, Mississippi, and New Hampshire.

The author of a 2014 Farm Bill provision that allowed for hemp cultivation in states that legalized the crop’s production, Bowman is particularly excited about the young people pursuing farming careers. The percentage of young farmers may be rising, but as a group, farmers have aged over the past three decades. A 2011 study found that they’re six times as likely to be over age 65 than under age 35. Hemp is changing this trend, Bowman said.

“We are watching these young farmers, beginning farmers, stemming the tide,” he said. “After watching the drain of our young people leaving agriculture, this is the first sign we’ve had in quite some time—hemp is bringing people back to farming.”

Young people’s interest in hemp excites Kentucky farmer Mike Lewis. In 2017, he founded Third Wave Farms, which grows, processes, and sells hemp and educates farmers about the crop.

“For the first time in generations, people see opportunity and potential to make a decent living from agriculture,” he said. But Lewis also believes there’s a potential downside to the green rush.

“A lot of the newer farmers lack generational knowledge and experience, and unlike conventional crops, there is not an extensive amount of research and information available to newer farmers,” he said. “There is a lot of trial and error still going on. We see just as much failure as we do success.”

A Controversial Crop

Because hemp, like marijuana, belongs to the cannabis sativa family, legalizing cultivation of the crop has taken years. U.S. lawmakers have often treated hemp and marijuana as the same, despite the fact that hemp contains just a fraction of a percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Hemp, on the other hand, contains an abundance of CBD, and fiber from the plant is used for everything from car parts to clothing. Hemp evangelists like to point out that George Washington cultivated the crop on his five farms, using it for rope, apparel, sail canvas, and fishing nets. And Frazier remarked how he was inspired to grow cannabis, in part, by agricultural scientist and inventor George Washington Carver—one of Tuskegee’s most famous faculty members.

A fifth-generation Colorado farmer, Bowman said his octogenarian parents used to disapprove of hemp. But when his mother discovered that CBD oil could ease her joint pain, they became fans of the plant.

“My parents are part of the generation born just prior to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937,” he said. “This idea of ‘reefer madness’ and all of the hysteria over the plant, all of the trickery to lump industrial hemp in with marijuana got baked into their brains. It’s all they’ve ever known. It’s all the senators of the same generation have ever known.”

Harvesting dried hemp flowers. (Photo Credit: Anna Carson DeWitt Photography)

Harvesting dried hemp flowers. (Photo Credit: Anna Carson DeWitt Photography, courtesy of Third Wave Farms)

Since cannabis has been criminalized well into the 21st Century, Americans born long after the 1930s continue to view hemp negatively. When Dion Oakes, 26, approached his father-in-law Shanan Wright, 54, about farming hemp, the agricultural veteran brushed him off at first.

“Oh, you’re just a pothead,” Oakes recalled his in-law telling him.

Wright didn’t deny this account, admitting that his perspective changed when he learned more about the plant.

“It was just education that changed my mind,” Wright said. “I’ve been a farmer for 30 years growing mostly potatoes. Hemp is just a nice change. It’s something refreshing.”

To date, he and Oakes have cultivated the plant for six years as Wright-Oakes LLC in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The fact that it doesn’t require a ton of water made hemp very attractive to them.

“We started out indoors with 100 or so plants, just to see what the plant would do here in the Valley,” said Oakes, who began farming on a potato-seed operation after high school. After growing hemp indoors, Oakes and Wright then grew it on 30 acres, and, from there, on 300 acres. The pair went on to double their hemp acreage and are growing the crop on more than 2,500 acres this year. They now collaborate with First Crop to educate first-time hemp farmers.

“The biggest thing that’s driving this is money,” Wright said of the newcomers to the industry. But he added that young farmers and old farmers can learn from each other. Older farmers have years of experience cultivating crops while young people adapt easily as the agriculture industry evolves.

“These younger people are coming back into farming with a whole new vigor,” Wright said. “They understand the new technology way better than some of us older people. Farming is changing rapidly. There are GPS-driven tractors, and all of the equipment is digitally controlled.”

A Crash Course in Hemp

At 48, Becky Longberg hesitates to describe herself as a “young farmer.” Eleven years the junior of the average U.S. farmer, she’s certainly “youngish” for agriculture, an industry she was new to six years ago when she teamed up with her father, Ed Berg, to plant, grow, and harvest hemp through their business Salida Green in Salida, Colorado. They use their CBD extractions to make and sell CBD body products under the name Salida Hemp Company. Although Longberg formerly ran a bail bond business, she recalled always having an interest in growing things.

Becky Longberg and her parents standing by a farm truck.

Becky Longberg and her parents. (Photo courtesy of First Crop)

“Everywhere I’ve ever lived, I’ve always planted a garden,” she said. “I plant trees. I plant veggies. I plant flowers.”

She also once worked for a landscape architect who taught her about water-wise plants. This set the foundation for her to develop an interest in permaculture, which her father shared. So, when he reached out to her about cultivating hemp, Longberg decided to join the operation, despite the fact that neither of them had farming experience. The family faced a steep uphill learning curve—not just in cultivating hemp but in navigating the state’s water laws during a drought and managing their finances amid the cannabis’ industry complicated banking landscape. It can be difficult for hemp farmers to get bank loans or insurance due to hemp’s association with marijuana. Farmers who grow other crops in addition to hemp typically have more options.

“The banks are concerned that if there’s any marijuana in our situation, they could have their charters shut down,” Longberg said. “Banks are being very cautious about working with marijuana and hemp, so this is all coming out of our own pocket.”

In September, the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to protect banks that do business with cannabis companies. Since marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, financial institutions that serve such companies could face serious penalties. This has resulted in banks largely avoiding doing business with hemp operations, though Lewis said that Third Wave hasn’t run into this problem.

“It also helps that we primarily sell wholesale and have no retail business so don’t really have a need for credit card processing at this time,” he explained.

The federal government deems hemp with more than 0.3 percent THC to be psychoactive, but sometimes the plants have slightly higher THC. This has resulted in hemp farmers having to mow down their crop.

“Some varieties of hemp have been bred to have high CBD oil,” Lucas said. “Usually, these breeds are pushing the 0.3 percent THC threshold.”

Environmental factors may also cause THC to spike, but hemp plants with a bit more of the chemical aren’t equivalent to marijuana, Lucas said. Marijuana plants can contain as much as 20 percent THC.

“As a researcher, I’d love to see the threshold change,” he said. “You have plants being bred in Colorado, Washington, Oregon that may be low in THC, and then people in Kentucky buy these plants, and the plants respond differently. So, suddenly it’s accidental marijuana. No, it’s hemp responding a little differently than where it was bred. There’s a lot of breeding happening in very-controlled indoor environments, and then the plants are released and are exposed to Mother Nature.”

Rather than a banking institution, Longberg and her family are using retirement funds to finance their hemp enterprise, and Frazier said that he’s using the money he earns from agricultural consulting to pay for his. But as new farmers invest their savings into hemp, it is garnering headlines that might make would-be cultivators cautious.

Too Good to Be True?

Just as açai, kale, and quinoa have been hailed as “superfoods,” hemp has been praised as a “supercrop.” It is a “holy plant without sin,” Michael Bowman said. “There’s something in this plant for everyone, no matter if it’s fuel, feed, fiber, building materials, and bio materials as well.”

But putting hemp on a pedestal may have set it up for a backlash. Recent articles have sounded the alarm about overproduction and the confusing government guidelines surrounding the crop. In September, Bloomberg reported that Delta Separations, a manufacturer of CBD extraction machines, estimated that $7.5 billion in hemp may go to waste because there aren’t enough processors for the crop and many farmers have yet to find buyers.

“A lot of people are coming in without having buyers for their product lined up at the end of the season,” Lucas said. “Some people are scrambling to find a buyer, and sometimes the buyer is sending letters to farmers saying, ‘We overestimated what we could buy.’ The processors are breaking contracts with the farmers, and the farmers are left holding the crop. It’s a tricky market.”

Third Wave Farms Vice President of Agriculture Shelby Floyd. Healing Ground Farm in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Anna Carson DeWitt Photography )

Third Wave Farms Vice President of Agriculture Shelby Floyd. Healing Ground Farm in Rockcastle County, Kentucky. (Photo Credit: Anna Carson DeWitt Photography, courtesy of Third Wave Farms)

Ideally, farmers will have an estimated number of buyers before planting their seed. Lucas said that overproduction is affecting the hemp industry, in part, because people with limited experience are making their way into agriculture. In addition, states may take so long to approve a grower’s application to cultivate hemp that the farmer may be forced to quickly plant the seed without knowing how many buyers they’ll have. Bloomberg cited a Whitney Economics finding from July that stated 65 percent of hemp farmers were unable to obtain a crop buyer.

“It is hard to believe how many people planted this crop without a harvest, post-harvest, or marketing plan,” Lewis said. “It is easy to say it is a processing bottleneck, but the reality is the bottleneck was caused by overproduction and poor early-stage planning. The bottleneck was caused by people speculating planning on the production side as well. After this season, a lot of people may be a bit more wary of jumping in.”

While speculation and hype may serve as a damper on the continued rapid growth of hemp farming, many of the farmers that Civil Eats spoke to see hemp as more than a potential income stream.

“Agriculture has become this commodity,” Longberg said. “It’s become this corporate thing, but it’s not about money. It’s about living well, redefining how we live at every level.” She says she decided to farm primarily to give back to the planet, and she aims to make her cultivation process as organic as possible.

While Frazier hopes to profit from hemp, he said that he takes a spiritual approach to the land he farms in recognition of his ancestors’ sacrifices. He hopes the burgeoning hemp industry makes agriculture more equitable than it has historically been for people of diverse race and class backgrounds.

“I think this industry is unlike any other industry,” he said. “You can be really successful off of simple partnerships just like that. It’s a green rush, and if we get left out this time, it’s our fault. You don’t need a billion dollars to make a lot of money in this industry. You just need to know what you’re doing.”

Top photo: Mike Lewis and Shelby Floyd in a hemp field in Kentucky. (Photo credit: Anna Carson Dewitt Photography, courtesy of Third Wave Farms)

If you like this, check out some of the great work NOFA MASS is doing around hemp production & education!

UMass Researchers Run Hydroponic Farm

Evan Chakrin, harvests leeks from a hydroponic raft bed Aug. 4, 2017 at the new UMass Hydrofarm he co-founded at the university with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming. Overhead, LED strip lights supplement daylight for the plants.

AMHERST — Evan Chakrin, 33, spends his summer afternoons harvesting plants, mostly lettuce, at a hydroponic food farm.

He worked Friday afternoon, harvesting 10 pounds of lettuce that he was planning to donate to the Amherst Survival Center. He picked a head, doused it in insect soap and packaged it in a clam-shaped container.

Evan Chakrin harvests butterhead bibb lettuce

The hydroponic farm grows food without using soil. Started in the winter of last year, it is the first of its kind on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The farm provides food for on-campus restaurants such as Earthfoods Cafe.

Chakrin, a junior studying horticulture, co-leads the farm with Dana Lucas, 21, a senior studying Sustainable Food and Farming, using techniques that they say will revolutionize the future of farming.

“It’s basically just using science to grow plants,” Chakrin said.  The farm grows everything from strawberries and tomatoes to lettuce and kale. It is housed in an underutilized greenhouse on the UMass Amherst campus. Chakrin and Lucas use the most common hydroponic techniques to grow their plants: raft systems and nutrient film technique channels.

Evan Chakrin displays the roots of strawberries growing in watertight channels using the nutrient film technique

The basic idea behind hydroponic farming is growing plants without soil, Chakrin said. Nutrients get dissolved into water surrounding the plants’ roots. This allows the system to be up to 90 percent more water- and nutrient-efficient than other types of farming. The system uses less water than an irrigated field. There is also no nutrient runoff into local water sources.

“We can totally control whatever we waste,” Chakrin said.

Lucas started working on the idea of creating a hydroponic farm in 2015, but she and Chakrin were not able to secure a grant until last December. The two received $5,000 and a previously underused greenhouse from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

“We were expecting a little space on campus, basically just a closet,” Chakrin said. “Then they surprised us with this.”

As soon as they got the space, they started working right away. They started germinating seeds, and by the middle of February, all of the systems were up and running. They then started selling their food to places on campus. The money from the sales goes into a fund that they can use to purchase more equipment or seeds.

Chakrin said selling the products allows them to be financially stable and gives the business a fresh, locally produced food option.

The farm will continue to grow in the years to come. In the fall, the two are teaching 12 undergraduate students in a one-credit practicum course about hydroponic farming.

The university offers many courses on the theories and science behind farming but not many on hydroponic techniques. Allowing other students to work in the farm gives them hands-on experience, Chakrin said.

“The techniques we use here are the main hydroponic techniques used,” Chakrin said. “This work is directly applicable to any of their food production goals.”

Chakrin said he hopes any students who are involved in urban food production get involved, even those not involved in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

The two also want to scale up their sales. Chakrin said he is hoping to start selling to bigger dining halls and other places on campus.

One of the benefits of hydroponic farms is that they can be used to grow food locally, even in urban areas. The lettuce grown at the UMass farm doesn’t come from some giant farm in California, Chakrin said. This reduces shipping costs and carbon costs for interstate shipping.

“I think it is a major loss that the average bite of food travels extremely far to get to our plates, and this is the solution to the problem,” Lucas said.

Lucas and Chakrin have started a consulting service for the future of farming, called Farmable. Lucas said the idea behind it is that any space, even small urban areas, can be made into a green space.

“Anywhere is farmable and this concept will revolutionize how urbanites are able to access food,” Lucas said.

UMass Hydro begins to feed campus

greenhouse

If you look out of the campus-side windows in Franklin Dining Commons after the sun has gone down, you can see a mix of white, blue and magenta lights illuminating the inside of the Clark Hall Greenhouse.

These lights mark the home of the UMass Hydroponics Farm Plan, where Dana Lucas, a junior sustainable food and farming major, and Evan Chakrin, a nontraditional student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, have been working throughout the winter growing fresh leafy greens.

Back in December, the duo received a $5,000 grant from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture to grow produce year-round on an on-campus hydroponic farm. Hydroponics, a method of farming with water and nutrients in place of soil, allows for a continual harvesting cycle.

hydroAlong with limited pesticide use and saving 90 percent more water than a traditional farm, the farm will produce approximately 70 heads of lettuce a week, every week of the year. Lucas and Chakrin emphasize the importance of this perpetual cycle in meeting the University’s sustainability efforts.

On the University of Massachusetts website, it states, “The University recognizes its responsibility to be a leader in sustainable development and education for the community, state and nation.”

“I don’t know how we can say our food is sustainable at UMass if it’s only grown 10 weeks of the year in New England,” Lucas said.

The location allows UMass Hydro to get their greens across campus by either walking, biking or driving short distances, leaving almost no carbon footprint.

“I think this is something that really excites me and Evan because we really see a demand for fresh, local food and this is a way to actually fulfill it,” Lucas said.

Although the farm’s production capacity cannot currently meet the needs of the dining halls, Lucas and Chakrin are looking into alternative options to get their greens on the plates of students.

hydro2“We’re kind of just centering on student businesses right now because they’re smaller and they’re run by our friends, so we can easily get into the market,” Lucas said.

Their first official account is with Greeno Sub Shop in Central Residential Area.

Last week, Greeno’s hosted a special where UMass Hydro’s microgreens were free to add to any menu item.

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, they stated, “One of the goals of our mission statement is to source locally whenever possible, with UMass Hydro right down the hill, this is almost as fresh as it can get.”

Chakrin and Lucas are currently working on getting their greens served at other on-campus eateries.

In addition to adding more accounts, there is a strong focus on getting other students interested in the emerging field of hydroponics.

“We can use this as a teaching facility for students. The techniques we’re using are used in multi-acre industrial greenhouses for lettuce, so we could scale right up potentially,” Chakrin said.

The two are hoping to work UMass Hydro into the curriculum in Stockbridge, allowing students to work hands-on with the systems while also earning credits.

“Maybe we can do a one credit, half semester thing or something,” said Chakrin.

sprout“There has been some discussion about having an accredited course for next fall where we can teach what I’m assuming are mostly going to be Stockbridge students, but we’re open to anybody and everyone who’s interested in getting involved with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

The grant covered the cost of seeds, equipment and other miscellaneous items like scissors, but the responsibility of building the farm fell entirely on Lucas and Chakrin.

“It felt really cool that we were given this much responsibility I feel like, to just buy the stuff and then build it,” Lucas said.

Chakrin noted how one of the biggest obstacles faced in getting the project off the ground was finding an available space on campus.

“Initially we were just asking for a 10-by-10 closet somewhere, then Stockbridge professor , Dr. Dan Cooley, was like ‘Do you think this greenhouse will work?’ and we were like ‘Of course!’” Chakrin said.

“He kind of posed it as a bummer that we weren’t going to be in a closet and we were like ‘No, no, no that’s fine!’” Lucas said, laughing.

“Without the space, none of it would be possible, so being allowed to use this space is just huge and we’re so lucky to have that,” Chakrin said.

The students also expressed appreciation to Dr. Daniel Cooley, who sponsored the project and Dr. Stephen Herbert for his support and donation of supplies.

Out of the entire space granted to UMass Hydro, only a portion of it is currently being used. In order to make use of the underutilized space, Chakrin and Lucas are hoping the future of UMass Hydro involves more funding.

“We want to see Dutch buckets and a vertical system in here so we can show students the breadth of what you can do with hydroponics,” Lucas said.

Visitors are encouraged to stop by at the Clark Hall Greenhouse on Tuesdays between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  And you can follow the project on Facebook at UMass Hydro!

Callie Hansson can be reached at chansson@umass.edu.

Original Post


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.

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….

sarahtower
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….

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

Care Farming in the UK – Report

If you think the Stockbridge School of Agriculture should investigate Care Farming as a possible program of study for undergraduates, please join us to discuss this question on:

Monday, December 5, 2016 at 3:30pm – 5:00pm

210 Stockbridge Hall

All are welcome!

===============================================================

By Rachel Bragg;  University of Essex    rebragg@essex.ac.uk

  1. Care farming – key facts and figures at a glance

  • How many care farms are there in the UK and where are they? 115 care farms took part in a survey in 2012, representing 66% of the 180 care farms that are currently operating in the UK. Care farms are located mainly in England but also in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; at the present time the South West, East Anglia and the West Midlands contain the largest number of care
  • What sort of farms are care farms? The majority of care farmers (78%) describe their care farm sites as farms or smallholdings and the organisational type as a farm, charity and/or company. Care farms have a mix of field enterprises and livestock, typically grazing, vegetables and woodland with chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle. Care farm size ranges from 0.4 to 648 ha – average care farm size 49

Continue reading Care Farming in the UK – Report

Think U.S. Agriculture Will End World Hunger? Think Again.

By Anne Weir Schechinger, Senior Analyst, Economics and Craig Cox, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources

The United Nations has forecast that world food production must double to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That assertion has become a relentless talking point in the growing debate over the environmental, health and social consequences of American agriculture.

America’s farmers, we are told, must double their production of meat products and grains to “feed the world.” Otherwise, people will go hungry.

Agribusinesses such as Monsanto sometimes cite the so-called “moral imperative” to feed a hungry world in order to defend the status-quo farm policy and deflect attention from the destruction that “modern” agriculture is inflicting on the environment and human health.

The real experts know better. Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization argues instead that the current conditions of “modern” agriculture are “no longer acceptable.”

The key to ending world hunger while protecting the environment is to help small farmers in the developing world increase their productivity and income, and to promote “agro-ecology” everywhere, including in the U.S.

Poverty is the root cause of hunger, not too few exports of U.S. wheat, corn, soybeans and meat. American exports go to people who can afford to buy them.

 

 

American farmers are helping meet growing demand from millions of people in developed and developing nations who can afford better, or at least more diversified diets. This is a welcome business opportunity for our farmers, but those exports aren’t going to the countries where hunger is chronic.

  • 86 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural exports last year went to 20 destinations with low numbers of hungry citizens and human development scores that are medium, high or very high, according to the U.N. Development Program.
  • Only half of one percent of U.S. agricultural exports, calculated according to their value, went to a group of 19 countries that includes Haiti, Yemen and Ethiopia. These are nations with high or very high levels of undernourishment, measured by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Even the hungriest countries produce most of their own food. Overall, in 2013, American farmers contributed only 2.3 percent of the food supply for the 19 most undernourished countries through food exports and aid.

We won’t end world hunger by doubling production in the United States while putting our nation’s environment and health at risk. We can and must help end world hunger by helping people in the hungriest countries do a better job of feeding themselves and ensuring that their farmers make a good living.

Reducing poverty, increasing income for women, providing nutrition education, improving infrastructure like roads and markets to increase access to food, and ceasing wars and conflict could all help undernourished populations better feed themselves.


There is a small farm, community based alternative to the dominant vision of industrial agriculture feeding the world.  Come to learn and grow with us in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture!

The Food We Don’t Eat

American food writer MFK Fisher once said, “First we eat, then we do everything else.”  Food is central to so much in our lives – family, health and community. But what about the food we don’t eat?

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Eight percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be ascribed to food loss and waste. Photo by jbloom/Flickr

More than a billion tons of food is never consumed by people; that’s equivalent to one-third of all food the world produces.  What many people may not know is that one in nine people on earth don’t have enough food to lead an active life, or that food loss and waste costs the global economy $940 billion each year, an amount close to what the entire UK government will spend in 2016.

They may also not know the incredible effect food loss and waste has on the environment.  Eight percent of the greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food loss and waste. At the same time, food that’s harvested but lost or wasted uses 25 percent of water used in agriculture and requires cropland the size of China to be grown. What an incredibly inefficient use of precious natural resources.

When you look at the kind of impact food loss and waste has on our environment, economy and society, it’s clear why the United Nations included it among the most urgent global challenges the Sustainable Development Goals would address. Target 12.3 [2] of the goals calls for nations to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030. It’s certainly an ambitious challenge, but it is also one that’s achievable.

This week is Climate Week, an opportunity to take stock of where we are on critical environmental issues like food loss and waste. A new report [3] on behalf of Champions 12.3 [4] – a unique coalition of leaders across government, business and civil society who are dedicated to achieving Target 12.3 – assesses our progress so far.

The report details a number of notable steps that have happened around the world, including national food loss and waste reduction targets established in the United States and in countries across the European Union and African Union.

It also highlights efforts to help governments and companies measure food loss and waste, such as the FLW Standard [5] announced in June, and new funding like the Danish government’s subsidy program and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Yieldwise [6], a $130 million investment toward practical approaches to reducing food loss and waste in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States and Europe. There have also been advances in policies as well as education efforts like the Save the Food [7] campaign to raise awareness of food loss and waste.

The progress is promising. But the report also notes that the action does not yet match the scale of the problem, and much more work is needed worldwide if we are to successfully meet Target 12.3 in just 14 short years.