Food & agriculture - Oct 22
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Nina Keck, NPR
If the thought of eating horse meat makes you queasy, what about strong, sturdy oxen?
A small Vermont college that emphasizes sustainable living will soon slaughter two beloved campus residents: Bill and Lou, a pair of oxen. Green Mountain College plans to serve the meat from the oxen in its dining hall, but the plan has drawn international outcry and a massive Facebook petition to save the oxen.
For the last 10 years, Bill and Lou were a daily sight working the campus's Cerridwen Farm. But earlier this year, Lou stepped in a gopher hole and injured his leg. Ben Dube, a member of the farm staff and a graduate of the college, says Lou's injury hasn't gotten better. And since oxen work as a team, the 11-year-old pair was retired...
Philip Ackerman-Leist, head of Green Mountain College's Farm and Food project, says the issue is a lot more complicated. "We have been very clear from the beginning that this is not a petting zoo," he says. "It was going to be a sustainable farm operation."
Ackerman-Leist notes that 70 percent of students eat meat. But 12 years ago, when the college began developing its sustainable farm program, vegetarian students specifically asked that livestock be included to confront the realities of eating meat. He says this debate goes way beyond Bill and Lou, and faculty and students have spent a lot of time discussing it.
"It's something I think about a lot," says Ackerman-Leist. "I actually have 50 head of cattle at home, most of them have names and I interact with them on a daily basis. It's never an easy decision for a farmer to say it's time for an animal to go to slaughter."
(21 October 2012
Philip Ackerman-Leist is the author of a forthcoming Community Resilience Guide on local food systems, part of a series published by Post Carbon Institute and Chelsea Green. -KS
Mark Bittman, New York Times
It’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.
This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture. The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.
The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.
In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticidesare used each year in the United States...
...The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.
Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors — who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities — are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”...
(19 October 2012
Tim Jones and Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg
Pickup trucks lined a stretch of gravel road where 150 farmers mingled between 7-foot tall cornstalks and shimmering soybeans to see which of their wealthy brethren would bid on a swath of Iowa’s richest cropland. This was a farm -- table-flat and 314 acres -- so coveted that it drew three times the usual land-sale crowd.
“They ain’t making any more of this, boys,” auctioneer Rich Vander Werff barked into a microphone, his voice slicing through the rising July heat. “This is about as good as it gets.”
Thirty minutes later the bidding stopped at $14,300 an acre, more than four times the average for U.S. cropland. That meant about $4.5 million for the Schoenemans, a pioneering Iowa family that owned the property for generations.
Farmland auctions in Iowa now resemble a dressed-down spectator sport with Sotheby’s prices, a reflection of the yawning divide that has opened in some of the most bountiful stretches of rural America. Farm earnings in the state and throughout the U.S. increased at eight times the rate of nonfarm wages from 2008 to 2011, fueling resentment and straining the social fabric of places with deep egalitarian roots.
“Iowa had had historically low levels of inequality, but now it is skyrocketing,” said David Peters, a sociologist at Iowa State University in Ames who specializes in income disparity. “Today you have far fewer farmers and a small number earning larger and larger incomes. It doesn’t spread through the economy like it used to.”
(October 19, 2012)