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A Simple Fix for Farming: Mark Bittman

A Simple Fix for Farming: Mark Bittman | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
An ignored but hugely important study shows that we can grow food on a large scale, profitably, with far fewer chemicals.

 

IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

 

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, the three leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

 

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

 

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

 

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticidesare used each year in the United States.

 

No one expects Iowacorn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsantoabout agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science, Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences all turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)

 

Debates about how we grow food are usually presented in a simplistic, black-and-white way, conventional versus organic. (The spectrum that includes conventional on one end and organic on the other is not unlike the one that opposes the standard American diet with veganism.) In farming, you have loads of chemicals and disastrous environmental impact against an orthodox, even dogmatic method that is difficult to carry out on a large scale.

 

But seeing organic as the only alternative to industrial agriculture, or veganism as the only alternative to supersize me, is a bit like saying that the only alternative to the ravages of capitalism is Stalinism; there are other ways. And positioning organic as the only alternative allows its opponents to point to its flaws and say, “See? We have to remain with conventional.”

 

The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.

 

Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors — who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities — are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”

 

THIS means that not only is weed suppression a direct result of systematic and increased crop rotation along with mulching, cultivation and other nonchemical techniques, but that by not poisoning the fields, we make it possible for insects, rodents and other critters to do their part and eat weeds and their seeds. In addition, by growing forage crops for cattle or other ruminants you can raise healthy animals that not only contribute to the health of the fields but provide fertilizer. (The same manure that’s a benefit in a system like this is a pollutant in large-scale, confined animal-rearing operations, where thousands of animals make manure disposal an extreme challenge.)

 

Perhaps most difficult to quantify is that this kind of farming — more thoughtful and less reflexive — requires more walking of the fields, more observations, more applications of fertilizer and chemicals if, when and where they’re needed, rather than on an all-inclusive schedule. “You substitute producer knowledge for blindly using inputs,” Davis says.

 

So: combine crop rotation, the re-integration of animals into crop production and intelligent farming, and you can use chemicals (to paraphrase the report’s abstract) to fine-tune rather than drive the system, with no loss in performance and in fact the gain of animal products.

 

Why wouldn’t a farmer go this route? One answer is that first he or she has to hear about it. Another, says Matt Liebman, one of the authors of the study and an agronomy professor at Iowa State, is that, “There’s no cost assigned to environmental externalities” — the environmental damage done by industrial farming, analogous to the health damage done by the “cheap” standard American diet — “and the profitability of doing things with lots of chemical input isn’t questioned.”

 

This study not only questions those assumptions, it demonstrates that the chemicals contributing to “environmental externalities” can be drastically reduced at no sacrifice, except to that of the bottom line of chemical companies. That direction is in the interest of most of us — or at least those whose well-being doesn’t rely on that bottom line.

 

Sadly, it seems there isn’t a government agency up to the task of encouraging things to move that way, even in the face of convincing evidence.

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8 Things We've Learned About Happiness In The Past Decade

8 Things We've Learned About Happiness In The Past Decade | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
We're living in a golden age of happiness -- the scientific study of happiness, at least.

The field of positive psychology has exploded in growth since its inception in 1998, dramatically increasi
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Happy to share this!��
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Amnesty International USA Responds to Death Penalty in Boston Bombing Case

In response to the announcement that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death after being convicted in the Boston Marathon bombings, Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA issued the following statement: "We condemn the bombings that took place in Boston two years ago, and we mourn the loss of life and grave injuries they caused. The death penalty, however, is not justice. It will only compound the violence, and it will not deter others from committing similar crimes in the future. It is outrageous that the federal government imposes this cruel and inhuman punishment, particularly when the people of Massachusetts have abolished it in their state. As death sentences decline worldwide, no government can claim to be a leader in human rights when it sentences its prisoners to death."

Jim Manske's insight:

I understand the deep human need for justice. The death penalty is a tragic expression of that need, teaching that the state has ultimate power over people. When will we learn that a restorative and a protective justice model does not include legal killing? Do you choose to not kill because you are afraid the state will kill you? Or are you motivated to protect and serve life because you are alive, your nature is to live compassionately?

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Open Your Mind to Close-Mindedness

Open Your Mind to Close-Mindedness | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
I don’t think we should be down on people whose minds are closed. Learning is painful, I suspect. At least, uncomfortable. Which is a level of distress. Learning – neurologically speaking – is an event of neural plasticity.
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Greg Brooks-English's curator insight, May 11, 1:31 AM

Often times when others don't respond in the way we hoped, we can can get discouraged and frustrated.  Instead, when this happens, we can focus our attention on where life is responding in ways we appreciate.  There is great personal power in making this choice.

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How This Inner-City Baltimore Principal Is 'Tearing Down Barriers' Between Students And Police

How This Inner-City Baltimore Principal Is 'Tearing Down Barriers' Between Students And Police | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
While some Baltimore students were met with consequences for their participation in the city’s fiery riots, punishing kids wasn’t on Nikkia Rowe’s agenda when classes resumed on Wednesday. Rowe, the principal of Renaissance Acad...
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This meets my needs for inspiration and hope!
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Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: Could a New Economic Approach Save the Planet?

Beyond Capitalism and Socialism: Could a New Economic Approach Save the Planet? | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
A holistic approach to the economy is necessary to avoid social, environmental and economic collapse, according to a new report by the Capital Institute
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Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership

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New studies of the brain show that leaders can improve group performance by understanding the biology of empathy.
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Go With Your Gut | Brain Blogger

Go With Your Gut | Brain Blogger | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Jim Manske's insight:
Fascinating links of interdependence! I have noticed a profound increase in well-being as I have increased my consumption of kimchi, kefir, cultured butter, and other probiotics...
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An Ecomodernist Manifesto

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A bit of a long read, and I found it stimulating, motivating, clarifying and hopeful...how about you?

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Chemists' Feat Hailed As Major Breakthrough

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In what's being called a win-win for the environment and the production of renewable energy, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have achieved a major breakthrough in artificial...
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The Link Between Exercise and Happiness [INFOGRAPHIC] - Goodnet

The Link Between Exercise and Happiness [INFOGRAPHIC] - Goodnet | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Happify delves into the science of how getting fit can boost your mood.
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2015’s Most Electrifying Emerging Tech? World Economic Forum Releases Annual List

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Writing lists forecasting technology is a bit like writing science fiction. Prerequisites include intimate knowledge of the bleeding edge...
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Restaurant Allows Customers to Wash Dishes for a Free Meal

At one restaurant in Pennsylvania, you don't need cash or a credit card to pay for your meal. According to Penn Live, Healthy World Cafe functions on a "pay-how-you-can" model which allows customers to eat for free "in exchange for volunteering their time." This means customers can sweep the floors, do dishes, or break down boxes for a hot plate of food.

 

Healthy World Cafe started out as a pop-up concept at a local church but will open in more permanent digs April 6. Manager Liza Naylor notes that the goal of the cafe is for every customer to eat and for them to eat healthy. She adds that not everyone volunteers their time for a meal.

 

Nearly 80 percent of customers pay for their meals, while 20 percent eat for free and volunteer. Diners can also "pay-it-foward and cover the cost of other diners' meals." As for the food, the cafe buys its ingredients from "local famers and purveyors." The menu itself tends to lean vegan and vegetarian because those dishes are the least expensive. However, there are meat options too. Diners can expect dishes like chicken salad sandwiches on foccacia, swiss chard quiches, and Middle Eastern bean salad.

 

Healthy World Cafe is far from the first restaurant to accept alternative forms of payment. In February, a pop-up cafe in London accepted hugs as payment for cookies and tea. McDonald's launched a promotion in January where customers can pay for meals with "lovin'" — such as giving someone a compliment or taking a selfie — in place of real money. cash or a credit card to pay for your meal.

 

According to Penn Live, Healthy World Cafe functions on a "pay-how-you-can" model which allows customers to eat for free "in exchange for volunteering their time." This means customers can sweep the floors, do dishes, or break down boxes for a hot plate of food. Healthy World Cafe started out as a pop-up concept at a local church but will open in more permanent digs April 6. Manager Liza Naylor notes that the goal of the cafe is for every customer to eat and for them to eat healthy. She adds that not everyone volunteers their time for a meal. Nearly 80 percent of customers pay for their meals, while 20 percent eat for free and volunteer.

 

Diners can also "pay-it-foward and cover the cost of other diners' meals." As for the food, the cafe buys its ingredients from "local famers and purveyors." The menu itself tends to lean vegan and vegetarian because those dishes are the least expensive. However, there are meat options too. Diners can expect dishes like chicken salad sandwiches on foccacia, swiss chard quiches, and Middle Eastern bean salad.

 

Healthy World Cafe is far from the first restaurant to accept alternative forms of payment. In February, a pop-up cafe in London accepted hugs as payment for cookies and tea. McDonald's launched a promotion in January where customers can pay for meals with "lovin'" — such as giving someone a compliment or taking a selfie — in place of real money.

Jim Manske's insight:

An experiment in compassionate economics...imagine a world based on an economy of needs!

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17 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself

17 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
It’s time to befriend yourself and start showing yourself kindness. Here are 17 ways to be kind to yourself.
Jim Manske's insight:
Favorite line: There’s only one person in the world you’ll always have a relationship with, and that’s yourself. Therefore, you better start making sure that you’re a good companion to yourself. Live your best life by being kind to yourself.
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Compassion is a wise and effective managerial strategy, Stanford expert says

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Psychologist Emma Seppala says promoting a culture of trust encourages collaboration.
Jim Manske's insight:
Mindfulness, empathy and forgiveness: resources for compassion and purpose!
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Petal Power: why is gardening so good for our mental health?

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10 ways horticulture helps us heal, overcome anxiety and lift low mood
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When You’re Busy Looking for Happiness in the Future

When You’re Busy Looking for Happiness in the Future | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
For a long time, I was busy assembling an idea of happiness, but every time I got something I thought I wanted, I felt unsatisfied. Sound familiar? Read on.
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Gut Feelings--the "Second Brain" in Our Gastrointestinal Systems [Excerpt]

Gut Feelings--the "Second Brain" in Our Gastrointestinal Systems [Excerpt] | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
There is a superhighway between the brain and GI system that holds great sway over humans
Jim Manske's insight:
I had a gut feeling to share this with you....interdependence is multidirectional?
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John Oulton's comment, May 2, 5:13 PM
Police officers and other law enforcement careers have a good grasp of this, as in a "second brain" such as the CNS. Their discretion will be handy.
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15 Simple Ways to Spread Kindness in Your World Starting Today

15 Simple Ways to Spread Kindness in Your World Starting Today | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” Albert Schweitz
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8 Life-Changing Lessons from TED Talks on How to Be Happy

8 Life-Changing Lessons from TED Talks on How to Be Happy | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Ever wonder if you could make yourself happier? You can. Here's how.
Jim Manske's insight:
What if happiness is our basic nature, and all the techniques and technologies to "make us happy" work because they support a simple recognition of Who we actually are?
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The Age of Wind and Solar Is Closer Than You Think

The Age of Wind and Solar Is Closer Than You Think | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Renewable energy, spurred by a crisis in climate, may usurp fossil fuels by mid-century
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Will Maui lead the way and become the first island to demonstrate that we can do this?
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The 5 Happiest Countries And What Makes Them So Happy - PsyBlog

The 5 Happiest Countries And What Makes Them So Happy - PsyBlog | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

Only one country in North America is amongst the world's happiest.

Jim Manske's insight:

Favorite quote from the article: “The aspiration of society is the flourishing of its members. This report gives evidence on how to achieve societal well-being. It’s not by money alone, but also by fairness, honesty, trust, and good health. -Jeffrey Sachs

 

Who doesn't want happiness?

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4 daily habits that will make you happier

4 daily habits that will make you happier | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Happiness comes from your own actions.
Jim Manske's insight:
What's going well right now?
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How Fear Melts Away When We Stop Resisting the Present

How Fear Melts Away When We Stop Resisting the Present | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Fear triggers our fight or flight response and causes us to struggle and resist the present. What if, instead of running from fear, you stuck with it?
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Vulnerable honesty | Yoram Mosenzon | TEDxAmsterdamED - YouTube

In this funny, personal, and honest look at the way we as humans approach communication, Yoram Mosenzon teaches us the difference between true honesty, and w...
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Aung San Suu Kyi on What It Takes to Be Free from Fear

Aung San Suu Kyi on What It Takes to Be Free from Fear | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure. Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.
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