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The Accidental Orchardists

Rosemerry Whatola Trommer, Restoration Farm
I used to be one of them: the people who walk the produce section lamenting the high cost of organic cherries or Bartlett pears. Usually, I’d buy them anyway, for ethical and health reasons. And I’d be sure to pick the biggest, least pockmarked fruit.

Now I’m on the other side: the people who grow organic fruit.

Being fruit growers was never our dream. We didn’t set out to save the world, one organic pear at a time. But in the past three years, Eric and I have learned a lot: About what sustainability really means – nurturing both the land and the people who work it – and just how elusive that is. About the cycles of fruit trees and the fickle, picky nature of American consumers. And about letting go, how to simply be with the things beyond our control.
(15 December 2010)

Fertilizer prices putting manure in the limelight

Gene Logsdon, Grist
I never thought I’d see the day when shit — the bodily kind — would make headlines the way it is right now.

When my book about managing manure, Holy Shit, came out recently, erstwhile friends grinned and remarked, “You’ve been shooting the bull all your life so, sure, why not write a book about it?”

But this time what I’m writing is definitely not B.S. The current fertilizer crisis is real. Chemical fertilizer prices rise and fall with every change of pulse in supply and demand, but they are definitely on a long-term rise — not only because production and transportation costs are increasing, but because of anticipated shorter supplies in the future. People talk about Peak Oil, but we’re also at Peak Fertilizer. Without plenty of some kind of fertilizer, there will not be enough food to go around. The headline hype is not just overreaction from the press: recently farming news sources such as DTN were reporting all over their networks about how international traders in phosphorous and potash are elbowing for bigger chunks of the remaining fertilizer pie.
(16 December 2010)
Long-time Energy Bulletin contributor Gene Logsdon is published in Grist. About time! He’s a national treasure, having written dozens of books on the sustainabile agriculture over the years. He wrote about manure for us a few months ago: Selling a book that has no name. -BA

The crucial role cities can play in protecting the honeybee

Rosie Boycott, Guardian
Planting bee-friendly flowers in small spaces can help bees make their vital contribution to the UK’s ecological health

Among the images that Sunday supplements start publishing to sum up 2010, I suspect there will be one missing. One that, for me, sums up a year of continued and frightening environmental degradation and the looming prospect of severe food shortages in years to come. It is the image of workers in the Maoxian county of Sichuan, China, an area that has lost its pollinators through the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the over-harvesting of its honey. These workers aren’t picking fruit, or digging, or planting. They’re pollinating pear and apple trees by hand. In this part of China, the honeybee has been replaced by the human bee.

I learned about this startling practice this year, but in fact its been going on for the past two decades. Every spring, thousands of villagers climb through fruit trees hand-pollinating blossoms by dipping “pollination sticks” (brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters) into plastic bottles of pollen and then touching them against each of the tree’s billions of blossoms.

One-third of all our food staples only grow after pollination. In the United States alone, the cost of replacing this “free service” which nature has provided for hundreds of thousands of years, is put at anything between £14bn and £92bn. And that’s in one country alone. If we don’t wake up to the global crisis facing our pollinators, the banking crisis is going to look relatively trivial as the world runs out of food.
(16 December 2010)

Australia: Renewing our focus on food

Julian Cribb, Science Alert (Australia)
The challenge for Australia in coming decades is to assure its own food security in an increasingly food-insecure world. This will require renewed focus on science, technology, economics, food policy, consumer education and the national diet writes Julian Cribb.i

The same week as World Food Day 2010, drought in Russia and downpours in North America thrust world corn prices to their sharpest one-day rise since 1973.ii For the second time in three years the impact of regional food setbacks was transmitted to consumers globally in a matter of days. “We are beginning to realise that the era of food surpluses has come to an end,” commented the UK Financial Times.

The context in which Australia must shape its future agriculture and food policies is one of a world in which global food demand will double by the mid-century. At the same time the resources needed to satisfy it – water, arable land, fossil energy, mined nutrients, fish, technology and stable climates – will become much scarcer or increasingly unaffordable for farmers. Strategic thinktanks in the US, UK, Scandinavia and Australia are already warning about the consequences of this for conflict and refugee crises, for economic shockwaves and food price hikes, even in affluent and otherwise food-secure countries.iii

At present these shocks are fairly small and well-spaced. By 2060, with ten billion people aspiring to a western diet, they will be tectonic and one will spill into another. Countries that imagine themselves secure now will discover that, in a globalised world, they are not.

Julian Cribb is author of “The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it”, CSIRO Publishing, 2010
(15 December 2010)

Wild Permaculture Forest Gardening on the BBC (Video)

Sami Grover, TreeHugger
The BBC seems to have gotten on a permaculture kick lately. Not long ago the broadcaster aired a beautiful and big thinking documentary about peak oil, agriculture, and one farmers’ attempts to redesign her farm along permaculture principles. Now I’ve just come across a great video in which the BBC’s very own gardening guru Alan Titchmarsh explores a stunning forest garden created by two of the pioneers of permaculture in Britain.

Just like the awesome video tour of Mike Feingold’s permaculture allotment, I am sure that this style of gardening won’t win over the advocates of neat lawns and perfectly manicured hedges. But it’s hard to deny that Maddy and Tim Harland, the creators of Permaculture Magazine, have created a truly beautiful and productive garden space—and by the looks of things it is one that doesn’t place too many time demands on its stewards either.

(13 December 2010)