the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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meet johny wildseed: foraging expert russ cohen has a new mission

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Russ Cohen planting Beach Plum saplings on Marblehead Island. (Photo courtesy of Russ Cohen.)

“Putting stinging nettle balls in the oven,” Russ Cohen announces to me proudly when I can’t guess what he’s doing in the moment that I call. Amid the flutter of taking interview requests and preparing for a conference later in the evening, he is putting the finishing touches on his wild-fitted version of a 1950’s-era recipe. He’ll serve it as part of his presentation. Swapping frozen nettles collected last summer in for the traditional spinach, he’s doing what he loves: “nibbling on nature”– and then sharing it with people.

In the following interview excerpts we discuss the rad new seed bank in his second refrigerator,  what native plants can do for organic farmers, the wonders of the mighty shagbark hickory, and the danger of commercializing wild plants. Anyone interested in learning more about Russ or contacting him for seeds can do so here.

GH: Can you briefly describe yourself and your work for our readers? Let’s start with the work you’ve been doing.

I have been teaching folks about how to connect to the land through their taste buds— to nibble on nature— since I was a senior in high school in 1974. So that’s over 40 years ago. I do about 40 programs a year all over New England and upstate New York, most of which are just walking around with folks in the woods and fields, looking at wild plants and mushrooms, and talking about what’s edible— you know, explain how to identify it, what it tastes like, how to prepare it, if the Native Americans ate it, what kind of vitamins it has, whether it’s a weed or invasive, native or non-native, the impact of picking, and all that stuff.

GH: And what are you transitioning into?

RC: I am going to keep doing that, but what I am doing in addition to that is that I am aspiring to be a “Johnny Appleseed” of sorts for native edible species and plant more of them in the landscape, so that there’s more for more for everyone to benefit from, for people, for wildlife, the plants and the birds, pollinators, for everyone to benefit. So I have been gathering the seeds and nuts from native species.

I actually have a new fridge in my basement that’s filled with the nuts and seeds of native species.

As it turns out, most of them need to go through “stratification” (exposure to cold) before they’ll germinate, so the fridge is a good place to store them.

GH: Well that’s awesome. What exactly are you hoping to do with these seeds?

RC: I have been distributing them to native plant propagators and people I know who want to grow more native plants. I am actually going to be contract-growing a lot of stuff. So I’ve been contacting plant nurseries, giving them a bunch of seeds, and say “OK, turn these into plants for me”, and then I’ll buy the plants back to distribute to organizations to grow out on their properties. I am giving these plants away. I am not charging anyone for anything.

GH: A good portion of our blog readership are organic farmers. Do you see native plants playing a larger role in their work?

RC: Yes, at least where opportunities exist to grow native species in or around organic farms. Native edible species benefit birds, pollinators and other wildlife as well as offer food harvesting opportunities for people. This is a better alternative than collecting these species from natural habitats, where, unfortunately, I have been distressed to see damage to wild plant populations caused by commercially-driven harvesting.

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What is it about the ruthless sea? An acculturation in agricultural landscapes, full of flower buds, dewdrops, fresh hay, kittens and baby lambs cannot prepare you for the hard, chilling mechanics of a mechanized fish harvest. To my tender agrarian eyes, the fishing business is brutal. We may call them “stewards of the ocean” but lets face it—they are killing fish.

-Severine on the Alaskan fishing commons in “A Farm Organizer Visits Fish Country: Part II,” for In These Times. Read the rest of the article here!


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why agrarians should care about fishing

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“For many terrestrials, and certainly for me, the ocean and fisheries are a foreign place. We cannot see into the sea and don’t know much at all about what goes on there, except perhaps familiarity with the blanket-term “over-fishing.” Young agrarians of the rangeland know well that a blanket critique—that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service’s policies lead to “over-grazing,” for example—is not enough. Indeed after decades of handing over mining, drilling, grazing and mineral rights on public lands, there’s a flank of the environmental movement calling for privatization of over 400 million acres of public lands. Another flank, the Rainforest Action Network, is calling for a moratorium on the sale of mineral rights on public lands.

We need to look more closely. We need to survey what we already know. And we need to build from there.

Some of us have followed the campaigns against factory fish—the Costco victory against GMO salmonGMO soy oilbeing sold as pelletized fish food and the pollution caused by fish farms. And we have heard hype about aquaculture projects and been confounded by this glamorization of international fish farm development projects. We use kelp supplements for our dairy animals and soil mix, but don’t know much about the controversy behind them. For the most part, we aren’t much connected as producers with fisher people whose fish-meal we farmers buy. (I hope this article may woo a few young farmers to study across the boundary of the seashore and help us discover our common causes.)

So, what’s the difference between a well managed and a poorly managed commons?”

-Severine on the ocean commons, in “A Farm Organizer Visits Fish Country: Part I” for In These Times. Read the whole article here!


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severine and the last american food commons, part I

 

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This past Fall, Severine travelled to beautiful Alaska and wrote three comprehensive articles based on her experience for In These Times. From Halibut festivals to fish processing boats to the rugged Alaskan homesteaders, she explores three questions fundamental to her journey:

  • What can the farming community learn from the highly managed, and highly abundant commons of Alaska? Are these lessons applicable to land?
  • What do young agrarians have to learn from the governance and politics of a wild fishery?
  • What does a wild fishery have to learn from the cultural activities of agrarian organizers?

Convinced? You can read the three articles, Part I, Part II, and Part III on In These Times.

But maybe you’re still not sure why young farmers should care about the ocean? We’ll be posting a few short excerpts on the blog throughout day, and we suspect they might just change your mind.

 


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developing the grape cultivars of the future

With a focus on disease resistance and hardiness, researchers are hard at work developing the grape cultivars of the future.

Through a multidisciplinary collaborative project called VitisGen, researchers are are working to decrease the time, effort, and cost of developing these new grapes.

According to the VitisGen website, the project “incorporates cutting-edge genomics technology and socioeconomic research into the traditional grape breeding and evaluation process, which will speed up the ability to identify important genes related consumer-valued traits like disease resistance, low temperature tolerance and enhanced fruit quality.”

To learn more about VitisGen, click HERE!

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good example of citizen science

The Practical Farmers of Iowa have released their latest study on the effects of apple cider vinegar supplementation in feeder pigs.

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Apple cider vinegar is held to being a health tonic that promotes beneficial gut bacteria, improves digestion of feedstuffs, enhances performance, and helps decrease parasite load. PFI cooperator, Tom Frantzen, supplemented three groups of pigs with apple cider vinegar and measured feed intake, average daily gain, feed efficiency and return over feed costs compared to pigs not supplemented.

Key findings

  • Pigs supplemented with apple cider vinegar were observed to have a sleeker coat, improved vitality and looked healthier than those not receiving apple cider vinegar.
  • Pigs supplemented with apple cider vinegar tended towards increased feed intake and average daily gains, higher carcass yields, better feed efficiency, and higher profits.

To read the full report, click HERE!


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joyous JOJOBA jubilee

Jojoba.seed

Jojoba seed

You have probably noticed that there’s a lot of bad news going around these days, and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just need to watch a feel-good video on the internet. Which brings me to today’s installment of Californians just do the coolest things! (The link reroutes you to an episode of old TV treasure, California’s Lost Gold.)

Check out that sweet video, and if you’re interested more, stop on by the website of La Ronna Jojoba Co. Larry and Donna Charpied have been growing jojoba as an alternative to whale oil for 30 years, and their story is fabulous: it’s the kind of story you’d expect from organic farmers: the bucking of “conventional” wisdom and an awesome stubborn doggedness to grow in a way that doesn’t drain the precious resources of the local ecosystem.

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