Thursday, March 25, 2010

a large farm in small pieces

There is one obvious mistake with this plan. Extra credit for anyone who points it out.

OK let's take a look at an existing parcel of land and do a bit of planning with the end goal of a working homestead that produces not only most of what the residents need and want but also produces extra to generate income. This particular parcel is made up of open land that was formerly farmed shown in yellow-green and areas of existing forest shown in dark green. You can see the existing residence and detached garage at the end of the driveway that connects them to the road.

Moving forward I've removed the colour that indicates which area is open space and which are is existing forest but I've left the outline of the forest so we can keep an eye on it during the planning process.

There are several locations that lend themselves to becoming ponds for water cleansing and storage as well as a place to raise fish, frogs and other protein sources and to serve as habitat for all the animals living on this and the surrounding properties. Pond and stream construction will be a major undertaking so it's best to locate these early in the process and to do this work as soon as possible.

Next I've highlighted areas to remain as existing forest areas. These will serve as habitat for animals and plants and also as a sustainable fuel source for home heating and cooking. They can also be sustainably foraged. One area at the northern edge of the parcel is shown as a reforestation project.

The next image shows tree replacement in several previously forested locations in the form of two different types of orchards. Near the residence you can see row orchards with fruit trees. These will also have cover crops grown under that trees and will serve as a place to pasture poultry. The mixed orchards shown further from the residence will contain a more varied selection of trees including maples for syrup, oaks for acorns, fruit and nut trees and hardwoods for lumber. This mixed orchard will be more intensively managed than the areas left as existing forest but will not be clear cut and replanted all at once. Old trees will be cut for lumber for construction projects on the property and for fuel and new trees will be phased in. The end goal is a managed forest that is not as natural as the native mature forests of this part of the country but not as non-natural as the row orchards.

Certain areas are fenced in and will serves as rotating pastures for cows, sheep, goats, poultry and llamas. I have always wanted llamas.

Row crops will be grown between the main residence and several new residences and out buildings shown below. The main circulation paths are also shown below. Notice how most of the row crops, new structures and pasture areas are outside the outline of the existing forest.

The final plan tries to consider the needs of those humans who inhabit the site as well as the other plants and animals that share this parcel of land. It has a diversity of ecosystems making it a more flexible, adaptable homestead.

last minute notice of speaking engagement

If you don't have plans for this evening (Thursday, March 25) feel free to join me at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library (directions below). I'll be giving a presentation entitled, Rebuilding Local Food Systems. It starts at 5:30pm.

We will talk why we should and why we must change the way we eat in the U.S. I'll also be profiling local food projects including the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm Park in Concord, The Village of Blume in Harrisburg and The Center for Urban Agriculture in Charlotte, NC.

See you there

View Larger Map

Thursday, March 18, 2010

neighborhood farming

This week we're going to examine a strategy aimed at expanding the area available for growing food in a particular neighborhood. It happens to be the neighborhood where I live. The map above shows my town. My neighborhood is marked by an asterisk. I don't have an abundance of sun in my yard so a few years ago I went looking to see if other people had more sun and were interested in growing food. Here's my neighborhood.

Here's my property in red.

I started by going across the street and asking my elderly neighbor if I could garden in her backyard. Then I recruited Eric who grows food in his backyard and is transitioning into a career as a farmer. Next I was able to start a garden in the backyard of the rental house next door to my property. It was part of a bartering arrangement whereby the landlord agreed to take down a few dying trees and in return I now grow food on her property. All of these active gardens are shown in dark green.

Several other people have expressed interest in helping to grow neighborhood food and/or have offered a sunny spot for a garden. These properties are shown in light green.

The biggest single area under cultivation is the vacant lot down the street. I've had some sort of a garden on that property for four years but this year it has been greatly expanded. It's shown in yellow.

Next we have the people interested in buying food. In years past I have given extra produce to these people, sometimes just leaving it on the backdoor step of neighbors I've never met as a way to start up a conversation. This year some of these people might formalize the relationship by becoming paying customers. These folks are shown in blue.

Other people in the neighborhood have offered compostable material, especially fallen leaves and grass clippings. Most of them have also expressed interest in helping to grow food and/or buying it. In fact most of the property owners represented on this map have overlapping interests in this neighborhood farming effort. These people are shown in orange.

Lastly there's the elementary school right around the corner. They have a great courtyard perfect for growing food and quite a bit of land out back that could be used to grow a great deal of vegetables. Frankly I haven't had the time to seriously address this opportunity... yet.

All of this needs work. Yes we have 462 gallons of rainwater storage capacity at the site across the street from my house and 12 raised beds and a great old apple tree. At the vacant lot however we don't have enough mulch stored for this coming growing season and we'll have to use municipal water unless I can find enough people willing to put in a decent rainwater harvesting system. A formal work schedule has yet to be developed. And the school, a huge opportunity, has not been included as of now. In other words this is, like any collective effort, an ongoing project that I imagine will continue to evolve. But it is the beginnings of model of expanding food production efforts beyond the boundaries of one particular property and out into the surrounding community. I can't wait to see where we go from here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Design Project Two :: Charlotte, NC Urban Farm

Today we're designing an urban farm. This one will become real if we can get the funding necessary to start the program. The specific location of the farm will have to remain a secret for now but it's in Charlotte, NC near uptown. Todd Serdula did most of the excellent graphic work on this proposal.

To start with we break down the design considerations into 4 categories.

Physical Components
Programing Elements
Transition and Construction
Marketing and Distribution

The Physical Components can best be thought of as the needs of the plants. At a basic level this means sun, soil and water. The Programing Elements are the energy sources for getting work done. Who or what actually does the work on the farm? What tasks are accomplished using hands, machines or animals? And how are decisions made? These are critical questions more important to the success of the farm than the Physical Components.

We also have to consider Transition and Construction. Farm infrastructure and programing takes development. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight. Lastly we have to think about what will happen to the food once it is ready for harvest. How does it get from field to fork? This will affect the farm design.

We start be identifying several vacant urban city lots owned by a willing partner. The partner also owns adjacent infrastructure including a warehouse, a vacant restaurant and parking. We test the soil and find no major problems. We put the land into cover crops to build soil while the design proceeds.

In this first phase we construct a welcome center, potting sheds and some demonstration gardens. This farm will serve educational needs as well as grow food. During the first phase the upper field will be a summer cover crop that reseeds itself, mostly likely buckwheat.

The lower field gets programed with a special cover crop that not only builds soil but also helps provide funding for the farm. A total of 48 squares, 30' X 30' are planted in sunflowers of various varieties. All of them are yellow except for one square selected at random which is a red sunflower variety. Individuals and companies sponsor squares with the hope that their square will be the winning red sunflower square. A website links participants and offers a 24/7 webcam as well as time lapse photography of the project. It's cover cropping meets cow patty bingo.

Phase Two includes a greenhouse with a float bed transplant system(sun), a composting system including vermiculture(soil) and a rainwater harvesting system(water). It also includes and an orchard, annual vegetable production and a post harvest handling facility with refrigeration, located within an existing warehouse.

Phase Three adds a greenhouse for winter vegetable and summer flower production. It also adds a workhouse for indoor projects and a 'living fence' made up of existing and moved structures to serve as housing for interns, agro-tourists and WWOOFers.

Phase Four rounds out the project with an additional greenhouse for aquaculture, an indoor market and distribution center in the warehouse as well as a value-add restaurant. Additional fruit trees and bushes are also planted. The result is a fully functional urban farm that celebrates community by supporting sustainable agriculture.

I'll update this post as the project moves forward.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

you live in china and who is joseph stack?

I find the recent terrorist attack by pilot, and US consumer, Joe Stack to be absolutely fascinating, but let me be clear from the beginning of this post that I don't share his beliefs or condone his actions. It's more accurate to say that the media coverage of the event is what fascinates me; the fact that there has been nearly none. You may be asking yourself, "Who is this Joe Stack he's talking about?" Clear your mind for a second and then answer me this, does the following sound like a story that the 24/7 US newz media could get all wrapped up in?

Austin TX (AP) -- A Man in Texas published to the World Wide Web a blistering verbal assault on the US government before setting fire to his own home and then flying an airplane into an Federal building in Austin, Texas killing one person and setting the building ablaze.

Boring Huh?

And yet, this story was buried without due ceremony within 48 hours of the incident. My first thought was to question why it wasn't getting more press. I couldn't help but wonder out loud, "Is it because his skin wasn't brown enough or because he didn't pray five times a day?"

So I watched with disbelief as everything unfolded or didn't unfold as it happened. And I was somewhat shocked by the scant coverage because it was mostly about semantics. The people charged with bringing us news (like stuff about people trying to destroy Federal buildings with airplanes) instead started a name-game about what to call Joe Stack. Was he a Terrorist? Was he a Domestic Terrorist? Nope, it turns out he was a 'Suicide Pilot.' This is where I called bullshit on the newz media coverage of the event.

So here's another question. If you live in China, and your Internet service is censored, how do you know it's censored? That is, if you can't see what you can't see, how do you know what you're missing. I ask this because I hear people here in the US touting their free press and their lack of censorship and yet I see a more devious form of censorship taking place in the lack of coverage of this story and others. It's not that the story of Joe Stack and his attack was banned- physically excluded from the Internet (more on that in a minute) but the censorship regarding this attack did come, only in a much more subtle form. It was simply avoided attention and therefore did not show up on the radar of average Americans who trust the US media to let them know when terrorists fly planes into buildings.

China has in place barriers which prevent certain websites from being displayed to Chinese Internet users. They apparently have not yet mastered the much more refined art of censorship through control on content. Did someone in the US government call American media outlets and ask them to downplay the Joe Stack Attack least he be copied by the increasing number of angry Americans joining the tax resistance movement? Or did they sense intuitively that talking about it might not be in the best interest of selling advertisement spots? Maybe they didn't want to tarnish the feel-good Olympic circus- the American medal count was up after all. But I thought if it bleeds it leads. And wasn't the media simultaneously going on and on about some guy pleading guilt to a NYC terrorist attack he never actually committed even while the Austin IRS building burned?

Nidal Hasan goes on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood and it was all over the front page. Joe Stack does his rant/fire/plane crash and gets no news coverage. What does gets newz coverage at that moment in time? Answer: Tiger Woods slept around and Glenn Beck turned library learning into a CPAC clown act. I guess we can finally put to rest that crap about a liberal media.

And actually there was some ineffectual direct censorship. The website where Mr. Stack published his anti-government rant was yanked down immediately; and then promptly revived by dozens of other websites. It's worth a read. Again I don't support what this guy did but I am amazed at both the lack of actual control of the story- it's out there if you know where to look- and the blatant attempt by someones to reduce dissemination of the information about Joe Stack and his attack on the US federal government. Amazing.

I don't know why the mainstream media didn't cover the Joe Stack terrorist attack in more detail (the only story about it up at the moment is that the widow of the IRS employee killed in the attack is suing Joe Stack's widow- how very American). But one thing has become very clear. The US media isn't going to cover the slow slide of decline that America is facing. The MSM newz organizations are all just a brand now, just like the US government and branding is about image not about substance. The substance of the media in this country and it's governing body have been hollowed out and papered over with logos, endless banter and spin.

You might as well live in China now (sweatshops and all) and you're going to hear very little about the others who get angry and lash out.


Friday, March 05, 2010

organics are dangerous

child unprotected spraying dangerous pesticides

Tom Philpott at writes,

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO—In another post, I’ll explain why I’m in Mexico for the next two weeks, and how I came to attend a conference sponsored by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, titled “Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries: Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries, and agro-industry to face the challenge of food insecurity and climate change.”

For now, I want to report on a fascinating interaction I had there with Roger Beachy, director of the USDA’s newly formed National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

First, a little context. NIFA, as it is known, is essentially the USDA’s research wing—it sets the agenda for the kind of research the agency funds. Meaning NIFA may have a pretty substantial effect on the kind of food system we’ll have in the future, because today’s research shapes tomorrow’s farming.

As I and others have reported before, Beachy ascended to the NIFA post from a long-time perch at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, which he led from 1999 until last year. The Danforth Center, a non-profit research institute associated with Washington University in St. Louis, describes itself like this:

The Danforth Center was founded in 1998 through gifts from the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation, the Monsanto Fund (a philanthropic foundation), and a tax credit from the State of Missouri.

The Danforth Center’s ties to GMO seed giant Monsanto run deep; Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant sits on Danforth’s board of directors, along with several others associated with the agrichemical giant.

It seems safe enough to call Danforth Monsanto’s not-for-profit research wing; and to describe Beachy is an industrial-ag man through and through. His performance at the FAO conference did nothing to dispel that notion.

From what I can tell, the confab, which took place at a sterile Hilton in a nondescript section of Guadalajara, hinges on the notion that GMO seeds are the only hope for the future of human existence on planet Earth—and that farmers in “developing countries” are pining to use them. In other words, the question isn’t whether patent-protected biotechnology is appropriate for small-scale farming in the global south; but rather how best to establish it there.

Ironically, as I’ll show in a later post, farmers—most glaringly Mexican farmers—were all but banned from attending. (This small farmer was waved in after flashing his Grist business card.)

Earlier today, I approached Beachy after a breakout session he moderated on how best to train developing-nation scientists in the techniques of biotechnology.

I introduced myself and handed him my business card. “Oh, we know Grist,” he said affably. “Don’t you guys have an interesting take on improved crops?”

“We try to have an interesting take on everything,” I replied with a grin. “Including quote-unquote improved crops.” I then asked if he would be available to take a few questions on the record.

At this point, a woman named Rachel Goldfarb moved into our conversation. Identifying herself as Beachy’s chief counsel, she informed me that he couldn’t give interviews without the approval of the USDA’s communications department. I replied that I would happily initiate that process in hopes of a future interview, and we exchanged business cards.

But then Beachy and I proceeded to have a short, cordial back-and-forth anyway. He said he was only interested in conducting interviews that directly pertained to science; he wasn’t keen to hash out people’s “spiritual objections” to GMOs.

I replied that I was mainly interested in hearing about NIFA’s research priorities. In certain parts of the USDA bureaucracy—I was thinking about Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Merrigan, but didn’t mention her—organic agriculture is taken quite seriously. Would NIFA be funding research for organic ag?

Beachy’s reply stunned me—and it also, I think, stunned his chief counsel. “I’m concerned about the safety of organic food,” he said. Come again? “I’m concerned about the issue of microbial contamination with organic….” read the rest.

Is Roger Beachy afraid of pesticides that are carcinogenic? Is he afraid of feeding them to his children. Is he afraid of letting other children spray them unprotected? Is he afraid of leaving a legacy of dead soil to his grandchildren? Is he afraid of toxifying our waterways? Is he afraid of poisoning the ecological systems on which life depends?

Nope. Apparently he's afraid of the Poopie Monster. It has become even more apparent to me over the last few weeks that the dominant religion in the US isn't Christianity. Jesus Christ doesn't even come in at second place. In this country we worship first and foremost Technology and Money, often together in twisted ceremonies like this one which we've sent as a missionary offering to Mexico.



Thursday, March 04, 2010

making starter soil

Today were going to make soil for starting seeds. Most of the ready-made starter soil available for sale has nasty fertilizers in it. As a certified organic farm we can't use any of that and while there are some certified organic soil mixes on the market, I like mixing my own. It's cheaper too. So here we go.

We start with peat moss. I recommend a high quality peat even if it costs a bit more. The cheap stuff has lots of trash in it. It's purchase in compressed bales so it needs to be sifted. I use a mesh screen to do that.

My recipe uses 4 five gallon buckets of peat moss lightly tamped so each bucket is packed full.

Then we add 1 five gallon bucket of perlite.

Next 1 bucket of vermiculite.

One bucket of worm castings or finely screened compost.

And lastly we add about 2 pounds of pulverize lime so the pH is right.

We add all of our ingredients into the electric cement mixer.

We add water. I've never measured this out. You want it moist but not soaking wet. My guess is about 1 five gallon bucket.

And then we let the mixer do its thing. Putting a cover over the opening allows the mixing bucket to be tipped on its side while spinning without spilling the soil. This greatly helps to get all the ingredients thoroughly mixed. To do this small U hooks were wielded to the mixer and bungee straps are used to hold on the lid (an old trashcan lid)

The results are poured out into a kiddie pool where we can fill up containers ready to be planted.

Extra soil gets stored in a contain that keeps it from drying out completely before we need more soil. Of course you could scale back this recipe and you could mix it by hand. This system really helps get lots of high quality starter soil ready in a short period of time.