Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
A few articles you might find interesting.
Here is one from the New York Times about an organization, La Mesa Verde, based in San Jose, CA that literally goes into homes of low-income residents and builds raised beds in their backyards, teaches them to plant and harvest, eventually saving the families lots of money and giving them access to nutritious food. It also focuses on educating participants about gardening so that the knowledge will be held within the neighborhood, with less and less input needed from master gardeners. Pretty awesome.
The second is one that Gio sent me about sustainability at Oxy and the lack of work that the administration has put into making Oxy a more environmentally friendly campus. It is pretty up to date on dismal the situation, further proving that not much has changed on the administrative end in terms of sustainability over the last couple of years.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Vermicomposting at Oxy
FEAST would like to expand our composting operations to include a worm compost program in addition to the “snake” compost we already maintain.
Vermicomposting has clear ecological benefits—we could use a lot more food prep waste from the marketplace (currently we are only using a small fraction of what they produce everyday) therefore eliminating the need to truck that waste to a dump. Instead we would use those nutrients by recycling them back into the earth, enriching our garden and reducing our carbon footprint. We have always planned to have multiple types of compost and worms are a good place to start our expansion as they are easy to maintain, essentially odorless and can serve as an educational tool for students and community members who are interested in composting at home as vermicompost is the best kind for a regular backyard—minimal work, absorbs as little or as much food-prep waste as you need it to, odorless and GREAT for the garden. It can even be left for up to a month with no tending without severe repercussions.
I built a vermicomposting site at my house over winter break. It took about 1 hour to put together and one only needs to put more food-prep waste in it to keep the worms alive. Expanding to this type of compost would be easy for FEAST. All we need to do is provide the Marketplace with more bins and they could give us a few more every week to feed the worms. The upkeep is much easier than the upkeep for the pile we currently have and would be a great addition to our weekly meetings.
$150—This is the price of a Can-of –Worms composter—it has six trays that the worms worm their way into. The bottom layer has a spigot to drain the extra liquid (which is great to put on your garden). The first tray is a “working tray” as are the next four after that. Once the worms are out of the first tray (and into the second), you empty the contents of the first tray into the garden and put it on top. The trays just keep rotating. The typical life-span for this type of compost is 15 years.
$59—This is the price of 2 lbs of red manure worms, which we will need to start the program. They double in popuation every two months and are self-sustaining so we will never need to buy more.
$15—This is for the coconut foil we need to buy as bedding for the worms when they first arrive.
All of these items can be found on abundantearth.com, a great resource for learning about vermicomposting and buying vermicomposting related products.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
The facts about food and farming
Let's not join one of the armed camps deeply suspicious of one another shouting past each other.
January 6, 2010
The only problem is that so far it hasn't been much of a conversation. Instead, what we have are two armed camps deeply suspicious of one another shouting past each other (sound familiar?).
On the one side, the hard-line aggies seem convinced that a bunch of know-nothing urbanites want to send them back to Stone Age farming techniques. On the other side, there's a tendency by agricultural reformers to lump together all farms (or at least those that aren't purely organic, hemp-clad mom-and-pop operations) as thoughtless ravagers of the environment.
Well, at least we're thinking about it, so I suppose that's a start. But the issues we're facing are not going to go away, and they are too important to be left to the ideologues. What I'd like to see happen in the next decade is a more constructive give-and-take, the start of a true conversation.
With that goal in mind, I'd like to propose a few ground rules that might help move us into the next phase -- fundamental principles that both sides should be able to agree on.
* Agriculture is a business. Farming without a financial motive is gardening. I use that line a lot when I'm giving talks, and it always gets a laugh. But it's deadly serious. Not only do farmers have expenses to meet just like any other business, but they also need to be rewarded when they do good work. Any plan that places further demands on farmers without an offsetting profit incentive is doomed to fail.
* What's past is past. Over the last 50 years, American farmers performed an agricultural miracle, all but eliminating hunger as a serious health issue in this country. But that battle has been won, and though those gains must be maintained, the demands of today -- developing a system that delivers flavor as well as quantity and does it in an environmentally friendly way -- are different.
* Food is not just a culinary abstraction. No matter how much you and I might appreciate the amazing bounty produced by talented, quality-driven farmers, we also have to acknowledge that sometimes food is . . . well, just food. So when we start dreaming about how to make our epicurean utopia, we also have to keep in mind that our first obligation is to make sure that healthful, fresh food remains plentiful and inexpensive enough that anyone can afford it.
* There's no free pass on progress. Just because you've always farmed a certain way does not mean that you are owed the right to continue farming that way in the future. The days of a small or medium-sized farm making a decent profit growing one or two crops and marketing it through the traditional commodity route are long past. The world is changing, and those who can adapt are the ones who will be successful.
* The world is not black and white. The issues facing agriculture today are much more complicated than lining up behind labels such as "local" and "organic," no matter how praiseworthy they might seem in the abstract.
* No farm is an island. That's not literally true, of course; there are several island farms in the Sacramento Delta. But even there, farmers have to remember that they're living in an ever-more crowded state where their actions affect others. Assuming that what happens on your land is nobody's business but your own just doesn't work anymore.
* Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Holding out for an unattainable dream may mean losing a chance at a more easily realized goal. At the same time, just because an idea may not be the perfect answer, it doesn't mean that there aren't benefits to it. A completely locavore diet is, well, loco, but buying as much locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables as you can is just common sense.
* Quality is more expensive than quantity. Farming fruits and vegetables that are not just healthful but also have great flavor takes a lot of time and work and usually means not growing as much as a neighbor who doesn't focus on flavor. So when you're shopping, don't begrudge a good farmer a little higher price -- that's what it takes to keep him in business.
* You don't climb a ladder starting at the top rung. In a system as complex as our food supply, change is evolutionary. Remember long-term goals, but focus on what's immediately achievable. Any argument that begins, "All we have to do is rewrite the Farm Bill," is probably decades, if not centuries, from reality. But there are plenty of small things we can do now to start us down that road.
* Don't assume that those who disagree with you are evil, stupid or greedy. And even when they are, that doesn't relieve you of the responsibility for making a constructive and convincing argument.
* What's political is also personal. If you believe in something, you should be willing to make sacrifices to support it, even if it's expensive or inconvenient. Wailing about farmers who use pesticides and then balking at paying extra for organic produce is hypocritical because the yields in organic farming are almost always lower. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with doing the best you can whenever you can -- as long as you're willing to accept compromises from the other guy too.
* Finally, and most important: Beware the law of unintended consequences. Developing tasteless fruits and vegetables was not the goal of the last Green Revolution; it was a side effect of a system designed to eliminate hunger by providing plentiful, inexpensive food, but that also ended up rewarding quantity over quality. We should always keep in mind that when we're dreaming of a system that focuses on the reverse, we run the risk of creating something far worse than strawberries that bounce.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
I just wanted to let everybody know how the garden is keeping up. I've been harvesting so much broccoli, kale, , lettuce, cilantro, peas, and pea vines (which are really sweet and make a nice addition to a salad). AND I have been watching everything grow- we have spinach, radishes, fava beans, fennel, carrots, beets, sage, brussel sprouts and a gazillion other things that have all sprouted. Here are some pictures:
--Swiss chard/ beets/ arugula
--Fennel (my personal favorite)
--Fava Beans (they kind of look like little claws clawing out of the soil)
I can't wait for everyone to get back. Remember, we are building the chicken coop the first week of school, so get your building/hammering/drilling hands ready!
Also, check out our awesome sun flowers: