Archive for the ‘Local Food Systems’ Category

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.”

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“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". 

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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…)

BEE IT SO?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

   

“FREE’ HONEY AND $100 GIFT CERTIFICATE…

 

  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 (www.ourwatershed.org) 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!

 

KEEPING THE BUZZ FOR THE BEES – NEW HIVE DESIGN COULD CHANGE BEEKEEPING IN THE TROPICS 

 

by Matt Rosensteele

Executive Director of www.ourwatershed.org

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.

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Our Winter ‘Super Foods’ Garden in Costa Rica…

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

We do most of our gardening in Vermont from April through November. But now, Lynette and I are also gardening in Costa Rica from December through March. There, in addition to the usual vegetables, we also harvest pineapples, coconuts, mangoes and some amazing wild edibles. In this photo I’m in our yard holding the amazing fruit cluster of the pinuela (pineapple family). In recent years, Lynette has become the Euell Gibbons of our communities in both Vermont and Costa Rica, discovering “super foods” provided every day by nature.  I asked Lynette to tell her tropical super foods story:

“For 35 years, Will and I have called Vermont home and have accepted the seasonality of gardening under northern climate conditions. Five years ago, we became official “snowbirds” and began to also sink roots in the country of my maternal ancestors: Costa Rica. With this change came new joys, opportunities and challenges of gardening in the tropics. Even though the ambient temperature seems hospitable to year round gardening, there are many other factors in play that dictate a seasonal aspect to gardening there as well! With drip irrigation, shade structures (natural shade from high trees and constructed from durable shade cloth), and some wind protection, it is possible to enjoy many of the veggies that thrive in Vermont, such as tomatoes, peppers (of every color and heat), eggplants, cucumbers, summer and winter squash and some herbs.
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Local Farming: One Reason Vermont’s Employment Rate is Among the Best in the US

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Vermont’s unemployment rate is about 5%, one of the lowest in the country. In September, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Vermont is also the only state that saw household incomes grow in the past year. One reason for these positive trends during recessionary times, is our State's economic base, which is dominated by small, locally-owned businesses. Vermont is not as buffeted by national and global booms and busts and we have a more steady-as-she-goes economy.

In recent years, Vermont has also created the most growth per capital in jobs related to the ‘green economy’, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, water and land conservation…and sustainable agriculture. This success in ‘green job’ creation results from conscious efforts to build sustainability into statewide policies for energy, food, the environment and land development. As our world's natural resources (water, soil, fossil fuels, predictable climate, etc.) become more limited, such policies should enhance Vermont's competitive economic advantage.

Changes in our country's food system show how this advantage can work. For the first time in 90 years the number of farms in the U.S. is increasing. The demand for locally grown, healthier, fresher and better-tasting food grown with fewer pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified ingredients is a key factor in the success of family farms that are serving markets where they are located. In Vermont, the number of new diversified farms has been growing for years even as we continue to lose dairy farms. (more…)

Our Winter ‘Super Foods’ Garden in Costa Rica…

Monday, August 27th, 2012

We do most of our gardening in Vermont from April through November. But now, Lynette and I are also gardening in Costa Rica from December through March. There, in addition to the usual vegetables, we also harvest pineapples, coconuts, mangoes and some amazing wild edibles. In this photo I’m in our yard holding the amazing fruit cluster of the pinuela (pineapple family). In recent years, Lynette has become the Euell Gibbons of our communities in both Vermont and Costa Rica, discovering “super foods” provided every day by nature.  I asked Lynette to tell her tropical super foods story:

“For 35 years, Will and I have called Vermont home and have accepted the seasonality of gardening under northern climate conditions. Five years ago, we became official “snowbirds” and began to also sink roots in the country of my maternal ancestors: Costa Rica. With this change came new joys, opportunities and challenges of gardening in the tropics. Even though the ambient temperature seems hospitable to year round gardening, there are many other factors in play that dictate a seasonal aspect to gardening there as well! With drip irrigation, shade structures (natural shade from high trees and constructed from durable shade cloth), and some wind protection, it is possible to enjoy many of the veggies that thrive in Vermont, such as tomatoes, peppers (of every color and heat), eggplants, cucumbers, summer and winter squash and some herbs.
  (more…)

Question: “How much food will the world need to produce in the next 40 years?”

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Answer: More than all the food that has been produced by farmers, foragers and gardeners over the past 8,000 years! That’s right, to feed the world’s growing population we will need to produce as much food in the next 4 decades as was produced since the dawn of agriculture. This means doubling calorie production from all the land that is currently under cultivation. How will this be possible? Increasing local food production – including home gardening – will be a big part of the solution.

For most of my life, I have been observing the shift from family farms and local food production to centralized, industrialized agriculture fueled by cheap oil and federal subsidies. I started Gardener's Supply and the Intervale Center thirty years ago to form beachheads in my hometown and in backyards across America that proclaimed “local, organic food grown here.” It is encouraging to see that finally, real progress is being made. The amount of local food being grown with sustainable practices is now increasing faster than the amount of food produced on industrial-scale farms thousands of miles from dinner tables.

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What’s On Your Plate?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

For a short and engaging explanation of why the industrial food system that our nation and the world has been promoting and subsidizing since WWII is not the long term solution we need, check out the video What’s on Your Plate, just released by the University of Vermont (also available HERE).

While our country’s food policy has produced an abundance of cheap calories, it has also had huge consequences:

*Control over our food system is now in the hands of a few   mega-corporation
*Millions of small family farms have failed
*Tens of thousands of rural economies have failed
*Half of our country’s topsoil has been lost
*Our rivers, aquifers and oceans have been despoiled
*We have unprecedented diet-related health epidemic

But new winds are blowing here in Vermont and around the country as consumers choose more local, healthy, sustainably grown food. Even a few people in Washington DC are beginning to recognize the failure of six decades of “Big Ag” policy. With Congress on summer recess and a new election season upon us, this is a great time to encourage your elected representatives to support a more balanced food policy. Find out how to contact them HERE.