How Farmers are Creating Resilient Local Food Systems

The food system depends on a healthy environment, but poor agricultural practices are responsible for environmental degradation. Beekeepers continue to lose 30 percent of honeybee colonies during an average winter—likely due to pesticides and other agrochemicals. Soil degradation is occurring at staggering rates, with soils being depleted 10 to 40 times faster than they are being replenished. And up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.

The increase in food prices in 2008, Russian wildfires brought on by excessive heat and drought in 2010, and, most recently, the worst drought in more than 100 years in California—all are warning signs that farmers and farmers’ groups, global food producers, industry leaders, researchers, and scientists must address the planet’s food security in the face of weather volatility and climate change.

This week, Food Tank and The Lexicon of Sustainability are spotlighting farming and resilience through The Food List, a cross-media messaging campaign that provides the vital tools needed for fixing the food system.

Farmers depend on just a handful of crop varieties: according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), approximately half of farmland—more than 60 million hectares, or 150 million acres—in the U.S. is planted with corn or soy. This lack of diversity limits farmers’ ability to adapt to varying weather patterns and climate change.

“The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word,” wrote food author and activist Michael Pollan.

A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. “With 80 million more mouths to feed each year and with increasing demand for grain-intensive livestock products, the rise in temperature only adds to the stress. If we continue with business as usual on the climate front, it is only a matter of time before what we [saw] in Russia becomes commonplace,” said Lester Brown, U.S. environmental analyst, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute.

Family farmers and food revolutionaries are working to create this paradigm shift by restoring ecological resilience in their local communities. Many farmers are diversifying their cropping systems and working together on projects to preserve biodiversity in fields and on plates.

According to Dr. Bianca Moebius-Clune, Soil Health Division director for the U.S. National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers are improving soil’s “ability to take in and hold ‘water in the bank.’ They’re even creating wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while decreasing risks from extreme weather and harvesting better profits and often better yields.”

Here’s how family farmers, food heroes, and organizations around the world are working to create resilient local food systems that are immune to the shocks of climate change and ecological disturbance.

Adapt-N is an interactive tool developed by researchers at Cornell University, designed to help corn growers reduce nitrogen applications based on site-specific recommendations. The website is part of a suite of decision-support tools from Cornell to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change in the U.S.

DivSeek, an international partnership launched in January 2015, use big data to catalog the physical and genetic information held within international gene banks, and to make it available online. The initiative, involving 69 organizations from 30 countries, enhances the productivity and resilience of global crops by giving breeders and researchers access to information through an online portal.

In the Philippines, Dr. Wilson Cerbito, Assistant Regional Director of the Department of Agriculture, addressed the First Agriculture Summit on May 7, 2015, noting the Philippines is the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. The event outlined strategies for improving productivity of rice and root crops through technologies and practices that promote ecological resilience.

Full Belly Farm received the California Leopold Conservation Award for its land stewardship and conservation efforts. Judith Redmond, a manager of the farm, demonstrated resilience in the face of extreme drought by changing her crop choices, implementing drip irrigation, and reducing her reliance on groundwater. The creek that usually irrigates her crops ran completely dry last year, but Redmond was still able to water her land using micro-irrigation.

La Red de Guardianes de Semillas (The Network of Seed Guardians) is preserving rare plant varieties and culturally important seeds in Tumbaco, Ecuador. The community model for seed-saving fosters the exchange of cultural knowledge between small farmers, trains growers on permaculture techniques, and works to preserve biodiversity throughout Ecuador. The coupling of cultural heritage and biological heredity in something so small as a seed gets at the heart of the resilience concept: the more biologically and culturally varied a system, the more buffered it is against disturbance.

The Lexicon of Sustainability is spreading the word about agricultural resilience through information artworks and inventive media campaigns. Douglas Gayeton, multimedia artist and the organization’s founder, emphasizes that “there are farmers who believe in biodiversity instead of monoculture. Farmers who build soil fertility without depending on chemicals. Farmers who go beyond organic.” By defining terms such as true cost accounting, The Lexicon of Sustainability seeks to describe a vision for resilience through engaging stories.

Who do you know about that is creating a resilient local food system? We want to know! Share them with me at Danielle@foodtank.com.

4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land’s Too Pricey

So you can’t afford your farm dream quite yet. Don’t despair—there’s a lot of growing to do right where you are.

Original post by Nick Strauss at Urban Farm online.

4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

Do you sit at your office cubicle and dream of driving a tractor across acres of your own farmland? Even just a small tractor and an acre or two—enough to live self-sufficiently or work the farmers market scene? Do you then return home to an urban lot, squashed in between other urban lots, and despair that you’ll never escape, never save enough, never find the right plot of land? Do you count your savings and check real-estate listings, hoping that magical plot of land (affordable, ideally sited, just the right size) will come along sooner than later, allowing you to start living the grow-your-own dream instead of just imagining it? Don’t worry. Just because you can’t live your off-the-grid-self-sufficient-farmer fantasy life right now doesn’t mean you need to abandon the whole vision or put it on hold until you can take the plunge. Get started now, with what you’ve got, where you are. Consider it practice. Consider it testing the waters. Consider it making do with what you have. However you think of it, there’s no reason to hold off from starting your own farm/garden right now!

1. Get Creative With Your Space
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

A productive garden doesn’t need to be a set of raised beds built of dimension lumber and set up in orthogonal rows. When looking at your space, consider all of the options and all of the spaces. An organically shaped hugelkultur bed may very well accommodate an odd or sloping piece of ground you’d thought unusable. And front yard gardens aren’t just for Portland anymore. While we all hear horror stories about fights with small-minded officialdom or recalcitrant neighbors, the reality is that far more folks happily grow edibles than end up in legal disputes. Talk to your neighbors, test the waters, and see how things will fly. It never hurts to open the “would you mind if I plant some edibles up front” conversation by bringing over a home-grown salad, a few eggs or other sample of what bounty your garden already produces. There’s also the option of “stealth edibles”—something like a blueberry bush or a fruit tree that’s visually appealing and easy to work into decorative landscaping without anyone being the wiser. There’s a great place for containers, as well. Many crops thrive in container gardens: Think potato towers, tomatoes and herbs. You can reclaim concrete patio space, the edge of a driveway and even an apartment balcony this way. We’ve put containers of peppers and tomatoes on our roof to take advantage of the sunlight—though I’d be careful with this. Make sure your roof can handle the weight and that you have easy and above all safe access.

2. Practice Season Extension

4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

If you can’t add space to your garden, why not add time? You don’t need to be a Harry Potter character to find more time in the gardening year. You just need to aggressively use season-extension techniques. Use cloches, cold frames or a compact greenhouse to start the growing season earlier and extend it later. If you set up an indoor seed-starting station with good artificial light and perhaps a heater mat, you’ll not only be able to start seeds earlier in the year but also be able to get seeds going while you wait for an outside crop to finish maturing and free up some space. (This is particularly helpful with fall crops.)

We like to call this whole package of ideas “Four-Dimensional Gardening,” planning our garden to take full advantage of the sowing, transplanting and harvesting cycles of all the different plants we want to grow. With overwintering crops, quick-maturing fall greens, inter-cropping and other techniques, you’ll be able to get two full crops out of most of your garden space every year.

3. Stick to High-Value Crops
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

Ah, seed catalogs. They arrive every spring full of beautiful descriptions for hundreds of varieties, all seductively described and oh-so-tempting! The urge is to grow all of them, to sample a little of everything, the novel and the exotic. But the words the small-scale production gardener needs to look for are “productive,” “reliable” and “high yielding,” not “unique,” “new” and “exotic.” If your goal is to produce as much of your food of your own plot of land as possible, then focus on reliable, high-yielding crops and varieties. Identify characteristics that are key for your climate, and select those. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we choose many of our summer crops based on days-to-maturity—the quicker the better! Also, grow what you eat and what you’ve learned you grow well … and avoid the opposite. We’ve always had back luck with carrots for some reason, so we’ve stopped setting aside space for a crop that’s frustrating and disappointing. Trust me, even the most mundane, reliable, highly productive variety grown in your own yard and eaten fresh out of the soil is going to be light years better than anything you will find at the supermarket.

4. Be Part of a Team
4 Tips to Farm In the City When Land's Too Pricey (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

I’m lucky—I live on a block where one neighbor keeps bees and another grows brilliant carrots. We have ducks and chickens a plenty. A local brewery has more leftover grain than it can deal with, so we feed it to our flocks. This makes for a natural incorporation of swap economy into our life and is something you should consider, too. We give eggs and get carrots and grain. If you’re in town, keep an eye out for patches of vegetables, chicken coops and other signs of backyard productivity. Make friends and connections and swap what you do well for what other folks are offering. Don’t confuse the goal of growing more of your own with the need to live entirely off your own land and effort. Whether casual or organized, swapping with your friends, neighbors and fellow productive gardeners will bring variety and bounty to your life.

About the Author: Nick Strauss is an all-grain homebrewer with more than 13 years of experience. He and his wife own a small homestead in the Pacific Northwest and blog about home brewing, homesteading, cooking and more at Northwest Edible Life.

Can Urban Gardens in ugandan schools connect youth to the land?

More than 5years ago, i went to visit an urban garden in the most unlikely of places, the middle of Kibera! Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, and probably the largest urban dwelling in any African city! Kibera started out as a settlement in the forests at the outskirts of Nairobi, when Nubian soldiers were relocated here by allocation of plots in return for their efforts from the war.

The population of Kibera has since grown, and plans to demolish the place have been unsuccessful. Kibera is heavily polluted by human refuse, garbage, soot, dust and other waste. It is contaminated with human and animal faeces, due to open sewage systems and the humorously called ”flying toilets” (i will leave your imagination to run wild here). The lack of sanitation, combined with poor nutrition among residents, accounts for many illnesses and diseases.

Not to be deterred by this, Victor Matioli and his friends found a way to convert an unlikely space in Kibera into a urban garden that supplied organic vegetables to the people of Kibera.

“This area had a very bad reputation. The youth here were very bad before they reformed. People looked down on us and said bad things about us.They said, those young people are wasting their time, they have come up with an idea that will not help them. They are lazy and are in the habit of reaping unfairly, they will not manage. This brought our morale down, but we pushed on, encouraged each other and managed quite well.” Victor

The boys cleared the plot of all rubbish, and with some help from friends acquired a water tank and the farm was well on its way. They grew  ‘sukuma (a type of spinach), tomatoes, cucumber, and pumpkins which were sold directly to the local community, and being completely organic was /is an added bonus especially in Kenya, which is placed amongst the highest pesticide users in Sun-Saharan Africa!

When i visited Victor and the project, the boys were recovering from a bout of parasites that had attacked their crop and as such they were leaving the plot free to ”breathe” literally and applying organic alternatives to kill off the pests.

I have a dream, to pilot vegetable gardens and permaculture projects in Uganda’s local schools. I envision  young people connecting with the food production systems and taking ownership of food production. However, growing up, agriculture was often portrayed as punishment. When your grades were low or had committed an offense, as punishment you were sent to the garden with a hoe. We grew up seeing agriculture as hard labor, punishment, and something that the people in villages did, not as city dwelling kids. Luckily, i attended a boarding school where 2 days were dedicated to agriculture, we planted, harvested, and even prepared our food – not the cooking part as we were not allowed near a fire. We more or less knew where our food came from, we were expected to take responsibility of planting and harvesting. Nevertheless, when we graduated on to secondary school, this is the one part of our education we were so glad to leave behind!

There is a continued disconnect between people of all ages and where their food comes from. As the fast food industry slowly/quickly advances into Sub Saharan African cities, young people are not only becoming farmers, but they are also not becoming healthy, nourished eaters, and this can lead to rising youth obesity. I believe that one solution is reconnecting young people to the food chain, to see the opportunities and want to get involved in agriculture rather than be forced. It is a combination of students learning to produce food, and acquiring information on nutrition and food security. Students can learn how to grow, process, and preserve food and celebrate it in ways that allow them to recognize the diversity and uniqueness of their local food cultures.

One such initiative is DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation Project), the project is helping youth build leadership skills around farming. One of the project’s former students, Betty Nabukala, managed the school’s garden. She explained that DISC taught the students ‘new’ methods of planting vegetables. Before, she says, “we used to just plant seeds,” but DISC taught them how to fertilize crops with manure and compost, and how to save seeds after harvest. More importantly, Betty explained that she and the students learned that not only can they produce food, they can also earn money from its sale.

DISC was co-founded by Edward Mukiibi, who is now the Vice-President of Slow Food International. Edie is 28 years
old and has been part of leading efforts around Slow Food’s Thousand Gardens in Africa initiative, which is implementing gardens in communities and schools across the continent. “It is time to be proud of being a food producer and revive our lost food traditions in Africa,” says Mukiibi, adding that the Thousand Gardens initiative “is an opportunity for young ones, like me” to strengthen ties between communities but also within communities through the oral exchange of agricultural traditions and practices. Thanks to DISC and Slow Food, many students are no longer seeing agriculture as an option of last resort, but something enjoyable, intellectually stimulating and economically profitable.

To quote Food Tank’s Danielle Nierenberg , ”It’s clear that the future of agriculture is in the hands of young people – whether they’re family farmers, cooks and chefs, entrepreneurs, teachers or scientists. To cultivate that next generation, governments, academics, businesses and the funding and donor communities need to provide the investment and funding they need to nourish both people and planet.”

World Health Day 2015: Global view of food safety

New data on the harm caused by food borne illnesses underscore the global threats posed by unsafe foods, and the need for coordinated, cross-border action across the entire food supply chain, according to WHO, which next week is dedicating its annual World Health Day to the issue of food safety.

World Health Day will be celebrated on 7 April, with WHO highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with food safety under the slogan “From farm to plate, make food safe.”

“Food production has been industrialized and its trade and distribution have been globalized,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “These changes introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals.”

Dr Chan adds: “A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency. Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries.”

Unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and cause more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.

Today, WHO is issuing the first findings from what is a broader ongoing analysis of the global burden of foodborne diseases. The full results of this research, being undertaken by WHO’s Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG), are expected to be released in October 2015.

Some important results are related to enteric infections caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa that enter the body by ingestion of contaminated food. The initial FERG figures, from 2010, show that:

  • there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different foodborne enteric diseases and 351 000 associated deaths;
  • the enteric disease agents responsible for most deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52 000 deaths), enteropathogenic E. coli (37 000) and norovirus (35 000);
  • the African region recorded the highest disease burden for enteric foodborne disease, followed by South-East Asia;
  • over 40% people suffering from enteric diseases caused by contaminated food were children aged under 5 years.

Unsafe food also poses major economic risks, especially in a globalized world. Germany’s 2011 E.coli outbreak reportedly caused US$ 1.3 billion in losses for farmers and industries and US$ 236 million in emergency aid payments to 22 European Union Member States.

Efforts to prevent such emergencies can be strengthened, however, through development of robust food safety systems that drive collective government and public action to safeguard against chemical or microbial contamination of food. Global and national level measures can be taken, including using international platforms, like the joint WHO-FAO International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), to ensure effective and rapid communication during food safety emergencies.

At the consumer end of the food supply chain, the public plays important roles in promoting food safety, from practising safe food hygiene and learning how to take care when cooking specific foods that may be hazardous (like raw chicken), to reading the labels when buying and preparing food. The WHO Five Keys to Safer Food explain the basic principles that each individual should know all over the world to prevent foodborne diseases.

“It often takes a crisis for the collective consciousness on food safety to be stirred and any serious response to be taken,” says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses. “The impacts on public health and economies can be great. A sustainable response, therefore, is needed that ensures standards, checks and networks are in place to protect against food safety risks.”

WHO is working to ensure access to adequate, safe, nutritious food for everyone. The Organization supports countries to prevent, detect and respond to foodborne disease outbreaks—in line with the Codex Alimentarius, a collection of international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice covering all the main foods.

Food safety is a cross-cutting issue and shared responsibility that requires participation of non-public health sectors (i.e. agriculture, trade and commerce, environment, tourism) and support of major international and regional agencies and organizations active in the fields of food, emergency aid, and education.

Everyone, everywhere needs safe food, free from microbes, viruses and chemicals. But globalization means the food you are eating today may have come from the other side of the world. This video tells how we all have a role to make food safe – from farm to plate.

The Farmers and Food System Leaders of Tomorrow

Repost from Food Tank

Young people are the farmers and food system leaders of tomorrow. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), young people are increasingly abandoning agriculture and rural areas in search of better prospects, which makes creating opportunities for young people to contribute to their agricultural communities an urgent need.

Today, young people can explore career options in permaculture design, biodynamic farming, communication technologies, forecasting, marketing, logistics, quality assurance, urban agriculture projects, food preparation, environmental sciences, and more.

In the coming year at Food Tank, we are focusing our work on the world’s next generation of agricultural leaders—amplifying and deepening our research, growing our online community, and continuing to encourage an energized global dialogue on the important issue of youth in agriculture in partnership with IFAD.

With an aging population of farmers, it’s clear that agriculture needs to attract more young people. Half of the farmers in the United States are 55 or older, and the average age of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is roughly 60 years old. The United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) predicts that, globally, there will be 74.2 million unemployed young people this year, an increase of 3.8 million since 2007.

The agricultural sector offers great potential for job creation; effectively publicizing the market’s open and varied employment opportunities can radically change youths’ perception of agriculture and as a result, radically change agriculture’s lasting impact.

Now, more than ever, we need to help educate, motivate, prepare, and support the world’s next generation of agricultural leaders and farmers.

“I would ask that—not only in my own country, but across the world—opportunities are created for us [young people] to prove that, yes, we can do it,” Sandra Sandoval, a young rural businesswoman from El Salvador, told IFAD.

In a recent report, IFAD identified six main challenges that youth face in entering the agriculture field: insufficient access to knowledge, information, and education; limited access to land; inadequate access to financial services; difficulties accessing jobs in agriculture field; limited access to markets; and limited involvement in policy dialogue.

To combat these issues, IFAD is investing in youth, especially rural youth. The programs IFAD supports enable young, rural people to gain access to the resources and tools necessary to be productive and enter agricultural markets.

In Zanzibar, farmer field schools allow new farmers to learn agricultural practices—and to mentor their peers. Farmer field schools use participatory group approaches to teach people how to farm and to tackle agricultural challenges, and, as a result, increase yields and knowledge. “Since I joined this group, I am no longer dependent on my family,” Zeyana Ali Said, a rural poultry farmer in Zanzibar, told IFAD. “Now I completely depend on myself. Before, I was getting about five or seven eggs from each hen. But now I get up to 25 eggs [per hen each month].”

The IFAD Rural Youth Talents Program in South America seeks to publicize and share knowledge from lessons learned in rural youth agriculture programs. The goal is to establish and strengthen networks of youth engaged in food and agriculture, as well involve more youth in the field.

In Uganda, IFAD supports the Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (DISC) project, which improves nutrition and food knowledge through school gardens in ten primary and five secondary schools.

In Saint Lucia, the Helping Out Our Primary and Secondary Schools (HOOPSS) project has created school gardens in more than a dozen schools, and teaches children techniques such as organic fertilizer use and rainwater harvesting.

In Madagascar, the PROSPERER project promotes rural entrepreneurship through apprenticeships that include training and marketing materials in the regions of Sofia, Itasy, Analamanga, Haute Matsiatra, and Batovavy Fltovinagny.

In Brazil, the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura – CONTAG) established a youth knowledge program to enhance the skills of young farmers. The organization provides a free online training course for young farmers, which includes information on family farming, health, and labor laws.

Through Food Tank’s partnership with IFAD, we hope to strengthen the number of youth involved in agriculture fields at all levels. The time to invest in the agricultural leaders of tomorrow is now.

by Danielle Nierenberg and Sarah Small

They Said I Should Talk More

They said I should talk more, what a bore, with the courtesy of an itchy sore, festering, brooding, puss squeezing out the door of my mind. For one does not simply walk into Mordor! Please, please, please sir may we have some more?

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25-28 August 2015 in Istanbul, Turkey