Brenda Palms Barber, The Promised Land
(audio interview)
Majora Cater, prx
Brenda Palms Barber wasn’t always drawn to beekeeping. But her quest to find work for residents of Chicago’s economically disadvantaged North Lawndale neighborhood — where some 50 percent of adults have been in the criminal justice system — led her to start Sweet Beginnings, a transitional jobs program for formerly incarcerated individuals and others with significant barriers to employment.

Host Majora Carter tours Sweet Beginnings’ honey factory, inspects the beehives, and chats with ex-offenders who are now the core workforce of this nonprofit enterprise. Sweet Beginnings’ Beeline products — raw honey and honey-based body care products — are now sold throughout the Midwest.

And the recidivism rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is below 4 percent, compared to the Illinois average of 55 percent and a national average of 65 percent. For Brenda and her team, transforming street skills into mainstream competitive skills is a sweet success indeed.
(November 2010)
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Fowl energy: Chicken poo lights Gloucestershire town

Arwa Aburawa, The Guardian
Cherie Blair may have been moved to buy a “beware of the hen poo” sign on eBay, but one town in Gloucestershire is embracing chicken manure as a fuel for lighting its homes.

Thousands of chickens will next month be contributing their droppings to a biogas power station that will provide enough electricity to light 350 homes.

The plant in Cirencester will convert agricultural and animal waste from local farms into heat and electricity. And the project will also help local farmers reduce their operating costs and carbon footprints.

Peter Kindt, managing director of Alfagy, the company supplying the plant’s technology, said: “What makes this project exciting is that farmers deliver energy to the urban environment. We believe this is a model for the future of local power generation”.

The combined heat and power plant, which will begin operating in November, captures the methane-rich gas released by decomposing organic matter such as chicken manure. This is then burned in a generator to produce renewable electricity and heat. Farmers are paid for the waste and will receive free heat for drying grain and animal housing…
(28 October 2010)

Bio-Agriculture – a Solution to Climate Change

Craig Mackintosh, Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
If I were to compare industrial, monocrop agriculture with permaculture or organic biological agricultural methodologies, and then boil my observations down to their base differences, I would describe them thus:

Industrial agriculture focusses on feeding the plant
Permaculture and organic biological agriculture focus on feeding the soil

For the industrialists, if they have a big green flush of foliage, in their mind they’ve succeeded. Whether the plant is healthy, or tasty, or whether the soil is being depleted, eroded, polluted and salinated in the process of growing it, is of secondary importance. The industrial system is about standardisation, transportability, externalised costs and instant gratification — or instant profits. Such plants normally have nutrient imbalances, and trace mineral dificiencies, that make them prone to pest and disease attack and make them less healthy for animals and humans. In addition, industrial agriculture turns our vast agricultural lands into carbon sources. Nitrogen fertiliser inputs systematically ‘burn up’ carbon rich humus, sending it into the atmosphere to act as a greenhouse gas rather than the foundation of soil fertility it was meant to be. Indeed, this form of farming should not be called agriculture at all, as ‘culture’ means to refine or foster, to bring about an improved state. Industrial agriculture does quite the opposite.

But, for the land steward who wishes to farm not just for today, but dependably for many generations to come, and who wants to bestow land fertility and physical health upon his/her children, farming becomes less about extraction than it is about wise management. The focus of the conscientious land steward must necessarily become the soil, from which the plant is just the fruit. Healthy soils with a diversity of organic matter and soil life produce plants with more dry matter (or “more strawberry in the strawberry”) instead of water — giving them a longer shelf life and providing us with higher quality nutrition.

But, as I’ve shared before (here and here for example), the benefits of sustainable agricultural practices go well beyond our plates and our farms. Soil-focussed agricultural systems employ, instead of destroy, the vast armies of microorganisms that work unseen and underappreciated beneath our feet. Fungi and bacteria are far better at feeding our plants than any agribusiness factory (and they do it for free) but what they do is also a critical factor in maintaining balance within the entire biosphere. These are Gaia’s helpers. Their work benefits not just cabbages and cauliflowers — but also the climate. Microorganisms break down organic matter until it becomes humus — the final stage of decomposition and an extremely carbon rich material. Humus is highly stable, being able to retain its carbon content for centuries…
(30 October 2010)