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Organic Farming
The growing trend in Organic Farming
Curated by Giri Kumar
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Climate Change Altering Taste, Aroma and Health Benefits of Tea, Study

Climate Change Altering Taste, Aroma and Health Benefits of Tea, Study | Organic Farming |
Rising temperatures, amongst other climate changes is affecting tea cultivation, altering the beverage's taste, aroma and potential health benefits, according to Tufts University researchers.

Via Wendy Forbes
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Beneficial Insects For Natural Pest Control - Homestead Survivalist

Beneficial Insects For Natural Pest Control - Homestead Survivalist | Organic Farming |
Beneficial Insects For Natural Pest Control, Which Kinds Are Honestly Great? Organic Farming ~ What exactly do the majority of home gardens have in common?



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12 Things to Know About Humic Material

12 Things to Know About Humic Material | Organic Farming |
There is quite a bit about humic material that farmers and other agricultural professionals still don't know.




Humic material is formed by the decay of organic matter over a period of millions of years, and is 100% natural.A number of Native American cultures used forms of humic material to improve crop yields long before Europeans arrived.Humic material is actually a name for lots of different specific organic compounds, including humic acid, fulvic acid, etc., and is sometimes referred to as "humates."Because humic material helps soil hold more water, it can result in soils of good aggregate stability and better growing environments.In some studies, humic material was used to convert desert-like land and marginal patches of soil into viable farming environments.Additionally, studies with humic material suggest that it can decrease soil salinization and remove toxins (environmental contaminants) to allow plants to grow.Research has shown that plants grown in soil treated with humic material tend to germinate faster.Although humic material does not act as a fertilizer, it can enhance the effects of fertilizer and other soil additives and reduces gaseous, leaching and surface wash-out losses of nutrients.Plants that grow after humic material has been applied grow stronger, quicker and develop more root biomass, allowing for better crop yields. Also, humic material affects organic life at the microbial level, and can positively impact disease resistance amongst crops.Humic material does not work evenly across all plants and soil types, so experimentation is often needed to achieve the best results over time.Not all humic material has the same quality; in fact, the best humic material comes from Canada, where we source Black Earth products.- See more at:



Humic material is formed by the decay of organic matter over a period of millions of years, and is 100% natural.A number of Native American cultures used forms of humic material to improve crop yields long before Europeans arrived.Humic material is actually a name for lots of different specific organic compounds, including humic acid, fulvic acid, etc., and is sometimes referred to as "humates."Because humic material helps soil hold more water, it can result in soils of good aggregate stability and better growing environments.In some studies, humic material was used to convert desert-like land and marginal patches of soil into viable farming environments.Additionally, studies with humic material suggest that it can decrease soil salinization and remove toxins (environmental contaminants) to allow plants to grow.Research has shown that plants grown in soil treated with humic material tend to germinate faster.Although humic material does not act as a fertilizer, it can enhance the effects of fertilizer and other soil additives and reduces gaseous, leaching and surface wash-out losses of nutrients.Plants that grow after humic material has been applied grow stronger, quicker and develop more root biomass, allowing for better crop yields. Also, humic material affects organic life at the microbial level, and can positively impact disease resistance amongst crops.Humic material does not work evenly across all plants and soil types, so experimentation is often needed to achieve the best results over time.Not all humic material has the same quality; in fact, the best humic material comes from Canada, where we source Black Earth products.- See more at:
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BBC - Human Planet Explorer - Crop growing (pictures, video, facts & news)

BBC - Human Planet Explorer - Crop growing (pictures, video, facts & news) | Organic Farming |
Not all survival skills are short-term solutions. Some require serious foresight.


 Check all videos that are available.

About Crop growing

Before humans started farming, we were hunter-gatherers and the world population was only four million. Then, around 11,000 years ago, everything changed. In different parts of the world, all at the around the same time, our ancestors worked out how to grow cereals like rice, corn, wheat, and barley. It was the birth of crop production.


Of course, different crops are suited to different environments. In Central America, squash, maize, and beans were all groundbreakers while in South America it was the potato that proved most popular. On the other side of the world, in China, rice and millet put down the earliest roots and sorghum took the early lead in Africa. But no plants have been as successfully tamed as the grasses.

Despite there being around 10,000 different species of grass on the planet, just seven of them now feed around six billion people around the world. Wheat, for instance, now covers 600 million acres of land worldwide - an area twice the size of Alaska - and is just as important to a giant farm-owner in Australia as it to a subsistence farmer in Africa.

In the Simien mountains of Ethiopia, for example, farmers rely on wheat and barley for their sustenance but have so little fertile ground available that they are forced to farm the mountains’ precipitous cliff faces. But they aren’t the only ones interested in their precious harvest. Troops of Gelada baboons make raids on the crops, and it is all the local children can do to defend themselves and their all-important harvest.

Much further south, in the grasslands of Botswana, farmers go to much greater lengths to protect their crops. But then the crops here are being ravaged not by scores of hungry baboons, but by millions of red-billed quelea, the most abundant wild bird on the planet. When their huge flocks fly overhead they can take five hours to pass by, but when they land in a field they can take just minutes to eliminate it.

Faced with this winged plague, Botswanan bomb squads follow the enormous flocks to their roosts and lay explosives under their nests. Come dawn, there is nothing left but death and destruction as hundreds of trees, tens of thousands of nests, and hundreds of thousands of dead birds litter the quiet grasslands.

Despite the best attempts of the local wildlife to share in our bounty, humans have been incredibly successful as crop producers. More than half the population of the world now lives in cities, and in the last two decades alone the urban population of the developing world has grown by an average of 3 million people per week. None of this would have happened without crop production.

Since crop production usually allows people to plan ahead, settle into villages, have larger families, and create more complex societies, then the biggest mark of our success as crop growers is – paradoxically perhaps - just how many of us now live in cities


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China cloning on 'industrial scale'

China cloning on 'industrial scale' | Organic Farming |

You hear the squeals of the pigs long before reaching a set of long buildings set in rolling hills in southern China.

Feeding time produces a frenzy as the animals strain against the railings around their pens. But this is no ordinary farm.

Run by a fast-growing company called BGI, this facility has become the world's largest centre for the cloning of pigs.

The technology involved is not particularly novel - but what is new is the application of mass production.

The first shed contains 90 animals in two long rows. They look perfectly normal, as one would expect, but each of them is carrying cloned embryos. Many are clones themselves.

This place produces an astonishing 500 cloned pigs a year: China is exploiting science on an industrial scale.

Dusk is falling as we're shown into another shed where new-born piglets are lying close to their mothers to suckle. Heat lamps keep the room warm. Some of the animals are clones of clones. Most have been genetically modified.

The point of the work is to use pigs to test out new medicines. Because they are so similar genetically to humans, pigs can serve as useful "models". So modifying their genes to give them traits can aid that process.

One batch of particularly small pigs has had a growth gene removed - they stopped growing at the age of one. Others have had their DNA tinkered with to try to make them more susceptible to Alzheimer's.

Back at the company headquarters, a line of technicians is hunched over microscopes. This is a BGI innovation: replacing expensive machines with people. It's called "handmade cloning" and is designed to make everything quicker and easier.

The scientist in charge, Dr Yutao Du, explains the technique in a way that leaves me reeling.

"We can do cloning on a very large scale," she tells me, "30-50 people together doing cloning so that we can make a cloning factory here."

A cloning factory - an incredible notion borrowed straight from science fiction. But here in Shenzhen, in what was an old shoe factory, this rising power is creating a new industry.





“Start Quote

If it tastes good you should sequence it... you should know what's in the genes of that species”

Wang Jun Chief executive, BGI

To my surprise, we're taken to see how the work is done. A room next to the pens serves as a surgery and a sow is under anaesthetic, lying on her back on an operating table. An oxygen mask is fitted over her snout and she's breathing steadily. Blue plastic bags cover her trotters.

Two technicians have inserted a fibre-optic probe to locate the sow's uterus. A third retrieves a small test-tube from a fridge: these are the blastocysts, early stage embryos prepared in a lab. In a moment, they will be implanted.

The room is not air-conditioned; nor is it particularly clean. Flies buzz around the pig's head.

My first thought is that the operation is being conducted with an air of total routine. Even the presence of a foreign television crew seems to make little difference. The animal is comfortable but there's no sensitivity about how we might react, let alone what animal rights campaigners might make of it all.

I check the figures: the team can do two implantations a day. The success rate is about 70-80%.


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Sustainable Digital Ecosystems

It’s called Veta La Palma, an aquaculture farm located in Spain. Wikipedia tells me that it produces 1,200 tons of sea bass, bream, red mullet and shrimp each year. Unlike most of the world’s fish farms, it does so not by interfering with nature, but by supporting it.

When Barber asked Miguel Medialdea, the lead biologist at Veta La Palma, how he measured success, he pointed to thousands of pink flamingoes blanketing the water and said, “That’s success. Look at their bellies, they’re feasting!” He explains that the flamingoes travel 150 miles every day to feed on his fish “because the food’s better.” His fish farm is also one of the largest and most important private bird sanctuaries in Europe.

Barber asked him, “Isn’t a thriving bird population the last thing you want on a fish farm?” He explains that the flamingoes, by eating mostly shrimp, create an abundance of nutritious algae left for his prized fish. “We farm extensively, not intensively,” says Medialdea.

Barber describes Veta La Palma as:

1. A farm that doesn’t feed its animals.
2. A farm that measures its success by the health of its predators.
3. A farm that’s literally a water purification plant.

As interested as I am in sustainable aquaculture, I find the model compelling as a blueprint for healthy ecosystems of all kinds. Imagine digital environments that could be described that way: places that require little maintenance, that provide value to everyone (not just the ‘farmer’) and contribute to improving the overall health of the wider digital environment.

It seems like everyone is talking about the importance of ecosystems these days, especially in the context of ‘brand ecosystems’. And although I think this is an interesting topic, I am using the ecological metaphor to talk about something a little different.

Michael Ravensbergen's curator insight, January 15, 2014 2:32 PM

Input for thoughts!!!


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The good farmer: An expert in relationships and sustainability

The good farmer: An expert in relationships and sustainability | Organic Farming |
There is a view of farmers that I believe seriously undervalues their value, in the bigger scheme of things. I've thought this for a long time. It goes b
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How to Make Your Own Seed-Starting Mix: Organic Gardening

How to Make Your Own Seed-Starting Mix: Organic Gardening | Organic Farming |
From the experts at the Rodale Institute comes this recipe for making your own seed-starting mix. Start your seeds off right.



April Johnson, landscape and greenhouse coordinator at the Rodale Institute near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, grows literally thousands of organic vegetable, flower, and herb transplants every year. Many of her seedlings end up in the Institute’s production and display gardens; others are sold to local gardeners at two spring fundraisers. After many years of experimenting with recipes for indoor seed-starting mixes, Johnson has settled on this general formula.

4 parts screened compost1 part perlite1 part vermiculite2 parts sphagnum peat moss and/or coir

To keep the dust down, lightly moisten the ingredients before blending them thoroughly in a dishpan or wheelbarrow.

This mix strikes a balance between moisture retention and drainage, both of which are necessary for seedlings. “Regulating the moisture is key,” Johnson says. “It’s easy for the soil to stay too wet, and that can lead to damping-off.” Damping-off is a fungal disease that causes newly germinated seedlings to topple over and die. Some flower seedlings—Johnson mentions pansies, snapdragons, ‘Gem’ marigolds, and lisianthus—tend to be more sensitive to too much moisture. For those, she makes a special batch of the mix, using less compost and replacing coir with peat moss. Sphagnum peat moss and perlite tend to lighten the mix and allow it to drain more quickly. Compost, vermiculite, and coir increase moisture retention.

The compost in Johnson’s mix is made mostly from shredded leaves and other garden debris—but she avoids any organic materials that might introduce weed seeds to the compost. Having compost in the mix means that seedlings rarely need to be fertilized until they are moved outdoors to the garden; the compost provides a constant mild feeding. Compost also counters the natural acidity of peat moss. In mixes that don’t include compost, add 1/4 teaspoon of lime for every gallon of mix.

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Grafting gives women new options - AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center --

Grafting gives women new options - AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center -- | Organic Farming |
Grafted tomatoes grown under plastic shelters during the summer rainy season provide a good income for many farmers in Bangladesh.



Pioneered by AVRDC and widely promoted for over 20 years by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), grafted tomatoes grown under plastic shelters during the summer rainy season have provided a very good income for many farmers. During their five-day visit to Bangladesh from 20-24 May 2013, AVRDC Director General Dyno Keatinge and South Asia Regional Director Warwick Easdown met with famers in Jessore district in southwest Bangladesh who are growing summer tomato and producing tomato seedlings.

Demand for grafted seedlings is increasing as more tomato farmers face problems with bacterial wilt. Mrs. Anjani Rani Das is the leader of five women in a self-help group (one of six such groups in Jessore and Barisal districts) that began growing grafted tomatoes using eggplant rootstocks provided by AVRDC. This year the group is planning to produce 5000 grafted seedlings to fulfill local orders, in addition to 5000 non-grafted seedlings.

Grafted seedlings take a lot of effort to produce, but can be sold at 7 Taka each as compared to 1 Taka each for non-grafted seedlings. With training from AVRDC and the provision of simple seedling shelters, the grafted plants are providing a new source of income for the women and their families.

The scion is local tomato variety BARI Hybrid No.4, and the rootstock is open pollinated eggplant variety EG203 from AVRDC. By growing only half a dozen eggplants, and bagging the flowers to prevent cross-pollination, Mrs. Das and her team can ensure enough pure seed for next year’s rootstocks.

The women demonstrated their achievements to AVRDC staff and were interested to learn what other women’s groups were doing. Dyno complemented them on their success and the obvious health of their families and shared the success of other women’s groups in producing seedlings of crops such as peppers.

Future AVRDC work in the district will involve trials to find tomato scions with better virus resistance, and testing of new lines for production under cover and in the open field.

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Tech companies try to build a smarter farming industry on mainland China

Tech companies try to build a smarter farming industry on mainland China | Organic Farming |

It has been a four year-journey - one marked by mockery and doubt - for internet pioneer NetEase to bring its first pigs to market. You read that correctly - pigs.

The mainland internet pioneer is one of a growing number of companies better known for their manufacturing or online commerce sites that are dabbling in agriculture.

Growing public despair over a never-ending parade of food scandals - plus an eye for a commercial opportunity - has prompted these successful businesses to undertake what some might regard as risky, even reckless, adventures outside their areas of expertise.

The latest company seeking to get some dirt under its nails is LeTV, the online video portal in Beijing. Having already expanded into a conglomerate involved in not only filmmaking but also television manufacturing and wine trading, the company recently leased a 200-hectare farm in Linfen , Shanxi .

There, it will grow organic grapes, vegetables, flowers and seedlings using what it calls ecological farming methods. It also bought a cluster of villas to develop an "ecological manor".

Li Rui , the CEO of Beijing Wangjiu Electronic Commerce - the LeTV subsidiary that is managing the project - said the company saw opportunities amid concerns about food quality and safety, and the lack of trustworthy domestic brands.

"The situation now is that everyone - rich or poor- has no idea whether cooking oil or flour or other foodstuffs are safe," he said. "Safe, better-quality food is what all Chinese hope for."

For some big players, such moves have seen quick results. Lenovo, the world's largest maker of personal computers, set up its horticultural subsidiary, Joyvio, in 2012. It has already become China's largest producer and distributor of blueberries and kiwi fruit.

Organic oranges grown by former "Tobacco King" Chu Shijian , the owner of Yunnan Hongta, have been selling well online during the past year. Chu, now 85, was jailed for life in 1998 for corruption but was given medical parole in 2002 - the year he planted the orchard that made him a millionaire anew.

Wangjiu's Li, meanwhile, was not expecting an early payback: "Agricultural investments have long return periods and bear high risks". To spread the risk, he diversified the operations.

"We're doing it in a different way - combining other types of business to make it sustainable with high-added value," he said.

Wei Guofeng , a Shanghai-based researcher and "new agriculture" advocate, said modern farming was quite challenging for computer makers or online retailers as biotechnology was totally new to them.

"The biggest challenge is logistics: how to get your product, something with neither a concept nor brand, to the consumers' table, in your own way," he said. "It's not just about growing the produce, but storage, sales, and how to build the brand."

Meanwhile, NetEase released a statement last month explaining why its farm venture has yet to bring home the bacon. "We overestimated ourselves, and … underestimated the problems in pig-raising", it said.

"Agriculture is a brand new field for NetEase, and managing a complicated supply chain is not what an internet company is good at," it said, adding that its difficulties ranged from selecting the farm's location, the best livestock, managing the waste and smell, and dealing with a record heat wave in Zhejiang , where the farm was located.

The farm had only 400 pigs so far, of which only about 100 were expected to be ready for slaughter in the near future.

Xu Feng, the company's public relations manager, described the venture as a "public welfare project that NetEase is serious about". "[We] hope our creative approach will bring some new ideas to the whole industry," Xu said.

Professor Du Xiangge , who leads China Agricultural University's Research Centre of Organic Agricultural Technology, said that despite the companies' varying results, the trend of innovative investment in agriculture was a good sign, both for environmental protection and food safety.

"These companies have foundations, technology and other resources," he said. "Such 'positive energy' should be encouraged."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Tech pioneers branch out into smarter agriculture


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The Ghost Ant: New Species is a Living Fossil of Ancient Fungus-Farming Ants - Nature World News

The Ghost Ant: New Species is a Living Fossil of Ancient Fungus-Farming Ants - Nature World News | Organic Farming |
Nature World News
The Ghost Ant: New Species is a Living Fossil of Ancient Fungus-Farming Ants
Nature World News
Pictured is the newly discovered Cyatta abscondita fungus-farming ant species, taken in the National Museum of Natural History's Ant Lab.
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Greetings | Organic Farming |

Best wishes for

     A Merry Christmas and

          A Happy  2014.


May this New Year Bring to you all

    Peace  & Prosperity

       Health  & Happiness

          The best things you deserve in your life


                  Giri Kumar  Chennai   India





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Top 5 Health Benefits of Using Organic Sugar

Top 5 Health Benefits of Using Organic Sugar | Organic Farming |

It’s likely that most consumers have been taught that sugar, no matter its form, is bad for us. Sugar is usually sneaked into foods that wouldn’t normally be considered filled with sugar so avoiding it can be difficult at times. While sugar can never fully be categorized as “healthy”, consumers can certainly make better choices when it comes to the kinds of sugar eaten every day by opting for organic sugar products.

Via Wendy Forbes
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The Beginning Farmer’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency - Hobby Farms

The Beginning Farmer’s Guide to Self-Sufficiency - Hobby Farms | Organic Farming |
It’s a dream that many hold dear to their hearts but few will ever get to experience: a farm of one’s own. Not just any sort of farm, either, but a self-sufficient one running on nothing but the American Dream and a whole lot of elbow grease.



It’s a dream that many hold dear to their hearts but few will ever get to experience: a farm of one’s own. Not just any sort of farm, either, but a self-sufficient one running on nothing but the American Dream and a whole lot of elbow grease; the last bastion of a an era gone by in a world overrun with consumerism and identical globs of prepackaged food-like product lining the shelves of our local supermarkets.


How does a beginning farmer become an island of sustainability and self-reliance in a cultural sea dependent on cheap fuel and chemical inputs? The list of possibilities might seem daunting—solar panels, home-grown animal feed, a farm truck that runs on biodiesel … where does it end? Or, more importantly, where does it begin?


Here are five things that won’t cost a penny and are essential to creating a new life on a sustainable farm.


1. A Plan
Ask any farmer, and they will tell you: Farming is hard work. Add to that the desire to be self-sufficient, and you’ve gone to a whole new level. If you’re starting a farm, hopefully you’ve already developed a plan and a timeline for implementing that plan.


To reach your goals of sustainability, you’ll need to add the steps you will take toward becoming self-reliant to your plan. Perhaps in year one, you will restore the old well on your property so you no longer need city water. By year five, maybe you hope to be growing all the feed for your animals. Year 10, solar panels?


Jonas Hurley, owner of River Run Farm in central Kentucky, has been slowly working toward sustainability on his farm since he started it several years ago. "Less debt is always a good thing,” Hurley says, "which means building infrastructure over years and, at least for some time, someone needs a source of off-farm income.”

2. Patience
You’ve worked hard and saved your pennies to buy the perfect acreage to call your own. You can envision every last detail, from the rainwater-collection systems to the pumpkin patch that will provide needed agritourism income. You’ve mapped out your master plan, which includes a slew of beehives, rotational grazing for the cattle and retrofitting the bathrooms with composting toilets. It may seem obvious, but the No. 1 ingredient to checking these tasks off your list isn’t deep pockets or an engineering degree; it’s that most elusive of character traits: patience.

Going down the path to self-sufficiency is a long and slow one. After a lifetime of living and working your agricultural dream, your farm might still be just one more project away from being what you first set out to achieve. To manage your dream without losing your cool, Hurley recommends starting with diversity and working your way from there.

"I would encourage diversity in plants and livestock initially so at least most of your diet can be generated from the farm at first,” he says. "Then later you can find what component of the farm you are particularly interested in and good at to use as a source of revenue.”

Learning to keep your head down and stick to the plan will go a long way toward keeping you on track to your goal of sustainability.

3. Compromise
Especially in the early years, it might feel like you’re a failure at self-sufficiency or perhaps farming in general. If you’ve set the goal to grow all your own food for the year but find yourself getting pretty hungry around January, it can be an intense disappointment to have to head to your local grocery to buy provisions. It’s important to remember that both farming and sustainability are evolutionary processes, not instant metamorphoses. You’ll have to compromise daily with yourself and, if you have one, with your farming partner. Choose what sustainable values are most important to you—maybe living debt-free or growing pesticide-free in the garden—and stick to them, but leave room to compromise on things that are negotiable.

4. Community
It seems ironic that one of the most important ingredients to self-reliance is other people. It’s easy to look at farms as they operated 100 years ago and long for that same level of diversity and sustainability. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is drastically different.

As small farms have disappeared from our landscape, so has the like-minded community that enables small farms to thrive. Living near others with the same goals and ideas can be the difference between success and failure of your beginning farming venture. You can’t quantify the value of a helping hand on a building project or a friendly neighbor willing to barter for your morale.

If you can’t find anyone geographically close, consider looking online for websites or forums devoted to beginning farmers. A word of encouragement or an ingenious solution to a farm problem will be a huge help, even from a virtual friend.

You might even find help at the fiscal level. "Federal grants are available for fencing, if your farm has running water on it, as well as for high tunnels for extension of the growing season,” Hurley says.

5. A Crazy Streak
Farming sustainably makes perfect sense on one hand. On the other hand, there are times when the entire concept can seem almost foolish. Like when you’re getting up at 5 a.m. to hand-milk a cow in the dead of winter when you could buy milk prepackaged just a few miles down the road; straightening out old bent nails because you don’t want to spend any cash on doing barn repairs; convincing your customers to buy for something they could get for half your price for at the grocery store. At the very least, this lifestyle you’re choosing is definitively countercultural. If you are going to make it, you are going to need just enough of a wild side to make it all come together.

Self-sufficiency and farming go hand-in-hand. Start on the path today and keep working until you’ve reached a level of sustainability that is comfortable for you and your family. Your pocketbook and the environment will thank you.



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"Made in Agriculture: Part Two"

"Made in Agriculture: Part Two" | Organic Farming |
Readers, Do you remember these posts? The Agricultural Technology Spectrum Sky Farming Laser Beams create rain These are all posts made over a year ago on the tech4agri blog. At the time they were ...


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How smallholders can grow ‘from merely surviving to robustly thriving’

How smallholders can grow ‘from merely surviving to robustly thriving’ | Organic Farming |

Although they have been largely neglected during the past several decades, Africa’s smallholder farmers hold the potential not only to transform their own lives, but also the world food supply. All they need is access to small amounts of the basic elements of farming: seeds, fertilizer, financing, storage and training.

That was the message from award-winning author and food security “factivist” Roger Thurow at the latest installment of a speaker series for Cargill employees. Roger’s newest book, “The Last Hunger Season,” examines the lives of Africa’s rural farmers as they struggle to not only provide for their families but also commercialize their endeavors in a way that will allow them to profit and grow.

“Their goal is to go from merely surviving to robustly thriving,” Roger said.

Subsistence farmers in Africa make up the majority of the continent’s population and produce the bulk of the continent’s food. Most of them are women. They farm areas of little more than an acre on average, and “it’s on that tiny land that they try to grow enough to feed their families, and then hopefully have a surplus.”

Unfortunately, the cycle of poverty has held their progress in check. Part of that cycle is the yearly “hunger season,” when stocks from the last harvest run low and families often cut back to one meal per day or less while they await their next crop. Perversely, this period of malnourishment often coincides with the planting and growing season, when farmers need the most energy to work their fields, Roger said. Children go hungry and lapse into developmental stunting. Parents must make difficult choices among food, medicine and education.

But that cycle can be broken, with just a little bit of help.

Becoming sustainable and commercial

To vividly paint a picture of how that’s possible, Roger told the story of Zipporah Biketi, a smallholder maize farmer in Kenya who, on her own, had only been able to plant one-fourth of her single acre farm. From this planting, she had harvested a meager two 90-kilogram bags of maize to last her family through the year. This meant their hunger season lasted nearly nine months, and the possibility of selling surplus crops to generate income remained a seemingly unachievable dream.

Then Zipporah heard about a local program being run by the One Acre Fund, a non-profit devoted to giving smallholder farmers the resources they need to sustain and grow their operations. Through One Acre, Zipporah was able to obtain better seeds, a small amount of fertilizer, some credit and training in basic farming techniques.

A year later, she and her husband had a fully productive acre, from which they harvested ten times more maize than the year before. Not only were they able to feed their family, they could buy medicine, educate their children and expand their operations. When Roger last visited with them, they were replacing their leaky two-room mud and straw hut with a brick house, complete with a metal roof and a storage room for their surplus grain.

“You can start to see them planning for the future,” he said about farmers like Zipporah. “You find them taking on more calculated risk and debt as they get adjusted to the family farm and the family business.”

The key to future food security

As Roger looked ahead to 2050, when the world’s population will reach 9 billion and, based on varying estimates, food production will need to increase by 60 to 100 percent above what it is today, he said farmers like Zipporah could well be the key to feeding the world. They control the portion of agriculture that can most easily make sizeable gains in productivity.

He called on the private sector not to overlook these farmers, to seek opportunities to work with them and help them transition “from farming to live, to farming to make a living.”

“If these farmers succeed, so might we all, with this great challenge in front of us,” he said.

[This article originally appeared at]

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World Congress on Agroforestry I 10-14 February 2014 I Delhi, India » Blog Archive » Future of Chocolate in Danger!

World Congress on Agroforestry I 10-14 February 2014 I Delhi, India » Blog Archive » Future of Chocolate in Danger! | Organic Farming |

Don’t we all like the brownish pieces of bitter-sweet goods that melt on our tongues like a state of the art bowl of ice cream? Utterly demanding for producers, a logistical masterpiece for traders, unimaginably technical yet highly creative for chocolatiers; chocolate has the seducing power to blow the mind of the masses.

Problems with sustainability

However amazing our fantasies around chocolate may be, the world of chocolate is facing a big threat related to sustainability; In other words: the sustainable supply of the raw material, the cocoa beans needed to produce chocolate goods, is at stake. The fragile tree Theobroma cacao L., taken from its natural environment, the dense humid Amazon rainforest, and placed into full sunlight on extensive monocultures in West Africa and beyond, is exhausted. The sudden exposure of the trees to a rate of photosynthesis they had never known before overstrained them. Just like a mouse you put into an exercise wheel, they went full speed to produce unsustainably high yields for a rather short period of time compared to their natural life span. But there are two sides to every coin: While the sustainability of cocoa production is at stake worldwide, population rich countries like India and China are driving up the demand as they become prosperous.

Meanwhile, the industry has become aware of the threat to their business and producing cocoa in a sustainable manner is high on the agenda of big players such as Mars. Yet there are still many important questions left unanswered:  What is the best form of producing cocoa sustainably? How much shade do the novel varieties (some of which might have been bred for tolerance of high light intensities) still need or tolerate? What are suitable shade trees? What other problems might arise in shaded agroforestry systems with higher relative humidity (e.g. pests and diseases) and are there practicable solutions to them? And perhaps most importantly: how long does it take until an agroforestry system catches up with a monoculture (and what is the contribution of cocoa by-products to compensate for the lower cocoa yields in the first decade or so)? These question need to be resolved for policy makers to know what incentive it takes to make farmers produce cocoa in sustainable agroforestry systems. As nice side effects they would help in the conservation of biodiversity, sequester substantial amounts of carbon and thus help in climate change mitigation, etc.

After all, novel technologies that don’t get adopted by farmers do not change anything, even if excited researchers developed them with the best of intentions in order to contribute to the resolution of the problem.

Research addressing the problem

Science has to provide information on advantages and limitations of different cocoa production systems. However, data on the long-term performance of cocoa monocultures as well as agroforestry systems under conventional and organic management are inexistent. The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is pioneering to fill this knowledge gap with a unique long-term field trial in tropical Bolivia established in 2008. Collaborating institution include Ecotop Consult, the Institute of Ecology UMSA La Paz and the PIAF-El Ceibo Foundation. The trial is expected to run for a minimum period of 20 years and will provide indications on the long-term sustainability of the different systems.

First results are matching the expectations; significantly slower tree development and lower yields, but also less disease incidences in agroforestry systems compared to monocultures. How much the additional products harvested in agroforestry systems (e.g. plantain, cassava, pineapple) can compensate for the lower yields remains to be seen.

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The good farmer: An expert in relationships and sustainability

The good farmer: An expert in relationships and sustainability | Organic Farming |

There is a view of farmers that I believe seriously undervalues their value, in the bigger scheme of things.  I’ve thought this for a long time.  It goes back to my early years living on my late Dad’s farm.  He grew crops and raised pigs for market.  Yet; he was also a German Jewish intellectual, an immigrant to Canada, via Kenya and UK, part of the WWII Diaspora, and brought his world view to our small farm, and local community, in Southern Ontario.

A recent TED presentation caught my attention.  It, too, touches on farming, and tells the story of a fish farm in southern Spain, and a farmer named Miguel; a farm where relationships between species, land, and location are explored and nurtured, in ways I think might have made my Dad smile.

The story of Veta la Palama

Veta la Palama is a fish farm in southern Spain, located in an island in an estuary 16 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean.  Tides sweep in estuary water, which a pumping station distributes throughout the farm’s 45 ponds. Because it comes directly from the ocean, that water teems with microalgae and tiny translucent shrimp, which provide natural food for the fish that Veta la Palma raises.

Veta la Palma produces 1,200 tonnes of sea bass, bream, red mullet and shrimp each year.  The land also acts as the largest private bird sanctuary in Europe; including flamingos that travel in the morning to feast on shrimp at the farm, and return the same day, to their brooding ground 150 miles away!  20% of fish and fish eggs are lost to birds each year, and this is good, says the farm’s biologist Miguel Medialdea.  We farm extensively, not intensively.  This is an ecological network.  The flamingos eat the shrimp.  The shrimp eat the phytoplankton.  So the pinker the (flamingo) belly, the better the system.

Veta la Palma provides an alternative to the more common agribusiness model; i.e., high on capital, chemistry, machines, and questionable-tasting food!

Dan Barber is a New York chef, scholar, conservation advocate, and influential voice on agricultural policy.  In this engaging TED talk last month, titled How I fell in love with a fish, Barber is clear about his preferred way forward.

What’s to like about Veta la Palma Barber’s optimism is a statement for farmers (and their farms): that aren’t worlds unto themselves; rather they are part of the larger life network that restore instead of deplete; letting nature be nature e.g., impurities in the water are naturally filtered out that farm extensively instead of just intensively; diversity is healthy that measure their success by the success of predators; all things are connected! that are not just producers, but experts in relationships; systems thinkers that produce good tasting food (where do I sign up?) that flow with an ecological model; one that relies on two billion years of on-the-job experience that show us another way positive way to collaborate, to work together, and move forward Look to the farmer as a barometer of healthy community. I do, in my community. Some questions Veta la Palma is owned by a major Spanish food conglomerate Hisaparroz. Like many conglomerates, there are aspects of the empire that don’t fit so nicely into the sustainability model e.g., genetic engineering. How to reconcile this paradox? Where is sustainability positioned in our list of priorities? (thinking of my posts about my local fair trade coffee distributor and my experience with fish farmers in the Philippines) Do foreclosures in the American outer suburbs represent farming opportunities? How does extensive farming integrate with intensive urban farming? How can we create conditions that enable every community to feed itself? What about in my own community?
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Organic by-product derived biochar, a greener option

Organic by-product derived biochar, a greener option | Organic Farming |
Reducing mineral fertilisers and chemicals use in agriculture is a priority. Alternatives include safe biochar and compost produced from treated organic residues from plant and animal by-products.



Biochar and compost are of interest to agriculture. Particularly, when it comes to meet the goal of reducing mineral fertilisers and chemicals use. Biochar is created through pyrolysis from organic material at between 450 and 600 degree Celsius, in the absence of air. It can be based on plants and be used as a high carbon content soil improver. It can also be made of food grade animal bones, referred to as ABC (Animal Bone bioChar), and used as a high phosphorous content organic fertiliser.

Now, an EU-funded research project, called REFERTIL, aims at developing environmentally friendly and economical industrial biochar production processes. It also aims to provide policy support for law harmonisation and legal authorisation to the biochar production and use.

The project, which could benefit farmers, involves the development of advanced biochar production technologies capable of delivering safe products at an industrial scale. “The goal is to create replicated production units all over Europe and support the low-carbon economy, while creating green jobs,” says Edward Someus, who is the project coordinator and the biochar process senior engineer, from Terra Humana, a Swedish - Hungarian joint venture, based in Polgárdi, Hungary, and specialised, among others, in pyrolysis technology and biochar R&D.

The approach offers some clear benefits. “Both—compost and biochar—are good for the agriculture, because the plants need different types of nutrients and different soils need different fertilisation strategies,” explains Edward Someus.

By contrast to the high-temperature thermo-chemical processed biochar, the compost technology is based on biological degradation of organic material at low temperature—between 64-70 degrees Celsius. In both cases, the objective is “to take into consideration the efficient recycling of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, [referred to as] NPK, from organic waste streams,” Someus tells

The likely candidates to use the biochar and compost products are small and medium scale farms. Indeed, they are in the greatest need of support, because “the food industry production system is based mainly on this sector.” Someus notes. He therefore believes that application of new biochar and compost products, makes them not only more competitive but also improve food safety as well. Someus also tells, that “the food supply security and food safety are critically important corner stone of the society.” In this context, he argues that the new biochar technology opens new technical, economic and environmental opportunities for sustainable and safe agricultural productions, particularly in the horticultural sector.

Other potential users of the technology come from organic agriculture, which prohibits the use of synthetic fertilisers. “The synthetic nitrogen fertiliser can be replaced, among others, with treated organic waste from manure, food industry or urban residues,” says Hervé Guyomard, scientific director for agriculture at the National Institute of Agronomic Research, in Paris, France. “The problem to be solved, here, is their provision to the farmers. This organic waste needs also to be standardised and homogenised so that its fertilising value is well known and stabilised,” he tells

One caveat, however. The use of manure-based waste is only possible in the farms or regions where there is also livestock. “The farmers need to organise themselves in associations at regional level in order to make the best use of this organic waste,” explains Guyomard.

Compost is a better fertiliser than chemicals and even than manure directly applied to the soil. “It improves the soil quality, including its physical indicators,” comments Ileana Bogdan, a lecturer in herbology, agrotechnology and statistical processing at the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine, in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She adds: “transforming organic residues into compost and biochar is a very good solution for a greener agriculture and also for waste management.” 

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Bread from the 'Tree of Life'

Bread from the 'Tree of Life' | Organic Farming |

Breadfruit has been coined the new ‘super-fruit’ and according to some has the ability to alleviate world hunger. However, it has recently been discovered that breadfruit may also have a very different.

...also known as ulu is most commonly grown in sub-tropical areas and has long been a major staple of many Pacific islands. From here its cultivation has spread to the Caribbean and Africa where it is mainly grown by subsistence farmers. Its Latin name Artocarpus altilis is derived from the Greek, artos meaning bread, karpos meaning fruit and altilis meaning fat. Once cooked, the fruit has a starchy texture and tastes just like……you guessed it….bread!

There are a number of ways to prepare breadfruit, it can be boiled, roasted or steamed. A favourable alternative preparation method involves fermenting the fruit in a hole lined with banana leaves, after fermentation the fruit resembles sour dough and can be baked.

The tree can also be used in construction and has many ecological and environmental benefits such as the provision of habitat for pollinators and seed dispersers and CO2 reduction. It is hailed by some as the ‘tree of life’.


Effective insect repellent

Burning dried male breadfruit flowers can repel flying insects © USDA

Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of British Columbia have identified three compounds in breadfruit male inflorescences that effectively repel insects. These include capric, undecanoic and lauric acids, which are saturated fatty acids and were discovered to be more effective at repelling insects than DEET (a common active ingredient in insect repellents).

The scientists however, are not the first to realise the repellent properties of breadfruit. It has been used as a folk remedy to repel mosquitoes by many indigenous peoples of Pacific islands. Dried clusters of male flowers are burned to warn off flying insects.



Many believe that breadfruit may be a solution to world hunger. The breadfruit tree has the ability to grow easily in a broad range of subtropical and tropical ecological conditions and requires minimal inputs of fertilisers and labour. The areas in which it thrives coincide with those home to around 80% of the world’s poorest and malnourished populations. Due to its verticality of production, breadfruit yields are superior per hectare of land when compared with root and tuber crops, one tree can produce up to 400-600 fruit. Breadfruit is also high in carbohydrates, dietary fibres and minerals.

Organisations such as the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s (NTBG) Breadfruit Institute and Global Breadfruit are working to promote the cultivation of breadfruit in areas most in need. One such project is involving reproducing breadfruit trees in Hawaii and planting them in areas most in need. A partner of Global Breadfruit, Joseph Schneider said that ‘Every time we plant one of these trees, we’re reducing the susceptibility to famine and starvation in the country where the tree is growing’.

A Hawaii-born chef, Olelo pa’a Faith Ogawa says ‘I feel it’s the food of the future, if I were to speak to the breadfruit spirit, it would tell me: ‘Grow me! Eat me!’ It can feed villages!’

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Positively Thoughtful: The Relevant Journey

Positively Thoughtful: The Relevant Journey | Organic Farming |

I chose this photo because of the undisturbed snow. No one has traveled this path until you start down it. Maybe it's the time of year; maybe it's the circumstances we find ourselves in at this time; maybe, it's my age, nah. No matter what the reason, I have been meditating quite a lot lately on life's journey: the meaning of it; the brevity of it; the importance of it; and it's relativeness-it's personal nature.  



As a farmer, we are always in the circle of life.  I was thinking about all the things I have planned to be learning about this winter and began feeling overwhelmed.  I wondered, "If someone like me, raised on a farm, always having had a garden, animals of all sorts, could feel overwhelmed by the vastness of information and things to study, ways to improve...on and on it goes; then how must someone just starting to live this kind of life feel?  I wanted to offer some words of encouragement and ask you to share your thoughts too. You should never feel like you can "arrive" in this lifestyle.  There are always things that can be done better, more efficiently; areas you want to enlarge which requires different techniques; things you want to add to your life or farm which brings the need to learn about another animal, plant, etc.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to unlearn the way you have been doing things.  Often I find that I am unlearning something and trying to learn the way my grandparents or great-grandparents did things. The number of things we have forgotten, or forsaken from the past, but which need to be relearned, is astounding to me. Just prioritize the things you determine to be needful for your farm, homestead, lot, whatever you are working with.  Once you have prioritized, begin learning.  As you know, there are limitless resources available online.  You will determine which ones you most agree with, the ones you trust or who offer reliable information.  I suggest two things: Countryside & Small Stock Journal and Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living.  These two will open doors for you to all kinds of resources and you build from there.   When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a break - move around your place; remind yourself of your goals; your reasons for this lifestyle; and take a few focused, deep breaths. Don't undertake too much, that's part of prioritizing, and be willing to change your plan, re-prioritize, be flexible - now that's a great trait for a farmer. As you and your place grow, you can take on more and more, but little bites are easier to swallow than a mouthful.   No matter how much we read, we really only learn by doing, making mistakes, and adjusting to them. Experience is the best teacher, but don't be afraid to try and fail, we all do. Someone may try to convince you they know everything and don't have any room for growth, avoid that person, they are not truthful.Most importantly, remember to enjoy life.  This lifestyle is as rewarding as it is challenging. Your journey is just that, your journey.   Be sure to leave your questions, words or encouragement, or comments.  You can also email me.  I look forward to hearing from you. Safe and happy journey,
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Landrace Gardening: Survival of the Fittest - Organic Gardening - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Landrace Gardening: Survival of the Fittest - Organic Gardening - MOTHER EARTH NEWS | Organic Farming |
A photo essay showing off the stunning success of landrace gardening on my farm.



Landrace gardening is a traditional method of growing food in which the seeds to be planted next year result from the survival of the fittest in a particular garden in previous years. Landrace varieties become attached to a region, and thrive in that region. Landrace varieties are genetically variable so that as conditions change from year to year the population can adapt to the changes.

The first landrace crop that I grew was Astronomy Domine sweet corn. It was the product of a breeding project by Alan Bishop of Bishop’s Homegrown in Pekin, Indiana. The essence of the project was to throw as many cultivars of sweet corn as possible into a field, let them cross pollinate, and see what survived and how the descendants fared. Around 200 cultivars contributed their diversity to the gene pool. Some plants grew vigorously, many grew decent, and some struggled to survive. I saved seed from the parents that thrived and that did okay, and replanted the next year. The results were fantastic! I was hooked on growing genetically diverse crops and saving seeds from them.

My version of Astronomy Domine had diverged from the original version. My population is about ten days shorter season than the original. That is to be expected because in my cold mountain valley a crop has to produce quickly and thrive in cool nights if I am to get a harvest.

After the stunning success of the sweet corn project, I determined that I wanted to explore growing other varieties of localized landrace crops. Melons seemed like a good test project, because they have traditionally done poorly in my valley, and because they are highly popular. Melons are an out-breeding crop, so they cross-pollinate readily, and can produce huge numbers of genetically unique individuals. Generating lots of variety is one of the key principals of landrace gardening. More diversity provides more opportunities to find family groups that thrive in any particular garden.

To start the cantaloupe project, I gathered together the seeds from the few melons that had produced a fruit the previous year, and I added to them as many varieties as I could obtain: from local farm stands, from the Internet, from seed catalogs, from the grocery store. I planted a packet of seeds per row until I had planted a large patch of melons. Then I sat back and watched one melon disaster after another. Some varieties didn’t germinate. Some varieties were eaten by bugs within days of emerging. Others just sat there and shivered in the cold. Some individuals shrugged off the adverse growing conditions and grew robustly. The two best growing plants produced more fruit than the rest of the patch combined.

Here are photos that demonstrate the differences. Each seed was planted on the same day, a few feet from each other in the garden. The photos were taken a few minutes apart. The first photo shows what an average cantaloupe from a seed packet grows like in my garden. The second photo shows what a well adapted cantaloupe grows like in my garden (after only one year of selection).

I collected the seed from the best growing melons and replanted it. Oh my heck!!! I was used to trying to grow maladapted cantaloupes. I never imagined that cantaloupes might actually produce an abundant harvest for me: I was harvesting a hundred pounds of fruit at a time!

Early in the process of developing a locally adapted cantaloupe population, I was contacted by a grower who grows in the same mountain valley as my farm. Since that time, we have shared seeds liberally with each other. I trust her seeds implicitly, because we share the same climate, the same soil, the same altitude, the same bugs, and the same philosophy towards diversity. Her seeds thrive in my garden because our gardens are so similar. I love our collaboration. It is nice to see the grandchildren of my seeds coming back home to grow among their cousins. Half of the watermelon and cantaloupe seeds that I planted this spring were grown by her. She provided most of my sweet pepper seed. I am coming to favor the yellow watermelons that are emerging from the collaboration. They taste excellent and grow well in our valley. When did anyone ever say that before about watermelons in our valley?

The watermelon project included collaborators from around the world. We have shared seeds liberally among all participants. The most reliable imports into my garden have consistently came from the collaborator in my valley. To start the watermelon project, I planted around 700 seeds: A few seeds each from as many varieties as we could get our hands on. The first planting included the promiscuously pollinated hybrid offspring of hundreds of varieties. I harvested about 5 fruits the first year. That is great odds for a survival of the fittest plant breeding program. One of those fruits was from the variety of watermelon that my daddy has preserved for decades in our valley.

Because of my success with cantaloupes, I decided to convert all of my crops to locally-adapted survival-of-the-fittest landraces. Spinach was among the first crops that I converted. It was the simplest for me. I planted a number of varieties of spinach next to each other and weeded out the plants that were slow growing, or quick to bolt. About 4 of the 12 varieties were suitable for my garden. I allowed them to cross pollinate and set seed. This spring someone gave me a packet of spinach seeds so I thought I’d plant it next to my locally-adapted landrace to compare them. See that little speck of green that I marked with a red dot? That is the imported spinach: Already gone to seed. I pulled it and laid it next to my landrace spinach to demonstrate the huge difference in growth. They were planted on the same day a few feet from each other.

Sometimes when I start adapting a new crop to my garden, I import hundreds of varieties to trial. Other times I take a slow and steady approach, by growing one new cultivar in the row next to my crop. If the new variety does well then I save seeds from it and add them to the landrace. If the new variety does poorly, then it might contribute some pollen. I do not try to keep varieties pure, other than basic things like keeping hot peppers separate from sweet peppers, and sweet corn separate from popcorn. Turnips are a crop that I approached by the slow and steady method. They already grew well for me, so there wasn’t any reason to search far and wide for something that would do better. I plant another packet of seed every few years, and may include a couple of roots from the new strain among the seed-parents the following year.

The dry bean landrace has been fun for me because it is tremendously colorful. It draws lots of attention at the farmer’s market. I started it by planting beans, all jumbled up together from as many species and cultivars as I could acquire. I think that there were around 12 species, many of which I had never grown before. I planted them in hot weather, not knowing that some of them are cool-weather species. I didn’t know if they were bush beans or pole beans. Nevertheless, some of them grew very well and produced a harvest in my short growing season. I collected the seeds of the survivors and planted them a couple weeks ago. This year I am expecting them to do great, because I selected (mostly) for bush types whose parents thrived in my garden. I tend to give my crops names that describe the plant or its use, such as “dry bush bean landrace”. “Dry bean” describes what the crop is used for, “bush” describes how it grows, and “landrace” implies that it is genetically diverse and has been localized to my garden by passing the survival of the fittest test. Some crops can achieve the landrace label in my garden in one growing season, other crops may take many years before I could say that they are thriving in my garden.

I could write and write about how successful landrace gardening has been for me, but it would just be more of the same: The locally adapted plants thriving, and the imports from far away struggling to survive. I hope that this post has helped show in photos why I believe that landrace gardening is a path towards food security through common sense and traditional methods.

Next time I’ll write more about naming all the new plants that arise in a landrace garden.

Joseph Lofthouse grows vegetables in a cold mountain valley where he practices the art of landrace gardening in order to feed his community more effectively. 

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NoshPlanet's curator insight, January 5, 2014 3:47 AM

This is awesome. The fact that these plants - and their seeds - are able to behave as described is something that we might take for granted, yet this ability (and the right of people to 'experiment' in this way) is exactly what is under threat from legal ownership of seed strains. This is why we don't like #GMOs - not because of health concerns, because frankly we haven't seen any credible research that shows GMO DNA to be fundamentally different to non-GMO DNA - but because there is a moral issue at stake here.

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Enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems peri-urban ...

Enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems peri-urban ... | Organic Farming |
The project aims to train 120 young people in each of the four countries, and to reach about 6,000 farming households through open participation and farmer-to-farmer diffusion. By Caspar van Vark Guardian 17 December ...
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feed yourself

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