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Small Farmers Creating a New Business Model as Agriculture Goes Local

Kirk Johnson, New York Times
… beyond the familiar mantras about nutrition or reduced fossil fuel use, the movement toward local food is creating a vibrant new economic laboratory for American agriculture. The result, with its growing army of small-scale local farmers, is as much about dollars as dinner: a reworking of old models about how food gets sold and farms get financed, and who gets dirt under their fingernails doing the work.

“The future is local,” said Narendra Varma, 43, a former manager at Microsoft who invested $2 million of his own money last year in a 58-acre project of small plots and new-farmer training near Portland, Ore. The first four farmers arrived this spring alongside Mr. Varma and his family, aiming to create an economy of scale — tiny players banded in collective organic clout. He had to interrupt a telephone interview to move some goats.

Economists and agriculture experts say the “slow money” movement that inspired Mr. Varma, a way of channeling money into small-scale and organic food operations, along with the aging of the farmer population and steep barriers for young farmers who cannot afford the land for traditional rural agriculture, are only part of the new mix.
(1 July 2012)
Suggested by EB contributor Toby Hemenway on FB. He writes: “A design project from one of my Seattle classes, creating an agricultural land trust and community, has become reality thanks to a talented group.”

Website for the project: Community by Design, LLC i – Small Farm Incubator.

The Conversation: David Holmgren, co-founder of permaculture movement
Fenella Kernebone, By Design, ABC (Australia)
David Holmgren was a research student and co-founder with Bill Mollison, his research supervisor, of the permaculture concept. It helps people reconnect with the food production process and farmers to make their practice more sustainable. It is also about retro-fitting the suburbs to be sustainable.
(6 June 2012)
Audio at original.

Factory-Fed Fish: Monsanto and Cargill’s Plan for the Ocean

Common Dreams
Industrial food model and soy-based aquaculture a disaster for fish, environment

Agribusiness behemoths including Monsanto and Cargill are set to cash in big from industrial fish farming or “aquaculture” as the soy industry spreads its reign to the seas, a new report from environmental and consumer watchdogs shows.

The new report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea” from Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, shows how the use of soy as feed in aquaculture — branded as “sustainable” — is an environmental disaster, harming fish both wild and farmed as it pollutes the oceans and brings unknown effects to consumers eating the soy-fed fish.

“Our seas are not Roundup ready,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, referring to the 93 to 94 percent of soybeans produced in the United States that are genetically modified by Monsanto to tolerate the application of its Roundup herbicide.

The growing of Monsanto’s soy has led to an increase in the use of herbicides, the report states, and its planting on large scales has led to massive deforestation, which exacerbates climate change and displaces indigenous communities.

“Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land—including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation,” stated Hauter.

Once grown, the soy feed continues its adverse effects. Not being the natural food for fish, the farmed fish excrete more waste, which pollutes the open waters. In addition, some of these soy-fed fish will escape and breed with wild fish, affecting natural populations. Excess feed will escape as well, causing unknown damage to wild populations.

Despite these risks, soy has been touted as a more ecologically-sound alternative to feed in aquaculture, notably by the American Soy Association.
(2 July 2012)

Mainstream India television show: Toxic Food – Poison On Our Plate?

Satyamev Jayate (India) via YouTube

For decades our food and water have been contaminated by powerful, harmful pesticides which have been promoted as necessary for better agricultural output. But the reality is that we don’t need pesticides for better yield, and their use is not only deadly for health but results in expensive farming methods. The solution is to adopt organic farming, which is possible and profitable, as the state of Sikkim has shown
(23 June 2012)
Note: the first few minutes of the video have advertising and fluff.

Suggested by EB contributor Piyush P. who writes:
“Recently a new Indian show called satyamevjayate which means “truth alone prevails” has started on mainstream TV done by a very famous Bollywood [Hindi movie industry] star, it is watched by a huge audience in India, their web-site is . One of the recent shows was on pesticides/organic farming [Vandana Shiva is interviewed on the show].

Other episodes with english subtitles can be searched on you-tube. “

BA: “Websites like Energy Bulletin and The Oil Drum are nice, but it takes a mainstream television format like this one to reach the masses. The producers seem to be committed to making it accessible to a wide audience. See Special screening of Satyamev Jayate in villages. More on the show at Wikipedia

The Global Diabetes Epidemic, Brought to You by Global Development

Neal Emery, The Atlantic
The link between economic growth and the worldwide diabetes epidemic, explained

As globalization exports our culture across the world, it also spreads our health problems. For much of the 20th century, a person’s likelihood to develop type-2 diabetes depended as much on the wealth of their nation as their biology. Those living in the developed world survived to old age and eventually succumbed to “diseases of affluence”: cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In contrast, undernourishment, violence, and communicable diseases ravaged the health of residents of developing countries.

And this is the way things remain in the developed world: even in poor parts of the United States, almost no one dies of tuberculosis. But in low- and middle-income countries, the distinction fades. The “diseases of affluence” have embedded themselves in communities anything but affluent. Now, cholera strikes next door to cancer; the malnourished and diabetic share a roof.

In this new landscape of health in the developing world, the impact of diabetes is momentous. Since 1980, the number of diabetics worldwide has ballooned from 152 million to between 285 and 347 million today. Of these, three-quarters live in the developing world, where diabetes afflicts more than six times as many people as HIV. Why, if infectious diseases persist and life expectancies remain low, has diabetes taken such a toll on the health of the impoverished?

One explanation relies on a trio of social forces: aging population, urbanization, and economic growth. According to this model, as people move to cities, they give up manual labor and adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. This, combined with longer lives and increases in income that allow people to buy more food, may drive the increasing rate of obesity around the world. While obesity and diabetes remain distinct problems — not all obese people develop diabetes and not all diabetics have weight problems — they so closely interrelate that researchers frequently lump them together.

Yet, models based on these social factors have significantly underestimated the spread of diabetes in the developing world over the past 20 years.
(2 July 2012)