Category Archives: Farming

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!

LISA DEPIANO, UMASS SFF Faculty featured on cover of local story about silvopasture

Lisa DePiano, a lecturer in the Sustainable Food and Farming Program at the University of Massachusetts, reseats a netting support around a young chestnut tree in the silvopasture demo lot of the UMass Agricultural Learning Center in Amherst on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

Original Gazette article can be found here by Rema Boscov

It doesn’t look like it could save the planet — long grass dotted with 4-foot high chestnut trees, inch-thick trunks with a few broad leaves on short, thin branches, surrounded by plastic mesh tubes to protect them from the sheep not yet here. But it’s what you don’t see on Lisa DePiano’s research plot that gives hope. There’s carbon, lots of it, pulled from CO2 in the atmosphere, now sequestered in the soil — with more to come, explains DePiano, a Sustainable Food and Farming lecturer at the University of Massachusetts’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

This farming method, called silvopasture, is an adaptation of a very old agricultural Continue reading LISA DEPIANO, UMASS SFF Faculty featured on cover of local story about silvopasture

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

By  

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

Industrial pig farms are not prepared for climate change

By Kendra Pierre-Louis     Sept. 19, 2018  – New York Times

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A hog farm in eastern North Carolina on Monday. The pink area is a lagoon of pig excrement. Credit – Rodrigo Gutierrez/Reuters

EDITORS NOTE:  The real costs of industrial agriculture are not included in the price of food.  We all pay for “cheap food” in pollution, unjust labor practices, and poor public health.  To learn about alternatives, check out our online Pigs & Poultry class!


The record-breaking rains that started with Hurricane Florence are continuing to strain North Carolina’s hog lagoons.

Because of the storm, at least 110 lagoons in the state have either released pig waste into the environment or are at imminent risk of doing so, according to data issued Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. That tally more than tripled the Monday total, when the department’s count was 34.

Continue reading Industrial pig farms are not prepared for climate change

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

UMass’s First Carbon Farming Initiative Demonstrates How to Sustainably Grow Food and Mitigate Climate Change

By: Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton

The UMass Carbon Farming Initiative is the first temperate climate research silvopasture plot at the University of Massachusetts. Carbon farming is the practice of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into soil carbon stocks and above ground biomass. Silvopasture, a carbon farming practice is the intentional combination of trees and livestock for increased productivity and biosequestration.

The plot is a 1 acre silvopasture system at the Agriculture Learning Center (ALC) that integrates a diverse planting of complex hybrid chestnuts systematically arranged to ensure ease of management for rotational grazing sheep. Establishment of the initiative has been funded by the Sustainable Food and Farming Program (SFF) and a grant from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund (SEIF) and is managed by Stockbridge School of Agriculture Faculty Lisa DePiano and Nicole Burton and SFF students.

According to Project Drawdown, a broad coalition of scientists, policy makers, business leaders, and activists that have compiled a comprehensive plan for reversing climate change, silvopasture is the highest ranked agricultural solution to climate change. Silvopastoral systems contribute to climate change mitigation both through the direct drawdown of atmospheric carbon into soil and biomass and through the reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by industrial livestock systems. With the growing demand for meat and dairy products, and the limited amount of land available it is essential that we identify agricultural practices that are part of the solution rather than exacerbating the problem.

In order to get to down to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2, the safe amount of concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, we need to have NET Zero carbon emissions and remove 300+ billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.Research suggests that silvopasture systems are capable of storing as much as 100 tons of Carbon (367 tons of CO2) per acre while adding the yields of tree crops to the existing animal systems, and ecological benefits like reduced nutrient runoff, erosion, and animal stress from heat and wind. Traditional silvopasture systems, such as the dehesa in Spain and forest pastures in Scotland, have existed for centuries but more research and development is needed for cold climate sites in the United States.

Some goals and objectives for this project are:

  1. Establish a concrete example of carbon farming. This example will function as an outdoor classroom for SFF and related courses as well as a demonstration site for farmers and policy makers.
  2. Trial different varieties of complex hybrid chestnuts looking for traits like climate hardiness, nut size and yield, disease resistance, and precociousness
  3. Test market for products such as chestnuts, chestnut flour, nursery scion wood
  4. Track financial implications of these practices such as: cost of establishment, ongoing costs, revenue streams, and CO2 sequestration per acre
  5. Empower students as emerging leaders in the cutting edge fields of Permaculture, carbon farming and sustainable animal husbandry.
  6. Conduct research and development to support regional farmers in adopting carbon farming practices and strategies
  7. Catalog the carcass yields of the pastured livestock
  8. Monitor and test parasitic loads with livestock
  9.  Track rotations of sheep

For more information on the Initiative contact Lisa DePiano at ldepiano@umass.edu or Nicole Burton at ngburton@umass.edu

Home is where the hemp is…

New York Times 

hemp
Russians sorting raw hemp fibers in the Kursk region in the 1960s. Hemp has been used as building material for millennia in Europe and elsewhere, but it’s only just starting to get wider recognition as a green construction option.

The Romans have been using it since the days of Julius Caesar, but not to get high. Both Washington and Jefferson grew it.

Now that several states have legalized the use of marijuana for some recreational and medical purposes, one of the biggest untapped markets for the cannabis plant itself — at least one variety — could be as a building tool.

The most sustainable building material isn’t concrete or steel — it’s fast-growing hemp. Hemp structures date to Roman times. A hemp mortar bridge was constructed back in the 6th century, when France was still Gaul.

Now a wave of builders and botanists are working to renew this market. Mixing hemp’s woody fibers with lime produces a natural, light concrete that retains thermal mass and is highly insulating. No pests, no mold, good acoustics, low humidity, no pesticide. It

Continue reading Home is where the hemp is…

Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

nyt2
The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.

The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.

Continue reading Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

On our way to a “nation of farmers” in Amherst, MA

Michelle Chandler and one of her backyard meat rabbits

Michelle Chandler made a decision shortly after September 11, 2001 – she was going to be less dependent on fossil fuels and begin to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  The result is 100 rabbits, dozens of laying hens and a couple of milk goats in her suburban yard in South Amherst, MA.  Chandler quotes John 21:17, when Peter was asked by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Upon answering, “Yes,” Peter is instructed to “feed my sheep.”

Chandler’s “sheep” are her four children, ages 8 to 13, as well as neighbors and friends who enjoy the results of her bounty produced at Blessed Acre Farm and Rabbitry, where she raises several rare and heritage rabbit breeds – Cinnamons, Thriantas, Californians, Cremes d’Argent, Palominos, and American Blues.

According to an article in her local newspaper, those interested in raising rabbits should start with three, which would cost about $60 to get started. “For someone who wants rabbit on the table once a week for a family of four, you could realistically get by with one buck and two does,” she said. Then there’s the cost of building or buying hutches, at around $50 to $75 apiece, and providing the feed. A 50-pound bag costs $14.

Although her own property was far enough from the center of town to be exempt, Chandler was instrumental in helping to pass a new bylaw that allows up to 12 chickens or rabbits by right anywhere in Amherst.

“I feel strongly that Amherst will be better served by being able to feed itself,” said Chandler. “People are always going to be hungry, and if people have another food source, that’s a good thing.”

 One of Michelle Chandler’s close friends, Sharon Astyk, has written a book called “A Nation of Farmers” in which she claims raising your own food in the backyard must become a more common feature of the American landscape if we are to adjust to Peak Oil.  Chandler’s backyard has become a living example of this trend.

 

Agriculture is a conversation with the divine

As I begin a year long sabbatical leave from my teaching job at UMass, I’ve been thinking once again about what agriculture means to me.  In preparation, I re-read an essay I wrote years ago called Agriculture is a business and a conversation with the divine.”

If you click on the title, you can find the essay…..


I think when I wrote this essay I was hesitant to use the word “divine”. Today, I find it easier talk about my relationship with the divine, whether that be God, the Buddha, the Tao, some “power greater than ourselves”, or whatever way we choose to think about the non-material.  Of course, agriculture has its very important “material” aspects, but it is the spiritual connection that I’m thinking about today.

In the essay I refer to Wendel Berry’s quote “eating is an agricultural act.” Berry presents a few ideas on how we may each connect with the universe or the divine through food and farming.

——————

He suggests that we:

  • participate in growing food to the extent that we can,

  • prepare our own food,

  • learn the origins of the food we buy,

  • deal directly with a local farmer, and;

  • learn more about the biology, ecology and sociology of our food.

I would add to the list, composting all usable kitchen and garden “wastes”, as a necessary means of reconnecting with the non-human part of the universe.

——————

I wonder if you agree?  Can you think of other ways in which we might renew and sustain our connection with “something bigger than ourselves” through food and farming?

If you are curious…. check it out here and offer our own comments.

According to SFF grad “farming is cool now”

Farming is growing in popularity among recent college graduates, fed by concerns over nutrition and a weak job market.

The 24-year-old new owner of Full Heart Farm in Ledyard is one of them.

Allyson Angelini, who graduated from the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming program, last week took over the 6.25-acre property at 193 Iron St. She plans to get married on the farm in about a year.

“It doesn’t take much to fall in love with farming,” said Angelini, who gave up a desire to be a magazine journalist and instead got an agricultural education degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. “And farming is really cool now, and that feeling is growing.”

Erin Pirro, who supervises the Outstanding Young Farmer program in Connecticut, agreed.

“Farming is becoming sexy again,” she said. “Americans have become out of touch with their food supplies. There’s a lot of passion for locally grown food.”

Farming still has a predominately older demographic, according to the U.S. Agriculture Census. For every farmer under 35, there are six over 65, the latest census said.

Angelini’s age enabled her to be considered “disadvantaged” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, making her eligible for the agency’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers loan program.

Angelini has traveled in 5.5 years of researching farming, including working at a Stonington educational facility known as Terra Firma Farm and on a pork farm in Italy. She left her job at Jones Family Farms in Shelton in September to try to secure a farm in New London County.

Encouragement and assistance from elders is encouraging more 20-somethings to go into farming, Angelini said. Bob Burns, owner of Aiki Farms in Ledyard, was recently at Full Heart Farm, using his John Deere tractor to plow and harrow a portion of the land.

“(Angelini) is a delightful person, and Aiki Farms will support them as neighbors and fellow farmers,” said Burns, who is manager of the Ledyard Farmers Market, where Angelini plans to sell some her crops including beans, carrots, potatoes, squash and tomatoes.

Her parents, Greg and Sally Angelini, have been coming to Full Heart to help. Brother Ryan Angelini, who works at Electric Boat Corp., has also been assisting with repair projects. Keith Padin, Allyson Angelini’s fiancé, is a full partner in Full Heart, and his parents recently made their first visit to the farm.

“It’s hard to start a family farm without family around,” Allyson said.

Allyson and Keith are promoting that family feeling by giving names to each of their chickens and pigs.

Locally raised meat and produce strengthens family ties, Angelini said. And — on pure taste alone — local farming competes strongly, she said.

“Once you have farm-fresh eggs and homemade bacon, you never go back,” Angelini said.

Love of animals and land is not enough for a farmer these days, Angelini said.

“Young farmers need a wide skill set,” Angelini said. “There is so much diversity in the farm habitat.”