the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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biochar, worth all the hype?

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I first heard about biochar from a gentle and unassuming older lady who was making biochar at home in her kiln. She explained the role that biochar could play in both the fight against climate change and the improvement of soil quality, before gifting me a small bag of it to try out in my own small vegetable garden. I decided to carry out some citizens science in my back yard and put biochar to the test. I planted 5 squash plants and added biochar to the soil for two of the five. To be frank, I didn’t really know what to expect but I will happily test anything that will  organically allow me to fight climate change and grow better vegetables at the same time.

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largest field study of its kind shows that pesticide use is killing bees.

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We posted last week about a study carried out on bee populations in NNY and the effects that pathogens and parasites are having on bee populations in the region, however it seems as though bee health is the flavour of the month as another, much larger study has just been released which studied the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees. While this is not the first study of its kind, and it largely confirms what we already knew, it is more comprehensive than previous lab-based studies  which have indicated that neonicotinoid pesticides cause considerable harm to bee populations and health.

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crops of the future.

Coffee Beans

When portrayed by the film and TV media, the one thing that all fictional futures seem to have in common is a coffee shortage. Only the elite and the lucky manage to get their hands on a coveted cup of joe. In the dystopian fictional future, coffee is a black market product and in the wake of climate change, future coffee shortages may not be such a far-fetched concept after all. In 2016, Climate Institute, an Australian non-profit released a report that stated that in the next number of decades, the area of land suitable for growing coffee will decrease by about 50%. In addition to this, increased temperatures in the southern hemisphere, where much of our coffee comes from, encourages the spread of diseases and pests that affect the coffee plant, which can only grow well in a stable climate with steady levels of both heat and water.  If you are anything like me, the thought of having to start your day without a cup of freshly brewed coffee may strike fear in your heartbut fear not!

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sowing the seeds of food sovereignty.

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The mission of A Growing Culture is “supporting farmers to reshape the food system” to ensure that the future of agriculture is just, sustainable  and supportive of farmers. We are very excited about the wide range of resources they have to support farmers, not least their much anticipated Library for Food Sovereignty. The library, due for release in the late summer or early autumn of 2017, will include stories of farmer led innovations from around the world, local knowledge, grassroots farming movements and technical and environmental resources.

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Northern NY Bee Health Survey Results Reveal Insights Into Colony Loss.

 

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Bee colony loss is an increasingly serious issue for the entire beekeeping industry causing in some cases an unsustainable loss of 1/3 of beekeepers operations. In response to increasing levels of colony loss, the first ever survey of parasites and pathogens in regional bee colonies has just been carried out and released by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Programme. The survey participants included 31 beekeepers of all stripes, from hobbyists to commercial beekeepers. Project leader Emma Mullen, a Honey Bee Extension Associate with Cornell University, Ithaca, NY explains that “this project documents for the first time the levels of key parasites and viruses in commercial and hobby bee colonies in Northern New York”. The aim of the project was to contribute to regional knowledge of pathogens affecting bees, and to educate regional beekeepers about ways to protect against relevant pathogens relevant to protect against economic and colony loss. The replacement of a colony can cost between $100 and $200.

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the open source ethos in agroecology

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Illustration by Freya Yost

The following paper, submitted to the Greenhorns by Freya Yost, Vice President of A Growing Culture, traces the building blocks of Agroecology (local knowledge, resilience, cultural traditions, working with nature) and analyzes them within the context of our current technological culture. This is a long but compelling piece, scholarly without being a sludge to read, accessible in tone and content, and we highly encourage everyone to read it. 

The basic premise is something that we know intuitively without necessarily having articulated it: that Agroecology is an inherently open source tradition whose knowledge and genetics have been co-opted, constrained, and privatized by for profit– to the great detriment of small farmers and ecological networks. The paper’s author casts our eyes simultaneously forward to the internet age and down to myccorrhizal networks to find hopeful models for creating egalitarian ways of producing and disseminating information to small farmers. The ultimate suggestion here– and it’s one of grave importance– is that those of us who are invested in the success of regenerative and sustainable growing ought also to be deeply committed to the overturning of proprietary development models and privatized knowledge systems. As the author writes:

All these dimensions make farming one of the most demanding and knowledge-intensive professions in the world. Sadly, because farmers are also some of the poorest people on Earth, lack of information can have devastating effects. Entire regions are vulnerable to being forced to adopt proprietary practices. Lack of information access puts farmers’ autonomy at risk. Open is not just an environmental issue, it is also a social justice issue.

The Open Source Ethos 

Open access is an ancient public good. 

Western discourse around open access has largely been restricted to academic, scholarly communications circles. In fact, many friends and colleagues have told me they first encountered open access when, after graduating from university, they were confronted with the fact they no longer had access to school databases; or when online article searches reached the dead-end prompt “click here to pay for access.”

The internet now provides a free platform for sharing knowledge. How is it possible—or even socially just—that so many of us can’t get access to scholarly research? Isn’t society propelled forward by access to the science, literature, and art of the world’s scholars? What if that research is publically funded? These are the primary concerns that drive the open access movement.

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talking empires: cotton and capitalism

Cotton Farmers

Want to dive deep into the relationship between the history of cotton farming, capitalism, and the global economy? Then Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History, is your man. He’s a historian who knows all things cotton and his book was described by the New York Times as:

…a major work of scholarship that will not be soon surpassed as the definitive account of the product that was, as Beckert puts it, the Industrial Revolution’s “launching pad.”

More than that, “Empire of Cotton” is laced with compassion for the millions of miserably treated slaves, sharecroppers and mill workers whose labors, over hundreds of years, have gone into the clothes we wear and the surprising variety of other products containing cotton, from coffee filters to gunpowder.

If you don’t, however, have the time to read all 640 pages of Sven’s book, check out the video in the link below. It’s a recent lecture that he gave at the New School in New York that’s guaranteed to make you more informed and super smart!

https://www.c-span.org/video/?324267-1/empire-cotton