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Edible playgrounds and political vegetables
(text and YouTube)
Leo Hickman, Guardian
From school playgrounds to digging up the lawns of the White House and Downing St, there are many wasted spaces where we could be inspiring people to grow their own food

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Marlborough First and Middle school in Harrow, Middlesex, to congratulate its pupils on winning the national Charlie and Lola recycling competition held earlier this year.

Hundreds of primary schools across the country took part and Marlborough’s pupils were awarded first prize for their hugely impressive playground mural made with hundreds of discarded CDs, bottle tops and other domestic waste items they had collected at home.

On a tour of the school’s grounds afterwards, I chatted to the teachers about the concept of edible playgrounds and how the idea was growing in popularity. They said they loved the idea, and would start one as soon as they could, but that they were currently stymied by the fact that there was barely an inch of the school’s grounds that wasn’t covered in concert slabs or asphalt.

We discussed the idea of using stacked tyres as containers, but there was clearly a real desire to break some earth. They said they might even use the small patch of lawn in front of the school by the gates to build some raised beds but were a little unsure what those in the neighbouring houses that overlook the school might think.

It all reminded me of an interview I did back in the late summer with Monty Don, the new president of the Soil Association, who said one of his main goals in his new role was to inspire communities to come together and start growing some of the own veg for a wide variety of reasons – health, environmental, social bonding, economic. But he admitted that the big challenge is to convince people to just give it a go. Once people try it and see the fruits (and veg) of their labour in their own hands they tend to be hooked for life. So what will it take to inspire people to pick up a pitch fork and join the radish revolution?
(26 November 2008)

Getting To Know Your Local Farmer

Carolyn Baker, Speaking Truth to Power
Restoring Food Security and a Dying Way of Life

The U.S. financial system is in collapse, and energy costs are likely to come back again next spring and summer with a vengeance that we can’t imagine. This will make the price of food, already off the scale, skyrocket even further. We must all get to know our local farmers, or better yet, become them. In the moment, we have the “luxury” of low energy prices, and it is during this time that we should be making food security our top priority.

A few months ago I was introduced to Stuart and Margaret Osha of Turkey Hill Farms here in Central Vermont. I originally contacted them because people around me were raving about the taste and health benefits of raw milk. In fact, a couple of Truth To Power subscribers who live in the area were thrilled to have attended a workshop with the Osha’s on “The Family Cow”, and they wanted me to check out Turkey Hill Farms.

I’ll never forget the day I met the Osha’s and the feeling I had when I left there driving off into the lush, rolling hills with a couple of quarts of raw milk, home made granola, eggs, and vegetables-all produced at Turkey Hill. For the first time in my life I had purchased my food directly from local farmers-not at a farmer’s market, but directly from the farmer at the farm, and the feeling of satisfaction and a sense of rightness about it brought tears to my eyes. This was, after all, what I had been promoting for years, and finally, I had the opportunity to practice what I had been writing about.

But Vermont is not the only place where people can and should get to know their local farmer. Opportunities to do so exist almost everywhere in North America.

… CB: Stuart, you were an organic dairy farmer before you moved to this property in Central Vermont. At that time, you wrote a book, Loving A Dying Way of Life, so can you tell our readers a little bit about what inspired you to write the book?

SO: Margaret and I were living on her family farm, and I was doing a lot of writing, and emotions were just coming out about a time in my life that was so dear and precious to me-childhood memories and a sense of community back in the 1940’s and 50’s. I began to realize that this life as I remembered it, was dying. That’s really what inspired it. Margaret and I were farming at the time, and it took a tremendous amount for us to be doing it because there wasn’t as much organic dairy farming going on at that time. I think maybe there were thirty-some organic dairy farms in Vermont that were NOFA-qualified.
(25 November 2008)

Ben Gisin of Touch the Soil magazine

Jason Bradford, Reality Report via Global Public Media
Ben Gisin is co-founder and publisher of Touch the Soil magazine, an agricultural magazine promoting resilient agricultural practices. He speaks with Jason Bradford about the crumbling industrial agricultural system and its close relationship with the global economy.
(17 November 2008)

Biofuels Push Ethiopian Farmers to Food Aid

Dave Harcourt, EcoWorldly
Ashenafi Chote, of the Wolaytta district south of Addis Ababa, says that he regrets converting his land from food crops to caster seeds for biodiesel. He is now dependent on Food Aid and can no longer generate income from his land. CastorThe company that got him into this situation admit they have been unable to pay him, as agreed, because a loan they expected hasn’t come through!

The realisation that the cost of biofuel crops grown in temperate climates is too high to support a viable biodiesel industry has lead Europe to look elsewhere for cheaper raw materials. Africa, with its appropriate climate, soil fertility, and low labour costs can produce oil for biodiesel much more cheaply than Europe. Biofuels have been supported as a development path by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other agencies of the United Nations (UN), with the proviso that projects are properly implemented to avoid any impact on food production or the environment. Unfortunately, unscrupulous companies can quite easily take advantage of desperate small farmers and naive governments, to drive unfair contracts.

As someone living in South Africa, with some experience of working in poor rural areas, the stories of wealth and benefits for small scale farmers entering the biofuels sector make little sense to me. The shear scale of the world’s biodiesel demand result in numbers which just don’t make sense.

… A final interesting point is that planting a non food crop like castor or Jatropha (both contain toxins and are inedible) benefits the biodiesel refiner as it means that there is no market competition for the farmer’s production. For the farmer it limits their options, but more importantly, the crops can’t be eaten if the refiner doesn’t deliver as is the case in the above story.

My personal concern is that this is the type of project problem that will be repeated many times before the dust settles and Africa actually benefit from this opportunity.
(24 November 2008)

Acid Soils In Slovakia Tell Somber Tale

United States Geological Survey, Science Daily
Increasing levels of nitrogen deposition associated with industry and agriculture can drive soils toward a toxic level of acidification, reducing plant growth and polluting surface waters, according to a new study published online in Nature Geoscience.

The study, conducted in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia by the University of Colorado, University of Montana, Slovak Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Geological Survey, shows what can happen when nitrogen deposition in any part of the world increases to certain levels—levels similar to those projected to occur in parts of Europe by 2050, according to some global change models.

On the basis of these results, the authors warn that the high levels of nitrogen deposited in Europe and North America over the past half century already may have left many soils susceptible to this new stage of acidification. The results of this further acidification, wrote the authors, are highly reduced soil fertility and leaching of acids and toxic metals into surface waters.
(26 November 2008)