mfioretti: resilience* + food*

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  1. Anna Rohleder profiles the first indoor aquaponics operation in the United States, which she feels is a sustainable system. Does this concept of ‘sustainable’ tally with yours? Do such systems have a place in the future of our food? Could more be done to develop it as a model for others to copy? We’ll be very interested to read any comments you may leave – Sustainable Food Trust

    It all started with the oven room.

    The former Rainbo Bread Factory building in Lexington, Kentucky, was being turned into a new, multi-use complex called the Breadbox. But even with West Sixth Brewing, a large craft brewery, as the anchor tenant, most of the old bakery space was still available – including the oven room. The raw concrete shell would not have appealed to most people. But it gave Rebecca Self, a former science teacher and food educator with a background in architecture, an idea.

    At 325 square metres, the oven room was both large and well insulated, so that it would stay at a constant temperature. This made it ideal for aquaponics, a hybrid form of food production that marries aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil).

    In 2011, Self’s idea became FoodChain, Kentucky’s first indoor hydroponics system operating at a commercial scale – albeit, a small one. There are about 500 tilapia divided into six tanks, three raised beds of lettuces and herbs, and only two other full-time staff members besides Self.

    All over the walls of the oven room there are hand-lettered posters explaining each step of the process, and a chalkboard at the entrance illustrating key data points with whimsical coloured doodles. That, along with the DIY infrastructure, makes FoodChain seem more like a huge science fair project
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  2. America grows 10 percent of the world’s wheat supply, but the resulting flavorless toast is, well, pretty milquetoast. Plus, unless you’re a big farm, it’s hard to make a living on commodity wheat’s low prices.

    That’s where the Bread Lab comes in. The plant breeders there work with farmers and bakers to develop new lines of wheat. They test the strains with high-tech machines and good ol’ fashioned bakers. The resulting breads can run the gamut from surprisingly chocolatey loaves to delightfully buttery baguettes. Grand Central Bakery, with stores in Seattle and Portland, uses some flour that has gone through the Bread Lab. Head baker Mel Darbyshire says that particular strain has a “bright, fresh” flavor. This isn’t your chalky, flavorless bin flour.

    By growing a specialty wheat, and cutting out a bunch of middlemen, the farmer can get a better price for her wheat.
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  3. Compared to large-scale industrial farms, small-scale agroecological farms not only use fewer fossil fuel-based fertilizer inputs and emit less GHGs, including methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2), but they also have the potential to actually reverse climate change by sequestering CO2 from the air into the soil year after year. According to the Rodale Institute, small-scale farmers and pastoralists could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available, safe and inexpensive agroecological management practices that emphasize diversity, traditional knowledge, agroforestry, landscape complexity, and water and soil management techniques, including cover cropping, composting and water harvesting.

    Importantly, agroecology can not only sequester upwards of 7,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year, but it can actually boosts crop yields. In fact, recent studies by GRAIN ( demonstrate that small-scale farmers already feed the majority of the world with less than a quarter of all farmland. Addressing climate change on the farm can not only tackle the challenging task of agriculture-generated GHGs, but it can also produce more food with fewer fossil fuels. In other words, as the ETC Group ( has highlighted, industrial agriculture uses 70% of the world’s agricultural resources to produce just 30% of the global food supply, while small-scale farmers provide 70% of the global food supply while using only 30% of agricultural resources.

    Small-scale farmers are especially critical to confronting the food and farming crisis at the root of climate change. Small-scale farms are demonstrably more resilient in the face of severe climatic events, weathering major storms much more effectively than large-scale industrial farms. Small-scale, agroecological farmers in particular have faired comparatively better after major hurricanes and storms.
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  4. What I will say about this whole business of making insects the new goji berries — or coconut oil or kale or whatever — is that in the U.S. they really seem to be taking off in the energy bar sector. In part this is because eating insects is expensive. A pound of cricket flour costs about $40 retail, because raising crickets for this purpose hasn’t been industrialized. But it’s also because, in American health food culture, people will literally eat anything – and pay a huge premium to do so — if you tell them that it will make them healthy. Food trends-wise, health nuts are at the vanguard of nearly everything.
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  5. If we disturb the supply chains or the productivity of these major crops we are in trouble – wherever we live. Precisely because of their global significance and the consequences of their failure, virtually all our agricultural research, funding and promotion focuses exclusively on squeezing more out of these major crops grown as monocultures.

    As the climate changes, our increasing reliance on a few major crops will jeopardise food security. The recent IPCC (2014) report predicts that, without adaptation, temperature increases of above about 1o C from pre-industrial levels will negatively affect yields on the major crops in both tropical and temperate regions for the rest of the century.

    These impacts need to be seen in the context of crop demand, which is predicted to increase by about 14% per decade until 2050. In a recent study in Nature, an international team of scientists found that iron and zinc concentrations were substantially reduced in wheat, rice, soybean and pea crops grown under the CO2 levels expected by 2050. In other words, climate change will reduce both the yield and the nutritional content of the world’s major crops – leaving many hungry and malnourished.

    While we might modify the characteristics and management of major crops sufficiently to yield under the lower range of temperature increases, we are unlikely to succeed at higher temperatures. So what should we do for agriculture in hotter, drier climates? A good start would be to explore the many hundreds of underutilised crops that have survived, yielded and fed people for millennia despite, not because of, agricultural science.
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  6. with help from family and friends and a ton of internet research, Garden Pool was born. What was once a yawning cement hole was transformed into an incredibly prolific closed-loop ecosystem, growing everything from broccoli and sweet potatoes to sorghum and wheat, with chickens, tilapia, algae, and duckweed all interacting symbiotically to provide enough food to feed a family of five.
    garden pool plantsGarden Poolclick to embiggen

    Within a year, Garden Pool had slashed up to three-quarters of the McClungs’ monthly grocery bill (they still buy things like cooking oil and coffee and, well, one can’t eat tilapia every day). Within five years, it’d spawned an active community of Garden Pool advocates – and Garden Pools – across the country and the world.
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  7. People make a big deal about the fuel use associated with food miles, but in reality this is such a small proportion of the total energy embodied in the food we eat that there are certainly lower hanging fruit to tackle in hopes of seeing substantive energy savings. Beyond this, those with an eye towards the future might realize that the best distribution system is one that doesn’t require motorized transport at all, and instead dedicates plots of land throughout towns and cities – including people’s yards – to food production so that citizens can easily walk to where they pick the freshest produce money can buy. If we accomplish this lofty goal, I suspect we’ll have solved many other food problems along the way.
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  8. The difficulty in this regard is another aspect of resilience, the ability of people to perceive distant, slow moving threats; to escape the rut of entrenched belief, thought and action; and to surrender the power that comes with competitive success. Collapse is an inevitable consequence of the human and natural condition. It drives evolutionary change. As creatures with foresight and knowledge, people should be able to learn from history, create proactive responses to global change and take steps to reduce disaster by deliberately transforming industrial agriculture before the inevitable collapse. Experimentation with novel crops, livestock and farming practices, founded on the principles of agroecology that works with nature and food sovereignty that develops local food markets offer hope for the future in a highly uncertain world.
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  9. While community gardens are not a novel concept, the amount of outreach and involvement the Coop Op has had with the Pullman community and the greater Roseland area can potentially provide a model for others to reclaim long abandoned spaces. In fact, the Coop Op members hope to do just that in the future. Wizgird explains: “The idea is that this is the first of many green ribbons cut, the first of many greener spaces made out of abandoned lots. We’re trying to see those spaces as opportunities to keep doing what we’re doing and involve more people.”
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  10. the barriers which deflect raindrops into one river basin rather than into another are natural land elevations, while the barriers which guide and control movements of foodstuffs are more often economic than physical.”
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2013-08-14)
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