Category Archives: #sustainablefarming

W.O.N. Book review: The End of Plenty — Joel K. Bourne Jr

Author, journalist and agronomist Joel K. Bourne Jr refuses to mince words in his eye-opening book “The End of Plenty: The Race to Feed a Crowded World” (Scribe 2015). He argues coherently that the world is running out of food and that we must meet this challenge to avoid the accompanying social and environmental disaster such a policy failure will bring.

Part warning and part survival manual, the book begins by examining the reasons behind the 1943 Bengal famine. In doing so the author revisits the controversial views of the Reverend T. R. Malthus on population and demographics; a recurring reference throughout the book. By showing how we are “locked in a never-ending two-step” between our population growth and what we can produce to sustain us, Mr Bourne discusses Malthusian views in a more mature light, emphasising the Reverend’s espousal of “balance” of population vs sustenance.

This intricately researched book has Mr Bourne travelling the world to point out the increasing deficiencies of the planet’s food supply. He goes to the Punjab, Ukraine and Egypt to demonstrate how yields gains from the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s have failed to keep up with population growth, expected to be around 10 billion for the world by 2050. While obviously a great admirer of the work of Norman Borlaug (the “Father of the Green Revolution”), the author isn’t afraid to document the health horrors of excessive pesticide use that has accompanied the revolution.

However while underlining the dreadful consequences of failure to feed the world, this remains an optimistic book. Mr Bourne advocates education, equal rights for women, organic farming and access to capital and land as just some of the changes needed to avert catastrophe. One of the key strengths of the book is the way the author blends differing views at various points of the book, showing that there are a number of ways to improve food productivity.

However he pulls no punches, berating the Western-style diet, advocating behavioural change, pointing out that our excessive reliance on meat has put enormous pressure on the world’s food productivity. The book is full of extraordinary food consumption facts to back up these claims. One is that, of the 50,000 edible plants on the planet, 80-90 percent of our food comes from three crops: wheat, rice and maize. This either directly, or indirectly through the meat we eat.

At once disturbing and hopeful this is a magnificent, almost utopian, book advocating equal rights for women, natural farming, voluntary family planning and access to funding and land as the keys to staving off the nightmare of excessive food shortages. As relevant to the household as it is to students of food production, NGOs and farmers, The End of Plenty is a fascinating call to action to save our planet.

Rich Bowden is owner of Rich Bowden Writing and specialises in writing about food, renewable energy, small business and organic products. He loves a coffee and a yarn, preferably at the same time!

Lift-off

Two years ago I watched a film that changed my life. I am one of those suckers who can really let a good documentary punch me in the gut, but this was different. This film, about sustainable farming, was an epiphany. As a Los Angeles based actress, I never had any particular interest in farming as an occupation, although I am passionate about my food and where it comes from, so along with working at farmers’ markets on the weekends so that I could get to know the people who grew my food, I had started growing some of my own vegetables. When I watched this film, I was brought to such ridiculous awestruck tears as I witnessed this thing of beauty called a “forest garden.” A forest of food, designed so that everything works together in a closed system requiring very little human input: no weeding, no tilling, no fertilizing, no pesticides. Most of the human work is simply harvesting the bounty. One acre of this Eden could feed ten people, which is twice the yield of a conventional monoculture farm. The particular one featured in the film contains more that 500 species of edible plants that host a diverse population of wildlife and insects that keeps everything in balance. It seemed too good to be true, or like some sort of anomaly. But this was all made possible by thoughtful observation of wild, rugged nature, which tends to thrive without modern human intervention. I fell madly in love with the very romantic concept of land stewardship, a way of living cooperatively with nature as opposed to attempting to dominate it. To be truly healthy is to live in and support a healthy ecosystem. I was like Varuca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate factory, I wanted that, and I wanted it NOW.

I realized that food is my religion. Not only do I love growing, cooking and eating it, but I worship good food as communion with the divine. It’s how we are made, how we build ourselves and our environment. Its the currency of life. To eat consciously is to be aware of life and death as part of a single whole that cycles through time. I can live in a way that supports this great force that let us exist for this small moment to taste its deliciousness, or I can bite the hand that feeds me, break the cycle of life and death by removing ingredients from the mix for the next go around and turning them into useless waste. I can foster biodiversity and opportunity, or I can force monoculture upon our soil and weaken the bed of life. My happiness and sense of self-worth is wrapped up in this cycle, and I want to keep it spinning.

I became pregnant with my first son a month later. He is now nine months old, and since becoming pregnant, Ryan (my husband) and I have found our big life plans being put on fast forward. We are currently packing up and getting ready to move across the country to the mountains of Western North Carolina. We have always seen living on some land with animals, a garden and backyard access to good hiking as goal for the future–maybe when we retire, we thought. Actually, after seeing that documentary I had devised a 10-year plan to build a forest garden on my 1/4 acre lot in the San Fernando Valley. It was a noble plan. I have huge respect for the urban homestead movement, and folks such as those at The Growing Home  are paving the way in sustainable living within the urban grid. But somewhere along the line while I was pregnant we started clicking around on landwatch.com, and we became enchanted with the idea that we could live more affordably outside of Los Angeles and have access to trees and streams! Also, I was yearning to be apart of a community that shared a love for taking care of it’s natural home. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I was beginning to feel like books and youtube were not enough for me. I needed regular hands-on learning from actual people right in front of me. Our research brought places like Portland OR, Austin TX and Missoula MT to our attention, but then once we started learning about Asheville NC, we got really excited. This is a place that loves artisanal food. DIY culture and self-sufficiency are big there and have a long history in Appalachia. There is a major Permaculture community, and people are getting their heads together and making the place a hub of innovation. When our son was 5 months-old we booked a flight out there to check it out. We couldn’t believe how welcome we felt. We actually made several friends in the mere week we there, found some job leads, and fell in love with those Blue Ridge Mountains. So, feeling a little crazy and a lot YOLO, we made our decision. As soon as we got back to LA we started getting our house ready for sale, and now here we are, getting rid of most of our stuff and putting the essentials in boxes.

We plan on starting from scratch in our new home, to literally hand-build our new life from the ground up. We will be building a cob house from the materials already present on our land once we find and purchase it. Much more on this later. We thank you for following our story. As we research, develop new skills and build our adventure, we hope that our experiences will be of some value to those who are interested in taking a similar journey or are simply curious about the same things we are such as: homesteading, natural building, permaculture, food forests, vegetable gardening, chickens, goats, foraging, medicinal plants, slow food, nutrient dense cooking, fermentation, and natural birth. We also encourage feedback and welcome advice and comments from anyone who’d like to add their two cents. As I said, we have a lot to learn, and we hope that our blog can be a space for learning and collaboration around these topics.

Saying goodbye to friends and family and jumping into the unknown is not easy. The life we’ve made here is what is making our future possible, and we are so grateful for the support of our loved ones. Without them, we wouldn’t have the courage to take this leap. We see this blog as another way to keep in touch and keep y’all up to date with our crazy new life. Thank you so  much for reading!

via Lift-off | high as earth.

No-till Seasonal Rotation

It was challenging to time my rotation this Spring.  I had waited and waited and tried to coax out every pumpkin I could get.  Then when the production made a swift drop, I went with a hunch and climbed up on the tractor to mow the vines and the grass. There is a point, that even after pruning, and amending the squash plants, where their production levels take a severe drop.  For me this came just short of year #2 when the well tended vines were about 21 months old.  I watched daily for male blooms, but when even their numbers were down, I made the drastic cuts and rebuilding that I will be rewarded for later this Summer.

The no-till patch is created in a clock like pattern of raised mounds of homemade soil.  The mounds were constructed from brewery waste hops, horse manure, mulch, coconut fiber, and fish emulsion created in April of 2013.  The images show the following: The mowed field grass dried in the sun, checking the farm made soil mounds for quality, new cardboard was sheet mulched into the center of the “clock like” growing patch. This card board builds soil, retains water, and will give the worms a great place to thrive.  I started to wet the cardboard with the overhead, then the rains came, which was very good luck. Next image is of roughly 1/2 of the clock patch being mowed and altered to a time.  I have weekly orders to fill, so I must leave as many active plants going as possible, while I begin the new plants.  Weather can be very up and down this time of year (hot days quickly turn to cold horizontal rains like today) Growth can be sluggish for the vines that like normal summer type days.  Next image, I am pulling back the cut grass to show the growing mounds that became lost in a sea of vines and creeping grass.  These mounds will be weeded, amended with farm made fish emulsion, then surrounded by cardboard as in the circle center.  Then I will replant with a variety of heirloom squash, some tomatillos and okra…maybe some eggplants…

It felt risky to chop any vine that was producing, but I know as those new productive vines sprawl in a couple of months, I will be sitting back in my chair, sipping a lime aid, thinking that this was exactly what needed to be done.

 

 

via No-till Seasonal Rotation | squash and awe.

The Change Underground System

 

 

 

Just released on Amazon!!!

A bargain at $0.99!

The Change Underground System: Click here.

A hands on “how to” guide to no-dig gardening!