Posts Tagged ‘organic’

Jan17

OP-ED: Organic Farming Movement Marginal but Growing Worldwide

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Check out this op-ed published in the Inter Press Service news agency, about Worldwatch’s recent Vital Signs report on organic agriculture.

The article discusses the benefits and opportunities of organic farming worldwide. Irganic farmland has grown more than threefold since 1999; in this time, certified organic products have created a niche market, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants.

To read the full article, click here.

Jan15

Certified Organic Farmland Still Lagging Worldwide

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By Laura Reynolds 

Despite the growing worldwide demand for organic food, clothing, and other products, the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, 37 million hectares of land were organically farmed—an area that has grown more than threefold since 1999.

Certified organic farmland still represents just .9 percent of all agricultural land. (Photo credit: Andrew Hyde)

There is large regional variation in the area of land farmed organically. Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations, leads the world in certified organic land, with 12.1 million hectares in 2010. In contrast, North America had 2.6 million hectares of organic land, and Africa had just over 1 million hectares.

Reliable data are lacking for land that is farmed using organic principles but that is not certified organic. Many farmers, particularly subsistence farmers or those selling to local markets, farm organically but do not acquire organic certification. Certified organic products have created a niche market in recent decades, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants.

The countries with the most certified organic producers in 2010 were India (400,551 farmers), Uganda (188,625), and Mexico (128,826), while the region that added the most organic farmland between 2009 and 2010 was Europe. Overall, the amount of organically farmed land worldwide dropped slightly, by 0.1 percent, between 2009 and 2010—due largely to a decrease in organic land in India and China.

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Oct10

Ask Trader Joe’s to Support Labeling of GM Foods

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By Carol Dreibelbis

On November 6, California citizens will vote on Proposition 37. This ballot initiative would require labeling of raw or processed foods made with genetically modified (GM) materials and prevent GM foods from being labeled as “natural.”

Trader Joe’s currently refuses to support labeling of GM foods through Proposition 37 (Photo credit: www.SumOfUs.org).

Mark Bittman, a food writer for The New York Times, explains that Proposition 37 is not just a ban on GM foods: “it’s a right-to-know law.” He continues, “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced.” Bittman points out that Proposition 37 has received bipartisan support in California as well as across the country (91 percent of American voters support the labeling of GM foods).

Despite widespread support for Proposition 37, Trader Joe’s—one of the largest organic retailers in the country—currently refuses to support the ballot initiative, even though Whole Foods Market and other competitors have already shown their support for the labeling of GM foods. At the same time, agribusiness companies like Monsanto are funding hefty campaigns to defeat Proposition 37.

Even if you are not a citizen of California, you can have a say in this election. If you would like to find out more about Proposition 37 and encourage Trader Joe’s to support the initiative, you can read and sign this petition by SumOfUs, a movement for corporate accountability.

According to Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney, the election in California will have ripple effects across the country: “If manufacturers change national labeling practices to conform to California law, the effects will show up on every grocery shelf in America.”

Click here to ask Trader Joe’s to support labeling of GM foods.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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

Similar blog posts:

  1. New Study on Monsanto Maize Raises Serious Concerns about Safety of GM Foods
  2. Benbrook Study on GM Crops and Pesticides
  3. New Harvest’s Jason Matheny Shares Perspectives on the Future of Meat Alternatives
  4. The Challenges of Organic: Scott Updike of the USDA National Organic Program Speaks
  5. Monsanto Receives ‘F’ on Sustainable Agriculture Test
  6. Food & Water Watch Campaigns to Remove GE Corn from Walmart
Sep26

Citywatch: Getting to the Right Question on the Nutrient Benefits of Organic Food

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Stanford recently released a controversial study comparing organic and conventionally produced foods (Photo Credit: Susan Troccolo)

The international media had a field day headlining a Stanford university study dissing the nutritional benefits of organic food. I hope it’s not too late for me to ask a few questions that might steer the debate in a more useful direction.

I would like the media to explain why a study that was not based on either original research or professional expertise was considered so significant.

The paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is strictly a “meta-analysis,” combining some of the findings of some 200 other scientists’ publications over the years. It is the ninth such paper to come out in a decade, and the fourth to turn thumbs down on organic claims to significant superiority in the nutritional realm – not exactly trail-blazing stuff. Nor, considering the ability of writers to cherry pick various findings from different individual studies, does a meta-analysis inherently prove much more than ability to cherry pick. That’s why new hard research, rather than summaries of old research, is usually the stuff of news stories.

I would also like to ask why no-one checked the qualifications of this 12-person team, which was granted immediate credibility, despite the absence of a professional nutritionist, agrologist or bio-medical specialist. One is a librarian, a few are graduate students,  several are medical doctors who specialize in such fields as infectious disease, bio-terrorism, diagnosis or HIV, one is a mathematician, one an administrator, one a research assistant.

The heavy-hitter on the team is Igram Olkin, an 88 year-old retired professor of statistics. Stanford University media releases cite his renown as a specialist in meta-analysis, without mentioning that his name is batted around as a paid witness on statistics for the tobacco industry. Given that the Stanford team’s use of statistics is subjected to withering criticism by organic advocate and academic Charles Benbrook, it’s odd no mainstream reporter checked to see if where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It’s also a bit odd that no-one asked what an article on nutritional merits of organic foods was doing in a medical journal, given that doctors have minimal training, credentials or interest in this field – although maybe I’ve just answered my own question.

One of the first things I learned when researching for my first serious food book some 15 years ago was that the relation between organic and nutrition does not compute.

Nutritional levels vary according to a host of factors. One big one is the quality of soil long before anyone farmed it organically or conventionally (no history of volcanoes in New York means no rich volcanic ash in the soil, for example). Another factor that has little to do with organic or conventional is when the crop was picked (tomatoes get most of their vitamin C as they turn red, not when they’re hard and green, which is when they get picked by machines).

The list of crucial questions and variables keeps growing: how long was the produce in a truck or store, under what conditions was the food stored, how was the food prepared (some vitamins are destroyed by heat, some nutrients only become available when heated).

It’s quite likely that healthier and stronger plants grow on organically-managed soils, without any help from synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  But that’s no guarantee that the plants bulked up on more nutrients. Organic or not, plants work to meet their own survival needs, not ours, and the optimum level of vitamin B needed by a particular plant may or may not work best for humans. That’s why people choose particular plants if they’re looking for high doses of particular nutrients.

Put the whole mix together, and a study based on analysis of a conventional ruby red tomato, lightly cooked immediately after picking, will probably show more nutrients than an organic tomato picked green from an industrial organic farm a week ago, hauled across the continent on a truck, and left to sit at a salad bar, for example. These are the kinds of things that affect nutrient levels, and anyone who knows more about nutrition than editors of a conventional medical journal would hear alarms ringing in their ears if writers started making a big case about nutrient differences with or without organic.

This is why nutrition expert Marion Nestle started her blog item on the controversy by saying “sigh,” as in “have I not explained this a hundred times already?” Organic advocates rarely make a nutritional claim, she points out. So the Stanford article is knocking down a straw man.

With dairy and meat, new evidence suggests that a key issue is how animals are treated. Still- controversial studies suggest that grass-fed animals have more nutritious milk and meat than animals fed corn and soy – no matter whether organic or conventional. That’s only logical, given that most animals evolved to eat grass rather than corn or soy, which are good for bulking up fast, but not necessarily so good for complex nutrients.

Organic scores well, even in the Stanford study, in terms of pesticide residue, which is as important to personal health as nutrients. Almost no-one is suffering from scurvy, rickets or wasting in North America or Europe, where the Stanford study got a lot of media, but breast, prostate, colon and bladder cancers have affected almost every family. A strong case can be made that toxic residues from pesticides, brought into the body by food, are implicated in these cancers. So this isn’t exactly a minor selling point for organics.

On the question of toxins, however, I’m also intrigued that there are any—not 30 per cent less, but any—pesticide residues on organic. That can only mean that the toxins from conventional fields migrated by air, rain or water table to organic fields, and who knows where else.

Why didn’t that set off media alarm bells? It means that people who pay extra for organic are still getting toxic residues that rightfully belong to the people who produced and bought conventional food.

This is an issue worthy of a meta-analysis. Are organic consumers dupes, taking the toxic bullet for people who saved money thanks to pesticides. Is it fair that some farmers get to cut their production costs by spreading toxins throughout the environment?

Since the Stanford team is asking whether organic costs more when it doesn’t deliver more nutrients, why doesn’t the team also ask the flip side of the question—whether conventional gets to charge less because the toxic load is passed on to everyone?

That question gets to the penultimate tricky question of agricultural prices. Why do some get to offload costs to the environment for free, while those who contribute to a safer environment get no fee compensating them for their extra work on behalf of the public good? If an environmental fee was paid to the farmer producing the environmental service, then all farmers would compete on an even playing field, and no academics would ever have to ask whether organic delivers more value for the money.

Why doesn’t the Stanford team, or any of the media following their study, ask that?  There I go again, answering my own question.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

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

Sep12

Citywatch: Forest Gardens in Honduras Make the Best of Two Worlds

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

Forest gardens are a great way to both produce food and mitigate climate change (Photo Credit: Veganic Agriculture Network)

Yorito, Honduras. The drought parching harvests in several of the world’s most productive food baskets is the summer’s hottest global food story. Eerily, it’s matched by the season’s hottest archeological finding, which comes across as a cautionary tale.

Benjamin Cook, who sifts through mountains of computerized data rather than dusting off shards of pottery like old-fashioned archeologists, developed a climate model that explains one of the great mysteries of Western hemisphere history — the sudden collapse of the advanced and mighty Mayan Empire roughly 1300 years ago.

Turns out that drought, human-caused drought, was the culprit that made Central America, home base for the Mayans, uninhabitable. The Mayans chopped down forests both to clear land for farming maize (corn) and to burn timber used to convert limestone into building blocks for Mayan temples, much like energy-intense process used to make today’s cement.

Once the region lost its dark forest canopy that previously absorbed the sun’s rays, the heat bounced back into the atmosphere, thereby evaporating clouds that once dropped rain needed to feed the first empire entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn. History seems to be repeating itself, for the second of the western hemisphere’s great empires is entirely dependent on a food supply centered around corn and an energy system bent on deforestation.

But what I saw in Honduras confirms there is life after plantation-style fields of corn. It just takes a complete rethink of the standard polarization so common in “Western” thinking, which holds that forests need to be cleared into fields before they will be capable of producing agriculture and civilization.

The continued holding power of that myth influences today’s urban forestry ethic, which promotes city trees as ways to bring nature back to the city and provide pleasing and calming environments that improve air quality and boost mental health. But a new generation of city tree boosters see orchards and forests as ways to grow food, not just an escape from the Civilization Blues.

What I saw among the Indigenous peoples in Yorito and its surrounding mountain ranges certainly confirms the view that forest gardens have what it takes to provide food, as well as other benefits.

Of course, Honduras has some obvious advantages when it comes to food production. Aside from a tropical climate, it’s classified as a “center of origin” for many of the world’s major food crops, such as   corn. It enjoys plenty of genetic diversity of its own, as well as imports from other tropical colonies controlled by Spanish conquerors of Central America.

If Yorito, where I was based, gets on the tourist map for forest gardens, it will be the first time Yorito gets on the tourist map. The village is about a three-hour drive north on paved road from the capital city. The nearby mountain villages we visited every day are another two-hour lurching jeep drive over rib-crunching dirt and gravel roads (Note to self—never underestimate the value of high-quality country roads again).

We ate our morning and evening meals in the living room of Nelba Velasquez, one of Yorito’s leading micro-entrepreneurs, who started a water purification plant staffed by young single moms, as well as a landscape shop and forest garden in her own quarter-acre yard. Much of the food in the restaurant comes from the garden. Like many people in town, she grows beans and squash on raised beds and hosts a number of chickens, who live up to the free in free range.

The first thing I notice is that the temperature in her forest garden drops about five degrees, partly thanks to shade and partly due to the evaporation of cool water from broad-leafed trees. Nelba says she sometimes comes here for a cool afternoon snooze in a hammock tied between two trees – the latest must-have in forest gardening.

Here in one overgrown parcel of a quarter acre lot, I see a beautiful and scrumptious answer to climate chaos, hunger, and the chronic disease pandemic created by deficiency of micronutrients suffered by rich and poor alike. Nelba has been tending this garden for 26 years ago, when she bought the abandoned livestock pasture she turned into a home.

If this were a supermarket, no-one would complain about lack of choice in the produce or medicine aisles from a hundred-foot diet.

Here is my count of what fits in her backyard besides a hammock, a clothes line, a baking oven for bread, a catchment basin for rainwater, two heaps of Japanese-style super-powered compost called Bokachi, a woodpile, a raised bed garden for vegetables, and a showroom for landscape plants: four avocado trees, two of two different kinds of guava trees, a papaya tree, a mandarin orange and lemon tree, a tree bearing yellow Nanci berries for juice, a plum, 60 coffee plants, a tamarind and an allspice tree, with sweet grass (for Thai soup and tea), balladania (a herbal that soothes anxiety), allspice and passion fruit hanging out of the fence lining her neighbor’s property.  Did I almost forget ten varieties of banana?

The entire garden is organic and requires no plowing, which keeps all the carbon stored by trees and in the soil intact, a powerful measure to mitigate global warming.

Nelba puts the diversity down to a personality quirk. “I always want to diversify everything. My hands are in everything,” Nelba tells me after our tour.

Aside from running the water purification plant next door one day a week, Nelba is also on the local public health board and is treasurer of her local “cial,” which promotes seed diversity as a tool of empowerment for low-income communities. Forest gardens are sprouting among the hilltops dominated by beans and corn, wherever cial chapters flourish.

I believe these kinds of forest gardens are becoming the next new thing in North America’s local food movement. Earlier this summer, Seattle claimed to have North America’s first, only to be jumped on by a score of cities and towns claiming they were first. The nice thing is that edible forest gardens don’t have to compete with trees grown for beauty, shade and animal habitat. Forests are all-inclusive presences.

We don’t need a prophet to lead us out of the wilderness, my solar engineer friend Greg Allen likes to say. We need a prophet to lead us back. Food production can be part of that restoration.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

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

Aug28

Five Holistic Alternative Farming Methods: Agroecology at its Best

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By Ioulia Fenton

In March 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Olivier De Schutter, presented a report highlighting how agroecology holds promise for alleviating hunger, reducing poverty, preserving the environment, and fighting climate change.

Polyface Farms uses an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space (Photo Credit: Glory Bea)

“The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species,” says the report.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways in which different agroecological methods are being practiced to varying degrees around the world:

1.      Duck attack on the rice paddies of Asia. Asian farmers cultivating organic rice have adapted an ingenious way to cut out pesticide and herbicide use—ducks. Two or three weeks after rice seedlings have been planted, ducks patrol paddy waters and happily feed on unwanted pests, such as the golden snail and a host of insect species that feed on the rice plants. The ducks’ feces enhance the soil, which they stir up with their beaks and feet, a process that also helps enrich the paddies with the oxygen that plants need to thrive (soil oxygenation). The feathered army also feeds on weeds, which eliminates the need for pesticides and for the manual labor associated with manual weeding. The ducks also provide an additional means of income, for farmers can sell them at harvest time. According to an article by the Japan Information Network, the method, which originated in Japan, has now spread to South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, and even as far as Iran.

2.      It is all about the bushes and the bees in Canada. Bees are vital to agriculture and natural biodiversity—according to the Royal Society, 76 percent of the world’s most widely used food crops require pollination to be productive. A new Canadian initiative is looking to put bees to work to help conserve a fragile area.

Trees are needed to protect watersheds—delicate areas of land that form the drainage systems for streams and rivers in which many plant and animal species thrive. Trees and shrubs help filter pollutants from storm water runoff and anchor the soil with their roots, which reduces erosion. With a grant from the British Columbia Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative, the Murray family aims to use their small woodland plot located in the West Kootenay region near Slocan Lake to blend apiculture (bee keeping) with integrated agroforestry (agriculture that incorporates the cultivation and conservation of trees). In this system, the bees will pollinate the shrubs and the shrubs and the plethora of small private woodlands and streams found in the area will, in turn, provide the surface water and natural windbreak protection required by the bees.

3.      Ancient and modern aquaponics around the world. According to the Centre for Sustainable Aquaponics, part of the solution to the global search for greener fish and crop production that does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides can be found in aquaponics—a combination of aquaculture (the cultivation of aquatic animals and plants for food) and soilless plant agriculture known as hydroponics. The combined technique, where crops are grown in a body of water that contains fish, has been used by ancient Aztecs and the ancestors of Far East countries like China. It is increasingly being used all over the world today. The process renders needless the use of chemicals since, in a seamless aquatic dance, the fish-waste fertilizes the plants, which, in turn, cleanse the water of toxins that would be dangerous for the fish.

4.      “Do nothing but microorganisms” farming in Thailand. According to a report by Horizon Solutions, in Thailand, over 20,000 farmers have now adopted an integrated farming system known as “do nothing farming”—they cultivate crops with minimal interference in nature: “namely no ploughing, no weeding, no chemical pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, and no pruning.” They do, however, use effective microorganisms (EMs) that were developed by Dr. Teruo Higa from the agricultural department at the University of Ryukyu, Japan. EMs are a combination of microorganisms that readily exist in nature and have not been interfered with in any way, merely added to the fields. By enriching the soil and stimulating plant growth, EMs increase crop yields whilst allowing the farmer to maintain the balance of the ecosystem—a complex set of relationships among plants, animals, and non-living materials of an area.

5.      Grass farming in the United States. Joel Salatin calls himself a grass farmer. His Polyface Farms, in Swoope, Virginia, were made famous by appearances in Michael Pollan’s book An Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh. The hilly homestead is set on 100 acres of grass, surrounded by 400 acres of woodland. It is a polyculture—an agricultural system that tries to imitate the diversity of a natural ecosystem by using multiple crop and animal species in the same space. It includes chickens, cows, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs.

Salatin carefully orchestrates all the elements in an intricate symbiosis—every being follows its natural instincts to contribute an ecosystem service (benefit) that maintains the overall health of the pasture. For example, his large herd of cows feeds on a different quarter acre of grass every day and contributes manure. Three days later, three hundred laying hens—Polyface Farms’ “sanitation crew”—are let loose to gorge on the fat fly larvae that have grown in the cowpats. This gives the chickens an important source of rich protein, while helping to spread manure and further fertilize the paddock with their own very rich nitrogen-laden excrement.

The farm’s closed loop, natural system is highly successful, producing 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs on just 100 acres. And, as Pollan writes, “at the end of the year, there is more biodiversity not less, more fertility not less, and more soil, not less.”

Do you know of other agroecological farming methods being practiced around the world? Share them in the comments below.

Ioulia Fenton is a Food and Agriculture Research Intern at Nourishing the Planet.

Check out other Nourishing the Planet posts that highlight alternative agricultural methods: Aquaponics: An Overview, What Works: Aquaculture, Five Ways to Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals, Five Sustainable Innovations in Aquaculture, Five Agricultural Innovations to Improve Biodiversity, The Birds, the Bees….and Plants, and Five Innovations that are Boosting Soil Fertility.

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

Aug02

12 Innovations to Combat Drought, Improve Food Security, and Stabilize Food Prices

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By Seyyada A. Burney

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing drought assistance to 1,584 counties across 32 states and warns of increased food prices in 2013 as a result of corn and soybean yield losses.

Drought is plaguing the United States, driving up food prices. (Photo credit: KPBS San Diego)

Corn is currently selling at around $9 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June, while soybeans are selling at a record high of $17 a bushel as a result of drought-related losses in crop yields. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products.

Nearly half of all domestic corn production is used as livestock feed, a trend that is now encouraging larger livestock producers to import corn from Brazil while smaller farmers must reduce herd sizes by sending more animals to the market. Most immediately, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to the animals’ more rapid growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. The price of beef is projected to rise the highest—4 to 5 percent by November—but at a slower rate, reflecting the longer growth period and higher feed requirements of beef cattle.

Higher U.S. grain prices could have an even greater impact worldwide. The United States is the world’s largest corn producer as well as a major exporter of crop-derived agricultural products. Declining domestic production could translate into exacerbated food security problems abroad. Countries that import corn and soybean byproducts or animal feed, such as Japan and Mexico, will be affected the most.

Climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought.

The Nourishing the Planet (www.NourishingthePlanet.org) project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable.

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Jul10

Five Ways to Get Rid of Pests Without Using Chemicals

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By Graham Salinger

Pests can be, well, a pest. They infest crops and reduce yields, reducing overall agricultural production and food security. To deal with pests, such as mealybugs or spider mites, most farmers use chemical pesticides which can impact health, pollute water supplies through runoff, and, if pesticides are misused or overused, can actually kill plants. Finding new methods to get rid of pests without requiring chemical inputs has increasingly become a priority for many farmers.

Implementing these methods can save crops from destructive pests without the need for harmful pesticides. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet introduces five crop management methods that control pests without using chemical pesticides.

1. Crop rotation:  Crop rotation involves alternating the species of crop that a farmer grows on his or her land each year. Rotating crops helps prevent pests from getting used to the type of plant that is being cultivated. Planting different species of crops each growing season also promotes soil fertility.  Planting legumes, a plant that helps fertilize crops through nitrogen fixing bacteria that it has on its roots, and then planting crops that require high levels of nitrogen helps make sure that soil is healthy each growing season. And healthy soil helps protect against pests because an imbalance in plant nutrition increases a harvest’s vulnerability to pests, according to Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation, a non- profit that focuses on linking agricultural sustainability to social development.

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Jun30

Saturday Series: An Interview with Sarah Alexander

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By Olivia Arnow

Nourishing the Planet’s new Saturday Series, in which we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Sarah Alexander and the Keystone Center work to facilitate problem-solving models in the areas of sustainability, agriculture, and environmental cleanup. (Photo credit: keystone.org)

Name: Sarah Alexander

Affiliation: The Keystone Center

Bio: Sarah serves as the Director of Environmental Practice for The Keystone Center. Her work with conflict resolution and consensus building on sustainability issues over the past 18 years has resulted in important agreements, innovations, and policy impacts for agriculture and land use.

How did you come to the Keystone Center? What sort of work you do?

After studying environmental studies in college, I had a particular interest in agriculture and food systems and knew I wanted to help find solutions to environmental issues. That’s what the Keystone Center does: they bring people together to fight problems collaboratively and proactively.

Keystone does a broad variety of work with health and energy and initially I worked with cold war infrastructure, finding ways to return federal facilities and military bases back to the community. It was through Keystone’s sustainability work that I got back into agriculture.

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Apr20

The Challenges of Organic: Scott Updike of the USDA National Organic Program Speaks

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By Marlena White

Scott Updike is an Agricultural Marketing Specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s National Organic Program Standards Division and recently spoke to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future about organic standards for meat production and processing. He also touched on how meat production fits into the organic model and just what organic means in the first place.

Scott Updike of the USDA’s National Organic Program spoke about organic standards for livestock production. (Image credit: USDA)

“There are a lot of misperceptions about what organic is and is not” Updike says. The organic label, he explains, is strictly about the process, and does not refer to its health, nutritional, or taste qualities. When meat is certified organic, it means that methods and standards have been followed from the raising and feeding of the animal, to the processing, packaging, and transport of the final product.

When questioned why the organic standards do not focus more on the environment, Updike points out that the organic standards are a broad based set of regulations that encompass maintaining or improving natural resources, animal health and living conditions, minimal use of synthetic substances, and not using excluded methods (like genetic modifications). The organic community is very involved in the development of organic standards, but what organic means differs from person to person.

These differences in opinion, Updike explains, are often due to the various motivations people have for embracing organic. For example, Updike referenced a former National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) member who was a self described “chemophobe” wanting artificial chemicals out of the food supply. Other consumers want to support more environmentally sustainable production, while for some, it is most important to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In addition, when the legislation authorizing the National Organic Program was written, organic crop production was more understood than organic livestock production, leading to less clear management requirements for organic livestock.

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