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Black Cat Farm and Restaurant: A Comprehensive Organic Farm Tour Providing a Wealth of Information on Organic Farming Methods

Kalpa, big picture agriculture blog
On July 25, 2010 Chef Eric Skokan graciously gave a two-hour guided and information filled tour of his organic farm which supplies his eat-local restaurant “Black Cat Bistro” in Boulder, Colorado to the “Boulder Culinary Gardeners” group. Eric, a 41 year old native of California with a degree in history from the University of Virginia, seems to have found his niche in this world as a Chef who oversees his own restaurant’s food production on rented open space land from Boulder County.

His objective is to grow everything he can for the restaurant on his farm and sell produce at the farmer’s market and to his 30 CSA member families.

I sensed he was channeling a little bit of Thomas Jefferson and a little bit of Masanobu Fukuoka. Jefferson, for his desire to learn what works best through experimentation, and Fukuoka, for some of his attitude towards weeds…
(30 July 2010)

Are vertical farms the future of urban food?

Duncan Graham-Rowe, the guardian
The vaults rose up as high as the city walls, bearing reeds richly bedded in bitumen and gypsum. The layered galleries peered each beyond its neighbour to reach the sunlight, and water drawn from the river was pumped through conduits up to the highest level. The topsoil was thick enough to root even the largest trees…

These were the renowned Hanging Gardens of Babylon, as described by the Greek historians Diodorus and Callisthenes, and the earliest example of vertical farming – at least according to Dan Caiger-Smith. His company, Valcent, is taking the concept into the 21st century, recently launching the first farm of its kind at Paignton Zoo in Devon.

It’s a beguilingly simple idea: make maximum use of a small amount of space by filling glass houses with plant beds stacked high one above the other.

Financial and environmental pressures on modern agriculture have sparked new interest in vertical farming. With global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, competition for land to grow both food and energy crops will become increasingly fierce. Four-fifths of us will live in dense urban areas, and increasing awareness of the carbon and water footprints of well-travelled food will have pushed locally grown produce even further up the list of desirables.

So it’s easy to see the appeal of a system which, its proponents insist, can surpass the productivity of existing agricultural spaces by up to 20 times, while using less water, cutting mileage and energy costs, and delivering food security…
(29 July 2010)

Cooking Up Bigger Brains

Rachael Moeller Gorman, Scientific American
Scientists have suggested that cooked food is the reason behind humans’ big brains.

According to one controversial evolutionary theory, early humans developed a taste for cooked food around 2 million years ago, and this set in motion a series of changes that made us utterly different from any other animal.

Now, scientists have presented fresh evidence in support of the idea – and it all comes down to how you chew.

Christopher Organ of Harvard and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Charles Nunn and Richard Wrangham at Harvard University had predicted that if humans are uniquely adapted to eating cooked food, then we should spend far less time chewing than other primates, as cooked food tends to be softer than raw food.

To test this, they gathered data from various primate species and looked at the correlation between chewing time and body size, taking into account how the different species were related to each other…
(17 July 2010)
The original article was published in 2008, and has now been supported by new evidence here. The Scientific American article that sums up the latest research that was presented at the Evolution 2010 conference is behind a paywall here.-KS

World Bank warns on ‘farmland grab’

Jaview Blas, The Financial Times
Investors in farmland are targeting countries with weak laws, buying arable land on the cheap and failing to deliver on promises of jobs and investments, according to the draft of a report by the World Bank.

“Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance,” the draft said. Although deals promised jobs and infrastructure, “investors failed to follow through on their investments plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base”.

In addition, “the level of formal payments required was low”, making speculation a key motive for purchases. “Payments for land are often waived … and large investors often pay lower taxes than smallholders … or none at all.”

The report, The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? is the broadest study yet of the so-called “farmland grab”, in which countries invest in overseas land to boost their food security, or investors – who are mostly locals – buy arable land. The “farmland grab” trend gained notoriety after an attempt in 2008 by South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics to secure a large chunk of land in Madagascar for a very low price and vague promises of investment. The deal contributed to a coup d’état in the African country…
(27 July 2010)

Wheat Heads for Biggest Monthly Climb Since 1973 on Concern About Drought

Rudy Ruitenberg and Luzi Ann Javier, Bloomberg
Wheat rose in Chicago, heading for the biggest monthly gain since 1973, on concern that a crop- damaging drought in Russia and parts of Europe will curb exports, lifting demand for U.S. supplies.

September-delivery wheat climbed for a third day on the Chicago Board of Trade, adding 1.3 percent to $6.24 a bushel at 1:21 p.m. Paris time. Futures earlier rose to a 13-month high of $6.2425.

“Extreme heat and drought” will continue to affect wheat areas in Russia and Kazakhstan in coming days, Telvent DTN Inc. forecast yesterday. Russia’s wheat exports may fall by almost half this crop year as the drought causes a local shortage, the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies said today.

“If the market feels we’re losing large amounts of supply, the risk is heavily to the upside,” Alex Bos, an analyst at Macquarie Bank in London, said by phone today. “A lot of the rally has been driven by the fact that the market was so heavily short coming into this weather scare.”

…India has 10 million tons of wheat and rice that are at risk of rotting because of a lack of storage capacity, the Financial Times reported, citing estimates “circulating within government.”

The South Asian nation is the second-largest grower and consumer of wheat and rice, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. India will sell 300,000 tons of wheat and rice to Bangladesh and Nepal, Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said yesterday…
(29 July 2010)

World Bank: Biofuels Didn’t Cause Grain Price Booms

A new white paper from the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group concludes that biofuels were not the main reason for the spike in grain prices from 2006 to 2008.

Rather than blame one sector, the authors encourage stakeholders to evaluate the interconnected factors that contributed to the problem.

While demand for ethanol was a factor, the authors of the report say that rising energy prices, speculation in the futures market and poor weather conditions in certain regions played equally important roles. Between 2000 and 2008, the price of food commodities doubled, according to the report.

“We conjecture that index fund activity (one type of ‘speculative’ activity among the many that the literature refers to) played a key role during the 2008 price spike. Biofuels played some role too, but much less than initially thought,” write the authors…

…The report is here.
(2 Aug 2010)