£669 ($1068 Canadian) worth of food grown on this patio, balcony and windowsill

Michael Levenston, cityfarmer

Gardener Mark Ridsdill Smith

Vertical Veg is a not-for-profit enterprise that aims to inspire people to grow high yields of food in small spaces.

Can you grow £500 worth of food without a garden or an allotment? That’s the target Mark set himself on 1 May this year – all from his 9 x 6 foot north-west facing balcony and six window sills in Tufnell Park, North London. By 8 October he’d already beaten his target by £169, growing food worth £669.

“Few people realise just how much you can grow in a tiny space” says Mark. “This year my balcony and window sills have produced the equivalent of 100 bags of salad, 120 packets of herbs and 92 punnets of tomatoes – as well as runner beans, courgettes, mange tout, carrots, potatoes, blueberries and strawberries. The harvest weighs 66 kilos or 145 pounds in total – and there is still more to come.”

He adds: “A big advantage of balcony growing is that you can keep a constant eye on your crops and harvest your food five minutes before you eat. It doesn’t get fresher than that!”

Even if you have only a few windowsills, you can still grow several hundred pounds of food a year. Mark estimates that over £200 of food came off his four south facing window sills.

What next? “I’ve upped my target to £782 for the year – roughly the amount grown on a London sized allotment. With winter coming, harvests will now slow considerably – but I hope to get close!” (The National Society of Leisure and Allotment gardeners estimate that a 300 square yard allotment produces £1564 a year. London allotments are roughly half this size.)

The most productive and valuable crops were:

£205 / 23kg – tomatoes – equivalent to 92 punnets of supermarket tomatoes

£186 / 10 kg – salad – equivalent to 100 bags of supermarket salad

£96 / 2.4kg – herbs (mixed) – equivalent to 120 supermarket packs of herbs

£42 / 6.4kg – runner beans -equivalent to 42 supermarket packs

£26 / 2.8kg – courgettes

See more details and photos here.

(1X October 2010)

Sorry, New York Times: The Bee Die-Off Case is Not Closed

Tom Laskawy, Civil Eats
The New York Times made a long-awaited (and much emailed) announcement on its front page last week: The mystery of the ongoing and agriculturally devastating bee die-off (aka Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD) has been cracked!

I’m not trying to hype the news. Here’s the headline and lede:

Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery

It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees?

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

Now, a unique partnership–of military scientists and entomologists–appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

…The enigma wrapped in a mystery coated with pesticide

Let’s be clear: The study itself makes no conclusive claims about the causes of colony collapse disorder. Eban quotes from the paper that the research does not “clearly define” that the virus/fungus combination is “a marker, a cause, or a consequence of CCD.” A scientist interviewed by Eban very helpfully offers the metaphor of HIV to describe what’s going on with bees. HIV doesn’t kill you–it’s the opportunistic infections and diseases that follow HIV’s dismantling of a sufferer’s immune system that do. In the case of bees, the virus/fungus combo are most likely the follow-on infections that kill off an already weakened hive.

The Times blunder goes beyond whether Johnson or his editor misinterpreted the results of new research. Unfortunately, as Eban details–in part drawing on an unpublished piece she wrote for the now-defunct Portfolio magazine–the Times left out key pieces of the real story of the fight over research into what’s killing the bees.

As I wrote last January, many scientists believe that a novel class of pesticides called neonicotinoids–which are insect neurotoxins-has played a major role in CCD worldwide. An Italian entomologist at the University of Padua, Vincenzo Girolami, has research currently undergoing peer review showing that bees can be exposed to lethal levels of these pesticides through the use of seeding machines that sow neonicotinoid-coated seeds. These devices throw up a toxic cloud of pesticide as they work: bees fly through the cloud and either die or take the pesticide back to the hive. Once inside, even at low doses, it can cause disorientation or, as Girolami calls it, “intoxication” of whole hives.

The maker of this pesticide is Bayer CropScience. What does a corporation do when it discovers it may have developed and marketed a dangerous and potentially devastating product? Here in America, you confuse, you obfuscate, and you buy off scientists….
(15 October 2010)

Striking a blow for a softer, greener world

Marion Davis, The Boston Globe
Courtney Koslow pried the tip of a crowbar under the slab of asphalt, then lifted it just enough for her partner to slide a wooden block under it. Then she grabbed the sledgehammer.

Thunk! The first blow resonated. Thunk! Then, on the third hit, she smashed through. The rectangle broke into pieces. Around her, fellow volunteers cheered.

It was a small victory, but combined with dozens like it, that ceremonial smash helped reclaim about 400 square feet of green space in a backyard in Somerville, a city that is 77 percent paved over. A few blocks away, behind another Winter Hill house, volunteers cleared about 200 square feet of asphalt.

They called it De-paving the Way, and for the 40-plus people who took part, it was at once a global gesture and a practical attempt to address local problems.

Organized by Somerville Climate Action, Monday’s event was one of thousands of “work parties’’ coordi nated by activist Bill McKibben’s 350.org to raise awareness of envi ronmental issues. It was also the first of what some hope will be many “de-pavings’’ in private and public spaces.

“It’s really struck a chord,’’ said Vanessa Rule, who led the project. “I think there’s something really empowering about literally taking things into your own hands and restoring your community.’’

The two backyards were “a test case,’’ she said, and the response was so strong that Somerville Climate Action and partners are looking for new sites.

“The enthusiasm is palpable,’’ Rule said. “We’ve gotten so much great feedback. . . . It’s a great way to raise visibility in a way that addresses so many angles — health, flooding, food, creating peaceful places, cooling the city.’’

…“People can’t do it all themselves, because it’s not as easy as it sounds,’’ Heuston said.

Indeed, this week’s event wasn’t without its challenges. Each homeowner spent about $500, mostly for Dumpsters, and they will have to pay to have soil brought in.

Yet Steven Nutter, whose Maple Avenue yard was the larger work site, said he can’t wait to grow melons, okra, asparagus, corn, and heirloom tomatoes — and maybe put in a plum tree as well. He has been planting gardens since he was a child in West Virginia, and he would like to inspire others to do the same…
(16 October 2010)

NtP in Italy


Nourishing the Planet co-Project Directors Danielle Nierenberg and Brian Halweil are heading this week to participate in the fourth annual meeting of the worldwide Terra Madre network in Turin, Italy. This five-day meeting, that coincides with the international Slow Food fair, Salone del Gusto, brings together over 5,000 global representatives of food communities, cooks, academics, youth and musicians united in the ambition of promoting sustainable local food production in harmony with the environment while respecting traditional knowledge and food cultures.

On Sunday, October 24th Danielle and Brian will be giving an Earth Workshop discussing environmentally sustainable ways to relieve world hunger and rural poverty and the research discovered while traveling across sub-Saharan Africa for the Nourishing the Planet project. The event will also feature several guests from Slow Food International-supported projects that Nourishing the Planet has met with including, Edward Mukiibi from Uganda, co-founder of Developing Innovations in School Cultivation Project (DISC), Mangeons Local Founder Seck Madieng from Senegal, and Richard Haigh, founder of Enaleni Farm in South Africa.

To learn more about the additional and diverse Earth Workshops that will be presented at the event from native wools, honey and bees, to food safety and setting fair prices click here.

For those wishing to participate in the workshops who cannot attend the event, an online forum is available to everybody as a way to broaden the exchange of ideas. Are you attending the event and want to meet with Nourishing the Planet? Email [email protected]

(20 October 2010)

Wal-Mart To Boost Buying From Small And Local Farms

Brad Dorfman, Planet Ark
Wal-Mart Stores Inc is planning to double the sales of fresh produce from local farms in its U.S. stores by the end of 2015, part of a strategy to revamp its global produce supply chain.

The world’s largest retailer said it would also sell more than $1 billion each year in food from 1 million small and medium-sized farms in emerging markets by the end of 2015. That would help increase income for those farmers 10 percent to 15 percent in the same time frame, Wal-Mart said.

In the United States, Wal-Mart said its plans for supporting local agriculture would lift local produce to 9 percent of total produce sales in the country. Wal-Mart does not give a dollar figure for total produce sales.

Wal-Mart also said it will require that palm oil from sustainable sources be used in all of its private-label products by the end of 2015. The company sells hundreds of products that use palm oil. Environmentalists argue some producers add to global warming by felling forests.

Using locally sourced agriculture and supporting small farms is one way to preserve local jobs and prevent dwindling farmland from being lost, according to environmentalists and other groups. It can also help reduce the use of resources such as fuel to transport food over long distances.

Wal-Mart joins a growing list of corporate and charitable organizations lending support to sustainable agriculture programs and small and local farmers.

Backers of such programs include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a host of corporations, including DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland….
(15 October 2010)

Tom Philpott from Grist plans to dig deeper into this story. -KS