the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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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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agrarian economics: a letter from a young farmer

kevin-morin-photo

I met Kevin Morin in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, a town on the outskirts of Montreal, and home to some of the last vestiges of agricultural land on the island metropolis. At the time Kevin was working for the Cooperative farm Tournesol. Recently Keven and Nikaela Lange both won the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing for essays outlining hopes for the new farming economy. Below we have reprinted Kevin’s essay with permission from National Farmer’s Union and you can find both texts on the NFU site.  

Kevin’s letter poses a question that I think many of us ask each day as we sweat and plant, weed and harvest, email clients, pour over spreadsheets and budgets, then pass out exhausted: is the current system of economic evaluation compatible with ecological agriculture and a sustainable future?  This last week I had the good fortune of seeing Dr. Vandana Shiva give the keynote address at NOFA Vermont and once again I was reminded that, like Gandhi’s call for spinning and making clothing by hand, farming is a simple but profoundly revolutionary act. 

My Future Vision for Canada’s Farming and Food System

by Kevin Morin

While talking about backyard cereal breeding, an old Cape Breton farmer once told me that the agriculture there was so far back that now they’re ahead. And if you were to have a cereal killer oatmeal stout from the Island’s own Big Spruce Brewing, you may be inclined to believe that.

I dream of a farm of my own someday, cows in the pasture, neat rows of cabbage…. Think of the rainy days spent in the woodshop, the brisk November mornings crouching in the greenhouse, a woodlot to keep me busy over winter and spring. To farm such a mixed enterprise like that of our grandparents is no romance. Continue reading


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the death of the russian peasant

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My great grandparents immigrated from czarist Russia in the early years of the twentieth century, worked five years in the coal mines to save money, and bought a small farm in an agricultural community in New England on which they raised a diary herd, tobacco, and four children who had no interest in farming. The rural town in which they lived, like so many rural communities in this country, has had less farms every year since they died in the middle of the twentieth century.

I assume that this story is familiar to you: that I do not need to outline the history of increasing mechanization of agriculture, the consolidation of farms, the suburbanization of the countryside and the slow crawling deterioration of the remaining rural places.

What I do want to suggest is that when we think of this story, we often tend to centralize the American experience in the narrative of industrialized agriculture. My mental landscapes, at the least, still imagine pastoral countryside in less developed regions of the world– places where subsistence farming and rural fabrics continue to thrive.

But, as this piece in Al Jazeera brings to light, the reaches of industrialized agriculture far exceed the boarders of North America. were I to visit the homeland of my ancestors today, the plight of its villages would resemble the plight of my own. As Moscow-based journalist Mansur Mirovalev bleakly demonstrates, a coalition of forces– rapid urbanization, industrialization of agriculture, and the decline of the Russian economy– have created a situation in which half of Russia’s 13,000 villages have populations of 10 or fewer. As one elderly woman explained of her town, “Only old people are left here. And what do we, old people, do? We die,”

It’s worth reading the full article here.

But! It is also worth noting, as this 2014 NY Times article argues, that just like in the United States, small farm-to-table movements and organizations are present, vibrant, and might have something to gain from more stringent trade borders.

 

 


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“ditching NAFTA” may hurt american farmers, but which ones?

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/515380213/515638250

NPR’s The Salt spoke to American farmers growing products (strawberries) in and outsourcing their products (milk, powdered) to Mexico. And no doubt, these industrial farmers will either pay more to import and export their crops and could lose potential markets. Given, however, that NAFTA’s effect on small and medium farms in this country– which we rarely mentioned in the discussion– has been largely detrimental, and NAFTA’s effect on small farmers in Mexico has been unequivocally disastrous, we wonder how this conversation could be extended to address small-scale sustainable agriculture.  Greenhorns, policy buffs, what do you think? Surely, it is not always true that what is bad for industrialized ag is good for sustainable ag, but….

What do you think, Greenhorns, specifically our economics buffs out there, what will it mean for young agrarians and small farms if the US “ditches NAFTA?”


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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!


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sf bay area: celebrate black farmers with a night of films

Interested in learning more about the rich history of black farmers in the US and abroad? Join the good people at Pollinate Farm & Garden, an Oakland-based nursery and urban homestead emporium, for an evening of film celebrating “black hands in the soil.” The night is co-hosted by Farms To Grow, Inc – a non-profit dedicated to supporting black farmers and underserved sustainable farmers around the country.

What: Black Hands in the Soil – A Film Celebration of Black Farming

Where: Pollinate Farm & Garden, 2727 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland, CA

When: Friday, February 24th, 7-9pm

Cost: Sliding scale donation, no one turned away for a lack of funds!

The feature film is Charlene Gilbert’s “Homecoming” (see an excerpt above!) with several shorter documentaries rounding out the evening. Learn more and purchase tickets HERE, and check out Pollinate’s series of hands-on urban farming classes and workshops HERE.


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this is what it looks like when MONSANTO rents the state house in Iowa

And this is what happens when activists like our hero Reverend Billy refuse to stand by silently. Brought to you by Occupy the World Food Prize, a response to the World Food Prize, an organization that gives millions of dollars to support agribusiness giants under the guise of trying to combat world hunger.