Saturday, July 24, 2010

Despite gloom, things are looking up for garden farming

Despite gloom, things are looking up for garden farming

There were several times so far this year when I almost wished I lived in a high rise luxury apartment in New York far removed from the paltry world of cutworms and purslane. First the crows ate up my whole first planting of open-pollinated field corn and when I replanted, too deep for the crows to peck out, several oceans of water fell on the cornfield and hardly a fourth of the kernels came up.

However, the sweet corn in the garden grew just fine. The raccoons and deer thought so too and somehow outwitted the electric fence. The score of the first planting: coons 65 ears; deer 18, squirrels 11, Carol and Gene, 8. And the eight were still immature because if we had waited one more night, they’d have been gone too. Still we had second, third, fourth and fifth plantings coming on and were getting the electric fence more fine-tuned for the job. So? A storm flattened planting No. 3. Why it bypassed most of planting No. 2 next to No. 3, I do not know. Meanwhile, the biweekly deluges also kept our onions from growing much beyond the size of ping pong balls and peas produced only about half. To top off all other calamities, the wheat crop in this part of the eastern cornbelt became infected with a fungal disease with the appetizing name of vomitoxin and lots of it can’t be used for human food and probably not animals either.

To raise food means to understand that Americans constantly totter on the brink of starvation and don’t know it. Society worries instead about where LeBron James is going to play basketball. We need a LeBron James of garden farming to put peoples’ heads back on straight.

We actually do have garden farming stars all over the place, and that’s why we keep winning the food games, despite raccoons, deer, Japanese beetles, cutworms, tornados, hedge fund investors and government “oversight” (good word for it). We never succumb to starvation or haven’t yet. And when I look out beyond the troubles that beset the world, I see much to be optimistic about as long as I don’t look in the direction of my pathetic field corn.

Food production is moving toward decentralization, and that is good news. With all the toxins and varmints and contrary weather and disintegration of the economy, our best bet, maybe our only bet, is to spread out the risks of food production to the largest number of people possible and that is happening.

I am just amazed at the momentum of change in this direction. I could use any number of news sources to prove the point but I am partial to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) because I know quite a few members of these two organizations. I also pay attention to the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society because it is located in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. When you see organic, sustainable, natural , small scale, diversified food production growing vigorously in the very heart of large scale grain farming, you know for sure we are on a roll.

OEFFA and IFO members this summer have a very impressive program of farm tours and workshops going on. The diversification is amazing. 1.) A certified organic produce farm where you can see how to use windpower, rain barrels and heat sinks to decrease carbon use. 2.) A CSA organic produce operation (run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace!). 3.) A family farm poultry processing operation. 4.) A small scale poultry and beef operation featuring a “barnyard garden” (I’ve got to find out what that is). Also there is hands-on information offered here where one can also learn how to permanently protect a farm from non-farm development. 5.) A sixth-generation farm producing food for restaurants and CSA sales as part of a 300 acre corn, soybeans, small grains and hay operation, plus an apiary and a 32 stall horse boarding facility. 6.) Raised bed vegetable production with poultry that uses horse manure delivered to the farm for fertilizer. 7.) A goat dairy. 8.) A farm demonstrating conservation practices like real no-till and cover crops plus information on how to reconstruct old barns. 9.) An ecological center and farm not only demonstrating all aspects of sustainable farming but providing many programs for children. 10.) A bunch of educational programs conducted by the Ohio State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Team, including instructions on drip irrigation and advanced wine grape production. (I can remember when Ohio State sort of looked down its over-educated nose at what we were calling sustainable farming.)

I am getting too longwinded for one post here, but the farmers in the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society are just as diversified with emphasis more on all kinds of grains and grain processing. Its publication, The Germinator, though little known beyond the membership, is growing into a very useful source of information about sustainable farming in general. I can’t resist one item in the Spring 2010 issue because it involves the scourge of pasture farming. The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has been releasing a little bug with the long name of Ceutorhynchus litura that kills Canada thistle. At least two Dakota farmers have tried it and say it works. Now that’s good news. ( ) Maybe not up there with plugging that oil well, but a whole lot more important that where sports stars want to play their games.

“No till” is a big white lieProgress threatens annual garden show

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