Monday, February 23, 2009

Roots Down - New Bedford

Announcing Roots Down - New Bedford a free monthly series focusing on sustainable gardening techniques. This series aims to help new and experienced gardeners gain a deeper understanding of methods used in healthy food production.

In an effort to help build local food security for our community, Brix Bounty Farm and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House&Garden Museum will be presenting Roots Down - New Bedford* beginning at 4PM on Tuesday March 3rd and happening the first Tuesday of the month throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The workshops will be held at the Lawler Branch Public Library at 745 Rockdale Ave (NE Corner of Buttonwood Park). The Lawler Library is accessible by SRTA bus routes #6 and #10.

Our topic on March 3rd will be: an Introduction to Organic Gardening - Understanding Soil Basics (and local resources to help you grow). For a list of upcoming topics see our Spring 2009 Schedule.

*Roots Down -New Bedford is part of the Safe Soils for Healthy Food Project and is made possible by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts - SEEAL Fund.

Can't make it to one of the workshops ? Contact Derek (508-992-1868) at Brix Bounty Farm to be added to the Roots Down - New Bedford mailing list to receive workshop materials and announcements of upcoming events. In addition to the monthly event at the Lawler Library, we'll also be co-hosting a series of spring workshops in different neighborhoods throughout the city. These dates and locations will be announced in early April.

We hope the Roots Down - New Bedford series will provide an opportunity for community members of all experience levels to learn something new and to share their knowledge with others. Over the course of the year, the series will present information that can help you gain confidence in growing great food without the use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. We welcome your suggestions for workshop topics for the summer and fall session.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Wealth

Below is the text of a post that I drafted in mid-January and shared with a number of folks more intimately connected with the world of economics then myself. This morning I spent time watching Chris Martenson's - The Crash Course to gain a deeper understanding of the roots of our current economic situation. I would highly recommend reviewing The Crash Course as Chris does a great job of tying together many of the underlying factors and pressures we face looking ahead. I reckon investments in sustainable forms of wealth production (including education) will be necessary as we transition our communities beyond our current era dominated by artificially "cheap" energy sources. As I look to the future, I remain hopeful that our community will embrace our inter-dependence and celebrate the rich relationships that will result from this reliance. In that spirity, we invite you to join us for our next Know Your Vegetables on the 23rd of February.

As we dwell in the stillness that winter presents, I have been pondering future paths and new opportunities created by our current global economic period. I consistently return to two critical considerations so often left off the balance sheets of today's economic indicators: the very real physical implication of economic "externalities" and the primary creation of real wealth.

Externalities abound within our current agricultural system, nitrogen run-off is perhaps one of the most noted examples. On a national scale the dead-zone at the mouth of the Mississippi river, estimated at more than 8,000 square miles (to put this in perspective, this is 4/5ths of the size of Massachusetts), is enhanced by heavy fertilizer use on industrial farms. Economic systems that don't address externalities, may reach a reckoning when their tangible affects are experienced by the enviroment and our society.

Our farmers are one of many industries that don't pay the full-cost of doing business. Unfortunately, our current economy has valued their products (especially the commodities of industrial agriculture) so low that bearing such costs would spell even greater economic peril for farmers. Revisiting a discussion regarding agricultural and raw material parity will be a necessary step in improving economic conditions on farms and thereby providing greater opportunity to address their negative externalities.

I've assembled a list of brief articles and ideas that I feel are important to consider as we examine the generation of "new wealth":

1. An article by Jonathan Rowe, "Our Phony Economy" from congressional testimony he delivered in March 2008.

2. Herman Daly brings light to the current fiscal crisis on The Oil Drum. Herman Daly is one of the many economists who promotes consideration of Ecological Economics, here is a brief introduction to Daly's work published in The Social Contract.

3. The late Al Krebs, author of Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness, wrote an informative article, "Creating 'New Wealth'" in the Progressive Populist in 2004. More background information about A.V. Krebs can be found on the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project website.

Another visionary from the westcoast who has focused on the power corporations wield in the economy, David Korten has authored a new book that will be published in February, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth.

Charles Walters of Acres U.S.A. has also consistently raised the importance of agricultural parity, the "birth" of raw material economics is briefly described on the National Organization for Raw Materials site.

And finally, here are a couple of blogs and organizations that I've found enlightening over the past few months: Dollars and Sense, Sudden Debt, and the New Economics Foundation.

A few more thoughts and ideas relevant to this discussion can found on an October post, "Green Jobs Now...". I would welcome learning about economists, books, and blogs that are examining our current financial crisis with a lens focused beyond the traditional economic considerations; especially those that are considering the forms of "wealth" development.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kale and the Nutritional Possibilities of Healthy School Lunches

I recently returned from an all too brief trip to Italy, where I attended the first Spannocchia Symposium: Food, Landscape, and Community in Tuscany and New England.

Cavalo Nero, Toscano Kale was ever present and featured in a number of wintertime dishes. We have many varieties of kale to choose from when selecting seed. In addition to Toscano, growers in the northeast often plant Winterbor or Red Russian as their varieties of choice. Here on the Southcoast many gardens feature Couve Tronchuda or Portuguese Kale; which has a flatter cabbage like leaf.

Kale has long been heralded as a nutritional workhorse (its high in beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and more vitamins and minerals) and should merit inclusion in any garden plan. I wonder how often kale finds its way into the school lunches served up in our region? Its ability to withstand cooler temperatures would make it an ideal ingredient in dishes served throughout the fall and early/winter.

Alice Waters and Katrina Heron (co-producer of Civil Eats) have authored a timely editorial published in today's New York Times, "No Lunch Left Behind". I've been considering the importance in reinvesting in our school lunch programs, especially in light of the current economic situation. To me, it just makes plain sense that in a time when families are struggling to afford healthy nutritious food that we would increase our school lunch budgets, thereby providing our children with a healthy and nutritious meal during every school day. No doubt there is a lot of work ahead of us, on the policy-front the time to act is upon us, Congress will be working to reauthorize the Child Nutrition and WIC Act in 2009. Read Debra Eschmeyer's recent post Dear Mom-in-Chief for a more detailed plea for action.

Know Your Vegetables - February 23 2009 6:30PM @ Brix Bounty Farm

Signs of spring are becoming more numerous, garden plans are well underway and the sun is beginning to bring stronger energy to our fields.

Brix Bounty Farm invites you to our February installment of Know Your Vegetables focusing on Tools for the Vegetable Garden, Small Farm and Different Approaches to Tillage.

Nearly every small scale vegetable producer or gardener I know has a few favorite tools that they rely upon to help them in their production. I'll hi-light a few of my favorites including different types of hoes (including the collinear, stirrup, and wheel hoe) and suppliers who have them available. I encourage others to bring along any of their favorite tools to share with the group. Depending on time we can also discuss the development of tool-sharing groups; to off-set costs for gardeners. Wondering what is the "best" way to turn your soil? Which equipment or tools to use? Our discussion on tillage will focus on different theories as well as techniques for the garden or farm.

Know Your Vegetables is a free monthly conversation series hosted by Brix Bounty Farm focusing on small-scale vegetable production. Conversations are usually held the third Monday of every month. We invite farmers, gardeners, and anyone interested in learning more about growing healthy food to join us.

Note: Starting in March we'll be beginning our Roots Down - New Bedford series focusing on a similar array of topics, though focused more toward garden scale production. Our first session is scheduled for 4PM on March 3rd at the Lawler Branch Library (745 Rockdale Ave, NE corner of Buttonwood Park) in New Bedford. The topic for March will be: An Introduction to Sustainable Vegetable Gardens; The Basics and Local Resources. More information will be available next week.
Roots Down - New Bedford is part of the Safe Soils for Healthy Food Project presented by Brix Bounty Farm and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House&Garden Museum and made possible by Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts - SEEAL Fund.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Listening, Sharing and Learning

I'm in the midst of a flurry of opportunity to engage wonderful minds, ideas, and visions for the future. Just about a perfect recipe for winter as a vegetable grower. I'm buoyed by the bounty of potential for our communities as we face the very real difficulties brought on by current economic conditions.

I have recently begun a year-long fellowship with the Environmental Leadership Program. At the end of January, we had our first retreat in Harvard, MA where we met the other fellows from the Northeast region. The weekend was filled with time to contemplate the history of and present opportunities in the environmenal movement. It was a hope-filled experience, as we begin to share our collaborative visions for a sustainable future built upon greater diversity within the environmental movement.

While back in SE Mass I was given the opportunity to teach a class to New Bedford youth as part of their I Thrive Green Alive program. We spent the evening listening to some food-inspired songs, including work by Wil Bullock "Time for Change", Greg Brown "Canned Goods", and Dead Prez "Be Healthy" and discussing the different energy resources used in our current food system. One question presented, could we exist without sugar? Absolutely not. I'm not talking oreos and coca-cola, but rather the sugars that are produced through the process of photosynthesis. These sugars are just one part of a critical foundation for life on our planet.

How to help the earth develop soils that are truly capable of growing healthy plants (and therefore optimal levels of photosynthesis and the resulting sugars) was a focus of this past weekend, when I attended a 3-day seminar with Arden Andersen hosted by NOFAMASS. The seminar provided a great opportunity to continue learning about sustainable techniques used to produce high brix/nutrient dense foods. It was exciting to see a number of familiar faces in the room, but also to meet and connect with farmers and food producers throughout the Northeast interested in focusing on the quality of their products. I'll continue to incorporate some of Arden Andersen's messages into our Know Your Vegetables workshops here on the farm as well as the new monthly workshops we'll be hosting in New Bedford starting in March.*

* Tentative Date and Location for the 1st NB workshop will be 4PM, Tuesday March 3rd, at the Lawler Branch Library, 745 Rockdale Ave in New Bedford (hopefully the branch libraries won't be forced to close as a result of pending budget cuts!). We'll have more information available about this project in the coming weeks.

Tomorrow, I'll board a plane for Italy where I'll be joining a symposium "Food, Landscape and Community in Tuscany and New England" hosted by the Spannocchia Foundation. It will surely be another terrific opportunity to listen, share and learn. The willingness to share ideas and information is perhaps one of the greatest assets within the agricultural movement today.

We are bound by limitations of natural capital; though sustainable agriculture is working to build new capital including humus and soil organic matter (see recent Acres USA article about the role of mycorrhizal fungi and glomalin in building soil carbon levels). However, natural capital is only one part of the equation; we also rely on human capital (knowledge, skills, and energy). This capital is potentially limitelss, and its wonderful to experience the growth and development of human capital that results from a sharing of ideas, breaking of bread, and listening to others.

Right now, I'm feeling blessed by the richness of community and the connections with others that I've enjoyed during the first 5 weeks of the new year.