Archive for the ‘Local Food Systems’ Category

“How a dump became the catalyst for a local food revolution.”

Monday, October 28th, 2013

When Gardener’s Supply arrived in the Intervale in 1985 there were hundreds of junk cars, trash lined the dirt roads and a proud tradition of caring for the land and growing local food had been abandoned for decades.

Thirty years ago there were a billion people on the planet hungry and “food insecure” (ie. unable to access enough food to meet basic needs).  Today there are still a billion people suffering in this way.  

Our food system is failing us globally.  In the US 50 million Americans — 1 in 4 children —don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 1 of 2 kids in the US will be on food assistance at some time in their life.  This is a system and economic problem, not a production issue.

Mark Bittman wrote a good column for World Food Day Oct 16 reporting that industrial agriculture is NOT solving the hunger problem: How to Feed the World. In fact he points out that there are two food systems and one (industrial agriculture) can be highly inefficient:

 "Let’s at last recognize that there are two food systems, one industrial and one of small landholders, or peasants if you prefer. The peasant system is not only here for good, it’s arguably more efficient than the industrial model. According to the ETC Group, a research and advocacy organization based in Ottawa, the industrial food chain uses 70 percent of agricultural resources to provide 30 percent of the world’s food, whereas what ETC calls “the peasant food web” produces the remaining 70 percent using only 30 percent of the resources."

In North America, home and community food gardening and the local food movement are essentially part of the “peasant food system”.  There are no massive subsidies and no federal Farm Bill funding more efficient and environmentally healthy local food production. (more...)

“Buddy (Amigo), Can You Spare Some Garden Seed?”

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

                     New raised bed CEN gardens

For over a decade I have been helping Restoring Our Watershed ( in Costa Rica to restore the environmental health and economic vitality of a 30,000 acre watershed on the Pacifica coast of Costa Rica.  More local food production, including home and community gardens, is one of our programs.  If we can help small land owners increase productivity of their land, using organic growing and permaculture principles we are also improving the watershed with better land use while improving livelihoods.
One of our local food system programs works with the Centro de Educacion y Nutricion to provide organic vegetables to young mothers and their children:  Above is a photo of one CEN raised bed garden students installed this year. Mothers and their kids tend the gardens.
Unfortunately, the refrigerator where we store our seed failed during the rainy season and we lost all our saved seed two months ago.   Planting for the ‘summer’ season begins Nov-Dec and we need to replace our seed stock.
We need lettuce that grows well in the heat (85-90 degrees most days).  Kale. chard, collards, arugula and basil also work for us. We also need disease resistant medium and cherry tomatoes you can recommend, plus tomatillos and peppers.  Tomatoes and peppers that are good for processing are also needed.  Larger cucumbers that thrive in the heat are needed plus large snap beans (like “Provider”).  “Ticos’ also like pear-shaped chayote-type squash as well as watermelon.  And, we need root crops (carrots, beets, radish), especially cultivars that perform in warm soil. (more…)

The Amazing Economics (and Health Benefits) of Home-Preserved Tomatoes

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Lynette and I are members of 2 CSA’s plus we grow 4 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  Boy, are we swimming in tomatoes right now!  We have hundreds of these luscious red, orange and pink fruits to deal with.  I love to eat them fresh.  This time of year tomatoes are 20-30% of the food I eat.  Fortunately, Lynette loves to dehydrate, sauce, freeze and preserve them for the coming Vermont winter.  

This is fortunate because “love apples” are incredibly good for our health and we can then eat this goodness from the garden all year.  Most of us know tomatoes are rich in calcium and vitamins A and C (one tomato provides almost half of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C!), low in calories and fat free.

Tomatoes are also the best natural source of lycopene.  Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which means it is a nutrient that can reduce damage to cells.  Numerous research studies show Lycopene can reduce the risk of several cancers, including prostate, cervical, mouth, pharynx, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectal, prostate and ovarian cancer.

Fresh tomatoes are a good source of lycopene but processed tomatoes contain even more. The process of cooking breaks down the cell walls, helping to release the lycopene. Eating tomatoes with a little bit of fat, such as olive oil, helps more lycopene to be better absorbed by the body. (more…)

“Gardening Pain? The Right Tools Can Keep You Growing”

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Over 30 years ago we started Gardener’s Supply believing there was a need for gardening tools and equipment designed for the new approaches to gardening taking root in the US.  Then, big gardens in the “back 40” employed rototillers as the main tool to prepare soil for long rows of vegetables.  Sprayers and dusters were needed to apply chemical pest controls.  Overhead sprinklers with long, heavy hoses were the main form of watering.

Since 1983 Gardener’s Supply helped lead the transformation of American gardening.  English gardens inspired the interest in perennial flowers with borders and edging, plant supports and trellises. Intensive gardens inter-planted flowers with vegetables emerged as yards got smaller.  More decks, patios and sunrooms created a boom in container gardening.  Environmentally aware gardeners wanted healthier landscapes stimulating interest in new “earth-friendly” solutions including organic pest controls, root zone drip irrigation and efficient composting.  (more…)

“Monsanto Protection Act”: Do You Know It’s Impact on What You Might Eat (and Grow)?

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The “Farmer Assurance Provision” is part of a larger bill and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 26, 2013.  The law is referred to as the “Monsanto Protection Act” by its critics.  

The affect of this provision is to protect growers of genetically modified (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds from legal challenges to the safety of crops already planted.  Proponents say the law was a response to frivolous lawsuits against the USDA which were attempting to disrupt the use of new agricultural biotechnology.

Opponents of the provision call it the “Monsanto Protection Act”, because it "effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial GMO or GE seeds, regardless of health and safety issues that may be discovered in the future”.  National news reported that Monsanto lobbyists drafted the provision and maneuvered around Washington lawmakers to add the provision in the larger bill avoiding oversight and review by Congress' Agricultural or Judiciary committees.

Before the provision was passed by the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley proposed, unsuccessfully, to delete it.  He believed it "allows the unrestricted sale and planting of genetically modified seeds that could be harmful to farmers, the environment and human health". (more…)

Why You Should Be “Berry” Concerned About Climate Change

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Adam’s Berry Farm has been an anchor business for over a decade in the innovative community farming program developed by the Intervale Center.  Most of the farms in Burlington’s Intervale grow vegetables.  So, the early spring flooding that often affected this floodplain in the middle of Vermont’s largest city were just before planting season.  But in the past 10 years there have been surprising super rain storms in the middle of the growing season.  This hurts the harvest of farmers who produce annual vegetable crops.  But for growers of perennial crops like Adam Hausmann he not only can lose his crop but the floods can also kill many of his berry bushes.  These floods also can stress remaining plants making them more vulnerable to disease and pests.  Such is the challenge of climate change for farmers and gardeners.

I asked Adam about his decision to move thousands of mature berry plants to a new farm 10 miles away on higher ground.  Here’s his email back to me:

“The move is bittersweet. I love the Intervale's mission and community but my business cannot sustain staying in such a vulnerable area. In 2004, 2006 and 2011 I lost large portions of my farm due to flooding and seasonal high water table (30 to 40 percent). As a perennial grower this is too risky. A crop that takes 3 plus years to become established cannot be wiped out every three years. It is simply not profitable. On top of this, disease has become worse due to these events. As a vegetable grower I can understand taking these risks and perhaps even building them into one's business plan, but they have the option to replant and harvest in relatively short periods. This is not the reality of a perennial farmer. As you know the flooding used to be a regular springtime event that coincided with snow melt. What has changed in the 11 years that I have been at the Intervale is the irregularity of the floods. We have now had flooding in every month of the growing season from spring to fall. This seems to be related to the intensity and severity of the summer rains we have been receiving as of late. Farming is already an annual gamble. I decided that I need to eliminate some of the risk by moving to higher ground to protect my crop, livelihood, employees and markets.”


“What if every family in the world could grow a ‘nutrient dense’ Kitchen Garden?”

Monday, April 29th, 2013

First, by “nutrient dense” I mean two things.  The amount of nutrition in food measured by vitamins and minerals compared to calories. The most nutrition-packed foods are typically fruits and vegetables.  “Energy dense” foods are normally high in calories and low in vitamins and minerals, including most cereals and grains, products with added sugar and inputs that are high in carbohydrates, and alcohol. Foods with high nutrient density provide relatively more of the nutritional needs of our bodies, and usually provide a more complete and balanced nutritional package.  Good news: of these healthy foods we can grow in our gardens!

The second meaning has to do with how foods are grown.  Just because a food is nutritional-packed does not always mean it’s healthy.  Some fruits and vegetables with high nutritional density may be unhealthy because of how they were grown.  Toxic pesticide contamination is the main reason foods that normally have high nutritional value may actually be unhealthy.  According to the Environmental Working Group these are the “Dirty Dozen” foods with the highest pesticide residues:

Peaches, Apples, Sweet Bell Peppers, Celery, Nectarines, Strawberries, Cherries, Pears, Grapes (Imported), Spinach, Lettuce, Potatoes

These nutrient dense foods can be far healthier if we eat them WITHOUT the added poisons.  How do we find these 12 crops without pesticide residues?   By buying them from organic sources (and the more local the source the more nutritional value, usually). OR, by growing them at home.  Half of these “Dirty Dozen” are perfect candidates to grow in Kitchen Gardens, raised beds and containers where you control how they are grown.

This tomato seedling is surrounded by our "magic spinach". 


Wild Bee. I think I love you…*

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Honey bees AND wild pollinators need your help.  Join the movement for some sweet rewards.

Gardeners know that good pollination makes for better crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and raspberries.  European honey bees come to mind as the most important pollinator.  And that is especially true for certain commercial crops like almonds that need to have 1 million honey bee hives brought to California’s Central Valley to provide pollination for 60 million trees (supporting 80% of the world’s almond production).  But wild bees, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, birds and bats also are critical in moving pollen from the male to the female parts of flowers for fruit and seed setting.

This point was affirmed last month in a massive international study of 600 sites in 20 countries involving 41 crops published in Science. It found that wild insects are more important than we may have thought for crop pollination and that honey bees cannot replace the value and importance of wild pollinators.  Science reported, “wild insects pollinated crops more effectively, because an increase in their visitation enhanced fruit set by twice as much as an equivalent increase in honey bee visitation. Further, visitation by wild insects and honey bees promoted fruit set independently, so high abundance of managed honey bees supplemented, rather than substituted for, pollination by wild insects.”

So our gardens and farms need BOTH wild insect and honey bee pollinators.

Nearly 20 years ago I read that Albert Einstein (the physicist, rather than the entomologist, but still a deep thinker about global issues) said to the National Union of French Apiculture, "if the bee disappears off the surface of the earth, man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."  I don’t know if he was thinking about wild bees or cultivated honey bee or both.  This new research indicates the answer is both. The study reported in Science shows the pollinator services provided by wild insects can add to the pollinating power of honey bees.  In fact, both wild insects and honey bees are needed to maximize crop production, and the ongoing decline of wild insects due to habitat loss, whether from land conversion to farms or suburbs, will reduce harvests as Einstein warned. (more…)


Tuesday, February 26th, 2013




  A good friend of mine, who happens also to be a renowned ecologist, loves bee keeping on his farm in Wisconsin. Seven years ago he changed from Landstroth hives to the Top-Bar hive design and discovered he gets more honey and bees wax with less cost, work and hassle.  Would this new bee hive design have the same benefits in the tropics where a non-profit I helped start ( is restoring a 29,000 acre watershed with help from bees and their buddies? 

Please read on.   -Will Raap

 Click here for Free Honey and Gift Certificate!




by Matt Rosensteele

Executive Director of

Pure, raw honey could transform the Nandamojo river basin on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Our organization, Restoring Our Watershed (ROW), gives small loans for honey production through our Bees for Trees program.  The project is proving to be successful in the most important ways.

Bees for Trees enables us to create green jobs and keep families on their farms, reforest priority areas for the watershed’s health, and help fund our overhead by selling a product that is good for people. We also help people become beekeepers, establishing more homes for millions of pollinators and enhancing the forest ecosystem in our valley.

As we scale up the initiative, we are looking for advice from all perspectives on an important issue: should we “not fix what isn’t broken” and stay with the commonly-used Langstroth hives? Or should we expand technologies available to local beekeepers, try something new, and give Top-Bar hives a try? 

Bees for Trees was designed in response to historical, economic and ecological challenges the Nandamojo valley faces. The watershed was devastated by rapid deforestation to create cattle pastures during the 1950s, sixties, and seventies. The beef industry in the region later declined, and in the last twenty years tourism and foreign investment (through construction) became important components of the area’s prosperity. (more…)

A Garden Berry That Makes Good Wine and Fights Colds & Flu!

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Almost 20 years ago my wife Lynette began making an extract from elderberries growing wild at the edge of our woods.  These were mostly black elderberries (Sambucus niga) but also the native American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).  We harvest the clusters of berries every fall and let them steep in alcohol (we used cheap vodka).  Here is Lynette’s’ recipe and experience:

“I made my own tincture (incredibly easy —cover the ripe berries with 80-100 proof alcohol and steep and shake occasionally; in 6 weeks it’s done!).  Could it be true that elderberry tincture taken at the first signs of a cold had the power to banish the virus?  In my experience, and now in that of countless friend’s experience (I cannot help but share what I learn) it does in fact work for colds, flu and other viral attacks as well!”

Elderberry extract, juice and wine have been used traditionally to support the immune system, especially during the winter season or when experiencing extra stress. We make a gallon or so of extract every year and then whenever we feel those logy early symptoms of a cold we down a teaspoon of the elderberry goodness every few hours and almost invariably we stop the cold virus or head off the full impact.  Elderberry is our magical cold remedy.