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Deeply Rooted

Tracy Sutton, Lancaster Farming
There are just some stories author Lisa M. Hamilton said she “couldn’t not tell.” Hamilton has been listening to farmers’ tell their stories for over 10 years, wandering the back roads and small, isolated communities of rural America. Her recent book “Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness” profiles the struggles and success of three maverick farmers. Hamilton said when choosing which farmers to feature, that she was drawn to individuals who “stepped outside the system” and forged a new way to farm.

“What interests me is less the methods and labels about farming, and more the stories,” said Hamilton.

“I don’t think being part of conventional ag doesn’t mean you’re not unconventional,” explained Hamilton. “This spirit is in every farmer I’ve met — believing that the day-to-day work of farming matters. Believing that what they bring to agriculture matters, that they have a wisdom and experience that cannot be replaced.”

“The farmers I chose made this sentiment central to their lives and they stepped out of the system.”

Hamilton said she’s heard some incredible stories in her day, but what inspired her most was the tenacity of farmers who farmed in the absence of community support, who were isolated either because of their methods, or geography, or personal history.

…Harry Lewis from Sulphur Springs, Texas is an African-American organic dairy farmer — a rather unusual life trajectory for a man born to a family of former slaves who began farming in a Texas freedom colony. Lewis grew up on his family’s farm but left as a teenager. He returns years later with the conviction that farming is the best way to be independent and honor his forefathers. His philosophy weaves together God, self-reliance, and green pasture. Lewis resisted pressures to expand his dairy operation and switched to organic farming to avoid being at the mercy of processors. In his words, he throws his lot in “with a bunch of hippies” — a Vermont-based co-operative — and finds himself an unlikely outspoken advocate of pasture-based organic milk production.

Virgil Trujillo of Abiquiu, New Mexico is a rancher whose roots go back 10 generations, to a time of Spanish colonists and Native Americans. Trujillo works a nine-to-five job, but dreams of becoming a full-time rancher. His dream is that farming will restore prosperity to his impoverished community. His determination puts him at odds with his neighbors, environmentalists, and his fellow ranchers, who are uneasy about his willingness to break from convention in order to pursue his dreams.

David Podoll of LaMoure, North Dakota in 1974 set out to prove organic agriculture wrong. But when his research instead proved it right in his eyes, he converted the family farm’s operations to organic — and then beyond. His alternative practices are viewed skeptically by the community, as is Podoll’s conviction that climate change is taking place in North Dakota. But Podoll and his family farm unfazed, quietly breeding new varieties of wheat and other crops that will withstand the threat of global warming.
(3 August 2009)
You can find more information and reviews of Lisa Hamilton’s book here. -KS

A growing revolution: Urban gardens are changing the landscape

Morgan Josey Glover, Greensboro News & Record
…Widespread concern about the economy and conventional agriculture’s vulnerabilities has elevated a hobby into a cause for many people. Although backyard vegetable growers and farmers’ markets are nothing new — interest has swelled around previous recessions — this time sustainable agriculture supporters are pushing for a way of growing food that prioritizes healthy human and ecological relationships over cheap food, corporate profits and convenience.

…Many social and economic forces have converged in recent years to heighten interest in local agriculture, particularly existing rural farms.

But cities and suburbs stand to become sizable food producers as more people such as Wright rethink the purpose of yards and other urban spaces.

…Although backyard vegetable growers and farmers’ markets are nothing new — interest has swelled around previous recessions — this time sustainable agriculture supporters are pushing for a way of growing food that prioritizes healthy human and ecological relationships over cheap food, corporate profits and convenience.

The most idealistic of advocates envision cities and towns that burst with food, be it from skyscraper roofs, apartment balconies, back alleys or repurposed plastic tubs. In this world, people plan their meals around what’s in season, relegating supermarket trips to coffee, wheat and other staples they can’t get within the region.

…A new company called Earthwise in Wake Forest seeks to incorporate farmland into new housing developments near urban areas. And farms exist or have been proposed for cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.

Urban farmers Mary Seton Corboy and Daniel Dermitzel attended a Greensboro conference in June to help convince philanthropists to fund urban agriculture.

“People don’t realize that there are people out there who have been building the base for this for a number years,” said Corboy, who co-founded Greensgrow in Philadelphia in 1998. “This is not just something that came up last year because somebody wrote an article in ‘The New Yorker’ about it.
(3 August 2009)

Reality Pricks Corn Ethanol’s Bubble

Doug Struck, Miller-McCune
While corn may not be the answer, biologically derived fuels remain the holy grail for many researchers. In Part II (“Surely There’s Some Flora Out There to Fuel My Car”), Doug Struck looks at efforts ranging from other cellulosic ethanol options to pond scum.

The vision of vast golden fields of corn supplying the fuel for our cars, once the dream of environmentalists and farmers, is disappearing, its allure dimmed by science and reality.

Corn-based ethanol was seen as such an ideal solution for our transportation fuel that Congress leaped to write it into law. In a swoon over ethanol in 2007, Congress mandated a fivefold increase in biofuels — 42 percent of it from corn — in 15 years.

An industry quickly sprang up: Nearly 200 ethanol refineries have been built, 3 billion bushels of corn are converted yearly into ethanol, and an estimated 70 percent of gas sold in the United States contains at least some ethanol.

But as its limitations became clearer, the long-term future of corn ethanol has been clipped. Investors have concluded the industry can only be a niche player, engineers question the practicality of the fuel, scientists doubt its usefulness in reducing global warming, and the federal government is seeking to stop the industry’s growth…
(6 August 2009)

related article submitted by EB contributor John Gear: Corn Power -KS