Published Jan 19 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jan 19 2009

Food & agriculture - Jan 19

by Staff

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletinhomepage

Smithsonian: Dig it! The secrets of soil

Smithsonian Museum
Discover the amazing world of soils with images and information from the Dig It! The Secrets of Soil exhibit now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
(January 2009)
For those who can't make the exhibit, the Smithsonian website has online features on soil. If only we spent as much money learning about soils as we do developing children's breakfast cereals ... -BA

New book: "Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in an Era of Oil Scarcity"

Earthscan (book publisher)
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in an Era of Oil Scarcity
Julia Wright

When other nations are forced to rethink their agricultural and food security strategies in light of the post-peak oil debate, they only have one living example to draw from: that of Cuba in the 1990s. Based on the first and - up till now - only systematic and empirical study to come out of Cuba on this topic, this book examines how the nation successfully headed off its own food crisis after the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc in the early 1990s.

The author identifies the policies and practices required for such an achievement under conditions of petroleum-scarcity and in doing so, challenges the mainstream globalized and privatized food systems and food security strategies being driven through in both industrialized and more vulnerable developing regions. Paradoxically, the book dispels the myth that Cuba turned to organic farming nationwide, a myth founded on the success of Cuba's urban organic production systems which visitors to the country are most commonly exposed to. In rural regions, where the author had unique access, industrialized high-input and integrated agriculture is aspired to for the majority of domestic production, despite the ongoing fluctuations in availability of agrochemicals and fuel.

By identifying the challenges faced by Cuban institutions and individuals in de-industrializing their food and farming systems, this book provides crucial learning material for the current fledgling attempts at developing energy descent plans and at mainstreaming more organic food systems in industrialized nations. It also informs international policy on sustainable agriculture and food security for less-industrialized countries.

About the author(s)

Dr Julia Wright has worked for over 20 years in sustainable and organic agriculture research and development. She is currently Head of Programmes at Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association) in the UK, and on the steering committees of the Bioregional Development Group, Transition Town Leamington, and Canalside Community Foods CSA.

Chapter headings as follows:

1: Cuba: Providing the Model for a Post-Petroleum Food System?
2: Post-Petroleum Food Systems: Transition and Change
3: Researching Cuba
4: The Historical Context: Cuban Agriculture and Food Systems of the 20th Century
5: Life After the Crisis: The Rise of Urban Agriculture
6: From Dependency to Greater Self-reliance: Transformation of the Cuban Food System
7: Cuban Food Production in the 1990s: A Patchwork of Approaches
8: Institutional Coping Strategies: Transition and Decentralization
9: Perspectives on the Mainstreaming of Local Organic Food Systems
10: Lessons for the Future: Cuba Ten Years On

You can order here:
(16 January 2009)

Land rental deal collapses after backlash against 'colonialism'

Julian Ryall and Mike Pflanz, Telegraph (UK)
One of the world's largest land deals, a scheme to lease African farmland to rich countries to grow their own crops, has collapsed amid accusations of 'neo-colonialism'.
Madagascar was poised to sign a 99-year agreement to rent 1.3 million hectares of land to South Korea's Daewoo Logistics Corporation to plant maize and palm oil for export.

Food-importing countries with little arable land, mainly in Asia and the Middle East, are increasingly looking overseas to secure food supplies after the prices of staple foods rocketed last year.

But the practice has drawn criticism that it harks back to colonial-era "plantation agriculture" where rich outsiders force subsistence farmers off fertile land to grow export crops.

Now the Daewoo plan, the largest in Africa covering an area of roughly half of Madagascar's current arable land, has been put on hold after the Malagasy people protested that it would make them a "South Korean colony".
(15 January 2009)

The Freedom Garden

Paul Gardener, GRIT ("Celebrating Rural America Since 1882)

The place of the American garden, at least inasmuch as it has become a societal movement from time to time in our history, was outlined beautifully by GRIT editor Hank Will in his blog post on how gardening is good for the soul. The point as I saw it, of the article, was that there is just something about being able to get our hands into the soil and to coax from it a thing as tangible and basic to life as healthy, nutritious food for very little cost, that is good for our soul. I couldn’t agree more! As he outlined our recent history of war gardens, victory gardens and urban collective gardens I found myself thinking that this has been a phenomenon that has largely come about since the time of the industrial revolution when we, as a nation, began to separate ourselves from our agrarian roots. It was natural then, when wars or depression or economic necessity dictated it, that we would gravitate toward something that could bring us together and provide us comfort. Being able to feed ourselves and being able to bless others with food can do this like few other things.

Hank made the statement, in his previous post, that he didn’t “know what to call the new wave of gardening frenzy, but [does] know that it is exciting, and will, no doubt, play a role in healing our culture.” To this I replied “Freedom Gardens” and it has sparked a great conversation I think. He’s asked that I give a little background on how this name for a movement came about so I’ll do my best.

Let me give you a little background. In my first post here at GRIT, I talked about how I had had an awakening within myself. When I realized that, while I was depressed about not being able to drop everything and move to the country and have myself a farm, I was squandering the land that I already had right in my backyard. That epiphany changed the whole way I looked at gardening. My mind had been limited to growing a garden as merely a hobby, while the “real” farming required having acres of land and tractors and so on. The ability to look at my own small .25 acre suburban lot as an urban farm of sorts came about quite by accident when I stumbled onto the website of the Dervaes family in Pasadena CA called Path to Freedom. There I found the story of a family that not only gardened on their tenth of an acre lot in the heart of Pasadena (hardly the country) but was actively supporting themselves through their efforts both physically, in that they largely ate from their garden, and financially in that they had a thriving niche market selling their excess to local markets and chefs. That’s right, excess food from a 10th of an acre lot. It’s not unimaginable when you consider that they regularly average over 6000 lbs of food from that same 10th of an acre.

As we faced issues at the beginning of 2008 of global climate change, increasing costs of oil (which by the way is the basis of all of our commercial “inputs” like fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), regular warnings about tainted foods in our stores and economic pressures that were starting to limit our food buying power the Dervaes family launched a site called “Freedom Gardens” and with it put a name to a movement that was already beginning to form not only here at home, but world wide. Whether you’re a young family trying to make ends meet or a rural farmer that want’s to not just grow commercial crops but actual food as well or a suburban parent worried about the future of the earth for your kids this is a movement for you. If you’re a city dweller who wants to eat organic foods but can’t afford the exorbitant costs at the whole foods stores or someone worried about providing consistent, healthy food to your family in the event of a crisis then this is a movement for you.

The point, I think, is this; gardens ARE good for our souls. Not merely because they’re therapeutic or because they provide healthy foods or even because they give us a hedge against lean times but rather because, if you look at the big picture, they offer us that thing that we all crave so dearly. They offer that thing that drove our founding fathers to strike out on their own. They offer Freedom.

If I sound a bit zealous, well, that’s because I am. I was able to have my eyes opened for me to a world of possibilities a few years back, and returning the favor has been a large part of the reason I write. I hope you find success in your own freedom gardens no matter the size or scope and would love to hear about your efforts. In the event you decide to check further into the Freedom Gardens online community (which is totally free btw.) please drop by and say hi to me. You can find me there as “CornerGardener” and I’d love to help you find your way around.

(8 January 2009)
GRIT is part of traditional Americana. As the site says:

For more than 125 years, Grit has helped its readers live more prosperously and happily while emphasizing the importance of community and a rural lifestyle tradition. In each bimonthly issue, Grit includes helpful articles, humorous and inspiring articles, captivating photos, gardening and cooking advice, do-it-yourself projects and the practical reader advice you would expect to find in America’s premier rural lifestyle magazine.

Related: Freedom Gardens and the 100 Foot Diet Challenge.

Submitted by the folks at "Path to Freedom" (mentioned in the article), who write:
Think of it as Victory Gardens for the 21st century. Facebook meets the Farmer’s Almanac: A social networking site for eco pioneers who want to fight soaring food prices and global warming by growing their own food. At, novice and expert growers from all over the world can gather to post success stories, ask questions, and challenge one another to ever-increasing levels of self-sustained living.

To motivate new gardeners and focus their efforts, Freedom Gardens offers challenges like the 100-Foot Diet. With a nod to the 100-Mile Diet and other "eat local" initiatives, the 100-Foot Diet urges people to garden in whatever space they have available, be it a small patio or a spacious backyard, then prepare at least one meal a week using as many homegrown ingredients, and as few store-bought ingredients, as possible.

This interactive site uses social networking software to connect visitors with other gardeners in their area. They can share tips about local climate and soil issues, display which challenges they are participating in on their profiles, and find others nearby doing the same challenge.

Growing for 21st century food security, is an online social community of gardening enthusiasts who are fed up with foreign oil, frequent food miles and high food prices.