the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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staple bedside reading material

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“Women in Agriculture” by Filipino activist painter Federico (‘Boy’) Dominguez

Greenhorns, we want to point you in the direction of two texts on contemporary farm life!

The first is The Journal if Peasant Studies, a publication that focuses rural politics and development. If you’re a farmer, researcher, activist, or just plain curious about the breadth of the agrarian perspectives this is a great starting point!

You can download the 44th edition free here.

Next, we would like to give a shout out to our very own publication: the 3 Volume of The New Farmers Almanac. We’re pretty proud of this compendium of agrarian life, which focuses on the commons and features writings, illustrations, thoughts and musings from 120 farming and ranching contributors.

You can order your very own here.

more reasons why bees are awesome

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L0008282 The drawings of a bee and its parts.

Bees are awesome. Full stop. Yet here’s more reasons to marvel at our bewinged friends: despite their tiny little brains, they can adapt their behavior, make use of “tools”, and solve more complex problems than we humans originally thought. All with the help of fellow bees or puppets.

Yes, you heard right. Puppets!

In findings recently published in Science, cognitive scientist Clint Perry demonstrated that bees could learn to roll a ball to a designated location in order to receive a delicious reward of sugar water. And if they couldn’t work it out themselves?

If a bee couldn’t figure out how to get the reward, a researcher would demonstrate using a puppet — a plastic bee on the end of a stick — to scoot the ball from the edge of the platform to the center.

“Bees that saw this demonstration learned very quickly how to solve the task. They started rolling the ball into the center; they got better over time,” says Perry.

What’s more, bees watching their cohorts receive these rewards would then adapt their behavior and find ways to get that sweet sugar water faster and more efficiently.

“It wasn’t monkey see, monkey do. They improved on the strategy that they saw,” says Perry. “This all shows an unprecedented level of cognitive flexibility, especially for a miniature brain.”

Click HERE to read or listen to NPR’s story on these smarty bees. They even suggest bees could learn to fetch!


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california is blessed with rains, but what about other regions?

sahara-mali

Photo Credit: Jeanne Menjoulet

After 5 years of severe drought, a series of winter storms has drenched and flooded California. Over 40% of the state has had its drought restrictions lifted and the Sierra’s have been swallowed by snow.

But what about other regions in the world? Climate change and severe drought have wreaked havoc across West Africa. Subsistence farmers are finding they simply can’t get by, causing mass migration and dangerous treks across the Sahara and through destabilized countries. A recent article in the New York Times, with personal stories, maps, videos, and stunning photography, tells the whole story.

“Climate change on its own doesn’t force people to move but it amplifies pre-existing vulnerabilities,” said Jane McAdam, an Australian law professor who studies the trend. They move when they can no longer imagine a future living off their land — or as she said, “when life becomes increasingly intolerable.”

Folks, this is a must read, especially for those interested in global agricultural and climate issues!

Check it out HERE.


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the four horsemen of the good food movement

If you love something, every now and then you should take a step back and think about how that thing could be destroyed. Or as Mike Lee puts it in a well-thought out article for Food+Tech Connect:

A great way to understand how to strengthen something is to think about how you might destroy it. It’s a thought experiment that can jolt the mind into thinking ruthlessly about where your weaknesses are, so you can shore them up. It’s an exercise the Good Food Movement should try to protect the gains we’ve made.

He then goes on to describe the “Four Horsemen of the Good Food Movement.” Just as the Bible’s Four Horsemen will bring on an apocalypse, Mike points to four attributes that could send the Good Food Movement into a death spiral: Apathy, Consolidation, False Truths, and Elitism.

So go ahead: click HERE to poke holes in what you hold dear, all in the name of making it stronger!


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rerural: notes on engaging with our towns

gaspesie

By Samuel Oslund

Urban-rural disconnect, elite-working class divide, pancakes vs waffles, oh the ever increasing list of simplistic binaries that are the focus of so much airtime these days! It seems the ‘enemies’, whichever side your on, are pretty clear.

Or are they? Perhaps the very nature of ‘Othering’ each-other is the surest ways to deepen rivalries while distracting us from the real architects of oppression.

In the after-wake of the Occupy movement many of us were left with questions of how to make actual change happen. It’s still debatable whether Occupy was a ‘success’, but one very important thing we learned from that movement was just how inaccessible and out of touch those in power have become. Given how removed we are from the highest seats of decision making, the traditional forms of political engagement have become, at best, a way to prevent things from getting much worse, a status quo with a downward leaning trajectory. Continue reading


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know your abattoir: there’s a shortage of local slaughterhouses, and it’s kind of a big problem

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The following cross-post comes from Field Notes from Maggie’s Farm, the blog from the Learn to Farm Program at the Farm School, and serves as an announcement of an exciting ongoing future partnership between this program and the Greenhorns Blog. Today, Farm School student Sophie Mendelson gives us a compelling run-down of the current quiet bottleneck crisis in sustainable meat– and what to do about it. 

Now in its 28th year, the Farm School in Athol, MA provides comprehensive educational programming in agriculture for youth, visiting schools, and adults. (Read more on their programming here!) Watch for more original posts on this blog from Sophie Mendelson, a student in their Learn to Farm Program, talented writer, and past and future farmer.

Know Your Abattoir: How to Keep Sustainable Meat Sustainable
by Sophie Mendelson

If consumers want local meat, they need to go to bat for local slaughterhouses.

At Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, MA, they play classical music on the kill floor. Cattle carcasses—seemingly as big as dinosaurs—hang by the hock from metal hooks fitted to a track in the ceiling that winds around the perimeter of the cathedral-like room. As the carcasses move along the track, they are divested of their blood, their skins, their internal organs, their heads, their hooves, and ultimately their integrity as a saw divides the animals neatly down their line of symmetry. This is how a “side” of beef is made.

The door to the holding pen opens and there is a great rattling as a cow enters the first segment of the indoor chute. A worker steps forward to urge the animal into the final compartment of the stunning pen, but this is a smaller cow, and instead of proceeding smoothly through the Temple Grandin-designed system, it begins to turn in the chute—an option not available to a larger animal. The worker attempts to redirect by prodding the cow from behind; metal clangs as the animal presses against the bars in resistance. The worker prods again, with little luck.

Noticing the commotion, another worker makes his way over to the chute. Instead of pushing from the rear, this man approaches the cow’s head. He reaches through the bars and strokes the cow’s chin. The animal stills. The man leans forward and appears to whisper something to the cow. Then, gently, he takes the cow by the ear and guides it into the stunning pen.

Continue reading


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know your chocolate: a resurgence in small cacao farms in Costa Rica

cacao-seed

Photo Credit: Yellow Seed

The 20th century history of growing cacao in Costa Rica is a sad yet familiar story. Large corporations moved in, bought large swaths of land, and insisted on growing only a small number of cacao varieties. These varieties were extremely productive, but not as unique and tasty as others. This industrial, undiversified method of growing cacao lined the pockets of these large corporations for decades, but they had no answer to an aggressive fungus that wiped out their crops and led to a collapse in the industry in the 1970s.

Luckily, throughout this destructive era, small farmers saved and passed down native cacao seeds that could still thrive on the island. Fast forward to the present day and a booming global chocolate industry, small farmers (with the help of trustworthy B-Corporations) have led a resurgence in growing cacao in Costa Rica.

Small farmers to the rescue!

Yellow Seed, a non-profit “conscious trade project”, tells the whole story HERE. Check it out!