the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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how does change happen on the land?

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The Edmund Hillary Fellowship just published this great article about Severine! 

There is a question we need to ask when talking about food production. The question is, “Who is telling what story, and on whose behalf?” Is it a story that goes with dinner? Or does it perhaps focus on the “We feed the world” narrative so dominant in the agricultural and general press these days? That story goes something like this: We (Read: developed world) need to grow food as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible in order to be able to feed a growing (Read under-developed world) population that is growing at a rate of change faster than we can keep up with. Crops are necessarily bred for maximum size, yield, speed to harvest, and disease-resistance, while taste, diversity and nutritional value considered somewhat irrelevant. We are told this is the only way to keep up with our growing population.

If we are to believe the predominant narrative, there is no other way to feed a rapidly growing global population.

Simultaneously, there is a crisis looming across much of the developed world. Bluntly put, farmers are becoming a dying breed. The older generation is retiring, while their children and grandchildren now have alternative options available to them — they’re moving to the cities, they’re chasing a multitude of new career opportunities, they are no longer opting for a hard day’s labour in the dirt. They’re not taking on the family farm, the way that generations before have done since the dawn of the agricultural age.

I wrote about the future of farming a couple of years ago, and New Zealand’s golden opportunity to leverage our natural advantages to become a premium producer of sustainably-produced agricultural products, that regenerate the land. Now, we can look to the far northeast at a number of growing movements that can offer a potential pathway for New Zealand’s agricultural transformation. Across the Pacific, there is a seed of hoping springing forth. There are radical new green shoots breaking through the endless monocultures that sprawl across the midwestern United States. There is a new movement of young farmers, who recognise that short term thinking and the ecological damage inherent in the industrial food system, is leading us rapidly towards the edge of the proverbial cliff.

At the coal face of this movement is Severine von Tscharner Fleming, based in Champlain Valley, New York.

In the past few years, members of Edmund Hillary Fellowship team have been connecting with communities who are leading global work around building a robust, sustainable and healthy food system. In conversation with diverse groups from Bioneers to the Near Future Summit and EAT Forum, people everywhere have told us “You’ve got to connect with Severine”. It seems that within both new and ancient holistic farming circles, all roads lead to Severine.

Speaking in the video below at New Frontiers festival in New Zealand earlier this year, Severine describes farming in America today as both a privilege and a service. She has co-founded, led and been involved in a number of different initiatives to bring young people back to the land, and stands as a dedicated voice for regenerative agriculture and land reform. And there is a growing chorus of voices behind her, walking the talk and providing the collective roadmap to feed the planet in a healthy, sustainable way.

Her talk at New Frontiers was entitled “The Project is Land Repair”. This title alone provides an insight into how a generation of young farmers are thinking about what they do. Natural ecosystems are very good at repairing themselves. Plants and trees provide organic matter to the soil below, which composts alongside waste matter from passing animals and birds. This provides the land with the right nutrients that it needs to thrive. The protective canopy of plants drip feeds water to the land, while providing a root system that keeps the soil in place, and shade that keeps moisture in and provides a home for countless helpful bugs and microorganisms. Dozens of other symbiotic exchanges occur to keep the ecosystem in balance.

Monoculture farming strips all of this away. We have placed value on only some parts of the ecological system, devaluing others, removing some crucial parts altogether, and resulting in degraded land. Decades of abuse at the hands of the “produce-as-much-as-you-can-at-all-costs-with-as-little-land-as-possible” mentality, has left millions of acres of agricultural land in dire need of repair.

The young farmers at the spearhead of this land repair movement have a name — the Greenhorns — and they are bringing the “human” back into farming. Greenhorns is a grassroots organisation founded by Severine, with the mission to recruit, promote and support the rising generation of new farmers in America. Or as Severine put it, “it’s about the recruitment of bodies back onto the land.” An identity as well as an organisation, the people who call themselves Greenhorns are those that are embracing farming as a calling and a way of life.

It started with a film project of the same name in 2011, after Severine spent three years travelling across America interviewing young farmers. Originally a platform to broadcast the voices and visions of young farmers, it has now grown to a thriving nationwide community that produces literary journals, almanacs, a popular blog, a weekly radio show, a short film series, and a national OPEN GIS farmer database, while also hosting a variety of social and political events. On a broad level, the work of the Greenhorns is to provide the cultural infrastructure required to inspire an agrarian revolution.

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organic gardening tips from MOFGA

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credit: MOFGA

The seedcorn maggot is the larvae of a fly, says Eric Sideman, MOFGA’s organic crop specialist, in the fall issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. He continues: This critter spends the winter as a pupa in the soil. Flies emerge very early in the spring from these pupae and lay eggs near decaying organic matter and germinating seeds. The eggs hatch into maggots that feed on the seeds or young plants. Gaps in rows of crops such as onions, spinach, corn, peas, etc., often blamed on poor seed, actually result more often from seedcorn maggot feeding. The fly is often attracted to decaying organic matter, including some fertilizers that organic farmers use, such as soybean meal. In such cases the maggots end up feeding on the seeds and seedlings.

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sam clovis withdraws nomination for agriculture department chief scientist

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credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP

We’ve written about his preposterous nomination before due to his sheer inadequacy for the job and thankfully Sam Clovis has finally withdrawn his nomination for chief scientist of the agriculture department. Clovis is a climate change sceptic and was just another cog in the anti-science Trump administration. However make no mistake, his lack of qualification for the job is not why he withdrew his nomination. Clovis wrote to president Trump this week saying that he ‘did not want to be a distraction’ after it was revealed that he had communication with George Papadopoulos  who admitted to the FBI that he lied about his work with Robert Mueller as part of the investigations into the links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Clovis who had not yet been confirmed by the senate would have faced presumably intense scrutiny on his Russian connections by the Senate agriculture committee had he not withdrawn.

Either way, Clovis’ withdrawal is good news for the department of agriculture’s science department, perhaps their next pick will be an actual scientist suited to such an important governmental position.


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emancipatory educational experiences in scotland

Drumduan school, in the Scottish highlands, offers it’s students a unique and emancipatory education experience free of any form from exams or standardised testing. It’s educational focus is on participatory and practical education. Academic study is enhanced and balanced with movement, music and artistic work, with crafts, foraging  and outdoor activities. Students learn through experience,  they learn their science by building a Canadian canoe, or making a knife, or caramelising onions. What’s more, the teenagers who attend the school are happy and inspired and have the opportunity to discover who they are and what they want to achieve from life. Aspects that are all too frequently missing from the tradition educational experience.  Continue reading


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the honey locust contest revisited

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In 1926 J Russell Smith launched a contest to gather honey locust pods from across the country, the Savanna Institute are continuing what he started. 

Contest Details & Instructions

Step 1: Photograph the tree

Photograph the tree before the pods have fallen from the tree, although preferably after leaves have dropped. Include the entire tree within the photo. Prior to taking the photo, tack a standard 8.5×11″ piece of white paper to the tree trunk (scale reference). Include the ground. Use the highest resolution camera that you have access to.

Step 2: Collect 25 pods

Once the pods have fallen from the tree, collect 25 representative, dried (brown), whole pods off the ground and put them into one or more plastic grocery bags. The pods should be collected as soon as possible after they fall to the ground to prevent damage from animals. Be sure to choose a representative sample of pods – not the 25 largest! If possible, although not required, please also count the total number of pods that fell from the tree, as this will help calibrate their yield models.

Step 3: Fill out & print the entry form

Fill out the official contest entry form HERE, which includes basic information about you and the tree. You will be able to upload the tree photo here as well. This form will be submitted to the institute digitally, and you will receive a copy via email. Print a paper copy of your emailed entry to include with your pods.

Step 4: Ship your pods & entry form to the Savanna Institute 

Place your bag(s) of pods and entry form into a sturdy cardboard box. Ship your entry to:

Savanna Institute

Attn: Honey Locust Contest

1360 Regent St. #124

Madison, WI 53715

IMPORTANT: If submitting multiple trees/entries, ship each entry separately, using a different box for each. This will ensure that pods from different trees do not mix in transit.

Click HERE for the contest website where there are more details about the contest.