Scrumping for apples

Jan Goodey, the ecologist
An innovative Lottery-funded ‘Scrumping Project’ in Brighton and Hove is bringing rare apples back into the community

Tinsley Quince and Saltcoat Pippin are varieties of traditional Sussex apples which will be making a comeback in an exciting and innovative new Scrumping Project based in Brighton.

Scrumping has obvious connotations with young scamps nicking apples from Mrs Peterson’s overhanging Bramley. Here it has more to do with collecting windfall from orchards, parks and gardens; processing them, then donating, or selling, it to the community.

The project is part of the only scheme of its kind in the UK: Harvest Brighton & Hove, a £500,000 Lottery-funded series of initiatives launched on Sept 21 and run by Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and Food Matters. Over the next four years they will encourage growing, cooking and eating of more locally-produced food…
(8 Oct 2009)
related: Harvest Brighton and Hove awarded Lottery funding And interesting conversation about the meaning of “scrumping” here

Grass-fed beef: One steer’s organic journey from ranch to dinner

Douglas Brown, The Denver Post
This is the second installment in an occasional series that follows the foods we eat. Douglas Brown and Cyrus McCrimmon traveled hundreds of miles to trace the path of grass-fed beef from ranch to retail, gaining unprecedented access.

Although some of the information and images might be too graphic for some, our aim is not to shock but to inform. It’s my belief that as responsible consumers, we must understand where our food comes from and appreciate the remarkable professionals who bring it to us.

The more we know, the smarter we can be about the choices we make. Tucker Shaw, food editor

Grass hugs much of the 595,000 acres of hills, valleys, and mountains that make up the Arapaho Ranch in north-central Wyoming. This sustains the thousands of cattle that live on the property, the largest organic, grass-fed cattle ranch in North America, a nearly 70-year-old enterprise on the Wind River Indian Reservation and run by the Northern Arapaho tribe…
(30 Sept 2009)

In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Are Native Prairie Plants the Answer?

Jennifer Donovan, Michigan Tech News
When society jumps on a bandwagon, even for a good cause, there may be unintended consequences. The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Minnesota and elsewhere.

In a paper published in the October 2009 issue of the journal BioScience, David Flaspohler, Joseph Fargione and colleagues analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn. They conclude that the ongoing conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production is posing a very real threat to the wildlife whose habitat is being transformed. One potential solution: Use diverse native prairie plants to produce bioenergy instead of a single agricultural crop like corn.

“There are ways to grow biofuel that are more benign,” said Flaspohler, an associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech. “Our advice would be to think broadly and holistically about the approach you use to solve a problem and to carefully consider its potential long-term impacts.”

The rapidly growing demand for corn ethanol, fueled by a government mandate to produce 136 billion liters of biofuel by 2022—more than 740 percent more than was produced in 2006—and federal subsidies to farmers to grow corn, is causing a land-use change on a scale not seen since virgin prairies were plowed and enormous swaths of the country’s forests were first cut down to grow food crops, the researchers say…
(1 Oct 2009)
related: Hunger for biofuels will gobble up wheat surplus

6 Facts About Native Bees

the daily green
Denise Shreeve is a beekeeper of an unusual sort. Instead of honey bees at her home in McLean, Va., she raises native orchard mason bees — solitary bees that don’t produce honey, but do pollinate abundant gardens and crops. Shreeve also designs bee houses — including some made from antiques — so backyard beekeepers and gardeners can take advantage of these amazing native pollinators. “I find antique artifacts like this corbel, and drill holes in them for our native bees to nest in,” she writes. “They become beautiful yard sculptures that recycle beautiful artifacts and provide nesting sites for our native bees. Does it get any better than that?” Here’s her quick primer on native bees:

Orchard mason bees are native to the entire North American continent and are amazingly efficient pollinators, especially of early fruit and nut trees. (It takes only 250 OMB’s to pollinate one acre of commercial apple orchards. It would take 25,000 honey bees to accomplish the same task.) After completing a honey beekeeping course a few years ago, and realizing how many chemicals it takes to keep them alive, I decided to research native bees as an alternative. It’s been a fascinating project and I know that our native bees (there are over 20,000 different species in North America alone) can certainly take up the slack as our honey bee populations decline. Since they are cavity nesters like blue birds, and cannot drill their own nesting holes, I decided to help grow their populations by designing bee houses for them, similar to blue bird trails that are so popular now.

I could go on and on about these fascinating little insects, but here are a few facts you might find interesting…
(30 Sept 2009)

Cuba Pins Hopes On New Farms Run for Profit

William Booth, The Washington Post
Faced with the smothering inefficiencies of a state-run economy and unable to feed his people without massive imports of food, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has put his faith in compatriots like Esther Fuentes and his little farm out in the sticks.

If Cuba is searching for its New New Man, then Fuentes might be him. The Cuban government, in its most dramatic reform since Castro took over for his ailing older brother Fidel three years ago, is offering private farmers such as Fuentes the use of fallow state lands to grow crops — for a profit.

Capitalism comes to the communist isle? Not quite, but close. Raúl Castro prefers to call it “a new socialist model.” But Fuentes gets to pocket some extra cash.

“The harder you work, the better you do,” said Fuentes, who immediately understood the concept.

Castro’s government says it has lent 1.7 million acres of unused state land in the past year to 82,000 Cubans in an effort to cut imports, which currently make up 60 percent of the country’s food supply…
(28 Sept 2009)
Capitalist cheerleading aside (“The harder you work, the better you do,” said Fuentes, who immediately understood the concept…subtle, anyone?), this article offers an updated perspective from that portrayed in the Power of Community film. Here is a short video from April, 2008 of Cuban permaculturist Roberto Perez, who “toured” with the film throughout the world last year. -KS

The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use

Jonathan Foley, yale environment 360
It’s taken a long time, but the issue of global climate change is finally getting the attention it deserves. While enormous technical, policy, and economic issues remain to be solved, there is now widespread acceptance of the need to confront the twin challenges of energy security and climate change. Collectively, we are beginning to acknowledge that our long addiction to fossil fuels — which has been harming our national security, our economy and our environment for decades — must end. The question today is no longer why, but how. The die is cast, and our relationship to energy will never be the same.

Unfortunately, this positive shift in the national zeitgeist has had an unintended downside. In the rush to portray the perils of climate change, many other serious issues have been largely ignored. Climate change has become the poster child of environmental crises, complete with its own celebrities and campaigners. But is it so serious that we can afford to overlook the rise of infectious disease, the collapse of fisheries, the ongoing loss of forests and biodiversity, and the depletion of global water supplies?

Although I’m a climate scientist by training, I worry about this collective fixation on global warming as the mother of all environmental problems. Learning from the research my colleagues and I have done over the past decade, I fear we are neglecting another, equally inconvenient truth: that we now face a global crisis in land use and agriculture that could undermine the health, security, and sustainability of our civilization…
(5 Oct 2009)
My favorite quote from this article, which I wish I could engrave on all our foreheads:

As a first step, advocates of environmental conservation, organic farming and commercial agriculture all need to put down their guns and work toward solving the problems of food security and the environment — with everyone at the table.

Providing for the basic needs of 9 billion-plus people, without ruining the biosphere in the process, will be one of the greatest challenges our species has ever faced. It will require the imagination, determination and hard work of countless people from all over the world, embarked on one of the noblest causes in history.