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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


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A NEW ASSOCIATION FOR ORGANIC FARMERS

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Last week the Rodale Institute announced that it was launching the Organic Farmers’ Association, headed up by Elizabeth Kucinich, Board Policy Chair for Rodale Institute.

From the regional organic farmer associations to the Organic Trade Association to NYFC to your humble Greenhorns here, there sure are a lot of associations composed of or supposedly representing farmers. So maybe you’re asking, do we really need another one?

Well, first thing to consider here is that there is actually no national organization that represents only organic farmers. The second thing to consider might be the recent failures to pass adequate GMO labeling legislation in congress. We’re wondering if the entry of another national player might change the field of agricultural policy. Does this mark a shift in the organic/sustainable ag movement in which organic farmers more seriously set their sights on federal policy?

Use the comments section to weight in! And maybe consider joining.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to bring organic farmers’ voices and their experience with agriculture to policymakers in Washington, D.C.,” said Kucinich. “Policymakers have not yet grasped the significance of organic agriculture for resilient, reliable, non-toxic food production, and its ability to mitigate climate change while restoring our nation’s soil health. We have an opportunity to benefit organic farmers, while positively impacting our nation’s health and mitigating our climate crisis.”


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come a long way baby: new film on the evolution of organic

Peppered with priceless footage of the origins of the organic movement, this film delves head-first into where we came from and where we’re going. Our favorite quote from the trailer?  “Organic can get better.” Spoiler alert: the Greenhorns are in this film. Fund them here!