Friday, December 30, 2011

Trends of 2011, Resolutions for 2012

Another year is coming to a close - here in the office it doesn't feel like anything is ending since the Organic Land Care Accreditation Course is quickly approaching in February and the CT NOFA 2012 Winter Conference will be following closely on March 3, but we won't object to a long weekend.

The sustainable food movement had a good year in 2011:
Do you have any 2012 New Year's Resolutions? The most common answers are some combination of "lose weight", "live more healthfully", "spend more time with friends and family"

I have some good news, all of these resolutions lend themselves to eating local and organic!
We like these resolutions, they can make you happier, healthier, and thinner (if you're concerned about that)
  • Eat in. I like this recommendation to lay off the take-out, and try making your own bread. If you're really inept at cooking, look for some cooking classes in your area, more restaurants are offering them as a way to bring customers into their kitchens!
  • Start a garden! It's not too hard (we're here to help!), you can save money on food, help the environment and you'll have a healthy food source in your yard!
  • Share your resolutions with other people, make sustainable dinners for your family and friends, bring them to the local farm where you buy your produce!
  • Buy a share in a CSA, contact farms now to see when you should buy your shares and to see if you can reserve one (some CSAs have already sold out their shares for 2012)

Here's to 2012!

And a happy, hearty, healthy New Year from all of us in the CT NOFA office.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter Farmers Markets Expand to More than 1,200 Locations for Fresh Local Foods

According to the USDA, the number of winter farmers markets in the country has increased by 38 percent since 2010, from 886 to 1,225 total markets nationwide.  This means winter farmers markets account for 17 percent of the total number of markets, a promising and currently growing figure.  The USDA believes that much of this growth can be traced to the adoption of hoop house technology by small farmers as a way to lengthen their growing season and continue to offer fresh fruits and vegetables into the winter.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan gives some encouragement to those who are considering offering produce into the winter months: “Consumers are looking for more ways to buy locally grown food throughout the year.  Through winter markets, American farmers are able to meet this need and bring in additional income to support their families and businesses.”

If you're thinking about starting a farmer's market and want to learn more about the support the USDA can provide you, check out the article here.  If you're looking for a winter farmers market or CSA program near you (a great way to have delicious, healthy, local food year-round while supporting your local economy) or if you want to try out some new winter food recipes, check out our Winter Food Project webpage here

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Huffington Post Reports: "Monsanto's Corn Linked to Organ Failure"

The Huffington Post first published a story in 2010, which then was updated this year and has been reposted several times recently (perhaps because the GMO debate is really heating up again) that the International Journal of Biological Sciences has found that GMO corn consumption is linked to organ failure in test rats.

The conclusion of the report states that:
"Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity....These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown."

What it comes down to - is that it doesn't matter if GMOs are good or bad (though the health and environmental threats are daunting), the fact that scientists are questioning the safety of GMOs is enough.  Until GMOs are deemed safe or not - we at least deserve the right to choose whether to risk it or not.  In my search for images of GMO Protests, the first several photos were all from different countries.  These global protests are not against scientific progress - they are against the "unknown" and the unanswered questions surrounding GMO food safety.

South Korea:

Keep telling the Food and Drug Administration how you feel about GMOs by adding comments to legal petition (Docket # FDA-2011-P-0723-0001/CP) calling on the FDA to label genetically engineered (GE) food.

All the best,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Are you passionate about GMO labeling legislation?


A message from Bill Duesing:

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and enjoying the holidays with family.

You may have heard that Rep. Roy is planning to introduce legislation to require the labeling of foods containing Genetically Modified Organisms in the next session.  He has bipartisan support.

This seems like something that you would be interested in and support. 

CT NOFA is supporting this effort, as is so far, The Ledgelight  Health district and the United Church of Christ. The CT League of Conservation Voters will support it as soon as we have a bill to show them.

Most polls (for over a decade or more) have shown that the vast majority of people in this country also support labeling of foods containing GMOs.

This could be very helpful to the local food movement in Connecticut, since almost all local food (except meat and dairy products) doesn't involve GMOs.  The coming of GMO sweet corn next year opens up a big can of worms.

It might also have a beneficial health outcome since many junk foods contain GMOs, while fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes don't.  

If successful this will be another in a long line of Connecticut's significant environmental firsts.  There is an Initiative in California to do this too.

We are having a meeting in Hartford this Friday, at 10 in the LOB.  Bob Burns, who is a leader in this effort, says that Rep. Roy is arranging a room.  Senator Maynard has committed to coming. Tom Reynolds will be there.  Diana Urban supports this and may be there.  Edith Prague is 100% behind this effort but is recovering from surgery.

It would be great if you could be at this meeting. Check with Rep. Roy's office rm.3201for exact location of the meeting.

If you can't attend, let us know if you are interested in supporting, or if you have any questions.

I'll paste the language for the California initiative below, as well as some questions about how it treats GMO feed, although I need to spend some more time with the complicated language there to really understand what it means.

It would be wonderful to work with you on this.  

Best wishes for 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kraft Foods' Environmental Foodprint

Kraft Foods, the world's second largest food producer has released the results of a survey on the company's effect on climate, land and water including analysis of their agriduclutral production.

The first thing that surprised me about the articles about the findings, were the number of food brands that  Kraft foods owns including, Cadbury, Maxwell House, Nabisco, Oero, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia, Tang and Trident.

Also, Kraft has already put in place some efforts at being more sustainable and has set a number of ambitious goals to attain by 2015.

The survey was conducted in a partnership with Quantis, Inc., a company that specializes in Life Cycle Assessment.  The World Wildlife Fund analyzed the results as part of its market transformation initiative.
Kraft found that nearly 60% of its carbon footprint is from farm commodities and 12% of the carbon footprint is from transportation and distribution of products.  80% of the land impact is from agriculture, and 70% of their water footprint is from growing raw materials.
The study confirms that Kraft's biggest environmental liability and potential leverage point for improvement is increasing the sustainability of its agricultural suppliers.

Krafts 2010 goals to be achieved by 2015 were to:

  • increase sustainable sourcing of agricultural commodities by 25%
  • reduce 50 million miles from its transportation network
The other five goals are related to manufacturing efficiency.  With 60% of Kraft's carbon footprint coming from their agricultural sources, Kraft needs to pressure their agricultural suppliers to be more sustainable and shift more of their agricultural production to locations more local to manufacturing and distribution points. And consumers need to pressure them to do this too. Decentralized, local farm production is of course preferable, but large companies are going to continue to purchase food from the agricultural industry.  This large industry can reorient itself to be more sustainable and local, it just requires some more thought, planning and oversight.

WWF has charged that supply chain work requires the formation of long-term partnerships based on the identification of shared objectives.  Kraft's plans to make manufacturing more efficient are commendable, but they aren't changing the agricultural practices that have the greatest negative impact on the environment and our livelihoods. 


Turning Away from Corporate America Toward Farming

Courtesy of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
There's been a lot of buzz lately about young people becoming increasingly interested in farming and specifically in organic production.  Back on the 12th, NPR ran an article on it's food blog, The Salt, about a push among young people to abandon corporate life in favor of a more agrarian alternative.  Disillusioned with stifling corporate values, and in response to an economy where the daily grind is less likely to yield positive results, thousands of people are returning to the land.  Another recent article by MSNBC points out that, although farming is inherently risky and expensive getting started, agriculture has fared better than many other parts of the economy during the recession.  Many young people see farming as a calculated risk; one that has a greater likelihood than an office job of working out to their advantage, whether the gains lay in profits or in emotional well-being.  With more than 60% of current farmers over the age of 55, we need a new generation of young farmers to prevent reliance on an ever-decreasing number of producers.

If you are getting started as an organic farmer and need some help tackling big challenges like land access and marketing, register for our Getting Started in Organic Farming Conference to be held Saturday, January 28, 2012 at the CT Forest and Park Association in Rockfall, CT.  Don't miss this opportunity to network with other new farmers and learn from the experts about how to be successful.  You can learn more and register here.  If you've been farming for less than 10 years you may qualify for a scholarship: find out here.

Have a wonderful afternoon!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Decade in Organic Land Care

Our certificate from IFOAM welcoming the NOFA
Standards in Organic Land Care to the IFOAM
Family of Standards
The NOFA Organic Land Care Program, a regional project out of the Connecticut NOFA office, has been accrediting professionals for 10 years now.  And we want to expand the organic land care movement to be bigger than ever in 2012.  Organic should be the standard in landscaping. 
This year our standards were accepted to the International Family of Standards established by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
We received news that the 2012 Beyond Pesticides Forum will be held in New Haven, Connecticut on March 30-31
Our Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs) : Have taken the NOFA OLC 5-day Accreditation Course in organic landscaping, passed the Accreditation Exam, pledged to provide organic land care according to the NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care, maintained continuing education by attending a minimum of 4 credit-hours of organic landscaping education annually and must pay an annual fee ($100) to support the work of the OLC program
If you are a homeowner, check out our homeowner's guide and brochure about going organic at home.
If you have a landscaper, ask them if they're accredited - there needs to be a demand for organic!
Ask your town government or schools if any of their groundskeepers are accredited - it's state law that no pesticides can be used on k-8 schools, and towns are also implementing these bans on town lands.  
If you're a land care professional, think about accreditation 
Frank Crandall
The course is coming up:
January 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and a snowdate of Jan. 15th
Worcester State University
486 Chandler St.
Worcester, MA  01602

February 15, 16, 17 and 21, 22, and a snowdate of Feb. 23rd
CT Agricultural Experiment Station
123 Huntington St.

New Haven, CT  06511
Camilla Worden

Rhode Island

February 27, 28, 29, March 1, 2 and snowdate of March 5
Kettle Pond Visitor Center
Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge
Charlestown, RI 02813

Read about how a couple of our AOLCPs and committee-members, Camilla Worden of Brookfield, CT and Frank Crandall are making their accreditation work for them.  While you are helping the environment and offering customer safer land management practices, you can also really help your business.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Eat Organic: A Comprehensive Presentation

Jim Riddle from the University of Minnesota has compiled a great presentation that's provided on UMN's Organic Ecology website.  The presentation, titled Why Eat Organic, provides a wealth of information about why organic agriculture can feed the world, is necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change, and can undo a lot of the harm that conventional agriculture does to our bodies.  Not only do organic foods contain far less pesticide residues than their conventional cousins, but organic foods also have higher levels of healthy nutrients.  Children who go organic for just five days "can virtually eliminate exposures to a dangerous class of insecticides known to disrupt neurological development in infants and children."  Additionally, many of the nutrients found in much higher levels in organic foods can greatly decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers.  Organic is not only the safe bet but the healthy bet, both for our bodies and for our planet.

This presentation gives a great overview of the organic movement, but if you're looking for a more in-depth compilation of many scientific studies, visit Iowa State University's Leopold Center website.

Have a great afternoon!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Are You a New or Transitioning Organic Farmer?

Register today for our Getting Started in Organic Farming Conference to be held Saturday, January 28, 2012 at the CT Forests and Parks Association in Rockfall, CT!  A new article by Grist shows that new farmers cite land access and funding as the major stumbling blocks against becoming established in the industry, but that apprenticeships, local partnerships, and CSAs represent areas of growth.  Attending the conference will help beginning organic farmers become more familiar with available resources, both in areas of growth and in areas of need, and will help to give a well-rounded perspective through exposure to broad themes as well as technically specific topics.  Click here to learn more and to register!

You can also get involved with your local congressperson to change the upcoming Farm Bill.  The Bill process is now restarting, and Congress needs to be reminded why our nation needs a Farm Bill that is responsive to current changing agricultural needs.  Tell your congressperson to sponsor the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, which fixes, funds and improves USDA programs, as well as adds new programs to help young and beginning farmers succeed.  The process of getting started as a farmer should be easier, and it can be easier, if we exercise our rights and let our voices be heard.

Have a great evening!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Understanding the 2012 Farm Bill: The "Hackathon"

Comparison between government nutrition recommendations and federal agriculture subsidies in FoodTech Connect's entry in the Farm Bill Hackathon
The Farm Bill is a pretty dense document, with such complicated subsidy structures and a huge variety of programs, that it is a challenge for experts to follow and completely inaccessible to many of the people it effects the most: consumers and farmers.  The 2008 Farm Bill is very difficult to read, as Marion Nestle points out in her column in The Atlantic even for experts, and the 2012 Farm Bill shapes agricultural policy for the next five years, which also determines what kind of food Americans will be eating for the next five years.

To break apart the Farm Bill to the essentials, GRACE Communications Foundation sponsored a "Hackathon" to bring together sustainable food advocates and computer programs to create infographics and online tools to communicate the important points of the Farm Bill, and what our country (and even the world) needs from the 2012 bill.

Teams created different tools and slideshows, as entries in the Hackathon, which was also a contest to create the best powerpoints.

Watch the winning entry:

There are a variety of Farm Bill Hackathon slides in this slideshow, which highlighted the stark contrast between Food Want and Food Waste.

Read more at:
Food and Tech Connect


Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Things You Should Know About GMOs

A new article by Care2 provides a concise and well-written outline of topics you can use in the event of a Genetically Modified Organism debate, courtesy of Jeffrey Smith, the Keynote speaker at our upcoming Winter Conference.  Advocates for GMO use have a lot to say about why GMOs are great for humanity, but numerous studies argue otherwise.  Here are some of the highlights:

1. GMOs are unhealthy.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. Genes inserted into GM soy, for example, can transfer into the DNA of bacteria living inside us, and that the toxic insecticide produced by GM corn was found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses.

3. GMOs increase herbicide use.
Most GM crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”―they defy deadly weed killer. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide.
Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in “superweeds,” resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GM foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.

5. Government oversight is dangerously lax.
Most of the health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments’ superficial regulations and safety assessments. The reason for this tragedy is largely political. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn’t require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency. Their justification was the claim that they had no information showing that GM foods were substantially different. But this was a lie. Secret agency memos made public by a lawsuit show that the overwhelming consensus even among the FDA’s own scientists was that GMOs can create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. They urged long-term safety studies. But the White House had instructed the FDA to promote biotechnology, and the agency official in charge of policy was Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president. He’s now the US Food Safety Czar.

8. GMOs harm the environment.
GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. For example, GM crops are eliminating habitat for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GM canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.

9. GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.
Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.

And that's only half of the list!  To read the full list, go here.  If you want to hear Jeffrey Smith speak in person about the dangers of GMOs, register for our Winter Conference being held on March 3, 2012 in Manchester, CT.  To learn more and to register, click here.

Have a great afternoon!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wisconsin Woman Taken to Court Over Her Lawn

In Shorewood, WI, Louise Quigley, who has been living in her home for over twenty years, is being taken to court over her native lawn.  In an effort to deter schoolchildren from using her lawn as a shortcut coming home from school, she decided to plant prairie grasses, goldenrods, milkweed, and butterfly weeds, citing the ecological benefits of such a planting.

“They are less work, they come up every year, they are pretty," she says.  "Native perennials have all kinds of environment benefits because the native plants feed the native bugs, feed the birds; it’s the bottom of the food chain.  You can promote the survival of our ecosystem and our biosphere if you plant native plants.”

However, despite Louise's astute decision regarding local ecology, her prairie yard happens to violate an outdated neighborhood ordinance that her community has begun cracking down on.  The ordinance states that native lawns can't exceed six inches in height, and when Louise refused to comply with the ordinance she was summoned to court.  Louise has since been trying to push village officials to get the ordinance changed.  She argues, "(The ordinance) is about lawns and it isn't about native plant communities.  It was drafted way back and wasn't about 21st century aesthetics or a 21st century ecological understanding. I don't have a lawn, I have a prairie. They are using a lawn regulation to harass me about my prairie."

 Read more about the Shorewood community and Louise's battle here.

Have a great day!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Events Galore!

This winter we have a flurry of events that promise to be both exciting and educational.  Read on to learn more:  

Get ready for our upcoming NOFA chapter Winter Conferences!  Six NOFA chapters are holding conferences between January and March with great speakers, workshops, and events for all.  Visit the chapter websites to learn more and to register.  If you've been farming for less than 10 years, you may also qualify for a scholarship - your local NOFA chapter can let you know if you do.

If you missed our Organic Land Care Annual Gathering last Tuesday, you can check out photos from the event on our Flickr page here

Registration is continuing for our NOFA chapter OLC Accreditation Courses!  If you'd like to take the course, or just want to learn more, check it out here.


Friday, December 9, 2011

As long as we're talking 99% vs. the 1% . . .

Did you know that only 1% of America's population lists their occupation as "farmer". That is 1% of our population that feeds 100% of our population. 
The Occupy movement, in its flexibility and broad appeal, has also become a central part of the sustainable food, food justice, and sustainable farming movements.  You probably get why the occupy movement complements the sustainable food movement, but lets go over a few important connections to make:
  • small farms, especially those growing "specialty crops (fruits and vegetables) receive far fewer subsidies than large farms that produce cotton, corn and soy
  • the wealthy 1% can afford the local, organic, high quality food everyone needs to be healthy
  • the most economically depressed areas of the United States are often food deserts
  • supporting farming supports job creation
  • supporting organic, local farming supports much more job creation than on larger farms where farm machinery is relied on more heavily than manual labor
  • local farms and local foods support local economies instead of buying produce from South America which send our money out of the country or to multi-national corporations like Dole and Chiquita.
  • right now food production and poisonous chemical production (by large multinational corporations like Dow, Monsanto and Dupont) go hand in hand. Food produced organically is completely independent of the chemical production industry (unless their crops are contaminated by Monsanto's GMO genes of course)
Given all these connections (and there are many many more) farmers have joined Occupy Wallstreet. On December 4th, food justice activists (both producers and consumers) traveled from all over the coutry to occupy in New York City.  The march began at La Plaza Cultural Community Farde and ended at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza. 
The message was that much of rural America supports the Occupy movement.  The movement is not made up of lazy, spoiled notheasterners who would rather camp in parks in below freezing weather than get a job (come on).
Another occupy movement in New York City, protesters at Morning Glory Community Garden in the South Bronx were broken up by police and five were arrested.  The police broke up a festival in celebration of food on the sidewalk because the community garden supporters had no permit.  I should also add that the community garden (which used to be in illegal dumping site) was raided by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development - pulling plants out by the roots, deconstructing raised beds, and building a fence around the community space in November.
Remember even if you're not prepared to put on multiple winter coats and illegally camp in Zuccotti Park, you can occupy the food movement.  The only people who don't benefit from local food production are the large companies and corporations that have crafted our imbalanced global food system, and if they're not ready to change, then it's time to stop supporting them.

On that note, have a lovely weekend!
~ Kristiane

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fallacy of Efficiency - Why Organic Can Feed the World

When engaged in an organic versus conventional agricultural debate, proponents of conventional methods often use the "organic can't feed the world" argument.  The reasons why vary depending on who you're talking to, but some possibilities are that there's not enough land, or organic agriculture doesn't produce high enough yields, or the local and organic farm system is too disorganized and inefficient.  To that I ask, who said that conventional farms are efficient, have high yields, or use less land than organic methods?  What studies provide that information?

A recent article by The Atlantic provides a comprehensive set of resources to prove that organic agriculture can not only feed the world, but that conventional can't.  Under our current, largely conventional system, 1 billion people worldwide are undernourished.  Dozens of studies have been compiled over the last few decades to show that conventional agriculture has generally failed in its long-term efforts to increase crop yields, and organic methods in fact equal and often surpass conventional yields, requiring less land as a result.  I have written in the past about the Rodale Institute's 30 year study that supports such claims, and would also like to note the Iowa study that drew similar conclusions.  The idea that conventional farming somehow produces more food on less land is a lie, and the fact that it is still widely accepted doesn't make it less of a lie. 

Additionally, as The Atlantic mentions, there exists a notable lack of studies that provide hard evidence that organic farming can't feed the world.  An excerpt from the article reads " In an exhaustive review using Google and several academic search engines of all the scientific literature published between 1999 and 2007 addressing the question of whether or not organic agriculture could feed the world, the British Soil Association, which supports and certifies organic farms, found (PDF) that there had been 98 papers published in the previous eight years addressing the question of whether organic could feed the world. Every one of the papers showed that organic farming had that potential. Not one argued otherwise."  Extensive marketing, lobbying, and misinformation has kept the public in the dark about the truth behind conventional ag for some time, but those barriers are slowly dissolving.

Lastly,  I want to take a moment to talk about efficiency.  Conventional agriculture has led our society to believe that bigger is better - that is to say that when you industrialize agriculture on a large scale, you are able to streamline your production system as you would in a factory, and thus produce higher yields with lower costs and less waste.  The studies noted above as well as many others like them, along with the current global climate and ecological problems we are facing point to the illegitimacy of this belief.  A network of small, local, organic farms is much more efficient than large scale conventional farming in terms of yield, waste, transportation costs, economic potential, ecological viability, and public health, to only name a few.  One of the biggest hurdles the organic movement must jump today is breaking down that reputation of efficiency and plenty that conventional agriculture has made for itself.

If you want to start down the path toward true efficiency, check out your local farmer's market.  Farmers markets and CSA programs exist even in winter, and are a great way to boost your local economy while enjoying fresh, local, whole foods.  Check out our Winter Food Project to learn more.

Have a great evening!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The 2011 Annual Gathering

The Organic Land Care Program's Annual Gathering "Trees: Landscaping for Future Generations" was yesterday, December 6.  We had an interesting line up of ecologists, landscape architects, tree care professionals, and forest pathologists.  To start off the day, Peter Wild, CEO of Arborjet Inc. and Todd Harrington, an OLC Committee Member, and one of the authors of the original Standards for Organic Land Care discussed their careers pioneering organic tree care.
 Our keynote, Tom Wessels, followed.  Tom discussed scientific principles, mainly entropy and the law of self-organization to discuss how these principles govern nature and have supported life on earth for billions of years.  He then discussed how these ideas can support human systems (in order to stop endangering all the other life on earth) for instance citing Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations to discuss the limits of economic growth. 
Diane Devore discussed the arranging of trees in landscaping incorporating natives along the periphery of properties. Diane explained that a large element of organic landscaping was thinking about the landscape in 50 years, and planting trees for that landscape. 
   Dr. Claire Rutledge updated the audience on the Emerald Ash Borer's spread through out the United States and what it mean for New England forests and trees in residential areas. 
After lunch Dr. Kevin Smith discussed tree care based on the biology of trees, and then how tree disease disrupts the bark, or trunk of the tree, and how some trees are able to protect themselves form diseases while others are more vulnerable.  
Dr. Bob Marra followed up on this explanation of tree health and care with a description of a new technology used to measure the internal decay of wood called Tomography.  
Finally Dr. Jim Conroy and Basia Alexander described some more spiritual approaches to tree healing, specifically their work Tree Whispering.
We closed out the day with a panel presenting business solutions for organic land care providers to keep business profitable in the recession.  Our panelists were Todd Harrington, Aiken Tompkins and Mike Nadeau

Overall it was a pretty great day, we hope our attendees came away from the presentations with some insight on tree science and some new ideas about organic tree care!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our Annual Gathering is Tomorrow!

It's crunch time here at the office!  Our Organic Land Care Annual Gathering is tomorrow at 8:00am at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.  This year's theme is Trees: Landscaping for Future Generations, and will feature Keynote Speaker Tom Wessels on The Foundational Principles of Sustainability.  We have some really great speakers lined up for the event including Dr. Kevin T. Smith, Diane Devore, Dr. Robert Marra, Peter Wild, Todd Harrington, Dr. Claire Rutledge, Dr. Jim Conroy, and Basia Alexander.  And the best part is that's it's not too late to register!  Call the office at 203.888.5146 to get your last minute registration in! 

The United Nations has declared 2011 the "International Year of Forests" highlighting the environmental, historical and cultural value of trees and forests around the world. Presenters at the Annual Gathering will discuss the role of trees in our natural history, their integration in organic landscaping, threats to New England’s woods, and the importance of planting and preserving native trees in the landscape.  Despite the tendency to associate trees with the environment, they are a central part of the designed landscape.  Trees are an ecological staple, providing habitat, flood and erosion control, carbon sequestration and a host of other natural services to developed areas.

The Program:

7:30 - 8:00: Registration
8:00 - 8:15 Welcome: Frank Crandall
8:15 - 9:15 Peter Wild & Todd Harrington
9:15 - 10:30 Keynote Speaker: Tom Wessels
10:30 - 10:45 Break
10:45 - 11:45 Diane Devore
11:45 - 12:05 Claire Rutledge, Ph.D.
12:05 - 1:00 Lunch (Book Signings from 12:30 - 1:00)
1:00 - 2:00 Kevin T. Smith, Ph.D
2:00 - 2:30 Robert Marra, Ph.D.
2:30 - 2:45 Break
2:45 - 3:45 Jim Conroy, Ph.D. & Basia Alexander
3:45 - 4:30 Mike Nadeau (Plantscapes Inc.), Todd Harrington & Diane Devore, Panel Discussion: "Solutions to Assist Your Business in Challenging Economic Times"

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Greener Agriculture Policy in Europe

The European Commission has proposed a greener Common Agriculture Policy for the European Union.  Conventional farming organizations have criticized the commission's proposals for a greener agriculture policy, but European organic farmers view the proposed changes as positive steps toward sustainable agriculture.  The Agricultural Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos has defended the proposed changes which encourage farmers to rotate crops, set aside permanent pasture and create woodlands or buffer zones as part of the European annual farm support program that constitutes 40% of EU spending. 
Dacian Ciolos, EU Agriculture Commissioner
If it undergoes the proposed reforms, the program would use 30% of direct payments to promote conservation measures - an investment of about 11 billion euros. 
Currently only about 5% of EU farmland is organic (which is actually pretty high in comparison to the United States' 0.6% of farmland being organic).
Ciolos' defense of the program is the part that American consumers, voters and legislators might want to consider.  "A major objective of the reform is to provide the tools to provide both growth in agriculture and sustainability . . . If not, it is difficult to justify the CAP as a public policy."   For a public policy, to be truly in the interest of the general public, it must work to improve agricultural yield (which practices like crop rotation have done for hundreds of years), and the quality of the soil, water and air of where people live (which can be achieved by using fewer synthetic chemicals and allowing buffers between farmland and water systems).  Support for sustainable farming isn't in the interest of organic farmers as much as it is in the interest of generations to come, the environment, and farming communities. The American Farm Bill seems to be focused more on supporting the well-being of agricultural corporations, national food service providers, and grocery chains.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Why Our Winter Food Project is Important

The winter, more than any other season, is a time when many Americans eat more packaged, processed foods as local farmer's markets dwindle and access to fresh produce is often limited to factory farmed crops shipped in from far away.  It's cold and dark out, and if cooking isn't your strong point, it's easy to get sucked into the convenience of prepackaged, non-local foods.

I recently read a post on Farmer's Market titled Forgotten Food: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From, How to Cook It and What It Tastes Like that gives a brief synopsis of Ann Vileisis' Kitchen Literacy.  This book chronicles America's food system, from its beginnings in 1700s agrarian society to the broken and disconnected monstrosity that it is today.  As it turns out, America's transition from a society that had immense accumulated food knowledge to a nation where people often say food comes from "the grocery store" wasn't an easy one.  Our ancestors fought against much of the commercialization and industrialization of food, leaving us a legacy not of complacency, but of activism.  We owe it to ourselves and to our rich heritage to become reacquainted with where our food comes from, how to prepare it, and what it should taste like.

It is in this spirit that we started our Winter Food Project.  After all, if we can develop a more personal relationship with our food in the toughest and leanest of seasons, we can do it at any time of the year.  I encourage you to check out the resources available on our Winter Food Project page, and visit a winter farmer's market in your area.  Access to whole, local food doesn't have to be seasonal, and we don't have to sacrifice flavor and nutrition just because it's wintertime.