the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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evolution of organic hits theaters this month!

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The world premier of the Evolution of Organic (see our previous post on this film here and here) is finally upon us! You can catch the event at the opening Night of Green Film Fest 2017 on April 20 at the Castro Theatre. Schedule as follows:

6:00pm  ::  Opening Night Reception with Mark Kitchell and Festival filmmakers
7:30pm  ::  Evolution of Organic (Mark Kitchell, USA, 2017, 82 mins)

As the Film Fest surmises, “[The Evolution of Organic] started with a motley crew of back-to-the-landers rejecting industrial farming. It went on to spawn a renewed connection with our food and land. Filmmaker Mark Kitchell (Berkeley in the Sixties; A Fierce Green Fire) presents a celebration of Californian organic farming told by the people that started it all thru to a new generation who continue to reinvent the food system.”

The film will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Mark Kitchell and special guests. Buy tickets here!


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the seed we need: there’s not enough

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Outside right now, in central Massachusetts, it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a thin crust of fresh snow on the ground, and the trees are brown and bare. But in the flood of seed catalogues that have been flowing into the farmhouse mailbox over the past few months, it’s summer. Peas are fat in the pod, the lettuce is in full flush, and eggplants hang heavy, shiny, and purple. All the grass is green. There are flowers everywhere.

It’s into this imagination land of color and warmth that we’ve been burrowing throughout the coldest season as we attempt to tease out a concrete organic crop plan from this fantasy of perfect bounty. But as with any fantasy, there are limitations to this one’s ability to deliver on it’s promise: our land is not perfect land, our soils are not perfect soils, we are not perfect growers, and the weather, inevitably, will not behave perfectly for our purposes.

Even more than the obvious disparities, however, these catalogues are limited in that they bely the true nature of their industry. Abundance, diversity, and choice: this is what we hope to achieve in the crop plan for this farm’s organic vegetable CSA, and that is what the seed catalogues are selling us. But the reality of the seed industry is not that. The reality of the seed industry is this:

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Consolidation is the name of the game when it comes to seed, and nothing suppresses abundant diversity and choice like the concentration of research funding and intellectual property rights into the hands of just a few. Despite the existence of a select number of seed companies that cater to the needs of small-scale, diversified, and/or organic farmers, and despite the considerable (and still growing) market for organic seed, the actual supply of attainable organic genetics is quite small. And without sufficient organic seed, the hardiness of organic agriculture starts to look—well, considerably less hardy.

According to the Organic Seed Alliance’s 2016 report, most organic farmers still rely on conventional seed because they can’t find organic versions of the varieties they need […] The result for farmers is not simply compromised principles and reliance on regulatory exemptions, but a reservoir of organic germplasm whose quality, in addition to scale, is inadequate to their needs.

The reasoning here is partly ideological, partly regulatory, and partly (the biggest part) due to the nature of seed, explains Tyson Neukirch, former head grower at the Farm School. Growing with organic seed means supporting the growth of the organic seed industry—an act of solidarity as well as self-interest. Increased demand ought to lead to increased supply of organic seed, and increased supply enables organic farmers to better comply with organic certifiers who are becoming more stringent with their requirement that organic-certified farmers use organic seed unless, as the USDA National Organic Program puts it, “an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available.”

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in defense of hydroponics

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The latest post in our ongoing discussion about the inclusion of hydroponics in the National Organic Production standards comes from Helen Lee, a sustainability specialist, consulting and promoting local and sustainable businesses who currently works as a brand ambassador for a maple water company and holds a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College in Vermont. While her opinions diverge from the Greenhorns’ stance that hydroponics should not be included in organic, we’ve reprinted her submission here today on account of its well-researched facts and the spirit of lively debate. Also, of note, another nuanced opinion in favor of hydroponic inclusion comes from Food Hub manager Michael Powell and appears in the comments section here.

I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree with Matthew Hoffman’s opinion. I have recently obtained my MS in Sustainable Food Systems and, at Green Mountain College, I studied with one of the people who helped write the original NOP standards.

Hydroponics is neither the ultimate nor the hackneyed solution to solving our current food system crises. A better question to pose would be, “when and how do hydroponic systems fit into a sustainable food system?”

It is a fallacy to think that any system, hydroponic or otherwise, can ever be fully removed from its surrounding environment or from the rest of the supply chain. From the construction materials used to the resources utilized in production and distribution, everything is ultimately connected.  There can be no one ultimate solution in such an interconnected ecosystem. Furthermore, it is misguided to think the NOP standards specifically focus on soil health or that all organic certifications are equal. Continue reading


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learn to farm on an island in washington

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Want the skills to manage your own farm? The Organic Farm School on Widbey Island in Washington State offers aspiring farmers a practical education in how to start and manage a small scale organic farm.

They still have a few openings left for 2017 and accept Americorps awards and/or offer need-based scholarships towards tuition.

Our full-time, 8-month long experiential farmer training program is for aspiring farmers seeking to learn and practice the technical and business skills needed to run a small-scale, organic, commercial farm. Through cooperatively managing the school’s ten-acre farm and attending weekly lectures, discussions, and demonstrations on topics including organic crop production, soil science, business planning, and direct marketing, students will acquire a thorough education in organic small farm management. Student are mentored through the creation a personal farm business plan and regular field trips to regional farms allow participants to see a variety of farming styles and talk to experienced producers.

Through management of the student farm, participants develop their practical farm skills including planning, tillage, greenhouse propagation, weeding, harvesting, marketing, record-keeping, and more. Students also learn to operate tractors, make compost, and manage the farm’s livestock. With the skills and knowledge gained and a business plan in hand, program graduates are ready to start and/or manage their own small organic farm. Find out more and apply at www.organicfarmschool.org.


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evolution of organic premiers at ecofarm conference, jan. 27

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Still from the film feature Severine and Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser of Singing Frogs farm, who are leaders in no-till farming and recently the key-note speakers at the NOFA MA Winter Conference.

This year at the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove California, participants will get a chance to see a sneak preview of the documentary The Origins of Organic!

Evolution of Organic, according to its filmmakers, “brings us the story of organic agriculture, told by those who built the movement. A motley crew of back-to-the-landers, spiritual seekers and farmers’ sons and daughters rejected chemical industrial farming and set out to explore organic alternatives. It’s a heartfelt journey of change – from a small band of rebels to a cultural transformation in the way we grow and eat food. By now organic has gone mainstream – split into an industry oriented toward bringing organic to all people, and a movement that has realized a vision of sustainable agriculture. As interviewee Kelly Mulville says, “Creating health in the soil creates health in the ecosystem creates health in the atmosphere – and it all cycles around.””

All that, and Severine makes a cameo!

This year’s EcoFarm Conference, which also features incredible speakers, farmer mixers, and even dancing, takes place January 25-28 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds. Online registration is now closed but onsite walk-in registration begins Wed, Jan 25 – Sat, Jan 28 starting at 7am.


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the conversation continues: hydroponics divorce people even further from the stewardship of the land

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This recent submission to our series on whether or not hydroponics should be considered organic comes from Joanna Storie, a Doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of Estonian University of Life Sciences. She takes a similar stance on hydroponics to our last contributor, adding that hydroponics are not sustainable agriculture in that they divert attention from strengthening rural economies and reinforce urban ways of being that divorce people further from the land.

Have something to add? Email submissions to greenhornsblog@gmail.com.

In your recent blog you asked the question on whether hydroponics is organic or not and I have to agree that it is not. The following statement sums it up for me:


“Hydroponics may be a fine way to grow food and it might be an important part of how cities feed themselves in the future, but it’s no more a form of sustainable agriculture than producing wood fiber in a laboratory is a form of sustainable forest management.”

It also worries me that Hydoponics divorce people even further from the idea of stewardship of the land– which is something that makes the urban areas increasingly vulnerable, because– even if they can produce food in the cities using hydroponic techniques– this will not be the sum total of their food supply.

Recently I submitted an abstract for a conference, which took the position against urban-centric ways of structuring our society, arguing that “rural social networks need to be seen as inherently valuable to the resilience of the whole region.”

I think the hydroponics fits into the urban 24/7 mindset, which values cheap food and devalues rural social network,  thus exacerbating the situation of removing people further from the knowledge of healthy food and healthy environments.


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“hydroponics is not organic — it’s not even agriculture”

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Last week we asked the Greenhorns network what you think about the vertical farm. A perennially contentious idea, are hydroponics the way to the future or are they a hackneyed and ultimately artificial solution to the current crises of our food systems. The following submission on hydroponics comes from Matthew Hoffman, a Fulbright Scholar, Norwegian Centre for Rural Research, who argues vehemently that hydroponic farming be removed from organic certification.  Send us your opinions at greenhornsblog@gmail.com!

The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.

I remember one devotee in particular.  Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers.  At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”

This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant.  So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.

She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?” Continue reading