Category Archives: Food Policy and Advocacy

Report suggests food systems change

FRANCE — In the report, the World Resources institute suggests ways of feeding almost 10 billion people by 2050. Food demand is set to rise by over 50%, with demand for animal-based food products (meat, dairy and eggs) likely to grow by almost 70%. Hundreds of millions of people already go hungry, Farming uses around half the world’s green areas and generates a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Unsurprisingly, the report says that there is no silver bullet. However, it does offer a Continue reading Report suggests food systems change

Organic farming with gene editing?

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Collaborative problem-solving by organic (and conventional) growers, specialists in sustainable agriculture, biotechnologists and policymakers will yield greater progress than individual groups acting alone and dismissing each other,” states Rebecca Mackelprang, University of California, Berkeley. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Public Domain)

The question of what do we mean by organic agriculture is tested here.  Is it “food grown without synthetic biotoxins and fertilizers?”   Or does organic agriculture include a commitment to family farms and social justice?  What do you think? 

October 10, 2018

BERKELEY, Calif. (THE CONVERSATION) — A University of California, Berkeley professor stands at the front of the room, delivering her invited talk about the potential of genetic engineering. Her audience, full of organic farming advocates, listens uneasily. She notices a man get up from his seat and move toward the front of the room. Confused, the speaker pauses mid-sentence as she watches him bend over, reach for the power cord, and unplug the projector. The room darkens and silence falls. So much for listening to the ideas of others.

Many organic advocates claim that genetically engineered crops are harmful to human Continue reading Organic farming with gene editing?

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

Accessing land and passing on farmland

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Shemariah Blum-Evitts, Program Director for Land For Good. (Courtesy Photo)

KEENE, N.H. — Shemariah Blum-Evitts, a farmer, regional planner and project manager is now the Program Director for Land For Good, a New England-wide nonprofit that works to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. Blum-Evitts will direct all of the organization’s education, consulting, and research, as well as its direct service to New England farmers looking to access land, plan for farm succession, and obtain more secure land tenure.

Supporting farmers and farmland owners around accessing and transferring farmland and farms is critical in the region. Nearly 30% of New England’s farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and 92% of these 10,369 senior farmers do not have another farm operator working alongside them. (Gaining Insights) While this does not mean that these farmers don’t have a succession plan, it does suggest that the future of many of farms is uncertain. The 1.4 million acres they manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another. What these farmers do with their land and other farm assets as they exit farming will shape New England’s agricultural landscape for generations to come.

At the same time, access to land is a top challenge facing new and beginning farmers. Fewer young farm operators are getting securely on land, and they need support to determine their land access strategy, find and assess farm properties, and negotiate good agreements.

A farmer herself, Blum-Evitts was also the founder and Program Manager of New Lands Farm with Ascentria Care Alliance from 2008-2015. The program, which she initiated and built in collaboration with community partners, offered training and land access to New American farmers in Central and Western Massachusetts seeking community gardens, farming enterprises and technical assistance. Blum-Evitts studied land use and agricultural planning while gaining her Masters in Regional Planning from UMass Amherst. Her thesis developed a foodshed assessment model to map current and potential working farmland and farmland capacity. She believes strongly in the importance of working farms. Since 2004, she has been working on and managing farms in GA, TX, CT and MA. She and her husband operate their own small-scale, kosher, pastured poultry operation on their home farm in South Deerfield MA.

”Shema brings the skills, experience and that are a great fit for this position and our team. Her farming and program work on farms with diverse populations will enrich and deepen our work. We’re excited to have her – and another farmer – on our team.,” says Jim Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good.

Blum-Evitts will work with many organizations and agencies in the region that are already cooperating on land access and farm succession education, technical assistance, and policy. In Massachusetts, for example, these groups include Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), New Entry Sustainable Farming ProjectSoutheastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) and other buy local programs, Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the land trust community, and the MA Food System Collaborative, among others.

“Land For Good has been a resource for me – both as a beginning farmer and a service provider,” shares Blum-Evitts. “It was through working with LFG that we were confident in our lease arrangements for New Lands Farm and fully understood our options. I am delighted to be part of the organization and extend expertise and support to more farmers.”

Land For Good (LFG), based in Keene NH, is a New England-wide not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the future of farming in the region by putting more farmers more securely on more land. With field agents serving all New England states, LFG educates, consult, innovates and advocates with and for farm seekers, established farmers, farmland owners, and communities. LFG is the only organization of its kind, nationally, with a sole focus on farmland access, transfer, and tenure.

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UMass Sustainable Food and Farming grad, Jason Silverman, is a Field Agent for Land for Good! 

Original Post

Global Day of Action Against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

Reposted from La Via Campesina 

September 10, 2018

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Global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) that are directly and indirectly promoting a host of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements have created a criminal level of inequality in this world, wherein according to reports, 82% of the world’s wealth is now controlled by merely 1% of the people. Global Hunger is again on the rise, with peoples’ food sovereignty under severe threat.

This comes on the back of a seven-decade long persistent push for neo-liberal policies, which called for ‘free market trade’ regimes around the world. Privatisation and de-regulation that came about as the consequences of such a push has evidently made the Continue reading Global Day of Action Against WTO and Free Trade Agreements

Nothing Green about the Green Revolution

This post is one of the reading assignments in my class, STOCKSCH 391A – Dialogue on Agricultural Issues, taught during the Fall semester 2018.

By Dr. Vandana Shiva


The system that drives farmers into a debt trap creates malnutrition. The solution lies in shifting from a toxic, high-cost system to a nutritious, low-cost, sustainable food production model

There is no reason why India should face hunger and malnutrition, and why our farmers should commit suicide. India is blessed with the most fertile soils in the world. Our climate is so generous we can, in places, grow four crops in a year, compared to only one in most of the industrialised West. We have the richest biodiversity in the world, both because of diverse climates and because of the brilliance of our farmers as breeders. They have given us 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, 1,500 varieties of mangoes and bananas.

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Sir Albert Howard, who was sent to India in 1905 to introduce chemicals in farming, saw how fertile the soils were with no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasants his professors and wrote An Agricultural Testament, which spread organic farming worldwide on the basis of India’s ecological farming, today recognised as

Continue reading Nothing Green about the Green Revolution

How Foodies Can Understand Capitalism and Farm-to-Table Justice

From:  Yes Magazine: Powerful ideas – Practical actions 

Couple preparing food before cooking

NOTE:  If food justice is of interest, you might be interested in our new online class, Food Justice and Policy, being offered this summer at UMass Online! 

A new book aimed at the socially conscious food activist explores how our food system can be a place for transformation through an alliance between the progressive and radical wings of the food movement.

As advocates for a just food system, most of us try to live by our beliefs. Shopping at the farmers markets: Check. Buying local and grass-fed: Check. We rail against Big Food, yet don’t dare, or bother, to look too far beneath the surface when we shop at Whole Foods or order from the organic aisle of Fresh Direct. We are walking, kale-stuffed characters out of Portlandia, better-intentioned than informed. After all, what are we really doing to change the system?

If this undercurrent of low-level guilt is one you’ve experienced, you might be a target of Eric Holt-Gimenez’s new book, A Foodie’s Guide to Capitalism: Understanding the Political Economy of What We Eat. The book, by and large, delivers on its goal of serving as a political economic toolkit for the food movement. It’s Capitalism 101 for the socially conscious, would-be food activist. Continue reading How Foodies Can Understand Capitalism and Farm-to-Table Justice

UMass Professor Reports on Pesticides

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heAccording to Dr. Lili He, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “our food system is indeed very vulnerable. It can be contaminated intentionally and unintentionally by many agents. Generally speaking, there are three types of contaminants in food system, 1) microbes, including bacteria, virus, fungi, parasites, and their toxins, 2) chemicals, such as pesticides, antibiotics, adulterants, allergens, and 3) engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).”

The following is a recent article in the New York Times exploring pesticides in food

Q. Do pesticides get into the flesh of conventional fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, apples and cucumbers?

A. Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables accumulate on the outer peel or skin, but the skin does not form an impermeable barrier, and some pesticides are actually designed to be absorbed into the tissue of the fruit or vegetable to protect it from pests that penetrate the skin to suck out the liquid inside.

Continue reading UMass Professor Reports on Pesticides

Climate Change and Organic Agriculture

By Bill Duesing…..

Many of us participated in the inspiring People’s Climate March on 9/21/2014 in New York City. Marchers represented a wide variety of religious, educational, environmental, energy, social justice, peace, health, labor, cultural and other organizations.  Though they all had their own agendas for solving problems and making the world a better place, they agreed that climate change is very serious and needs to be addressed.

From right, soil scientist, permaculturalist and CT NOFA founding Board member Cynthia Rabinowitz, CT NOFA Executive Director Eileen Hochberg and former executive director Bill Duesing at the beginning of the People’s Climate March.

Organic farmers and consumers marched with the “We Have Solutions” section. We’ve known for a long time that organic food and agriculture are an important part of the solution to many of our environmental problems.  Organic methods and systems are valuable tools for building health and biodiversity in the soil, in our communities and in our bodies.

Organic Solutions

We are just now understanding how organic agriculture not only slows down climate change and increases our resilience in the face of it, but also actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in the soil.  Organic agriculture even has a powerful potential to reverse some of the damage we’ve already done to the atmosphere.

The key organic methods which encourage carbon storage reduce or eliminate tillage and bare soil, keep the soil covered with a diversity of growing plants and eliminate synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.  Soil that is not disturbed encourages greater soil biodiversity, especially more fungal growth.  Fungi function as liquid carbon pathways, carrying energy-rich carbon compounds from plant roots to the billions of soil organisms surrounding the roots.  Between 30 and 60 percent of the carbon plants take out of the air flows out through the roots.  This carbon energizes nitrogen-fixing and other soil organisms which eventually turn it into long-lived humus, a safe carbon repository which greatly increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.

The Chemical Contrast

This organic advantage is nearly the opposite of what chemical agriculture does.  In many ways, from its production to its leaching into the environment, synthetic nitrogen damages our planet.

University of Illinois scientists studied the nitrogen fertilizer records and soil carbon levels at the Morrow plots, the nation’s oldest experiment field with records going back 100 years. Researchers found that chemical fertilizers deplete the soil’s organic carbon.  They discovered that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer had not only stimulated decomposition of all the organic residues (corn stalks, soy plants) that had been added to the soil over fifty years, but also had volatilized almost five tons per acre of carbon from the native soil.  Read the study HERE

All told they found that chemical nitrogen fertilizers had driven about 100 tons of carbon out of the soil, and into the air as carbon dioxide, from each acre of the experiment farm. Inorganic nitrogen, especially when combined with tillage, greatly damages the soil ecosystem.  It inhibits nitrogen-fixing organisms and the fungi that feed them with carbon exuded by plant roots.

In contrast, studies on four continents have shown that organic farming can store from just under a ton to over three tons of carbon, per acre, per year.  Multiply that by the number of crop acres world wide and you get a number close to the amount of excess carbon we need to remove from the atmosphere to stabilize the climate. Only the ocean can hold more carbon. Amazing!

The application of nitrogen fertilizer is also responsible for about three quarters of this country’s nitrous oxide emissions.  Nitrous oxide has 310 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

All these greenhouse emissions are in addition to those released as inorganic nitrogen is taken from the atmosphere by the energy-intensive process to create nitrogen fertilizer using natural gas.  The whole process likely releases even more greenhouse gases if that natural gas is the result of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) which is becoming the norm these days. Read Tom Philpott’s explanation of how cheap gas from fracking and hefty subsidies from taxpayers are encouraging greater domestic production of this soil and climate destroying substance.

After all that pollution from its making and application, 60 to 90 percent of the applied nitrogen fertilizer is leached into water, volatilized into the air or immobilized in soil. Nitrogen pollution is responsible for dead zones on our coasts and undrinkable well water in the heartland. (See photo.)

Notice in a Kansas State Park, August 2014. Nitrates are from nitrogen fertilizer.

Look at the Summer and Fall issues of NOFA’s The Natural Farmer for more details on the soil, carbon and nitrogen connections.  Dr. Christine Jones’ articles are especially helpful.  (While you are looking at the Summer issue, be sure to read Connecticut “carbon farmer” Bryan O’Hara’s article, “No-Till Vegetables at Tobacco Road Farm.)

Put simply, chemical agriculture releases great quantities of greenhouse gases while organic agriculture sequesters them.

SLOW change

Despite the dismal reality, don’t expect a swift change away from chemical nitrogen to organic methods without a lot more activist pressure.

We’ve known about many of the advantages of organic agriculture for over 100 years. Knowledge alone won’t do it in the face of some giant corporations wanting to make and sell more chemical fertilizers (and pesticides and the seeds that need both). Other corporations demand access to low-cost feed for confined animal feeding operations, and to low-cost ingredients for soda, junk food and even beer.

Some rich and powerful entities are able to manipulate government programs and public opinion for their benefit while financially squeezing farmers and driving them off the land.

As a University of Minnesota ecologist notes in another Philpott article: …the problem lies not with farmers but with farm policy and the market/political power of agribusiness—a “behemoth largely created by lobbyists, trade associations, big businesses and the government.”

How to Prepare for WHATEVER Comes Next

NOTE:  Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology.  I rely on her work when I teach STOCKSCH 379 – Agricultural Systems Thinking.  I had her permission to modify one of her essays and share it under the title of The Shambhala Worker.   Stockbridge instructor, Catherine Sands, sent me this interview.  If you think life looks pretty bleak right now…. read this!
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Yes, it looks bleak. But you are still alive now. You are alive with all the others, in this present moment. And because the truth is speaking in the work, it unlocks the heart. And there’s such a feeling and experience of adventure. It’s like a trumpet call to a great adventure. In all great adventures there comes a time when the little band of heroes feels totally outnumbered and bleak, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings or Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress. You learn to say ‘It looks bleak. Big deal, it looks bleak.’”

Joanna Macy on How to Prepare Internally for WHATEVER Comes Next

This is an interview with Joanna Macy published in Ecobuddhism.
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Ecobuddhism: How do you feel about the Sixth Mass Extinction?

Joanna Macy: It’s happening. It’s combined with so much else that promises wholesale collapse. How do we begin to deal with the plastic in the ocean that covers areas the size of countries? What are cell phones and microwaves doing to our biological rhythms? What exactly is in our food? How do we address genetic modification of crops? We are so hooked on all of this, on every level. How do we begin to contain it?

The most immediate level of crisis concerns the Earth’s carrying capacity. Many civilizations prior to ours, starting with Mesopotamia, could no longer support themselves because they exhausted their natural resources. Carrying capacity is the level most people talk about. It’s a defining aspect of the climate crisis. How will we grow the food we need given huge variations and extremities of weather? How will we handle the natural disasters and famines that will result from a chaotic climate?