Soil, the only thread on which civilization can exist…

I read the quote above the other day by Joel Salatin, whom I have mentioned in these articles recently. It brings home something I have believed in for the past 40 years back to the forefront, that we as a civilization, depend on such a thin blanket of life called topsoil, to grow a great percentage of our food crops that feed the world.

I watch, often in amazement, how industrial farming has, over the years, gone from caring about the soil and the necessity for it’s health, to caring more about the crop that grows in it. Fertilizers are developed to be quickly absorbed by the plants to promote quick growth, bypassing the original interaction between soil, bacteria, organic matter and the plant itself. As more crops are grown, year after year, soil nutrition and viability is depleted, leaving the soil as nothing more than a foundation for the plant to support itself. Broken is the complex relationship once shared by plant and soil.

Sustainable farming and gardening makes this relationship a priority and not only protects those fragile few inches we so depend on, but renews and invigorates the soil and brings it’s role back to prominence. Soil is alive. The combination of water, air, minerals and organic matter are the host to numerous forms of life from bacteria to worms and insects that all contribute to the breakdown and release of nutrients, ready to be absorbed by the roots threading their way into the living sponge we call topsoil, humus or compost. By focusing on soil health and structure, our efforts are rewarded with healthy nutritious crops. When we focus on the crop, and neglect the soil, more artificial fertilizers are needed, plants become weaker and more susceptible to insect and disease attack, roots aren’t encouraged to go deep into the soil because there is nothing there to attract them, thus shallow rooted crops need more water and the soil becomes just a support system to the plant rather than a feeding reservoir and important player in the health of the crop.

Your local farmers, using sustainable farming practices, are our stewards of the soil. Talk to them about it and how they build their soil to grow our food. Get to know farmers like you know your children’s school teachers, after all, they are feeding you and your children and are a key link to your health, our community’s health and our planet’s health. Support them!

Meet the face behind Polyface

« Having re-read, over the weekend ( actually re-listened to the audiobook ) The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, I felt it would be prudent to introduce those of you who may not have yet read any of Michael Pollan’s books to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Joel is an Organic Farmer being featured in many books, movies and articles about local food and sustainable, organic farming, and the contrast between industrial treatment of animals on factory farms and the humane treatment offered by those like Polyface Farms. Since I am not a writer I will simply encourage you to read some of Michael Pollan’s books, watch some of the movie’s like Food, Inc and Fresh, and watch some of the short clips on YouTube about « factory Farming » and the contrast to sustainable organic farms like Polyface Farm. I’ll let Joel speak for himself… »

Farm to Hub to Table

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Dick Proutt is a small farmer. A very small one. At Down Branch Farm, he raises chickens and quails and grows lettuce, squash, melons and tomatoes on about an acre. In high summer, his weekly haul might include just five dozen quail eggs, 40 pounds of tomatoes and 20 pounds of squash.
The Jefferson Area Board of Aging wants exactly that kind of food for the more than 3,000 meals it serves each week. But it needs 100 pounds of tomatoes. And that’s for one day’s worth of salads at its 11 area senior citizen centers. Until now, JABA had only two options: Cobble together an order by making weekly pickups at several local farms, or call a one-stop national distributor.

Farm Fresh & Local

cJust what is ‘local’ food? Depending on who you talk to it could mean anything from within the boundaries of your town or community to within the boundaries of your state and further. There are those that promote local as being within a 100 mile radius, as in the 100 Mile Diet.

Local, however, to keep things simple, means as close to home as possible.  It starts in your own backyard and works it’s way outward.  If you can’t find what you want close by you simply have to go further to find it.  Our diets have become accustomed to a wide variety of products, some that may not even grow in our region.  It takes determination to change old habits and eat only locally grown products, but we can use common sense and buy those items that are grown locally and support our farmers and community.  We then just extend this further to make sure we buy products produced in our state over other states, as in Florida citrus over California citrus, and extending this further to include products produced in the USA rather than purchasing the same product produced in another country.

Organic Farming

The term ‘organic farming’ was first used by Lord Northbourne in the book, Look to the Land (London: Dent, 1940. NAL Call # 30 N81). Lord Northbourne, who embraced the teachings of Rudolph Steiner and biodynamic farming, had a « vision of the farm as a sustainable, ecologically stable, self-contained unit, biologically complete and balanced–a dynamic living organic whole…The term thus did not refer solely to the use of living materials (organic manures, etc) in agriculture although obviously it included them, but with its emphasis on ‘wholeness’ is encompassed best by the definition ‘of, pertaining to, or characterized by systematic connexion or coordination of parts of the one whole.’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.) » [AM Scofield, « Editorial: Organic Farming–The Origin of the Name, » Biological Agriculture and Horticulture (1986)

Organic farming was championed in the United States by J.I. Rodale, beginning in the mid-1940s. « The organic farmer and gardener must realize that fertilization is not the only measure for success. He must treat the soil as a living, breathing entity. He must rotate crops. He must fallow the land at regulated intervals. The organiculturist must not practice one-crop monoculture but must engage in a balanced agriculture with cattle as part of the general program. He must be smart in the ways of soil and crops, observing the reaction of the land to the actions of man. For instance, he must know when to plant, when to harvest, and what varieties of seed to use. Compost alone does not make a successful gardener any more than does gardening without compost. » [« The Organiculturist’s Creed, » in The Organic Front, Chapter 8 (Emmaus PA: Rodale Press, 1948).

As defined by a USDA Study Team on Organic Farming, « Organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests. » [Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming (Washington DC: USDA, 1980), p. xii. NAL Call # aS605.5 U52. Available at AFSIC

The following definition was drafted and passed by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in April 1995. It was developed by a joint NOSB/National Organic Program task force, and incorporated language from the Codex Draft Guidelines for organically produced foods: « Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. ‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people. » [Final Minutes of the National Organic Standards Board, Orlando, Florida, April 24-28, 1995 (NOSB, 1994), p. 50. Available at NOSB

« Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled « organic, » a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. » [What is organic food? (USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program (NOP)).]

Natural Farming

Natural Farming reflects the experiences and philosophy of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. His books The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1978. NAL Call # S604 F72) and The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy (Tokyo; New York: Japan Publications, 1985. NAL Call # S605.5 F72 1987) describe what he calls « do-nothing farming » and a lifetime of nature study. « His farming method involves no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, no pruning, and remarkably little labor! He accomplishes all this (and high yields) by careful timing of his seeding and careful combinations of plants (polyculture). In short, he has brought the practical art of working with nature to a high level of refinement. » [Robert and Diane Gilman, « Greening the Desert: An Interview with Masanobu Fukuoka, » In Context (Autumn 1986) 14: p. 37. Available at In Context Website (8/23/07):

Biointensive Gardening/Mini-farming

John Jeavons and Ecology Action have refined a production system that makes it possible for one person to grow all of his or her family’s food using truly sustainable methods that maintain the fertility of the soil without relying on nonrenewable resources like petrochemicals or imported organic matter. [From: John Jeavons, How To Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, And Other Crops On Less Land Than You Can Imagine (Berkeley CA: Ten Speed Press, 1995). NAL Call # SB324.5 J43 1995] The concepts and practices of biointensive gardening were synthesized and introduced to the U.S. by the English master horticulturalist, Alan Chadwick. Important components include double-dug, raised beds; intensive planting; composting; companion planting; and whole system synergy.

Biodynamic Agriculture/Biodynamic Farming

Both a concept and a practice, biodynamics « owes its origin to the spiritual insights and perceptions of Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist who lived at the turn of the century. » Dr. Steiner emphasized many of the forces within living nature, identifying many of these factors and describing specific practices and preparations that enable the farmer or gardener to work in concert with these parameters. « Central to the biodynamic method… are certain herbal preparations that guide the decomposition processes in manures and compost. » [1985-1986 Year End Report (Kimberton PA: Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc., 1986), p. 3. AFSIC collection] See also: « What is Biodynamics? » Available at Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association On-line Website:http://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html (8/23/07).

Foods produced through biodynamic methods are certified for consumer markets by the Demeter Association. [For information: Demeter Association,

New farmers markets keep cropping up in the area

The newest addition to the Gainesville area’s growing family of farmers markets, The Melrose Community Farmers Market, opened this month with a simple message: The demand for locally grown, locally sold, environmentally safe foods is a top priority in North Central Florida.

The market, which runs every Friday at the Melrose Heritage Park, features more than 30 vendors coming from within a 10-mile radius selling everything from vegetables, fruits, herbs, eggs and organic meats to wood, metal crafts and handmade jewelry. With so many other markets in the Gainesville area — including the Hawthorne, Haile, downtown Gainesville, Micanopy and Town of Tioga markets — Ed Sherwood, director of the Melrose Market, wanted to carve out a spot for his agricultural community.

« There’s a hunger for community in modern-day America, » Sherwood said. « I am just giving people a chance to come out and celebrate their community and help their neighbors build a local economy.

Supreme Court to Hear First Genetically Engineered Crop Case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a first-time case about the risks of genetically engineered crops. Named Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, No. 09-475, the case before the high court will be yet another step in an ongoing battle waged by the Center for Food Safety to protect consumers and the environment from potentially harmful effects of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

The modified alfalfa seed at the heart of the dispute has been engineered to be immune to Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto intervened in a 2007 federal district court ruling that the Department of Agriculture’s approval of GE alfalfa was illegal. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a 2006 lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wished to retain the choice to plant non-GE alfalfa. CFS was victorious in this case – in addition CFS has won two appeals by Monsanto in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: in 2008 and again in 2009. Now, upon Monsanto’s insistence, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR FLORIDA’S FAMILY FARMS

Florida’s family farmers and Floridians who want to eat locally-grown food need your help to free Florida’s food and family farmers from burdensome regulation and fees. Attached are all the tools you need to lend your voice in support of Florida family farmers, as well as a quick tutorial on the proposed legislation. Passage of the Florida Food Freedom Act promises to bring Floridian’s a wider variety of healthy, locally-grown foods direct from the Florida farmer. But we need your help.

Farmers Win in Dirty Rice Lawsuit

Ken Bell, a rice grower in southwestern Missouri, remembers that 2006 was shaping up to be one of those years farmers only dare to dream about. « Not only was the market up, » he told me, « but we had a good crop growing. »

Then on August 18, a Friday, Bell’s world collapsed. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that traces of genetically modified rice produced by Bayer CropScience, a division of the huge German drug and chemical company, had somehow escaped test plots and found their way into rice fields in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The GM crop was engineered to survive applications of Liberty Link, a Bayer herbicide. The USDA still does not know what caused the widespread contamination.

By the following Monday morning, worldwide markets for American long-grain rice had evaporated. Japan, Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Iraq imposed restrictions on U.S. rice imports. The European Union demanded that all incoming U.S. rice be tested and certified as free of GM traits. Bell had incurred all of the up-front costs of what was to be that year’s bumper harvest, but suddenly no one would buy it. He lost more than $1.9 million. « It went from a great year to a disaster, » he said.

Future Farming: The Call for a 50-Year Perspective on Agriculture

As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation’s economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature’s economy for some of the answers. With everyone focused on a stimulus package in the short term, he counsels that we pay more attention to the soil over the long haul.

“We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank,” said Jackson, president of The Land Institute. “If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t much matter.”

Jackson doesn’t minimize the threat of the current financial problems but argues that the new administration should consider a “50-year farm bill,” which he and the writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op/ed earlier this month.

Central to such a bill would be soil. A plan for sustainable agriculture capable of producing healthful food has to come to solve the twin problems of soil erosion and contamination, said Jackson, who co-founded the research center in 1976 after leaving his job as an environmental studies professor at California State University-Sacramento.

Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at The Land Institute continue their work on Natural Systems Agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy. He spoke with me from his office in Salina, Kansas.

Intern Wanted – Abundant Acres

We are growing fast here at Abundant Acres and are in need of an intern or two. We wear many hats here, but our main focus is pastured poultry. We have been producing poultry here for five years and have recently joined the Union street market. Wow, do the Gainesville folks love good organic chicken or what !!!
Our ideal person would be someone with an interest in learning the pastured poultry farming business top to bottom, but anyone with a strong desire to farm or learn more would be considered.

We could provide housing for the right candidate(s). And of course many great poultry meals. Following find our contact info.

University of Florida Graduate looking for small farm work…

My name is Alissa Yax I recently graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s in Horticulture and a minor in Organic and Sustainable Crop Production. I am looking to work on a small farm to gain hands on experience in the actual realm of farming. I would really appreciate any opportunity from someone who is looking for someone like me! Additionally, I am staying in this area permanently.

Wellborn Farms

Wellborn Farms is a family run Agri-Business specializing in seasonal fruit crops. In addition to attending local Farmers Markets we offer U-Pick Blueberries and Persimmons. We are planting Strawberries, Muscadine Grapes, Pears, and Blackberries to have fruit throughout the season.