Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Mar27

Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

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Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.

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Jan24

Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.

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Jan22

An Interview with Ela R. Bhatt, Founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association in India

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In September 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Ela R. Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. SEWA is a national trade union that helps women working in informal sectors, like agriculture or childcare, gain the same rights, securities, and self-reliance as those who are formally employed. Ms. Bhatt, a Gandhian practitioner of non-violence and self-reliance, has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers.

Ela R. Bhatt (Photo credit: Mihir Bhatt)

In addition to founding SEWA, Ms. Bhatt is the founder of India’s first women’s bank, the Cooperative Bank of SEWA, and one of the founders of Women’s World Banking, a global microfinance organization that works to economically empower women. She served in the Indian Parliament from 1986 to 1989, and is a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights, among many other roles.

You gave a speech to the United Nations Development Programme in 2011 on your “100 Mile Principle”; since then, you completed field testing on the Principle. Can you explain what it is? 

The 100 Mile Principle urges us to meet life’s basic needs with goods and services that are produced no more than 100 miles from where we live. This includes food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary health care, and primary banking.

The 100 Mile Principle ties decentralization, locality, size, and scale to livelihood, suggesting that the materials, energy, and knowledge that one needs to live should come from areas around us. Seed, soil, and water are forms of knowledge that need to be retained locally. Security stems from local innovations, not distant imports. Essentially, the link between humans and nature has to be restored; the link between production and consumption has to be recovered.

The Principle also focuses on the ideas of community and citizenship. I think citizenship has two levels: it is both membership in your community and membership in your nation-state. The social space defined by national citizenship is inadequate, and the nation-state alone can be alienating and coercive without membership in a community. Take food as an example: food has to be grown locally and made locally. When food is exported, the producers have no access to the fruits of their labor.

A community is autonomous when it controls food, clothing, and shelter. Communities lose control when they go beyond the local. When food is exported, when technology is centralized, when shelter depends on some remote housing policy, we lose our freedom as a community. So the 100 Mile Principle guarantees that citizens retain control, inventiveness, and diversity.

Why did you choose a distance of 100 miles?

One simple reason is that you can travel 100 miles and return home by dinner time. But 100 miles does not need to be taken literally—it represents the distance that can provide essential goods and services for a district or state. It could be 200 miles in a desert or hilly region, 50 miles in a dense, produce-rich location, or 10 miles near a town. The distance may also vary for different goods and services: food may come from within a 10-mile radius, but specialized healthcare may require 100 miles or more.

The distance of 100 miles is a starting point for thinking in local terms. Whenever we have used the term “100 miles,” people from all walks of life—students, rural women, economists, academics—have understood the focus on local goods and services.

How did you field test the 100 Mile Principle, and what were some of the most important results?

The field study involved over 100 households in 10 rural villages from Surendranagar and Anand/Kheda districts in Gujarat, a state in Western India. We spoke with households about how they meet their basic needs and how far they would need to travel for primary education, health care, and banking.

The study revealed that rural populations have some amount of control over their food through a combination of growing their own, bartering, community and caste practices, and the Public Distribution System. A great deal of local food production and consumption is already occurring. In the case of clothing, though, most prefer cheaper, easier-to-maintain synthetics and ready-made garments from outside of 100 miles. The study showed that many desire “city-type” homes: this could be achieved with use of local material and local manpower, meeting the 100 Mile Principle and maintaining freedom of choice.

Primary education is available in all of the villages, but there is limited capacity for technical or skill-related education. Very few of the villages have a local trained doctor, meaning residents must travel to the nearest town for health care. Home herbal remedies are still used but are now less favored than medicinal tablets from the village grocer.

How can the 100 Mile Principle help communities deal with some of the most pressing issues they face, such as food security?

Food security cannot be guaranteed by foreign imports. Instead, we encourage local seed banks, owned and run by small and marginal farmers. Local, small-scale warehousing would largely overcome the problem of food scarcity, as well as rampant waste of edible food products due to lack of storage. The possibility of setting up smaller grain storage units owned by and managed by a group of small-scale farmers needs to be explored. There should also be local tool banks so that farmers can borrow these when required.

We also suggest that every primary school at the rural level develop an agricultural training center. Here, young people can learn improved farming techniques, farm-related IT skills, food processing, and on-farm processing. Prompt actions should also be taken to release the mortgaged land of small and marginal farmers. Land is their only source of livelihood.

Many small and marginal farmers can grow enough food for their own needs as well as some surplus to sell. But, for a number of reasons—including increasing cultivation of cash crops instead of food crops, animal pest management problems, and the rapid sale of land for industry—the situation is changing.

To combat hunger and to achieve food security for all, we have to protect ways of life and livelihoods of the farming communities. This is the fundamental policy point. Growing food grains should be a viable and profitable occupation for the farming community. But, broadly speaking, the producer currently gets about 60-70 percent of the price paid in the market, and the balance goes to the middleman or the enterprise that sells the products. Therefore, middlemen should be removed where possible. It is also important to bring down the input costs, including the costs of irrigation, seeds, and fertilizers.

As the founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association, you work to organize women for full employment and self-reliance. What role does the 100 Mile Principle play in women’s success?

After field testing the 100 Mile Principle, I am convinced more than ever that without the active participation of women farmers, hunger cannot be reduced. When the 100 Mile Principle is put into action, productive work opportunities and income will increase, the health of women and girls will increase, infant and maternal mortality will decrease, and housing will improve. In addition, there will be a decline in compulsive migration of youth from villages to cities, increasing local assets. Local farmers will take active interest in crop planning and learning new agricultural skills. Farmers, artisans, and village officials will strengthen their community.

What criticisms has the 100 Mile Principle faced?

We have received a variety of criticisms. Some people consider the Principle to be too theoretical, or irrelevant to urban areas. Others feel that it is inhibiting progress in this era of globalization. And others have suggested that it goes against the ideas of freedom of choice and the power of market forces—particularly competitive advantage.

Despite this criticism, we know through SEWA experience that ideas can be translated into a measurable influence on the lives of people. At the same time, I want to make clear that the Principle is a guide or a philosophy rather than something to be forced on anyone.

What are your plans to continue refining and spreading the 100 Mile Principle?

At some point I would like to carry out fieldwork in other parts of India to gain more data on the Principle. In the meantime, my major aim is to propagate this idea, especially among young people and urban consumers. Some of the findings also have implications for public policy, especially measures that help small-scale farmers and family farms.

There are some policies and government schemes already in place for health care and nutrition, but there is a large communication gap that prevents these policies from being as effective as possible. Control and implementation of these schemes need to be in the hands of local people who are aware of the realities on the ground. I am in the process of putting the field study results in the form of a book.

Now it’s your turn: How important do you think it is to keep basic goods and services on a local scale? Please let us know in the comments below. 

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Food and Agriculture Program.

Oct11

Oxfam America’s GROW campaign works for food justice

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By Devon Ericksen

The Oxfam Action Corps is made up of volunteers in 14 cities across America who are working to change the way people think about food. By educating America about the best food choices to make and lobbying government on issues such as water conservation, food security, aid reform, and workers’ rights, the Action Corps is working towards Oxfam’s food reform goals.

The GROW campaign focuses on the small steps people can take to create a more equitable and sustainable food system (Photo Credit: Oxfam)

One of the Action Corps’ newest campaigns is the GROW Method, which focuses on the small steps people can make towards creating a more equitable and sustainable food system. The campaign has five steps: save food, choose seasonal produce, eat less meat, support small-scale producers, and cook smarter. Saving food means planning meals and saving leftovers in order to use less. Choosing seasonal, local produce means consumers will reduce the energy needed to get fresh fruits and vegetables from farm to plate. Eating less meat and dairy means less water consumption and pollutants associated with each meal. Supporting small farmers will encourage sustainable, equitable practices in food production. And cooking smart means reducing heat and water use needed for each meal. By harnessing consumer power to reduce the energy, water, and monetary inputs in the food system, Oxfam’s goal is to help the planet sustain the food needs of its population.

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Oct04

Toronto Declaration Calls on City Leaders to Get Growing

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By Charlotte Litjens

At an urban agriculture summit in Toronto this August, a diverse group of advocates produced the world’s first declaration for integrating food production into the urban environment: the Toronto Declaration. Calling for “good food, green buildings, and great cities growing together,” the declaration not only proclaims the intentions of summit-goers from around the world, but also passionately calls upon city officials and others to join them in action to make agriculture a legitimate part of urban development.

The Toronto Declaration calls for “good food, green buildings, and great cities growing together” (Photo credit: FoodShare Toronto)

“Too many governments still divide and separate food, water, shelter, health, energy, education, waste, transit, community, and economics,” the declaration reads. The document explained that when cities are developing their infrastructure, they need to engineer more creative space for growing food. By creating space for agriculture within green buildings and urban landscaping, city dwellers will benefit from both an enhanced quality of life and food security. Not only is food produced in urban agriculture-scapes, but these green spaces also provide what economists call “ecosystem services,” which include the absorption of greenhouse gases and support for species like honeybees and other pollinators. The declaration also discusses the potential of urban agriculture to create jobs, educate youth, improve public health, and empower communities.

To promote this “growth industry of the future,” the declaration proposes several action items for cities, which include the following:

  1. Official food charters, plans and food policy councils;
  2. Urban agriculture offices within local and regional governments;
  3. Green roof laws and codes;
  4. Government support for food-producing buildings and landscapes;
  5. Scaling-up of nutrient recycling from waste streams;
  6. Provide food-based curriculum to all youth.

These actions items were developed during the closing plenary session of the Urban Agriculture Summit on August 19 of this year, which welcomed participants from around the world and featured Growing Power’s Will Allen, Nourishing the Planet columnist and urban agriculture expert Wayne Roberts, and Luc Mugeot from The International Development Research Center. The Declaration’s authors include representatives from the meal-providing NGO Foodshare, the Toronto Food Policy Council, Ryerson University, and Roberts.

How can we advance the action plan of the Toronto Declaration in cities around the world? Is it already taking place in some cities?

Charlotte Litjens is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern with The Worldwatch Institute.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep28

Bridging the Gap: The Need to Unite Global and Grassroots Approaches to Sustainable Development

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By Sophie Wenzlau

“Human actions are rapidly approaching or have already transgressed key global thresholds, increasing the likelihood of unprecedented ecological turbulence,” according to a report co-authored by scientists from the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Tellus Institute. The report cites an urgent need to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) uniting global and grassroots approaches to sustainable development.

The international community has neglected to emphasize community-led responses to sustainable development (Photo Credit: Antonio Lacerda/EPA)

At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, officials endorsed a document, Agenda 21, emphasizing the need for community-led responses to sustainable development challenges. However, in the 20 years that have since passed, local responses to sustainable development challenges have seldom been acknowledged at the international level.

In general, high-level international panels on sustainability have promoted development from the top-down, focusing on, “particular forms of technological fix, whereby advanced science and engineering are harnessed towards solutions that can be rolled out at a large scale—whether in biotechnology (to produce high yielding crops to feed 9 billion people), or geo-engineering and low carbon energy technologies (to mitigate climate change).” The international approach has tended to ignore small-scale, grassroots innovations. It has, “related only sporadically, if at all, to the array of innovative grassroots initiatives springing up in farms and forests, villages and municipalities, factories and homes,” around the world.

According to a press release from the STEPS Centre, “the targets, indicators and approaches being used to pursue progress towards sustainable development at Rio+20 are counterproductive,” because they rely on large scale technological solutions. Scientists at the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Institute, and Tellus Institute, are actively promoting the idea that the principles of sustainable development should emphasize a diversity of solutions, embracing both small-scale grassroots and large-scale technological innovations in a multidimensional way.

To effectively address food insecurity, for instance, these scientists suggest the dual promotion of large-scale innovations, like plant breeding and biotechnology, and small-scale innovations, like soil and water conservation education for indigenous farmers. They recommend dialogue that brings farmers, scientists, businesses, and policymakers together, for they believe it can help, “to clarify the roles of these different innovation pathways in addressing diverse national and local sustainability priorities.”

According to Professor Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, “science, technology and innovation can help avert catastrophic developmental and environmental damage. But only if we move beyond outdated notions of whose innovation counts, to empower the vital contributions of poorer people’s own creativity in building green and fair economies and contributing to resilient socio-techno-ecological systems.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a research associate with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep25

Five Tips for City Growers

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By Molly Redfield

Asphalt-strewn streets and blank-faced skyscrapers dominate city landscapes. But in recent years, cities have also become places where anything from rooftop pumpkin patches to herb-crowded windowsills flourish. With the right ingredients—healthy soil, enough sunlight, plenty of water, seeds, and, of course, the space to throw it all together—it seems as if urbanites can now grow a garden anywhere.

City gardeners must take into consideration uniquely urban concerns when growing food (Photo Credit: the Thrive Post)

But cities are still unique growing environments. Tall buildings can shade out the sun and block or redirect wind. Heavy metals or other pollutants may contaminate the soil. And space in a densely populated city might be difficult to come by. These are some of the concerns, among others, that urban agriculturalists must keep in mind to grow healthy and productive gardens.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five tips that are especially relevant to farmers, gardeners, and other agriculturalists growing gardens in cities around the world.

Soil:Because many cities have a past of rapid industrialization, or are currently industrializing, their soils can contain toxic heavy metal byproducts such as lead or cadmium. Plants uptake these heavy metals through their roots and then incorporate them into their vegetative tissue. When people consume fruits, vegetables, and other products grown in toxic soils they are, often unknowingly, exposed to these contaminants. Children are especially vulnerable to heavy metals and, according to the World Health Organization, a blood lead concentration in children exceeding 10 µg/dL (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood) is associated with cognitive impairment.

Urban growers have several ways to avoid contaminated soil. One method consists of simply overlaying healthy soils, manure, and loam over contaminated city ground. Instead of completely replacing soils, though, another remedial effort includes mixing organic matter and limestone with city soils. By decreasing the acidity of soils and making lead bind more readily to non-living organic matter, this technique prevents heavy metal uptake in plants. In fact, treating and replacing a depth of only seven inches of city soils can effectively protect the root layer of most common garden plants from heavy metals like lead. Lastly, growing produce out of raised beds or containers with healthy soil is another way for farmers to be certain that their produce is safe.

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Sep06

Sustainable Development through Information: the Community Innovation Resource Center

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By Victoria Russo

Today Nourishing the Planet highlights the Community Innovation Resource Center, a program started by Kaganga John, a Ugandan community activist, farmer, and environmentalist.  Through a partnership with the Global Giving Project, the program aims to collect funds for technological hardware including computers with internet capabilities, radios, and televisions in order to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa. Throughout Kaganga John’s life, he has seen his community struggle with chronic issues of hunger and environmental degradation. As a young adult he committed himself to improving the quality of life in his community; through projects such as the Resource Center, he will sustain these changes for future generations to come.

The Community Innovation Resource Center aims to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa (Photo credit: Community Innovation Resource Center)

Kaganga John knows firsthand the difficulty and importance of obtaining quality education. Largely self-educated, he started his own second-hand bookstore in order to have greater access to knowledge. When Kaganga John saw that his community largely lacked quality education, he dedicated his life to improving the situation. After helping to reforest, educate, and ensure the sustainability of his community, Kaganga John now faces the challenge of connecting Kikandwa with the rest of the world. Kikandwa is located 50 kilometers from the nearest technology resource center, and has, until recently, lacked access to the internet. Kikandwa is not unique in this respect, as only 10 percent of Ugandans have access to the internet, though that number is growing. Kaganga John hopes that the Global Giving Project will allow his fellow community members to increase their knowledge and to share their experiences with others facing similar challenges.

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Sep04

Sol Food Mobile Farm: Leading the Food Justice Movement to your Backyard

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By Molly Redfield

The crew of Sol Mobile Farm is bringing new meaning to the term “food movement.” In June 2012, the team of four started on a sixth month trip. They would travel, they decided, from North Carolina, up the East Coast, over to the West Coast, down to the South, and then back again in a 57 passenger red school bus. Along this distance, which covers over 11,000 kilometers, the crew would stop at farmers markets, schools, and community centers in order to spread knowledge about sustainable living and the possibility of locally sourced food systems.

The greenhouse in the back of this retrofitted bus provides an innovative classroom for children of all ages. (Photo credit: Sol Food Mobile Farm)

Equipped with peel-and-stick solar panels, a green roof, a vermicomposting system, a mobile green house, waste-water collection tanks, and residential quarters constructed out of recycled materials, the bus is a microcosm of sustainable living. Most intriguingly, it has been retrofitted to run off of waste vegetable oil. This means that the Sol Food Mobile Farm crew can live and work out of the bus as they travel to communities across the United States advocating for local food systems and renewable energy sources. The Sol Mobile Farm crew states, “We aim to serve communities in their own backyards!  By recognizing that every community has a unique set of resources and skills, we hope to provide a meaningful gardening experience for the sites we visit.”

Sol Food Mobile Farm plans to host 5-day gardening workshops in at least 10 major cities across the country. At these workshops, the crew will work with groups of local youth to construct up to 8 raised garden beds. Honing in on major cities and their food desert neighborhoods, Sol Food Mobile Farm hopes to connect kids to their food and community. Additionally, by offering hands-on gardening experience through their workshops and demonstrations, the crew wants to leave a fresh wave of young environmental stewards in their wake.

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Aug31

Challenges Exist Using Video to Spread Farmer Knowledge

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By Angela Kim

By the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions in the world. Most of this growth was driven by developing countries, which accounted for 80 percent of new mobile-cellular subscriptions. Although this rapid expansion of technology has created advantages for rural farmers, including linking farmers to markets, improving transportation logistics, and greater access to videos via cellular devices, substantial challenges still exist in the use of video to teach and learn sustainable agricultural practices.

Videos can be used as a teaching method to share experiences in sustainable farming. (Photo credit: Naimul Haq/IPS)

Video has become an alternative medium for helping farmers learn to integrate crop and pest management. Instructional videos can overcome the problem of illiteracy among rural farmers—according to United Nations data, approximately 80 percent of those living in developing countries can’t read. Women in rural farming communities, in particular, who more often lack access to education, land, and capital, have benefited from video-based training, which has helped them to become rural entrepreneurs.

Despite several benefits of using videos to spread farmer knowledge, the quality of content has a major influence on farmers’ interest in participating. Digital Green, an India-based project that uses video to advance existing agricultural extension systems, has demonstrated that videos of classroom-style lectures were perceived by farmers to be monotonous. Instead, they like more intimate, diversified-content types that include concrete demonstrations, testimonials, and even entertainment. And according to Digital Green, the degree to which farmers trust the content of a video depends on the language, clothing, and mannerisms featured in the film. Farmers involved with Digital Green were more inclined to trust information in videos that featured their neighbors than those which featured government experts.

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