Thursday, March 28, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniWhen the real estate market plummeted five years ago, Jolanta Hardej decided to stop his life as an interior designer and mortgage broker to seize a new opportunity. Out of the ashes came the nation’s largest indoor vertical farm, FarmedHere, which held its grand opening last week. FarmedHere is a 90,000 square foot farm in an abandoned warehouse in the suburbs of Chicago to grow organic vegetables through a soil-free process that aims to be more sustainable than conventional farming. The plants are grown in beds placed on top of one another and fed water rich with nutrients for the best growing conditions. In the next year FarmedHere hopes to create an estimated 200 jobs for Chicago. The facility hopes to be able to produce 1 million pounds of leafy greens to the local community each year. The project was an addition to two other FarmedHere locations that occupy a total area of 14,000 square feet. Whole Foods Market already sells the greens produced at the farm and provided a $100,000 loan to FarmedHere to open the new facility.

In a state of desperation as the drought drags onward with no end in sight, New Mexico considers declaring a “priority call” on water. The move comes as the local water board told some farmers that they would only receive 10 percent of the water than could typically be used. A priority call would change the way in which water allotment is decided, which is now determined by location. In New Mexico, the North currently has access to ground water and the South has access to surface water. As a result, the South bears a greater burden under the weight of the drought. The priority call would change this system, so whoever accessed the water first would have more access to water now. Oftentimes this favors family farmers and is detrimental to large businesses. Daniel McCool, political scientist at the University of Utah and author of River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, feels the resulting battle will be between those with access to water against the greater portion of the population, who are those facing scarcity. Because of the costs to feed livestock under the current conditions, cattle ranchers on average have reduced herds to a mere 25 percent of what they were previously.

The United Nations declared that 2014 will be the International Year of the Family Farmer (IYFF)! This comes at a time when family farming is changing through a number of factors including new technology and corporate concentration. The mission of the IYFF is to shed light on the small farmer on all levels spanning from local to international support. Further, the UN hopes to display some of the global challenges that family farmers face and the crucial position a healthy agricultural system holds in ensuring food safety. This is the first International Year to be approved by members of civil society, which further demonstrates the need to emphasize the roles and challenges of farmers in society today. While less than 1 percent of Americans claim to be farmers, family or small farms still comprise approximately 90 percent of all domestic farms. Still within the industrial operations, about 80 percent of productions are not for human consumption. The World Rural Forum organized the IYFF.

In the midst of a seemingly endless farm crisis circling the farm bill extension, drought and dairy crisis, one unexpected community found the importance in agriculture. The Rhine, an area of Cincinnati with the highest crime rate in the city, is home to Eco Garden, a community garden run by Angela Stanbery-Ebner through her non-profit organization, Permaganic. After receiving grants for improvement plans for 2013, the garden was nearly devastated when the city council threatened to take the land back for a housing development project as part of CitiRama, an urban development movement in Cincinnati. After hearing the news, the Rhine community banded together to stop the city plans and save the garden, which provides a place for youth to learn how to keep a garden and run a CSA. Stanbery-Ebner sent emails to supporters of the garden and received an incredible response. 22 supporters attended a city council committee meeting and an online petition gained 292 signatures. The plea was heard by councilmember Laure Quinlivan, who issued a motion asking that the Eco Garden be a part of any future development of the area, as it is the longest running community garden in the city, and the city find new land for the garden to expand. This week Stanbery-Ebner received notice that the CitiRama plans will go forward on different land with the passing of Quinlivan’s motion.

A new study found organic fruits and vegetables could yield longer lifespans, at least for fruit flies. Researchers tested the hypothesis that, while organic produce does not contain more nutrients than its conventional counterpart, non-organic food might still be less healthy. Researchers at Southern Methodist University raised fruit flies, feeding them different combinations of potatoes, soybeans, raisins and bananas. While all of the diets lacked the diversity needed for a healthy life, the fruit flies fed organic potatoes, raisins and soy all had a considerably longer lifespan. That being said, there was no difference between those raised on conventional bananas and those raised on organic ones. An organic raisin diet also worsened the flies’ overall performance in stress tests and “starvation resistance.” The reasons behind these findings are still unknown and will require more research.

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