The Nieuwe Ronde: Where your corner grocery is a field

This post is the seventh in a series – Letters from the Low Country – about food and agriculture in the Netherlands, written by Laura Genello as she studies organic agriculture at Wageningen University.

When I first met Pieter Lammerts he told me something I have never heard a farmer say: he had a lot of free time. Most vegetable farmers I know who farm on a similar scale work long hours in the fields Read More >

Mealworms and Sweeteners: Notes from an Organic Trade Fair

This post is the second in a series – Letters from the Low Country – about food and agriculture in the Netherlands, written by Laura Genello as she studies organic agriculture at Wageningen University.

What does it mean to be organic, and what role does organic agriculture play in a sustainable food system? These are the questions in my mind as I travel out of the Netherlands and into the rolling hills surrounding Nuremburg, Germany, for the 2017 Biofach Organic Food Trade Fair, an international exposition and conference featuring organic businesses and producers from all corners of the globe. Upon arrival, it’s hard to believe that the organic industry comprises only 2 percent Read More >

Organic Poultry Farms Brew Profoundly Fewer Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Chickens at One Straw Farm, Hereford, Md.

Today, Environmental Health Perspectives published an important study showing that the removal of antibiotic use on poultry farms results, quickly and dramatically, in a reduction of antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus. The study, led by Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying ten conventional and ten newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials, most of them critically important in treating human infections.

Sapkota’s research was funded in part by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), and it validates the trend underway among some poultry farms—converting from conventional to organic methods. Sapkota, who earned a doctorate in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public School and once served as the CLF research director, said, “We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock that was produced after the transition to organic standards.” Read More >

Cuban Pesos: A Farmer’s Market Experience

CLF’s Sr. Research Program Coordinators Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl and Sarah Rodman are visiting Cuba as part of a Natural Environmental Ecological Management delegation. Members of the group will see first hand large-scale Cuban infrastructure developed to support its 18-year-old, world-renowned sustainable agricultural system in both the rural and urban sectors.

One highly anticipated activity on our trip to Cuba was a trip to the 19 and B farmers’ market in Habana.  We had read that the farmers’ markets were a great example of the “opening” of the Cuban economic system, a true market of supply and demand where the economic incentives of profit drive increased efficiencies and productivity of the newly privatized agricultural cooperatives in Cuba.  The large state farms of the last 50 years were decentralized during the 1990’s and 2000’s and now, while many farms still have production quotas that they must fulfill for the state, any surplus production can be sold in these farmers’ markets.  For the last country in the world with a ration card, “la libreta,” these markets may offer a glimpse into the future of how food will be distributed in Cuba.

cubagraphicWe met the manager of the market, Miguel Angel, who explained how his market worked.  Whereas, at a local farmers’ market in the United States, a consumer is often meeting the farmer themselves at the market who can explain their growing techniques and establish that important relationship that attracts so many to the experience; in the Cuban market, the sellers are in fact middle-men who purchase produce directly from the farmers a few times a week in large quantities and then sell to the consumer everyday.

fm-cuba1In this market, the sellers set a contract price with the market before the opening every single day.  The price is not controlled by the state or the market, the individual sellers set the price.  Obviously, there is some sort of profit margin set into place between the purchase from the farmers and the selling to the consumers.  In addition, the sellers pay a 10% tax on their total sales at the end of the day.  The market accepts produce from all kinds of farms imaginable, from urban organiponicos to various cooperatives to individual private farmers from the countryside.  Anyone can bring produce to market and there seems to be no fee for acquiring space at the market. Read More >

Thank you, soil.

As we give thanks for sustenance this holiday season, we might tip our hats to the life-supporting organisms living beneath our feet.  Virtually all that we eat, from tofurkey to turkey, originates on fertile soil.  From a consumer’s point of view, the story of a roasted bird begins at the supermarket, but the first chapter in every animal’s life is one of grass and grain converted to flesh.  Fish, too, depend on a delicate food web that begins with land-based nutrients from the soil.  Even the word human originates from the Latin humus (“earth”), the moist, loamy, earthy-smelling black matter from which life springs.

CLF Happy Holidays

As a testament to the soil food web, this year's holiday card features festive dung beetles, protozoa, bacteria and (of course) earthworms.

Read More >

Could ‘Vertical Farming’ Work?

chris_jacobs_darkDickson Despommier brought his idea for vertical urban farms to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on Friday, and his audience of more than 100 people responded with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism.

Despommier is director of the Vertical Farm Project and a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He believes the combination of increasing human population and the increasing crop failures seen on much of our cropland necessitates new ways of producing food. He proposes vertical indoor farms that grow hydroponically, use local wastewater and solid waste (as fertilizer), and market to local urban customers as one way to address the growing demand for food.

“Do we need to invent anything to make this happen? The answer is no,” Despommier said. “I think the solutions are out there. We just have to piece them together in the proper way.”

In a Scientific American article this month, Despommier writes: “A one-square-block farm 30 stories high could yield as much food as 2,400 outdoor acres, with less subsequent spoilage.” Read More >

Demand for Organic Food Continues to Outgrow Supply

Now is the time to grow organic.  According to a new report released by the USDA, the demand for organically produced food continues to outpace supply.   Organic food sales have increased more than five-fold since the late 1990s, while organic production has slightly more than doubled in that time.

Organic food accounted for three percent of total U.S. food sales in 2008.  Organic produce and dairy products were popular items, accounting for over half of total organic sales.  Organic grain also remains in particularly high demand, representing a major bottleneck for use as feed in the organic livestock sector.

Read More >