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Food & agriculture - Nov 16

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

thanks to kalpa for the story below:

Program could match Colo.'s next generation of farmers with land, expertise

Jason Blevins, the Denver Post
eth Roberts' Weathervane Farm on the banks of Cottonwood Creek feeds dozens of families in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. His organic produce, free-range chickens and eggs, and fresh cut flowers are in high demand at the local farmers markets.

He is living his life dream. But when Roberts ponders settling permanently near Buena Vista, he laments the short-term lease for his farmland. He has looked at land to buy that was as small as 15 acres or as big as 50 — and both cost more than $750,000 in this valley, where a state research group predicts a pending "tsunami of development."

"That permanence, that land security, is crucial," says the 32-year-old farmer, thrusting his hands into a weathered Carhartt jacket. "We have laws to protect endangered animals. We need that kind of protection for farmland, which will soon be extinct."

A proposed program sprouting from a farmhouse in Buena Vista could allow Roberts to establish stable roots for both his family and his vegetables in the valley. The Chaffee County Land Link program is based on programs in 21 other states that unite retiring or aging farmers with their young, energetic counterparts.

"It's like a matchmaking service, providing access to the next generation of farmers who want to be a part of their local food system while helping older, local farmers keep their land's agricultural heritage and get some benefit — like a steady paycheck — from it," says David Lynch, whose Guidestone organization works to stimulate sustainable farming in the Upper Arkansas River Valley and is spearheading the Land Link plan...
(3 Nov 2009)


Feeding the city

Matt Sellwood, Red Pepper
Some 15 years ago, a small-scale box scheme started up in Hackney, feeding around 30 families. In 1997, that initiative started to develop into Growing Communities, an organisation that now feeds 1,000 people a week through its box scheme, hosts the only weekly organic farmers’ market in the UK, grows food on sites across Hackney and trains people in vital agricultural and food preparation skills.

Growing Communities is much more than the sum of those parts, however. Explicitly opposed to the current food production and distribution system, it sees itself as ‘growing the new society in the shell of the old’ and helping to model what a grass-roots, community-led, not-for-profit food production system might look like in the future. Through its 12-point ‘Manifesto for Feeding the City’ (see box, next page), the organisation lays out the principles that those involved believe are necessary for a fair and ecologically sound food system in the UK, and particularly for large urban areas such as London.

The organisation sources its food both through existing organic producers and through the development of its own patchwork of urban agriculture sites within the borough of Hackney. With around 25 producers hosting regular stalls at the farmers’ market, which has a customer base of an average 1,500 local residents each week, Growing Communities provides a much needed revenue stream for those small UK farms still competing with multinational supermarkets and agri-business. Meanwhile, its box scheme sources salad from Hackney-based ‘microsites’, as well as food from further afield. It generates nearly £10,000 from sales of Hackney-grown produce, from a total land area of only half an acre.

Constituted as a not-for-profit company, Growing Communities is run by a volunteer management committee elected from its membership. The membership is comprised of all subscribers to the box scheme, as well as those who donate to the organisation. In contrast to some other grass-roots food schemes across the country, it believes that members should have control of its operations through the management committee, as opposed to control by workers. As a result, while its structure is flatter than many commercial box schemes, it is not a workers’ cooperative but runs with a mainly traditional staff structure. It employs nearly 20 people, all of whom work on a part-time basis, as well as a number of volunteers.

...While the organisation currently enjoys success in sourcing food both from the urban and ‘rural hinterland’ zones, ‘peri-urban’ land remains a significant challenge. Despite the availability of urban fringe land within the M25, very little agricultural activity remains within this area of London. As a result, Growing Communities is currently looking into the possibility of kick-starting food production within the peri-urban belt, specifically for distribution within Hackney.

As well as expanding its own operations, Growing Communities is also looking into replication of the initiative across London. Having originally started as a small vegetable box scheme, the organisation is in a good position to advise other groups across the capital about the pitfalls and opportunities that await anyone attempting to repeat its success. Instead of leaving provision of local food to profit-orientated companies, Growing Communities hopes to catalyse more community-led, not-for-profit schemes in boroughs across the capital – having shown already that it can be done.

...Well aware of its wider connection to the environmental and social justice movements, Growing Communities attempts where possible to link its food production and distribution to a wider political agenda. Not only does its weekly box scheme newsletter often focus on critiques of the existing food system, but the organisation goes out of its way to make itself more accessible to lower-income residents of the borough. In June of this year, both the farmers’ market and the box scheme began accepting Healthy Start vouchers, the government scheme for low income families with young children.

In addition to this, the organisation seeks to create employment opportunities through its apprentice growers scheme, which teaches the skills necessary for urban agriculture and then allows hands-on experience on the Hackney based microsites. And the organisation is very activist-friendly – Climate Camp received a few boxes of Hackney-grown salad last year as a small token of Growing Communities’ awareness of its links to the wider movement.

...Growing Communities’ 12-point manifesto

The food involved should:

Be farmed and produced ecologically

Be as local as practicable

Be seasonal

Be mainly plant-based

Be fresh or involve minimal processing

Be from small-scale operations

Support fair trade

Involve environmentally friendly and low-carbon resource use

Promote knowledge

Foster community

Strive to be economically viable and independent

Be produced honestly, transparently and promote trust throughout the food chain
(Nov 2009)
related: Foodzoning the Foodshed


The Nitrogen Fix: Breaking a Costly Addiction

Fred Pearce, yale environment 360
A single patent a century ago changed the world, and now, in the 21st century, Homo sapiens and the world we dominate have an addiction. Call it the nitrogen fix. It is like a drug mainlined into the planet’s ecosystems, suffusing every cell, every pore — including our own bodies.

In 1908, the German chemist Fritz Haber discovered how to make ammonia by capturing nitrogen gas from the air. In the process he invented a cheap new source of nitrogen fertilizer, ending our dependence on natural sources, whether biological or geological. Nitrogen fertilizer fixed from the air confounded the mid-century predictions of Paul Ehrlich and others that global famine loomed. Chemical fertilizer today feeds about three billion people.

But the environmental consequences of the massive amounts of nitrogen sent coursing through the planet’s ecosystems are growing fast. We have learned to fear carbon and the changes it can cause to our climate. But one day soon we may learn to fear the nitrogen fix even more.

A major international survey published in September in Nature listed the nitrogen cycle as one of the three “planetary boundaries” that human interventions have disturbed so badly that they threaten the future habitability of the Earth. The others — according to the study by Johann Rockstrom, of the Stockholm Environment Institute, and 27 other environmental scientists – are climate change and biodiversity loss.

Nitrogen affects more parts of the planet’s life-support systems than almost any other element, says James Galloway of the University of Virginia, who predicts: “In the worst-case scenario, we will move towards a nitrogen-saturated planet, with polluted and reduced biodiversity, increased human health risks and an even more perturbed greenhouse gas balance.”...
(5 Nov 2009)


Aid Groups, Farmers Collaborate to Re-Green Sahel

Ben Block, Worldchanging
Disastrous droughts crippled Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali in the early 1970s and more severely in the early 1980s. More than 100,000 people died.

"The soil dried up. Everything dried up. All the trees died,"; said Yacouba Savadogo, a sorghum and millet farmer from the village of Gourma in Burkina Faso, at an Oxfam-hosted event in Washington, D.C. "When the soil dries up, there's no more trees and no more rain."

Dry conditions and a locust outbreak hit West Africa again in 2005, and millions of people suffered from malnutrition. But an effort in Niger to boost tree vegetation-known as the "re-greening of the Sahel"-improved soil quality and
provided nourishment for livestock, helping to avert an even larger food crisis.

"In the Sahel, over the past 30 years, food crises have been more localized and less frequent," said Issa Martin Bikienga, deputy executive secretary of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel.

In Niger, many small farmers turned to timber harvesting during the major droughts as a way to raise money for their families. As a result, trees covered only 1.5 percent of the country in 1975. Since then, a combination of tree plantations and an agroforestry technique known as "farmer-managed natural regeneration" have allowed tree cover to increase to more than 4 percent as of 2005 - some 4.8 million hectares in total, according to recent satellite studies conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

...Typical reforestation programs transplant local or non-native tree species to barren patches of land, and one-quarter to one-half of the saplings often die in the process. "Farmer-managed natural regeneration" instead requires that farmers nurture tree roots and stems to encourage tree growth among row crops. The trees in turn provide nitrogen for the soil as well as a sustainable supply of wood fuel.

"Farmer-managed natural regeneration is a fairly simple technique, but it produces multiple benefits," said Chris Reij, a natural resources management specialist with the Center for International Cooperation. "Sometimes planting trees make sense, but in terms of costs and long-time success, in many cases it makes more sense to use natural regeneration."...
(9 Nov 2009)

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