Symbiotic Systems

Aquaponics is a great example of a symbiotic system where the living beings in the system all rely on each other. Without the plants the fish would pollute the water, without the fish the plants would be nutrient deficient, and without the bacteria the nutrients would not be converted into usable forms. Understanding that nature is a complex, interconnected system that can be used to our advantage has had a resurgence in the last couple of decades. I say resurgence because much of this knowledge was around hundreds of years ago, but it was lost as farming transformed into monoculture models and technology developed pesticides and fertilizers.   This article tells the story of how a book titled The Power of the Duck has transformed small rice farms in Japan. In this book, a Japanese rice farmer explains how he uses ducks, like his ancestors did, to replace his fertilizers and pesticides.  The ducks eat pests, condition the water, and provide fertilizer. The farmer also sells the ducks, making additional profit. What particularly caught my eye about this article was the picture at top of the article of the man spraying pesticides (at right). He is wearing respiratory protection that is inadequate for the job, no eye protection, and no protection from absorbing the pesticide through his skin. This picture symbolizes what I love so much about sustainable and ecologically minded farming: it protects human life. By not using pesticides the duck/rice farmer raises his profits, creates a better products, keeps harmful chemicals from entering the environment, and protects the health of himself and his family. What’s not to...

Alternative Fuels: Can seaweed help us be more green?

While it is obvious that we need an alternative to fossil fuels, there has not been a fuel solution that comes without any major side effects. A couple of years ago, I remember the excitement around ethanol made from corn; however, with the staggering amount of people dying from starvation in this world, I could never get behind something that is competing so much with food. New technology (such as electric, hybrid, etc.) is promising, but the fact is that we need to find a solution for the cars that are already on the road. One of the areas that I am really excited about is biofuels made using algae and bacteria. I found this interesting article about a new company using bacteria to create ethanol by digesting seaweed.  Since seaweed grows underwater, it doesn’t have lignin, which is used for structure and support in land plants. Without lignin the seaweed can be digested and made into ethanol by bacteria much more easily. What I found so fascinating about this particular company is that they had to bioengineer a new type of bacteria that could digest the seaweed efficiently. Bioengineering has many applications, and bacteria could even be engineered “for producing, say, jet fuel or butanol.” The best part of this not only is it not competing with a food source as important as corn, but it can also produces three times more ethanol per acre than corn . http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/23/unlocking-seaweeds-next-gen-crude-sugar/ -written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator 2011-2012  ...

Food Deserts in the United States

To follow up on Dawn O’Brien’s post about the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), I just wanted to post a link to the USDA’s Food Desert Locator. This program maps out areas that are considered food deserts within the United States based on census data. Here is how the USDA defines a food desert: “The HFFI working group defines a food desert as a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store: To qualify as a “low-income community,” a census tract must have either: 1) a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, OR 2) a median family income at or below 80 percent of the area’s median family income; To qualify as a “low-access community,” at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles)” While this topic is extremely important, I was a little disappointed that they only consider access to “supermarket[s] or large grocery store[s]” when there may be other sources of local food within an area. Isn’t access to farmer’s markets, small grocers, and family farms just as important as big grocery stores? What do you think? Check it out here: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/FoodDesert/ -written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator...

New Program to Fund Food Retail Outlets in Food Deserts

As reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Congress included $32 million in funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in the recently passed “megabus” appropriations bill for FY 2012. The initiative aims to fund food retail outlets in food deserts. HFFI will provide one-time loan and grant financing to establish, expand, or renovate supermarkets, grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers markets, and other food retail outlets in underserved low to mid-income communities in rural, suburban, and urban areas across America. The goal of this legislation is to reduce the number of Americans living in “food deserts,” or areas where there is inadequate access to healthy foods. In addition, HFFI will help create new permanent jobs and combat obesity and its associated diseases by providing healthier foods to more Americans. The initiative is modeled after the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative,which turned $30 million of state seed funding into $190 million of additional investment to open 88 new or improved fresh food retailers since it launched in 2004. Of the FY 2012 funding for HFFI, $22 million will come through the Department of Treasury and the remaining $10 million through the Department of Health and Human Services. The $22 million from the Department of Treasury will be awarded to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) who will in turn lend to retail food outlets expanding food access in food deserts. The appropriations bill reserves at least ten percent of the Treasury funds for efforts in “persistent poverty counties,” or counties “that [have] had 20 percent or more of [their] population living in poverty over the past 30 years” based on the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses....

Reality or Myth? Will eating locally grown foods reduce your carbon footprint?

It is estimated that the average meal travels well over 1,200 miles by truck, ship and/or plane before it reaches your table. Locavores often cite “food miles” — that is, the distance food is shipped to market — as a reason to eat local. Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, professors at Carnegie Mellon University, say that transportation accounts for only 11 percent of total greenhouse-gas emissions associated with transporting food, while 83 percent is related to production. The best thing you can do is to cut back on consumption of red meat, which Weber and Matthews say is responsible for producing 150 percent more greenhouse gases than chicken or fish. Choosing organic produce, grown locally in the most auspicious conditions — in a manner that requires less transport, less fertilizer, and no pesticides — does factor into the size of your carbon footprint and measurably benefits your health too. Curious to know how ecological you are living? Take the ecological footprint quiz to find out just how BIG your footprint is.   -written by Dawn O’Brien, Nourish The Planet...