Urban farmers find success leads to eviction

It’s a prickly chore Clark loathes but one she can’t avoid as her Big Muddy Farm has had to move from one vacant lot to another even though the business was thriving.

Urban farms like Clark’s are being evicted from center cities across the nation where they’ve become a much-remarked-on driver of urban revival in recent years, having brought healthy food, commerce and eye-pleasing greenery to dreary neighborhoods. During the recession, downtown landowners and leaders offered up plots for free to get new vitality on empty streets.

Now the thriving farms are being routed by another urban phenomenon: the hordes of people moving back downtown to live, which is turning green spaces into prime real estate. Plots where low-income residents raised vegetables, where community groups trained at-risk youth and where small garden businesses took root are being snapped up for construction of new apartments and townhouses.

“You have to plant as if you’re going to be there 10 years, even if you know it probably won’t work that way,” said Clark, a co-founder of Big Muddy Farm. She added, “It stinks to put in the time in an investment that doesn’t last.”

The evictions are sad but inevitable, said Amy Brendmoen, a City Council member in St. Paul, Minnesota, which recently booted an urban farm from city land to make way for housing construction. Even the most robust farms can’t earn enough to compete with a real estate development.

“You couldn’t help but smile when you went by,” she said of the ousted Stones Throw farm. “They were working so hard. You could see the harvest. It was incredible.”

No estimates exist on the number of urban farms, but their popularity soared in the past seven or eight years. Many started as community projects.

It’s unclear how many will survive. Big Muddy’s partners are hoping to hold onto their main farm, a series of raised beds and unheated greenhouses on three empty lots between a nonprofit theater and houses dating to the early 1900s.

But in Denver, Lisa Rogers last month closed her Feed Denver organization, which promoted urban farming in the booming city. The fact that the farms’ beautifying effect actually helps endanger them is a bitter pill to swallow.

“Developers will call and say, ‘We have a piece of land, can you pretty it up for two years?’ Rogers said. “As available land gets squeezed and prices go through the roof, like in Denver, it’s nearly impossible to find land and stay there.”

Even public property isn’t safe. Recently, a 6,000-square-foot nonprofit farm called GreenLeaf was evicted by the Denver Housing Authority so the land could be sold to a private housing developer. At-risk high school students worked at the farm, which is now moving next to a middle school.

“We’re going to have to look for new customers, and our old ones are going to have to look for a new produce source,” said Cody Meinhardt, the nonprofit group’s executive director.

In many center cities, residents are lamenting the disappearance of the farms, or their move to the suburbs.

Laura Staugaitis regularly bought produce-filled boxes from a local farmer near Denver, but said she can’t justify the 45-minute trip the purchase now requires.

“The drive made it a negative experience rather than an enriching experience,” she said.

The pressure for urban land is especially intense in the fastest growing cities like Houston.

In 2008, neighbors in a financially and racially mixed area just southwest of downtown signed a $1 a year lease with a property owner to turn an overgrown lot into the Midtown Community Garden.

“My goal was to get people out of their homes and apartments so they could relate to each other, and we did that,” said resident Scott Harbers, who helped set it up.

But attempts to get local government to acquire the site as a public space failed, and last year it was sold for nearly $1 million to a housing developer.

Some urban farm promoters are pushing local officials to begin setting aside plots for urban agriculture because of the health and community benefits. In the Seattle area, officials have designated portions of parks and other public land. In Los Angeles, community groups are working to encourage developers to have farming and green space designed into housing projects, including on rooftops.

“The vacant lot story is cool, but it’s also short term,” said Jesse Dubois, a leader in the Los Angeles urban farming effort.


Follow Scott McFetridge at: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge .

Source URL:http://www.gazettenet.com/businessmoney/19693746-95/urban-farmers-find-success-leads-to-eviction

Valley crops fall victim to water-mold blight

Even in the risky world of farming, a particularly nasty risk is Phytophthora, whose very name sounds scary.

A water-mold blight that can kill entire crops of pumpkins, cucumbers or peppers, Phytophthora capsici is especially problematic because once its spores get into soil, they remain there for years, dormant until the next heavy rains. (Unlike its more common cousin, late blight, capsici’s spores are transmitted by water, not wind.)

“It can take out 100 percent of their crop,” said Katie Campbell-Nelson, UMass Extension vegetable specialist. “There’s a few farmers around here who really specialize in butternut squash, and they’re at particular risk. This is a really big problem for them.”

watermoldBy all accounts, relatively dry conditions this spring and summer kept it from being a particularly bad Phytophthora year around the Pioneer Valley, but farmers such as Mike Wissemann in Sunderland and Peter Melnick in Deerfield reported losses this year.

“We’re running out of places. If you have the right weather conditions, it can rear its ugly head,” even a decade after a field was infected, said Melnick, who said his Bar-Way Farm lost about four of 10 acres planted in butternut squash, after the low-lying field got 4 or 5 inches during one warm September spell. “It’s getting to be a real challenge.”

That challenge is likely to become more intense, with good cropland limited and New England projected to become more susceptible to heavy rain events, with warmer temperatures because of climate change, according to Campbell-Nelson.

But one ray of hope could come from Campbell-Nelson’s test planting of “Caliente” brown mustard as a bio-fumigant cover crop at the UMass Crop Research and Education Farm in South Deerfield.

The brown mustard, chopped up and worked into the soil at the proper time, got the same reaction that Wasabi might draw from someone whose nose was “burned” by the release of the gas it generates, the researcher said with a laugh.

Her test this year of Brassica juncea mustard, measured against control plots of oats on infected soil in the greenhouse, showed it suppressed the disease.

“I got samples of Phytophthora that had been taken from fields around here,” she said. “There are several mating types, so I wanted to make sure we got a good sample of the disease we have in this area.”

Then she inoculated each pot with active “zoospores, which were swimming. If they had a host, they were going to find it. I was creating a disease triangle perfect for the disease: I flooded those peppers, I soaked them, I put the disease in there. I really wanted to see if I could kill those plants.”

The peppers eventually had fewer symptoms of the blight and lived longer, but Campbell-Nelson acknowledged that since it is harder under natural conditions to be certain the mustard is incorporated into the soil during active zoospore, or even semi-active sporangia cycles, it’s probably important to do repeated plantings.

Because the mustard cover — which has no commercial value, especially because it’s chopped into the soil — is from the same Brassica family as kale, it is unlikely to be used by diversified Pioneer Valley growers who want to rotate their fields to other kinds of crops.

And even with repeat cover-crop plantings, mustard is not likely to work wonders by itself, but should be seen as part of what Campbell-Nelson calls a “holistic solution” that also includes reduced tilling, well-drained soils, raised beds and rotating the Phytophthora-susceptible hosts with other crops.

“You should do everything,” she said. “This should be part of integrated management rather than relying on any one method. Never rely on any one method.”

‘No silver bullet’

Wissemann, one of a handful of area farmers who has tried using mustard as a bio-fumigant, reported after losing a pumpkin crop at his Warner Farm to the blight, “There’s no silver bullet, but it helps.”

He added, “We started swapping land with other farmers to prevent monoculture, but part of the risk of that was that Phytophthora ended up being transferred (by equipment moving from field to field.) This is all before we knew what we know now.”

And yet, he added, on a low-lying field that had once been used for growing peppers before it was inundated by the adjacent Connecticut River years ago, “We haven’t had susceptible crops on that field for, gosh, 15 years, and I put some pumpkin out there last year. And sure enough, they had a problem.”

Another recent UMass Extension research project, by plant pathologist Nicholas Brazee, tested for Phytophthora spores in the Connecticut, but found that no samples of that variety, leading to the conclusion that it only spreads the blight if it carries water over already infected soil onto another field.

In some cases, Wissemann and Melnick agreed, the pumpkins had been harvested several days before they showed signs of the disease.

Angela Madeiras, a diagnostician at the UMass Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, said that in addition to flooding of infected fields with poorly draining soil, a leading way Phytophthora spreads is by workers carrying infected soil on their boots, or on farm equipment.

But she added that it is unclear where the problem, which exists in other parts of the world, came from, or how much of Pioneer Valley farmland is affected.

“It’s hard to know how widespread it really is,” Campbell-Nelson said. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, because it only presents itself when there’s a flood … condition.”

She added, “Farmers who have had trouble with this disease have gone as far as suggesting they grow cucumbers on trellises, even though that’s on acres and acres, because they’re so at a loss for what to do.”

Even then, added Madeiras, the spores can be splashed up onto the crop by rain. Chemical fumigants exist, but they tend to be expensive and harder and harder to find.

The good news is that practices like using mustard as a cover crop, rotating crops, increasing soil drainage, and reducing tillage can help somewhat, Campbell-Nelson said.

Source URL:http://www.gazettenet.com/home/19439500-95/some-valley-crops-fall-victim-to-water-mold-blight-phytophthora

Community College Campus Goes Native

When you drive up the entrance road to Massasoit Community College in Brockton, MA, the first thing you see is a prairie!   That is, you see a lawn gone wild with natural grassland vegetation just before you see the College Administration Building.  Amazing!

Massasoit Community College has made a major statement about how a public space can be landscaped to provide habitat for native pollinators!

IMG_4049The Massasoit Meadow in the Making is the brainchild of faculty member Melanie Trecek-King and her landscape ecology students.  And her colleague, Michael Bankson’s students presented the results of their efforts at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Baltimore, MD in August, 2015. Their work was entitled Restoring habitat with native flowering plants benefits wild bees in an urban landscape. The students have been conducting research about native pollinators under the Massachusetts STEM starter grant over the past year.

IMG_4046According to Melanie Trecek-King, as much as 12% of the grounds of the college has been turned into pollinator habitat and it has made a significant difference in the native bee and pollinator population on campus.

USDA/NRCS Chief Jason Weller said in a recent statement, “the foraging opportunities for honeybees — and native pollinators like butterflies, bumblebees, and other wild bees — are greatly enhanced when they can access vast fields of wildflowers and other native plants. But these fields are being broken up by agriculture and covered up by development.”   USDA recently announced a $4 million program to assist farmers create more habitat to support declining bee populations.

Like most college campuses, the standard landscaping right in the heart of the Massasoit campus used to feature typical sterile landscape plants and bark mulch.

bedsThese areas have been turned into native plant pollinator gardens by Trecek-King and her students, both making the campus more beautiful and more ecologically friendly.

bed2This important work offers students both the opportunity to gain real world practical experience in establishing and maintaining a sustainable landscape as well as research opportunities in landscape ecology.

IMG_4050Congratulations to Massasoit Community College for leading the way in Massachusetts toward creating a more ecological sound and educational landscape on their campus!

All Things Local welcomes college students

atlfrontAmherst’s own downtown cooperative market (and experiment in social justice) welcomes college students to stop by and participate in a real world form of “small d” democracy.  Easy to find at 104 North Pleasant St. (across from Barts Ice Cream).

Oh yes…. they also have some really good food!  Like fresh vegetables and fruit from local farms!

atlfoodAnd a really good cup of 75 cent freshly brewed coffee from the Pierce Brothers (with local milk and local honey if you like)!

atlcoffeeAnd local, natural skin care products too!

atlfaceDid I mention the locally made Kombucha?  They also have local beers, wines and hard cider!

atldrinkOn hot late summer afternoons, you MUST try the locally made ice cream sandwich!

atlsnowDid I mention the locally made cookies?

atlcookeAnd if you need gifts for friends and family, they also have local crafts!

atlcraftsIf you made it this far in this post, you may be a fan!  For more pictures, check them out on Instagram at: https://instagram.com/atlcoop/

Finally, they LOVE to have college student volunteers.  To sign up, fill out the form here: http://allthingslocal.coop/volunteer-survey/


Local is the “new organic”

Written by  Deena Shanker for Quartz


Local food is following organic into the mainstream

As consumers pay more attention to what they eat, the desire for food produced nearby is starting to gain more traction. In a survey of more than 1,000 US consumers conducted by Cowen and Company, 39% of respondents ranked “where food comes from/’what’s in my food’” as either very or extremely important, beating the 29% who placed the same level of importance on healthfulness. And while both “local” and “organic” labels are (often mistakenly) considered indicators of health, 43% of participants said that they would be most likely to purchase groceries with a “locally sourced” label, compared to organic’s 19%.

These consumers seem to be putting their money where their mouth is: Sales of local food increased to $11.7 billion in 2014 from about $5 billion in 2008, according to the USDA. “Local food is rapidly growing from a niche market to an integrated system recognized for its economic boost to communities across the country,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told NPR’s The Salt. (Sourcing foods locally also increases food security, even if its environmental benefits are sometimes questionable.)

Supermarkets and restaurants, meanwhile, are trying to meet this demand. Grocery stores are stocking local foods in their produce sections and offering customers the opportunity to sign up for shares in Community Supported Agriculture, Supermarket News reported earlier this month. (CSAs are subscription services between farms and customers, where the full season is paid for upfront and a box of fresh produce is delivered or picked up each week.)

Online grocer FreshDirect has a “Local” section of its site that even lets consumers shop according to the state the food is from.

Chefs see the growing interest in local ingredients, too. In a recent “What’s Hot” survey on restaurant trends conducted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), 82% of the nearly 1,300 chefs surveyed identified locally sourced meats and seafood as a hot trend on menus, while 79% said the same about locally grown produce. That made them the top two trends out of the 198 listed. “Organic produce,” meanwhile was number 25. (The bottom two: Chicken wings at 13% and gazpacho at 10%. So 2012.)

To get in line with that trend, restaurants put the word “local” or “locally” on 11.3% of US menus in 2014, according to data from Datassential. That’s still behind organic’s 18.7%, but it’s catching up. In each of the past four years, “local” has been added to menus at a faster pace than “organic.”

atlas_NJe1wc1t@2x (2)While grocers and restaurants are trying to meet the demand for local food, factors like geography, logistics and weather can make this a challenge, especially if the menus weren’t originally designed with local ingredients in mind. LYFE Kitchen, a chain that incorporates sustainability into everything from its building design to the way it cleans tables, only realistically aims for 20-30% of its springtime ingredients in its New York location to be locally sourced, Fortune reported.

Startups like Good Eggs and Nextdoorganics can get local groceries to individual customers in a handful of cities, but anyone that cooks or sells in large quantities faces bigger hurdles. The NRA recommends cultivating relationships with nearby growers, shrinking menu offerings, and managing customer expectations—all local, all the time is a nearly impossible goal for even the most dedicated eatery.

Original Post

Local food could be a “big deal”

FarmersMarketBy Dan Nosowitz

Eating a local diet—restricting your sources of food to those within, say, 100 miles—seems enviable but near impossible to many, thanks to lack of availability, lack of farmland, and sometimes short growing seasons. Now, a study from the University of California, Merced, indicates that it might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. “Although we find that local food potential has declined over time, our results also demonstrate an unexpectedly large current potential for meeting as much as 90 percent of the national food demand,” write the study’s authors. Ninety percent! What?

Researchers J. Elliott Campbell and Andrew Zumkehr looked at every acre of active farmland in the U.S., regardless of what it’s used for, and imagined that instead of growing soybeans or corn for animal feed or syrup, it was used to grow vegetables. (Currently, only about 2 percent of American farmland is used to grow fruits or vegetables.) And not just any vegetables: They used the USDA’s recommendations to imagine that all of those acres of land were designed to feed people within 100 miles a balanced diet, supplying enough from each food group. Converting the real yields (say, an acre of hay or corn) to imaginary yields (tomatoes, legumes, greens) is tricky, but using existing yield data from farms, along with a helpful model created by a team at Cornell University, gave them a pretty realistic figure.

Still, the study involves quite a few major leaps of faith because it seeks not to demonstrate what is possible for a given American right now but to lay out a basic overview of the ability of local food to feed all Americans. It’s not just projecting yields for vegetables grown on land that is today dominated by corn and soy. The biggest leap of faith is perhaps an unexpected one and is surprisingly underreported: Why do we even want to adjust our food supply to be local in the first place?

“Local food is kind of largely rejected by a lot of scientists from earth and environmental fields because the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation of food from the farm to the retailer is actually really small compared to all the other emissions,” said Campbell, an associate professor at UC Merced. (Zumkehr is one of his students; the two fused their research to attempt to answer this question.) We take it for granted that eating locally must provide a huge boost to our environmental bona fides, but if the only consideration is emissions from the trucks, trains, and planes that bring us food from elsewhere, we’re mistaken. Looking at our diet as a whole, the total amount of emissions that come from transportation is somewhere around 10 percent—hardly the biggest factor. The bulk of emissions emerge from the farm itself, from the actual growing and production of the food.

So, Why Should You Care? Campbell thinks there’s a distinct connection between eating locally and tackling those farm-based emissions. The elephant in the room, he said, is the move from an animal-based diet to a plant-based one. Environmental and food scientists trying to reduce emissions are focused much more intently on that switch than on local food, but Campbell sees the two as related, largely because those who eat locally also tend to eat a much higher concentration of plants. “You walk into a farmers market and into a grocery store, and it’s like two different worlds, you know?” he said. “A grocery store has some vegetables hidden off to the side, and at a farmers market it’s all about the vegetables. That’s not a trivial issue.”

To tie all of those new acres of vegetables imagined in the study to local consumers, each acre was assigned to a nearby city, with no overlaps. This is tricky, especially in dense megalopolises like the Northeast Corridor and Southern California; land in, say, northeastern Pennsylvania lies within 100 miles of both New York City and Philadelphia. “We added this optimization model that decided which units of land to allocate to which particular cities to maximize the total number of people in the U.S. who could be fed locally,” said Campbell.

So that 90 percent number doesn’t mean that any given American can have 90 percent of his or her food needs met by local food, nor does it mean that 90 percent of all Americans will have all of their needs met by local food. Instead it’s a national average: In some parts of the country, people could have all of their needs met, but in, say, New York City, only about 30 percent of the people could have their food needs met by local food (assuming that we tear up all current crops and plant more smartly). Oddly enough, not all major cities have this problem. Chicago, for example, is a wonderland in terms of local food potential. “Chicago stands out. All the high-population cities seem to have lower potential, but Chicago has a lot of cropland around it,” said Campbell. Chicago’s advantage is partly because, unlike in the Northeast, Southern California, or even South Florida, it doesn’t have any major satellite cities nearby. But it’s also because there are a ton of farms within even 50 miles of Chicago, much more than in the Northeast, for instance.

Dense cities aren’t just difficult to feed because they’re dense; the Northeast also suffered a huge collapse in nearby farmland as farming moved to the Midwest in the 20th century. But that farmland, or a lot of it, anyway, could still be resuscitated and used to feed the cities. Campbell sees that as a possibility with a huge amount of potential. “If you put the farms close to the cities, it opens up new opportunities to basically recycle water and nutrients between the cities and farms instead of relying on things that might require fossil fuels,” he said. A robust urban composting program, for example, could supply nearby farms easily, reducing the reliance on fertilizers that maybe aren’t so good for the environment. (Cheap synthetic nitrogen fertilizers put a massive strain on the environment in about a dozen ways; using less of them can only help.)

“This is kind of the first attempt to quantify what the potential is, so we decided with the first number to just see what the upper limit is, the greatest possibility,” Campbell said. This isn’t a change that we could just put into effect with a few clever laws or behavioral changes; it would require an overhaul of the entire economic system and would probably cause the collapse of the world economy as we know it.

But that isn’t the point. The point is to have a baseline, an upper theoretical potential, of whether feeding the country locally is even possible. It certainly seems that it is. The next step, both for Campbell and Zumkehr and for the others that will inevitably riff on their work, is to refine this data. Right now it doesn’t include any climate data, for example: An acre of land in Michigan does not have the same growing season as an acre of land in California’s Central Valley. (Currently, the model takes an average of the annual production of each acre, but it doesn’t include any tips for how to conserve the harvest so that it feeds people above the Mason-Dixon Line during the winter.) Another issue: Our food preferences now are significantly global, and there are lots of important and popular foods that can’t be grown in the U.S. at all (think coffee or chocolate).

It’s important to understand the limits of this study, but it would be equally foolish to disregard it. This is research that thoughtfully begins the conversation about legitimately feeding the country locally. It’s a conversation that’s going to get louder and more important in the years to come.

Original Post

Author Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. He has written for Popular Science, The Awl, BuzzFeeᴅ, Modern Farmer, Gawker, Fast Company, and elsewhere.