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Polyculture ‘modules’ for small farms, suburbia: fewer pests, $90,000 an acre?

Kurt Knebusch, Ohio State University Extension
WOOSTER, Ohio – Carefully designed polyculture systems, grown on small farms or even in suburban yards, could self-limit pest problems and gross up to $90,000 per acre, says Joe Kovach, head of Ohio State University’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.

Together with Loren Harper and Rosa Raudales, both also of the program, Kovach has planned and planted four different polyculture systems, or “modular ecological designs,” each combining the same wide mix of high-value fruits and vegetables, annuals and perennials, tall crops and short ones, into 45-by-60-foot plots.

The goal: To see which system works best based on yield, economics and pest reduction – and to make, by selling retail, $10 per linear foot, or $90,000 to $100,000 per acre.

“We’ve known in pest management that polyculture systems seem to have fewer pest problems than monocultures, and when there are problems, they’re usually less severe,” Kovach said. “We wanted to see if we could come up with a primarily fruit-based system that, if we arranged it in the correct way, would see fewer pest problems.”

At the same time, though, “With a goal of $10 per linear foot, we’ve got to be productive,” he said. “We can’t mess around.” Polycultures, as opposed to monocultures, grow two or more crops together, not just one.
(20 October 2005)

Heavy metal bioremediation

Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
Bioremediation is the process of using living organisms — typically plants or microbes — to remove toxic material from the environment. Previous examples we’ve noted include seaweed cleaning up DDT, bacteria removing uranium from groundwater around weapons production sites, and tumbleweeds removing uranium from the soil. In most cases, the bioremediation takes advantage of a natural process within the selected organism.

Most, but not all: reports on work being done at the Peking University’s College of Life in Beijing to bioengineer tobacco to bioremediate heavy metals from the soil, and algae to remove metals from water. This doesn’t use a natural feature of the organisms, however. Instead, it uses a rat gene involved in the creation of a protein in rat livers that binds with toxic metals:
(1 November 2005)

Seedy business: A sustainable-ag champion gets plowed under at Iowa State

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
Plunked down in the land of huge, chemical-addicted grain farms and the nation’s greatest concentration of hog feedlots, Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has always had a tough row to hoe.

Imagine trying to operate an Anti-Cronyism League from Bush’s West Wing, and you get an idea of what the Leopold Center is up against. Industrial agriculture runs the show in Iowa, sustained by regular infusions of federal cash and its government-sanctioned ability to “externalize” the messes it creates. The state grabbed $12.5 billion in federal agriculture subsidies between 1995 and 2004 — second only to Bush’s own home state. Iowa leads all states in hog production: It churned out 14.5 million pigs in 2001 alone, the vast majority from stuffed, environmentally and socially ruinous CAFOs (confined-animal feeding operations).

Yet since springing to life in 1987 by fiat of the Iowa legislature — funded ingeniously by state taxes on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide — the Leopold Center has become an invaluable national resource for critics of industrial agriculture and seekers of new alternatives.

Now, however, a sudden purge at the top has called the Center’s much-prized independence from industrial agriculture into question.
(2 November 2005)

The legend of permaculture – Bill Mollison interview
Tim Holt, ABC South East Mornings (Australia)
In 1970, the man who changed the way we think about sustainability, Bill Mollison, is still 30 years on just as passionate about the cause and says it is anger that motivates him.

His anger is spurred on by what he says is the ridiculous way in which we humans normally behave, the silly things we do and the damage that we’ve done to the planet when we could do so much better.

Permaculture has been a runaway success story, particularly in developing countries, but in the developed world, energy efficient housing is still a rarity.

Bill Mollison says that we continue down an agricultural, industrial, energy use and social path that is having such damaging effects on the planet that issues such as the oil peak and global change have become critical.

It amazes Bill Mollison that after all this time the human race still baulks at these principles that have been demonstrated time and time again to make a real and lasting difference.

Bill Mollison had not spoken to the media for over a decade, but in a recent discussion on ABC South East, he joined Tim Holt and regular guest, John Champagne and spoke with the same passion, anger and hopes that drove him to develop the Principles of Permaculture and take it to the world 30 years ago.
(26 October 2005)

Los Angeles: trading the car for the train

Terry Pristin, NY Times
PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 26 – Los Angeles may be the car capital of America, but a few Angelenos, it seems, are beginning to consider leaving their cars at home.

Frustration with ever worsening traffic is stimulating new interest in denser, more urban patterns of development, a trend reflected by new mixed-use complexes near – or right on top of – transit stations.

One such development is Del Mar Station, with 347 mostly market-rate apartments distributed among four buildings, each in a different architectural style. Situated two blocks from Old Pasadena, this suburb’s picturesque 19th-century business district, it is bisected by the tracks for the new Gold Line light-rail line, which also run directly underneath some of the apartments. The line carries commuters from the northeastern suburbs to downtown Los Angeles.
(2 November 2005)

Conference hears pros and cons of ocean aquaculture

Joel Gallob, Newport News-Times (Oregon)
Should the United States – and particularly, Oregon – pursue the large-scale development of open ocean aquaculture, otherwise known as “fish farms?” Dr. Gil Sylvia, Superintendent of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) presented the pros and cons of the question to the “Oregon’s Ocean: Its Peril and Possibilities” conference in Florence this past weekend.

On the one hand, he said, the human demand for food and specifically seafood is growing, but the oceans are not. On the other hand, there are substantial environmental and other questions about large-scale fish farms.

A bill placed before Congress this spring, written by NOAA Fisheries and sponsored by Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), would encourage open ocean aquaculture and establish a system for licensing it off the nation’s coasts, Sylvia said.
In 2003, Sylvia said, 46 percent of all the seafood sold came from aquaculture sources, and the consumption of seafood, in general, is growing worldwide. In 20 years, he predicted, two thirds of the world’s seafood would come from farmed fish. Yet Oregon’s seafood industry, Sylvia said, can’t grow without one of several things occurring. One is we manage to catch more fish off Oregon waters; another is the establishment of property rights, known as Individual Transferable Quotas, in the fish stocks; a third is improved ocean conditions. The fourth way of increasing Oregon’s seafood output is large-scale aquaculture.
(2 November 2005)