Monthly Archives: August 2014

Three ways to extend your gardening season

Farm and Dairy
by Katie Woods
8/19/14

Harvest time will arrive sooner than we know. If you’re not ready to part with your plants at the end of summer, consider extending your garden into the fall and winter.

The biggest hindrances to a healthy, full garden are insects, wind, heat and frost. Autumn’s biggest threat is frost, but wind can also dehydrate plants. Several methods, including raised beds, tunnels and greenhouses, allow you to protect your fruits and vegetables and continue to grow them after summer’s end.

Options

Gardening needs vary by region, gardener and plants, so several options are available for those wishing to continue gardening into the cooler months.

Raised beds

According to The Ohio State University Extension, raised bed gardening involves a portion of soil that is higher than the rest of the soil, and is in a place that will not be stepped on.

Raised beds are normally up to four feet wide and are raised six inches to several feet above the ground. The soil is warmed more quickly by this method.

The benefits of raised bed gardening include higher yields, ease of working and water conservation.

Hotbeds and cold frames

Purdue University Extension explains that hotbeds and cold frames, which are build the same, can be used both in the spring and in the fall.

Hotbeds get heat from the sun as well as another source, while cold frames get their heat solely from the sun. In the fall, hotbeds and cold frames can be used without heat but with proper insulation and ventilation.

A hotbed or cold frame should have full sun exposure, protection from the wind, a water source and good drainage. A hotbed or cold frame can be anywhere from a few inches to a few feet deep in the ground and four to six feet wide. The base can be built out of wood, concrete or concrete block.

High Tunnels

Penn State University Extension explains that high tunnels are a fairly new method for extending the growing season. They can protect plants from excess precipitation and cool temperatures.

A high tunnel is made of a metal frame and a plastic covering, much like a greenhouse. Raised beds can be used inside high tunnels, as well as thermal blankets and cold frames.

Typically, there are fewer pests in high tunnels, so less pesticides need to be used. Also, ventilation and temperature can easily be controlled depending on the types of plants grown. Since the plants are always covered, they must be watered by hand or drip irrigation.

Advice for winter gardening

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association offers advice for winter gardening, including notes about raised beds, high tunnels and other methods for extending the growing season, as well as the types of plants that have been known to grow well in the fall and winter.

Overall, trial and error must be used to determine when certain plants should be planted and how they should be protected from the elements once summer ends.

 

 

Peak season vegetable report from Chef Alfonso

PerryDaily.com
by Alfonso Contrisciani
8/18/14
 

With a break in rain and a few cool nights most folks recouped from the tomato blight. Our yields in the raised bed plot suffered with first course harvest with our indeterminate varieties. Last week’s 3.5 inches of rain helped our dry fields but woke up the dreaded fungus. Very important to be preventative with fungicides, and my favorite is Serenade.

It’s an organic compound and works wonders. I gave our tomato plants a shot of Serenade on Wednesday night. Our chemical-free vegetables coming out of the fields at the Cooperrider farm are of the best quality. I am forbidden to use the word “organic” because of the field’s conventional past. Our greenhouses and raised plots are organic but not certified as of yet.

If I see another cucumber or zucchini this year, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown! What a year for those vegetables; the heavy rainfall and heat in the spring and early summer gave us a bountiful supply.

I have plenty of Dutch flathead cabbage for sale along with eggplants, and many varieties of peppers. A good friend gave me 12 fennel plants in May. I must say, they were one of the finest vegetables I picked this year. I ordered 2 cups of fennel from [the] Athens area for my recent farm-to-table dinner “Bounty on The Bricks.” The fennel I purchased could not come close to what we grew in Thornville in our raised beds.

I am keeping a daily log on this growing season and recording dates, feeding and spraying applications and harvest dates. Also critical are harvest amounts with current market pricing. To be successful, I am convinced that specialty crops, such as patty pan squash, Marzoni peppers, fennel, garlic, jumbo candy onions, parsley, lemon thyme, garlic chives and various other specialty items, are essential.

My recent presentation titled “Bridging the Gap between Chef and Farmer” is based on farmers growing what chefs want and need. Also, from a farmer’s perspective, do I want to grow zucchini for 40 cents per pound in return or fennel for $4 per pound? Do the math.

  • Canning and Preserving

I am designing and building a canning and preserving workshop to be taught at Hocking College in the near future. We just purchased $5,000 worth of commercial pressure cookers, home canning supplies along with a dehydrator, pH meters, thermometers etc. I think it’s essential to take a few steps back and rekindle our family heritage and culture in relationship to food. Did you know you could easily feed a family of five year round from a 25’ x 25’ garden? The use of vertical trellises and planting with the inch by inch format. I spent some time in major food processing plants while in California. I developed 12 pasteurized sauces and 2 FZ proteins for a major manufacturing company. At that time I fell in love with food canning and the value added world.

I am looking forward to sharing my research with the folks of Central Ohio. For all you home canners, please feel free to contact me at my Hocking College office with any questions or comments. I will spend more time on this topic in September prior to first frost.

  • Bounty on the Bricks

Bounty on The bricks was a great success this past Saturday in Athens. We served 372 folks a four course meal along with three passed appetizers including 100 homestyle made-from-scratch country pies all made with locally grown and raised products within 30 miles of Athens. OK, I lied: the zucchini came from Deer Valley Farms along with the plum tomatoes and fresh herbs. But everything else was within 30 miles. I am happy to report we raised $75,000 for the Athens foundation which will use the funds for our local food pantries. Thanks to all who supported these venues and the volunteers who worked endless hours.

Thanks to Hocking College and our wonderful staff and administration, The Athens Foundation, Cheryl Sylvester, Susan Urano and Cindy Hayes. And finally, thanks to the city of Athens, Ohio.

  • Future Event

Sept. 7, I will be cooking at Val Jorgensen’s organic farm in Westerville, Ohio. The proceeds from “The Farmers’ Table” event will support OEFFA, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, of which I’m an active member and greatly support. Hope to see you there. If you need tickets, please contact me.

  • The Blue Barn at Deer Valley Farms

My phone rang at 2:50 in the morning last week. It was Dylan Cooperrider; Olivia, a registered Berk from the Shipley farm in Mt. Vernon, was having piglets. I arrived at the farm at 3:10 and the second was just born. In total, she had two males and seven gilts. Dylan knows his pigs; he has a barn full of sows and gilts behind Olivia. Olivia’s first born was the largest boar. We named him Alfonso. I have 50 # full-blooded Topline Yorkshire boar named Oliver at the farm, also.

I am building a pig barn with a farrowing room at Oliver farms this fall. I will raise show pigs and breeding stock for our soon to come Oliver farms all natural non GMO pork line. Olivette, our second registered Berk, is due on Sept 3.

  • Oliver Farms

I am currently gearing up for sauce and condiment production at the end of this month. I am going to share for the first time my eggplant caponata recipe. This sauce is multipurpose for a salad served cold or warm, a pasta sauce or a condiment on a sandwich. Please enjoy. Until next article, cook with your heart and soul! Alfonso.

  • Eggplant Caponata

1 1/2 Each eggplants, peeled and cut in to med. dice
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 Pound Italian sausage, loose, Perry County Blue Ribbon Brand
1 Each red onion, diced very fine.
1 1/2 Tablespoons garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 Cup golden raisins
1 Teaspoon ginger, peeled and freshly minced
3 Teaspoons capers, chopped fine
1 1/2 Cups tomato, concasse
1 Cup orange juice
3 Teaspoons curry powder
1/2 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 Teaspoon honey
1 Cup water
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 1/2 Teaspoons fresh rosemary, de-stemmed and chopped
2 Tablespoons scallions, chopped

  1. Sprinkle eggplant with salt. In large skillet heat up oil and saute eggplant on all sides until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove eggplant from pan and drain on paper towels.
  2. Reheat pan and add sausage and cook over medium heat until golden brown and cook until done. Drain grease from sausage and discard. Chop sausage roughly when cool.
  3. Reheat pan and add olive oil, saute garlic and onions until translucent add reserve sausage, eggplant, raisins, ginger, capers, tomatoes, orange juice, curry powder, pepper flakes, honey and water and the remaining salt and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Pull from heat and stir in all fresh herbs.
  5. Cool and store in refrigerator covered until needed. Or serve hot over pasta, or place in mason jars and put in canner and seal for the winter months. Enjoy!

Grower’s passion for food yields uncommon produce

The Columbus Dispatch
by Jeannie Nuss
8/18/14
 

To make a living, Milan Karcic has tended bar, washed dishes and even made wooden replicas of World War II airplanes.

Photo Credit Brooke Lavalley (Dispatch Photos)

The resident of the North Side was unfulfilled by such jobs, though, and decided last year to cultivate a fresh career: growing food.

Now, his work is bearing fruit (and vegetables).

In a 6,000-square-foot patch of land fenced off in his backyard, Karcic tends predictable produce such as corn, carrots and cabbage.

He also turns out quirkier fare.

Take, for example, the ground cherry, a marble-sized fruit clothed in a baggy paper husk that tastes like pineapple. Or the Wapsipinicon peach tomato — which, with its slightly fuzzy and yellow-orange skin, seems to belong in a pie. Or the cucamelon, an itty-bitty cucumber that looks like a miniature watermelon but tastes slightly sour.

“I always like the underdogs,” said Karcic, 45, “and I guess I’m just an oddball.”

His peculiar produce has proved popular in central Ohio.

His customers, including chef Richard Blondin at the Refectory Restaurant & Bistro, rave about his array of fruits and vegetables, despite any lament about their limited quantities.

“He’s a little, tiny pea in (terms of) what he brings here, but it’s high-quality,” said Blondin, who uses vegetables from Karcic as garnishes for Refectory dishes.

“And usually what he brings me was picked maybe an hour ago.”

Karcic offers the same level of freshness to Columbus-area farmers markets and to clients in his community-supported agriculture program (known among the cage-free-egg-buying crowd as a CSA).

On a recent Wednesday, he collected fruits and vegetables for six orders. He crawled on his belly and slithered under leafy ground-cherry plants to scoop handfuls of their ripened fruits; he plucked peach tomatoes off vines; and he gathered colorful carrots, red cabbage and more.

He then separated the produce into six bags, all the while playing the soundtrack of the farm-centric movie Babe from a nearby boombox.

A few hours later, Karcic met BeJae Fleming at a nearby store to hand off her weekly CSA share.

“What’d I get? What’d I get?” Fleming, 64, eagerly asked as Karcic approached.

Peering into a bag, she said with a smile: “Tomatoes!”

The Grandview Heights resident didn’t know what kind of tomatoes she had, but that’s kind of the point of a CSA, which allows people to buy a share of a farmer’s harvest for a prearranged period.

Since signing up with Karcic last year, Fleming said, she has learned to cook with fruits and vegetables she wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

“It forces you to be creative in preparing food,” she said.

Fleming has grown particularly fond of the ground cherries — as have others.

“People come back and ask for those,” said Ruth Brown, manager of the Blendon Township market, where Karcic sells his produce on Thursday afternoons.

Karcic also peddles his harvest — along with homemade mosquito repellent — at the 400 Farmers Market in Franklinton on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month under the name Peace, Love and Freedom Guild.

He used to call his operation a farm and himself a farmer, but he grew tired of people asking him: How many acres do you have? (His entire lot stretches less than an acre.)

So he refers to himself as a gardener — who happens to work 100 hours a week.

Despite the long hours, Karcic said, he loves his job.

“I don’t have to get up . . . and drive to work. I just get up and go outside.”

The son of eastern European immigrants, he grew up near Mansfield before moving to Columbus to study interpersonal communication at Ohio State University.

In the early 1990s, outside an apartment in the University District, he planted his first garden.

“Probably what happened was I realized I could buy a pack of seeds for $1 and grow a ton of tomatoes,” Karcic said. “I was a college student and didn’t have any money.”

He stuck with the pursuit through the years, eventually launching his CSA in 2009 and, last year, becoming a full-time gardener and making a deal with the Refectory.

The CSA has since grown to encompass about two dozen customers, with each paying $26 a week for a full share or $13 a week for a half-share.

Karcic hopes that his tight finances will ease soon.

He wants to sell directly to homes in what he plans to call the Before You Eat Ice Cream Truck. (Instead of a truck, though, he’ll drive his 1991 Volvo, which has more than 200,000 miles on it.)

“It’s the same principle as an ice-cream truck,” he said, “just with healthy, organically grown produce.”

He feels good about selling vegetables, and so does his wife, artist Meagan Alwood-Karcic.

“He’s doing what he loves to do,” she said, “so it’s kind of a fantasy existence.”

Nearby, a couple of scarecrows dressed in her husband’s old clothes stood guard over the garden.

Farmers and Chefs Partner to Help Ohioans Connect with the Land

Public News Service
by Mary Kuhlman
8/18/14
 

WESTERVILLE, Ohio – With an increasing interest in local foods, some Ohio growers and producers are using agritourism to help people connect with the land and learn how the food they eat is grown. Tours, weddings, and farm-to-table dinners are among the events regularly held across the state, showcasing Ohio’s agricultural tradition and the fresh, seasonal offerings of area farms.

Val Jorgensen, the owner of Jorgensen Farms in Westerville, says opening her gates provides an opportunity for people to learn about the role of local foods in building a sustainable food system.

“A lot of the consumers I meet at farmers markets are committed to buying local food, but sometimes they don’t have the opportunity to really visualize or understand where that food is coming from,” says Jorgensen. “This gets them one step closer.”

Agritourism also allows farming operations to diversify their income. Jorgensen is hosting a benefit dinner Sunday, Sept. 7th called The Farmers Table, where diners can tour her organic farm and enjoy an evening of local food and drinks prepared by top area chefs. Farms throughout the state also offer ‘you-pick’ fruit, fall festivals, and educational activities.

While the majority of Jorgensen’s operation is used for growing and production, she says she enjoys holding events to give consumers a glimpse of what happens on the farm.

“The biggest reward for me is being able to stand back, either just before or during an event, and watch the enjoyment of others,” says Jorgensen. “That gives me a sense of making a difference in people’s lives where they can really connect.”

She adds events like The Farmers Table also allow farmers and producers to share the beauty and bounty of Ohio agriculture.

“It’s going to be something where they can experience the ultimate in seasonal food right here at the farm,” says Jorgensen. “The exciting part is we’re able to pull together not only the growers, but the chefs and the community.”

Meet Us at The Farmers Table

Edible Columbus
8/1/14
 

We couldn’t be more excited for the OEFFA’s gathering on September 7th to celebrate Ohio farms and flavors. The dinner is being held at Jorgensen Farms, one of central Ohio’s most beautiful certified organic farms and, as we all know, our friend Val Jorgensen is a passionate steward of her land and a leader in Ohio’s sustainable agriculture community.

Val’s farm-produced ingredients will be featured in the menu, and guests will be able to tour the farm to see how the food was grown. The OEFFA is working with central Ohio’s finest chefs to create hors d’oeuvres and a four-course dinner that sources ingredients from farms across Ohio. The cocktail hour will feature locally distilled spirits and microbrews. Even the decorations will feature locally grown flower arrangements from the beautiful Sunny Meadows Flower Farm.

Carol Goland, Ph.D., Executive Director, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said, “[OEFFA’s] mission is to ‘help farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system, one meal at time,’ and this dinner is a natural extension of that work, designed to showcase the amazing farmers and chefs that make up Ohio’s flourishing local foods system and the fresh, flavorful, seasonal ingredients of Ohio’s farms. It also give us all a chance to celebrate our farmers, our food, and the successful work that we’ve all done to help cultivate an agricultural future that protects the environment and nourishes our bodies and our communities.”

The event promises to be a special night celebrating the local farms and flavors we know and love, so we hope to see you seated at the table! Get your ticket here.

Twenty minutes with organic grain farmer Dean McIlvaine

Farm and Dairy
by Chris Kick
8/13/14

WEST SALEM, Ohio — When you think of organic, you probably think of small-scale farms of about 100 acres or less. But that’s not always the case.

2wpmDean McIlvaine, of Twin Parks Organic Farm in Wayne County, has operated an 850-acre organic grain farm since 1985. He welcomed guests to his farm Aug. 1 as part of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual summer sustainability tour.

He grows organic corn and soybeans, spelt, oats, wheat, rye and clover, and markets them nationally and internationally. His father, Dale McIlvaine, bought the farm in the mid 1970s, and the family farmed conventionally up until 1985.

At this same time, Dale owned the area John Deere dealership and wanted to be more involved with that business, so Dean took over the farm.

Going organic

Dean transitioned to an organic operation, following his college dream and his personal beliefs that organic food is healthier and better for the environment.

The farm name — Twin Parks — comes from the two Interstate rest area parks located on the farm.

Today, Dean farms alongside his girlfriend, Mona Frey, and he’s constantly trying new things and exploring new markets.

During the OEFFA tour, he showed some plots of organic no-till corn that he grew for the first time, and talked about how he’s using cover crops to help control weeds and keep nutrients in the soil.

He also explained some of his farm equipment — like his cover crop roller, which rolls and flattens cover crops prior to planting the main crops, and his organic weed puller — a mechanical attachment that mounts on the front of his tractor and pulls and crimps weeds in between the rows.

Following the tour, Farm and Dairy caught up with Dean to talk one-on-one about his operation and the state of organics:

Q: Why organic? Why did you make the decision to leave conventional?
A: I have had a strong aversion to the health concerns. My father and grandfather (were) both active conventional farmers with lots of exposure to synthetic fertilizers and chemicals and both died early from associated, related illnesses — leukemia and lymphoma. There was lots of exposure there that was toxic to them.

I was never really a fan of processed foods. Once I got a taste of whole grains and real food, I recognized how much better it tasted and how much better I felt.

The contamination starts with our air, our water and our soil. And if we want to live a healthier, more productive life, we need to clean up our environment.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to being an organic grain operator?
A: The biggest challenges begin with finding adequate fertility and learning how to manage the microbial life in the soil to facilitate that fertility. And dealing with the weeds and just learning how the whole system works — that we can do it with the resources that nature has provided instead of from the toxic things that we’ve used in the conventional world.

Q: How have people’s attitudes changed toward what you’re doing?
A: They’re much more receptive. People are very curious anymore. Even in the midst of our under-achievement, there’s lots of interest and curiosity.

People recognize the cost of producing food is ever-increasing as our world’s resources are forever diminishing, and the beauty of the organic system is that we try to recycle nutrients that are available more effectively, and try and enhance the biology of the soil, which can help that transfer of nutrients from the soil to the plants.”

Q: What have been some of your biggest successes as an organic grain producer?
A: Personally, the times we’ve had good corn crops or good, clean soybean fields. But learning how to replicate that over all 850 acres has been the challenge to do so consistently. It is sort of a delicate balance and if you try to short-circuit the system, it will backfire in a hurry.

And, there’s always new challenges with the changing weed pressures and changing climate pressures. What worked last year or three years ago may or may not work this year. So, we have to be forever looking forward, to anticipate what we need, to make things grow the best.

Q: What new things are you trying or what things would you like to try?
A: I’ve always had an interest since college days to have a more value-added production system or vertically integrated system. So adding value to the crops that we grow is of interest. (He does do some of that by cleaning his own grain and dehulling, etc. for specific markets.)

… We’ve really gone out on a limb with (organic no-till in corn). It was one thing to make the leap into organics, but to do so with the row crops is equally challenging. But, it matches the overall goal of enhancing soil life by minimizing soil tillage.

Q: What would you tell others who want to begin growing crops organically?
A: Do your homework. Take a soil test to see where you are and address the long-term needs of your crops. Soil drainage and soil balancing are quite a trick, and an art and a science that are of upmost importance.

Think broadly about diversifying. And try to incorporate animal components in as much as possible. I think there’s that cycle of life that is helpful for every farm. …It goes along with the idea of recycling and using what’s nearby.

Q: Do you think you would ever go back to conventional?
A: I think about it when the weeds get taller than the crops. But, at the end of the day, I know that things aren’t always better in that camp, either. Especially with the problems with the Roundup and the GMO grains. The costs are outlandish for that technology and the results are short-sighted and short-term. There’s too many long-term costs of going back to conventional.

Q: What is the state of organic farming today?
A: It’s strong, it’s healthy, it’s vibrant, it’s growing. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of and especially to see the new, young people get involved and even poor people who want a better life. This is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways they can do something for themselves that improves their life now and in the long run.

The interest that people have in growing their own food and doing it with a minimum or lack of chemicals is very encouraging. The hard part is replicating it over a bigger area and more acres, and day in and day out.

Organically raised food far preferable to genetically engineered crops: Carol Goland, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association

Cleveland.com
by Carol Goland
8/4/2014
 

Organic foods are not just a consumer trend, but vitally important to sustaining our ability to feed ourselves. The absence of pesticides, herbicides, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiation, and genetically engineered (GE) ingredients drives consumer demand for organics foods.

Three-quarters of food shoppers now seek the certified organic label because, as mounting evidence demonstrates, they correctly identify it as the healthier choice—for farmers, farmworkers, the environment, and themselves.

Agribusiness interests may express a benevolence about consumers and farmers who chose organics, but will argue that intensive methods, GE seed, and synthetic inputs are safe and necessary to produce enough to feed a hungry world. In fact, conventional agriculture isn’t doing a very good job of feeding the world, but the problem is not one of yield.

Globally we produce enough to supply everyone on Earth with more than enough food energy per day. The problem is what we produce, how we use it, and how it is distributed.

A growing body of research shows that organic crops can return the same yields as conventionally grown crops, while using fewer inputs. Moreover, they may perform better under drought conditions.

Organic farmers have achieved this through their own refinement of production methods, based on years of careful observation and experimentation and a farmer-to-farmer exchange of knowledge. They have done this largely independent of the billions of federal and industry dollars that have been directed to research that benefits conventional agriculture, with its heavy reliance on petrochemical inputs.

With even a modest increase in funding for research to improve yield, develop seed varieties, and refine preventive practices for livestock health, there’s no telling what organic agriculture could become.

Despite promises that genetic engineering would help feed a hungry world, any yield gains attributable to biotechnology have been modest at best. This is not surprising, given that GE seeds were developed to be herbicide tolerant (HT), not to increase intrinsic yield. Planting HT crops has not reduced the rate of herbicide use, but it has led to a proliferation of HT “super weeds.” Many GE crops—including corn and soybeans—have been developed for livestock feed, biofuel, and for use in high fructose corn syrup, not to improve human nutrition.

Organic is synonymous with GE-free, but it is so much more. Organic farming safeguards water quality, builds soil organic matter and nutrients, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eliminates antibiotic use, emphasizes humane care and preventive treatments for livestock and poultry, and protects biodiversity. It supports small and mid-scale family farms and reduces exposure to pesticides. Because the organic label is backed up by a rigorous annual verification and inspection process, consumers can have confidence in how organic food and products are produced.

Supporters of organic farming are not driven by anti-technology attitudes nor are they advocating that we go backwards. Far from it. Our collective ability to progress—indeed, our future—depends squarely on our good stewardship of the natural resources on which we all depend. Organic farming is a way forward, and a long-term solution for nourishing our farming communities, feeding our families, and protecting our soil, air, and water.

 
 

What Toledo’s Water Crisis Reveals About Industrial Farming

Civil Eats
by Doug Gurian-Sherman
8/5/14
 

As you may have heard, about half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area lost their municipal drinking water supply on Saturday because of possible microbial toxin contamination from Lake Erie. A combination of heavier spring rains, exacerbated by climate change, and runoff of phosphorus from fertilizer applied to crops is the likely cause. The good news is that farmers can adopt better practices to eliminate this problem. The bad news is that the agriculture industry, and the public policies that it lobbies for, work against these solutions.

A toxic microbe, or cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae), has been causing big water problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water around the country for the last several yearsScientific research pointed to the combination of agricultural and climate change as the cause of the historic 2011 toxic Lake Erie microbe “bloom” and subsequent dead zone. And research shows that farm pollution, which feeds the explosion of toxic microbe growth, especially from phosphorus fertilizer, has been increasing since the 1990s. Now, new research published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research has further solidified the connection between industrial ag, climate change, and an explosion of toxic algae.

While the most dramatic news this week is the city of Toledo’s move to shut down public water sources, there are other important impacts such as harm to commercial and sports fishing and recreation at the lake. After the microbes die, other bacteria consume them, using up much of the oxygen in large parts of the lake in the process. The resulting dead zones kill fish and other lake life, and harm fisheries. The toxins close down beaches, and the foul odors and bacterial slime often discourage beachgoers even in places where they remain open.

On Monday, several news sources reported that Toledo residents could once again drink from their taps, but the algae bloom continues. And the recent research cited above suggests that even if phosphorus levels were reduced enough to limit blooms, further reductions would still be needed to bring the dead zone in Lake Erie back to pre-1990s levels.

Dead zones like these are not unique to Lake Erie. Water pollution from phosphorus is harming Lake Winnipeg and many reservoirs. There are also about 400 global marine coastal dead zones, caused mainly by nitrogen fertilizer, including one in the Gulf of Mexico that is measuring the size of Connecticut this year and another large one in the Chesapeake Bay.

Yes, we can purify the water, but it costs millions of dollars and does nothing to help the lake itself. For that we need to get to the source.

Industrial Agriculture: Providing Band-Aids for Hemorrhages

Ironically, these toxic microbes are growing thanks to an agricultural practice that is widely touted as an improvement in the sustainability of industrial agriculture—conservation tillage and no-till farming. As their names imply, these are approaches to farming that require farmers not to plow the soil with tractors, but rather to leave it in place and kill weeds in other ways. They are often practiced in concert with the use of herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.

Genetic engineering is sometimes given credit for the adoption of no-till, but the practice actually started to become widely adopted years before genetically engineered (commonly known as GMO) crops were commercialized. Nonetheless, engineered herbicide-resistant crops made conservation tillage easier in many areas (until the advent of glyphosate herbicide resistant weeds, that is). So the tarnishing of no-till also diminishes one of the main purported benefits of GMO crops.

No-till usually reduces soil erosion, which is a very good thing. Many farmers and scientists also believed that it would reduce phosphorus pollution because that nutrient binds tightly to soil. So reduced erosion should also reduce the amount of soil washed into streams carrying bound phosphorus. Unfortunately, when phosphorus fertilizer is not plowed into the soil, it builds up at the surface, and from there it can be more easily washed off soil into streams and lakes. This is because this form of phosphorus, called dissolved reactive phosphorus, is not bound to soil. It is also more easily utilized by the toxic microbes in lakes and waterways.

What About Factory Animal Farms?

Industrial corn and soybean production are clearly linked to the problems in Lake Erie via fertilizers. But factory farming of livestock is also suspect. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a manure problem. Because so many animals are confined in such as small area, they often produce far more manure than can be applied to the surrounding farmlands without causing runoff. That means more nitrogen and phosphorus gets into streams.

When livestock farms were smaller, and more dispersed geographically, manure could be used to fertilize nearby crop fields in a balanced way, but today CAFOs are large and often located near one another. And it is simply too expensive to transport manure far enough to spread onto fields in amounts that won’t end up in streams or groundwater.

Although the role of CAFOs in the Lake Erie microbial blooms has not been quantified, Ohio has many CAFOs. And the overlap between the location of most Ohio CAFOs and the Maumee River watershed, the source of most of the phosphorus that causes the blooms, is striking.

Here are the maps side-by-side:

cafos_ohio_water_maps

What Now?

We have the solutions to these problems. Agroecology, or farming that uses principles of ecology and includes organic, relies on organic sources of crop nutrients, and integrates livestock and crop production in ways that are much less likely to cause phosphorus or nitrogen pollution. It is possible to use too much manure on organic farms too. But the integration of crops and livestock works against pressure to overuse manure on too few acres, as with CAFOs. Organic farms also often rely on cover crops, which literally cover otherwise bare soil and absorb excess nutrients through their roots and can also make a big difference.

Collectively, these methods have been shown to greatly reduce nitrogen pollution. And preliminary data shows reduction in phosphorus runoff as well. We need more research to examine this further, and to learn how farmers can efficiently use these methods. We also need farm policies that reward farmers for adopting methods with multiple benefits for the environment, society, and public health instead of continuing to subsidize corn and soybean overproduction and pollution. Agroecology-based farming methods not only reduce water pollution, they reduce or eliminate pesticide use, and can reduce global warming emissions. And they have been shown to be profitable and highly productive.

The lesson from Lake Erie is that piecemeal fixes like no-till, though they have some important benefits, will not fix a system that is fundamentally broken. We need systematic change, not band-aids.

 

Addendum: The new paper on the sources of phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie, points to manure as an important source of phosphorus in the eastern part of the Lake, rather than the Maumee River basin in the western part of Lake Erie (Figure 13). The Maumee River Basin phosphorus is predominantly from agriculture sources, as noted in the blog post, but according to the paper, mainly from fertilizer (the post does note that fertilizer is the overall main source of agricultural phosphorus pollution). This does not affect the main points in the blog that agriculture, and no-till combined with heavier precipitation, are major sources of increased phosphorus entering the Lake since the 1990s. But it does strongly suggest that the correlation between CAFOs and the Maumee River basin is just that—a correlation and not a cause.

From Market to Farm: One couple’s commitment to cultivating connections on Ohio’s largest certified organic blueberry farm

Edible Columbus
by Karin McKenna
Summer 2014

In a matchup nearly as inspiring as blueberries and cream, Phillip and Margaret Nabors, well-known food advocates and owners of the venerable Mustard Seed Markets, are now organic farmers themselves. A few miles south of Loudonville, and very near the Mohican Memorial State Forest, blueberry pickers have been making annual treks to Blueberry Hill Farm for 60 years. In 2010, Nabors bought it.

“For years I’ve been wanting to own land,” Phillip explains. The 66-acre property was put on the market and though he and Margaret were on vacation with only the Internet on his phone as a meager research tool, Phillip saw the potential in the property. The rest magically unfolded.

“I didn’t do my normal fastidious research, but it just seemed right,” he says.

The text that he received from Margaret on his way to the auction must have played a large part in the decision. “Let the angels guide you,” it read.

Since then, the large group of Nabors family and close friends (the 40 Hippie Method, Phillip calls it) have been working very hard to clear the land of invaders, grapevines, poison ivy, and a couple thousand trees. As a result, the 5,000 blueberry bushes are breathing a bit easier. At any time there may be six to twenty guests visiting the land and helping out. Large meals are cooked and enjoyed; friendship is shared. There’s a pool, a teepee, a friendly contingent of dogs, hammocks, and a welcoming vibe.

The longtime association with the farmers with whom they work through Mustard Seed Market has made Phillip and Margaret’s transition to the farming life a natural one. “The connection between the earth and our food supply is profound,” says Phillip. “For every bite of food there’s a farm somewhere. There’s a profound process that’s worthy of appreciation. It takes a lot of effort to manage all of the forces to get food to grow out of the ground and get it to market.”

As the land is cleared, they’re planting new trees. Long-term plans include diversifying and focusing on high-nutritional-value super fruits, and aligning with the permaculture model. They’re introducing forest gardening, creating a habitat for mushrooms, ginseng, medicinal herbs, “things that want to grow in the forest,” as Phillip says. Between the forest and pasture are the paw paws, persimmons, and nut trees.

“There are a lot of interesting crops that want to grow on the edges, and we’re going to help them along by planting them,” he says.

Obviously, the food aspects of Blueberry Hill are important, but the spiritual effects of the farm have become apparent as well. “To a person, everybody who goes there feels something,” Phillip says. “We’ve had some amazing experiences with our guests really connecting with this land.”

Visitors receive explicit instructions at Blueberry Hill to taste the berries as they pick, and Phillip likens the joy that comes from this to feeding our inner caveperson’s primal connectivity to the earth. “We take the larceny right out of the equation. By saying that it’s okay to eat as they pick, we take the guilt off the table. Very often, kids will come back, their faces just smeared with blueberries and about 12 berries in their bucket. They come back with these huge smiles. It’s fun for us to enable that.”

The Nabors’ hands these days are quite full with Blueberry Hill and the two grocery stores. Joining locations in Solon and in Montrose, a third Mustard Seed Market is under construction in the Highland Square area of Akron. “I am incredibly excited about the store because it’s not just a new store, it’s a new path for us,” Phillip shares.

The newest market is a smaller store in the dense neighborhood where the Nabors family has lived for 35 years, on the edge of an official USDA food desert. Lacking a grocery store for 15 years, the neighborhood is truly hungry for its offerings and much thought is being put into how to best serve the area.

“What’s amazing is that the category of natural organic stores has evolved to where now we can do a natural organic store and serve as the neighborhood grocery store. That really wasn’t possible as little as 10 years ago,” explains Phillip.

With an eye toward education, a value-oriented mix of offerings, and cutting-edge green building features, there is a lot of excitement about the new store, which could open as early as December of this year. Of course, shoppers will find Blueberry Hill berries in all three Mustard Seed stores.

Blueberry picking begins when the berries are ripe. Watch the Blueberry Hill Facebook page for the latest updates or call the farm at 740.599.5050. Blueberry Hill is located at 23038 Gessling Road in Glenmont. Directions are on the website at BlueberryHillFamilyFarms.com.