mfioretti: resilience* + agriculture*

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  1. The business model is unusually communal. The field is “open” in the sense that he sells his produce to 320 people in the immediate neighborhood, who each pay between €220 and €320 per year, depending on their income, for the right to come and harvest food on his land.

    “The important thing is that everyone can join and the strongest can bear the heaviest weight,” Troonbeeckx said, recounting that part of the motivation behind his socially supportive model came from seeing his mother left far worse off after his parents divorced.

    “Since I’m not into international markets or the multinational economic system, I can create my own economy,” he said, looking out over a field of pumpkins and winter salad leaves.

    Troonbeeckx’s farm, though nowhere near as big, follows a similar ethic.

    He employs complex rotational methods that allow his cows to eat the grass, fertilize the soil and then change location to a new pasture so that vegetables can be planted using his newly-enriched soil. But getting such projects off the ground is much harder than it looks — in his first years of farming, he had to work in a restaurant just to makes ends meet.

    “Only people who have dreamt of being a farmer since a child should do it. It’s something that burns deep insides,” Troonbeeckx said. “If that fire does not burn then do not do it.”
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-04)
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  2. The modern glass greenhouse, often located in temperate climates where winters can be cold, requires massive inputs of energy, mainly for heating but also for artificial lighting and humidity control.

    According to the FAO, crops grown in heated greenhouses have energy intensity demands around 10 to 20 times those of the same crops grown in open fields. A heated greenhouse requires around 40 megajoule of energy to grow one kilogram of fresh produce, such as tomatoes and peppers. source - page 15 » This makes greenhouse-grown crops as energy-intensive as pork meat (40-45 MJ/kg in the USA). source »

    Dutch style all glass greenhouse

    Dutch-style all-glass greenhouses. Picture: Wikipedia Commons.

    In the Netherlands, which is the world's largest producer of glasshouse grown crops, some 10,500 hectares of greenhouses used 120 petajoules (PJ) of natural gas in 2013 -- that's about half the amount of fossil fuels used by all Dutch passenger cars. source: 1/2 »

    The high energy use is hardly surprising. Heating a building that's entirely made of glass is very energy-intensive, because glass has a very limited insulation value. Each metre square of glass, even if it's triple glazed, loses ten times as much heat as a wall.

    Fruit Walls

    The design of the modern greenhouse is strikingly different from its origins in the middle ages * » . Initially, the quest to produce warm-loving crops in temperate regions (and to extend the growing season of local crops) didn't involve any glass at all. In 1561, Swiss botanist Conrad Gessner described the effect of sun-heated walls on the ripening of figs and currants, which mature faster than when they are planted further from the wall.

    Gessner's observation led to the emergence of the "fruit wall" in Northwestern Europe. By planting fruit trees close to a specially built wall with high thermal mass and southern exposure, a microclimate is created that allows the cultivation of Mediterranean fruits in temperate climates, such as those of Northern France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands.

    Fruit wall in the UKAn English fruit wall. Wikipedia Commons.

    The fruit wall reflects sunlight during the day, improving growing conditions. It also absorbs solar heat, which is slowly released during the night, preventing frost damage. Consequently, a warmer microclimate is created on the southern side of the wall for 24 hours per day.

    Fruit walls also protect crops from cold, northern winds. Protruding roof tiles or wooden canopies often shielded the fruit trees from rain, hail and bird droppings. Sometimes, mats could be suspended from the walls in case of bad weather.

    Fruit walls pruning

    The fruit wall appears around the start of the so-called Little Ice Age, a period of exceptional cold in Europe that lasted from about 1550 to 1850. The French quickly started to refine the technology by pruning the branches of fruit trees in such ways that they could be attached to a wooden frame on the wall.

    This practice, which is known as "espalier", allowed them to optimize the use of available space and to further improve upon the growth conditions. The fruit trees were placed some distance from the wall to give sufficient space for the roots underground and to provide for good air ciculation and pest control above ground.
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  3. the goal of providing farmers with a large scale produce infrastructure that requires no sunlight or soil is getting closer every day. While this all sounds pretty out there, consider the possibilities: plants grown in a controlled environment, effectively sealed from contaminants that frequently pervade crops from both the air and the ground, would be 100 percent organic and pesticide-free. The LED system is customizable, too, allowing settings for each individual plant to be controlled and adapted as needed. You can't say that about Mother Nature. Currently Phillips is focusing on perfecting those light growth recipes for strawberries, leafy green veggies, and herbs, with potatoes and wheat in the pipeline.

    In a press release, Philips Global Director of City Farming, Gus van der Feltz, defined GrowWise City's goals as lofty but potentially world changing: "Our aim is to develop the technology that makes it possible to grow tasty, healthy and sustainable food virtually anywhere. The research we are undertaking will enable local food production on a global scale, reducing waste, limiting food miles and using practically no land or water." If Philips can actually pull off these LED Light Growth Recipes and create accessible technology to grow veggies year round in cities that don't have access to unpolluted farmland, we will be living in a world that our farming forefathers could not have imagined. It will be a better world, with fresh food, even if adjusting to the idea of high tech cornfields is a bit of a mind-bender.

    Meanwhile in Japan, lettuce has gone wild. GE designed LED lights are now powering indoor farming facilities that are growing 10,000 leafy green heads a day.

    If that seems like a freakishly high output, it is: the potential for LED farms is not just in their pesticide-free controlled environment, but also in their ability to speed up the life cycle of a plant, effectively altering the day and night pattern than has governed agriculture for millennia. Shimamura boasts of his farm growing lettuce full of vitamins and minerals two-and-a-half times faster than an outdoor farm, while also cutting down discarded produce waste from a regular farm's 50 percent to just 10 percent. The farm also uses just 1 percent of the water used by outdoor farms. These are some pretty efficient salads.
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  4. Despite the potential of our land, Greece now imports the majority of its food and on average we are the second most obese people in the EU. These abnormalities are largely attributable to the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy, which has supported the growth and development of a very narrow range of large-scale monocultures, almost entirely for export purposes. The failures of the CAP have had a profound effect not only on our food culture and agricultural skills, but also on the landscape of the country. In just three decades, Greece has lost most of its local agricultural varieties and almost all of its dry land, low-input agriculture was pushed out of the market. In Crete, a large number of two-thousand-year-old olive trees were turned into firewood, within a very short period of time.
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  5. Now that glyphosate (Roundup) doesn’t work so well, the chemical industry is using the old Agent Orange in various new herbicide admixtures. When the general public learns about this, there is going to be an uproar. But what if the only other alternative is for farms to “go back” to mechanical cultivation to control weeds. Big farms probably couldn’t do that because cultivating weeds is so slow compared to chemical weed control. But if big farms become obsolete, the world would end according to current economic theory. Is that true?

    It is amazing what happens to your mental calculations if you start thinking about a future based on the assumption that smaller farms are inevitable. Without the striving to get bigger in order to get profitable, agriculture suddenly becomes a very promising way for more people to live and work, akin to gardening. Instead of glorying in how many acres big machines can prepare and plant in a day, we could take pride in figuring out how many people can be employed profitably in farming smaller units. Instead of counting how many jobs that factories create while make those machines, we could concentrate on how many jobs farming could provide at less energy and carbon cost.

    The masters of large scale farming tell me I’m all wrong about the energy consumption of small vs. large. A 200 hp tractor pulling a big vertical tillage machine can get over an acre in a minute or two, while it takes an hour for a two or three horses and a plow to do the same. So, they say, per acre, the big machinery is more efficient. I can fidget around with numbers too, and while that calculation is true depending on how one defines efficient, the cost of manufacturing and owning those two hundred horses and big machines, plus the cost of the herbicides necessary to make that kind of tillage work, is more than horses, small plows and harrows even if you never take the big machines out of the barn.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2015-05-20)
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  6. Coldiretti doesn’t have much use for GMOs, but for reasons we don’t often consider in the U.S.

    2015-05-02 15.54.56In case you can’t read the photo:

    What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy.

    Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity.

    Because they suffocate many to reward one.

    Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it.

    Because food certainties belong to “free research.”

    Whatever you think of such views, I’m hoping the Milan Food Expo will get visitors thinking about these food issues and more.
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  7. Growing produce in South America and trucking it to locations in North America requires a huge amount of energy. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping to fund improvements in agricultural energy efficiency, as well as conversions to renewable energy systems, that will make regional growing more affordable.

    Cozy Acres Greenhouse in North Yarmouth, Maine, utilized the USDA program to create its signature line of produce — described as “Zero Emission” products. Cozy Acres’ produce is grown in a greenhouse that uses electricity created from the sun and heat from a geothermal system. When it distributes its products to local restaurants and farmer’s markets, their carbon footprint is negligible.
    3. Advanced technology

    Year-round grow operations were unheard of in northern climates due to the short daylight of winter. The use of supplemental grow lights tended to be expensive and limited profit potential. New LED grow lights have dramatically reduced the energy demands of a greenhouse operation and make year-round operations more profitable.

    One Michigan grower recently received a sizable weekly contract for produce simply because their lettuce was grown locally and year-round. Restaurants, catering to the demands of their customers, want to offer more locally-grown produce. Advances in vertical farming and hydroponics are now taking the weather variable out of farming and making predictable harvests a reality
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  8. -
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2015-01-30)
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  9. f course there are dozens of differing conclusions that re-arrange these culprits in order of importance. Baffes is one of the experts who disagree with biofuels theory. “Just 2 percent of global arable land was diverted for biofuels,” he said. “I don’t think it’s enough to cause a big effect.” He thinks rising incomes in places like China were also less important than many people think. The real cause of the price spikes, Baffes argues, was a spike in the cost of energy.
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  10. While that extra bit of income from holding weddings can really make a difference for some farmers, “we’re incentivizing farmers to use their limited resources to perpetuate a romantic stereotype that consumers enjoy, rather than to spend money on functioning, sustainable (but perhaps not magazine-beautiful) models of local farming.” Plus, some once-working farms “have found they can fare better offering a carefully curated version of farming to those willing to pay for it.”

    Shells of farms and farmers preoccupied with dancefloor assembly do not a sustainable, hardy food system make.
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