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Food & agriculture - May 30

Click on the headline (link) for the full text. Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


New Microloans Could Give Young Farmers the Capital They Need

Sarah Laskow, Good
Farmers are not a good investment risk. Their business requires substantial influxes of capital to erect barns, buy tractors, and plant seeds, with little guarantee of return. When a river floods or a heat wave hits, it can throw the best business plan off course. One of the best ways for farmers to borrow money is to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which can provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in financing. (Unfortunately, there’s a huge amount of paperwork involved in these loan programs.)

But young and beginning farmers don’t need all that. Starting out, a farmer might need a few thousand to buy a truck, some tools, or a round of seed. Young farmers who want to start small, often organic farms have had trouble getting access to that kind of money. When the National Young Farmers' Coalition asked beginning farmers last year to list the challenges they faced, lack of capital came out on top.

The problem is not that these young farmers are asking for too much money—they are asking for too little. A beginning farmer might need $10,000 to start a community-supported agriculture program, for instance, in which a few dozen shareholders receive a portion of a small farm’s harvest each week. “In many instances, the local FSA [Farm Service Agency] offices would turn them down,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, director of the NYFC, “because there was such a huge burden of putting together the paperwork for that amount of money.”

But soon that could change. Yesterday, the USDA announced that it's working towards the creation of a new microloan program that would hand out loans for less than $35,000....
(24 May 2012)



From rooftops and abandoned lots, an urban harvest
(audio)
Ira Flatow, Talk to the The Nation
From rooftop apiaries in Paris to a vegetable-and-chicken farm in Philadelphia, agriculture has come to the city. Urban farmer Mary Seton Corboy and food writer Jennifer Cockrall-King talk about the future of food in the city. Plus, Tama Matsuoka Wong gives tasty tips for eating garden weeds.

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. If you live in a big city, there's no shortage of places to buy groceries. You've got your supermarkets, your delis, your farmers markets, your sidewalk fruit stands. It seems like a limitless supply of food, right? But if you stop the delivery trucks, experts say a city's food would run out in just three days.

So to be on the safe side, why not grow more food in the city instead of trucking it in from someplace else, some other country, some other hemisphere? That's what's on my next guest's suggestion list in her new book "Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution."

And urban agriculture is not just about fruits and veggies. People are raising chickens and pigs in cities, too. They're farming fish. They're even making honey on rooftops. And if urban farming is not for you, how about eating the greens already growing wild, the weeds in your yard? That's right, try frying up some dandelion heads for a delicious snack, adding the leaves themselves to a salad...
(18 May 2012)



El Salvador women put their faith in agroecology

Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Ávalos, The Guardian
María Elena Muñoz industriously weeds a clearing in the forest and then digs several holes, where she and another four dozen women are planting plantain seedlings to help feed their families in this poor farming area in El Salvador.

The group is involved in an agroecology programme that has two main aims: achieving food sovereignty, which is at risk in the rural communities of San Julián; and fomenting the development of energy forests, which provide local families with sustainable energy and help mitigate the impact of climate change.

"The forest belongs to everyone, it gives us fruit and firewood for cooking," said Muñoz, 42. She is president of the Association of Communities for Development in the district of Los Lagartos in the municipality of San Julián, which is home to 19,000 people in the western province of Sonsonate.

These communities, and especially local farms, are hit hard by climate swings year after year, said Mercy Palacios of the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (Unes), a local environmental NGO. "During the drought, the crops are scorched, and during the rainy season, they are drowned," she said the day IPS accompanied the local women in their activities in the community forest.

Subsistence agriculture is the mainstay of the communities, where peasant farmers grow corn and beans on infertile hillsides, and the harvests are steadily declining due to climate phenomena...
(16 May 2012)



UK families waste £270 a year on discarded food

Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian
UK families are wasting £270 a year (£5.20 a week) on discarded food and drink, according to a survey of their kitchen habits.

Most families massively underestimate the amount of food they throw away each week, according to new research.

Despite the economic downturn they admit to buying more than they need, often tempted by supermarkets' "Buy One Get One Free" and similar offers.

The survey of 2,116 adults, carried out by frozen food giant Birds Eye, found that the average household spends £68 a week on food but that 91% of households with children admit to throwing some of that away.

Vegetables topped the list of the most commonly wasted food group, followed by bread and fruit, and 40% of those polled admitted they felt guilty for wasting food.

The main reason cited for wasting food was buying too much (37%), with 22% doing so because of supermarket offers and mutibuy deals.

Lack of meal planning prior to shopping was another issue, with one in three people admitting to not planning...

...The findings come as a new report, "Waste not, want not" by the Fabian Society, which looks at consumer attitudes to food waste, is launched in parliament on Wednesday. It says that in order to address the problem of food waste, "it is essential we find fresh ways of communicating about it" and concludes that "while individuals observe wasteful behaviour in others, they rarely reflect on their own lifestyles as contributing to the problem".
(25 May 2012)
The link to the report is here. -KS

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