Promoting Health Through Organic Agriculture as a Leading Sustainable Organization
What's Growing On
Pablo Neruda's "Ode to an Onion" (translation)
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
clear as a planet
round rose of water,
of the poor.
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.
We love feedback, let us know what you like or things we could do to improve by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekly Produce Report
The holiday push is next week already! This is the holiday where cost is not the driving factor for customers; it's all about selection, quality and higher-end offerings. Things like Belgian Endive, asparagus, and pineapple will sell at a very different pace than on a normal week. Read the food magazines to see what is hot and think outside the box. The storms hitting California right now will keep berries questionable, so rely on other holiday classics like citrus, beans, and brussel sprouts to capture your customers and keep them intrigued. With the overlap between the desert and central valley, watch for deals. Feature what makes sense for the holiday, but keep in mind that during the week after Christmas and the first week of 2015, sales will spike on anything healthy that will help customers keep their New Year's resolutions.
Organic farming more drought resistant: Report
File photo: An employee moves through a green house growing tomatoes at the Clear Brook Organic Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont. Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images
Robert Ferris l Special to CNBC.com
When it comes to groceries, "organic" and "sustainable" usually mean "expensive."
But the supposed productivity gaps between organic and conventional farming may be a lot smaller than thought-and organic farming may be especially competitive during droughts like the one currently crushing California's massive agricultural sector.
A new analysis of more than 100 studies conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, concluded organic farming created a unique mix of biodiversity in the soil and surrounding environment that is difficult to mimic with synthetic chemicals. The researchers analyzed what they say is the largest data set ever compiled on organic and conventional methods across an index of about 50 common crops.
The findings were published Tuesday in the journal the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.
They did find a productivity gap-organic farms are almost 20 percent less productive than conventional ones, a number still lower than conclusions drawn by many previous studies. The group also thinks that that gap could be reduced or even totally eliminated by further investment in organic farming research, education and seed breeding.
"With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it's critical to look more closely at organic farming because, aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining," said Claire Kremen, one of the researchers who worked on the report.
The assertion that organic farms can compete with conventional ones-especially during droughts or other adverse weather-is not new.
Separately, the Farming Systems Trial at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania has been comparing the productivity of organic and conventional farms since 1981. The institute uses common organic farming methods in some plots and farms more conventionally in others, using popular pesticides and growing genetically modified organisms in its conventionally farmed plots. It found that the organic plots on its own property outperformed the conventional ones, especially when things turned tough.
The organic plots were especially more resilient to droughts, and other weather events such as frost and flooding.
Much of the difference comes down to what is in the soil, said Kristine Nichols, who is the chief scientist for the Rodale Institute. The microbes, fungi and other organisms that build up in organically farmed soil and the immediate environment create mutually dependent relationships with plants-fungi provide channels that carry nutrients and water through soil, for example.
As a result, organic field soil absorbed more water and needed less water overall. The organic soil also seemed to store water better and do a better job of replenishing groundwater supplies. So there is much more water in the soil for plants to draw on when dry spells strike. Plants without these kinds of networks-such as those found in conventional farming plots-actually secrete water into surrounding soil to mimic these channels.
"I like to say that microorganisms are like little engineers," Nichols said. "They build out these systems and engineer the environment to be beneficial for the plants so that the plants will feed them in turn."
Using technology to mimic these natural methods would be incredibly difficult and expensive, Nichols said. "The only way we could do this more efficiently is if we took needles and injected nutrients right into the plants."
But of course, the notion that organic farming can feed the world has its skeptics.
"Such claims are absurd," molecular biologist Henry I. Miller told CNBC in an email. Miller was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology and a supporter of genetically modified foods. He is now a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.
Miller contends that genetic modification techniques have already given us drought-resistant crops, and argues that farmers have turned to conventional methods precisely because they are more efficient. "That's why genetically engineered crops were grown last year by 18 million farmers in 27 countries and why there is an extremely high 'repeat index,' the percentage of farmers who are repeat customers for genetically engineered seeds" such as those produced by Monsanto, said Miller in a report he wrote and forwarded to CNBC.
Some farmers are also skeptical, especially on the water issue. "Organic HAS NOTHING to do with water usage," Joel Nelson, a California citrus grower and president of the California Citrus Mutual growers association, wrote in an email to CNBC. "Our organic producers achieve a yield, generally 40 percent less than conventional producers, but all of them require the same amount of water," he said.
Even if a plot of land can produce using organic methods, other questions remain. The Rodale farm is about 12 acres, and Miller cited research in his report doubting whether such results could scale up to larger farms.
Another big question is whether it is feasible or even possible to begin converting the entire U.S. food system-or even California's system alone-to a primarily organic one. Kremen said it could be difficult, without even factoring the higher labor costs that would be involved. It would require vast economic, political and structural changes. But she also said the "true price" of conventional agriculture is not reflected in the grocery store, but comes in hidden costs in the form of taxes for subsidies, environmental damage and health problems. Currently, less than 2 percent of all government funding for agriculture goes to organics, according to Kremen.
"The surprising finding here that conventional agriculture pulls ahead so slightly despite all of this extra investment," she said.
This CNBC article from Tuesday, December 9, 2014 can be found online here.
A Better Tomato, a Better Tomorrow
A coalition of breeders, farmers, and chefs are saving us from a bland future by seeding a new wave of vegetables bred for flavor. Photo by Shawn Linehan l ediblePORTLAND
One rainy evening in late September 2014, an industrial warehouse on a dead-end street in Northwest Portland was transformed into a kaleidoscopic cross between a farmers' market, a networking group, a small-plates restaurant, and the agricultural section of a particularly well-run state fair. It was the Culinary Breeding Network's first-ever Variety Showcase, an event that brought together plant breeders, seed growers, farmers, produce buyers, culinary educators, and some of Portland's best chefs to taste and evaluate the most exciting new open-pollinated vegetable crops being grown here in the Pacific Northwest.
A rainbow of violet-shouldered tomatoes of every size and shape sat side by side with baskets of firm, glossy chiles-some perfectly smooth, some with deep ridges running from blossom end to stem. An array of winter squash-from tiny vermillion acorn types to hulking, dusky Marina di Chioggia-butted up against a lineup of storage onions displayed in cross section to showcase the magenta striations between layers of snow-white flesh. Chefs from the kind of Portland restaurants that regularly get coverage in the New York Times prepared contemporary dishes showcasing each vegetable, while produce buyers and breeders, sipping whiskey sours, swapped tips on which squash stores the best.
It's tempting to dismiss a bunch of chefs swooning over exotic carrots as a farm-to-table cliché, but the sense of excitement in the crowd came from more than the habanada samples (all of the habanero flavor, none of the scorching heat). This was not just a rare gathering of immensely dedicated and skilled food professionals, it was an important refocusing on the most fundamental aspect of farming and cuisine: the seed.
Few farms save their own seeds. Most rely on a few major seed companies that control the majority of seed production in North America. Historically, the development of new seed varieties was a core public service offered by land-grant universities with strong ties to local communities. Land-grant universities were established through the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which gave states land to establish a nationwide network of universities "to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts...in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."
These almost exclusively public universities (Cornell and MIT are the only private land-grant universities) have played a pivotal role in the development of food resources in the United States. Land-grant institutions are responsible for addressing critical technical agricultural concerns like disease and pest resistance, crop development, drought tolerance, and soil and mineral research. They operate experiment stations and extension programs that work with communities to develop new plant varieties and solve issues related to food production. They even run nutrition education and food business development programs.
These services are vital, but the focus is beginning to shift. Land-grant universities are facing declining federal funding, and retiring seed breeders aren't being replaced. Today, the major decision makers about what we grow to eat are no longer taxpayer-funded researchers or regional farmers; they're national agribusiness companies. These firms value just four major attributes when they develop or purchase new genetic lines: yield, storage, shipability, and uniformity.
Read on here.
Keep playing for your chance to win!
From Last Week: Online registration is open for the Northwest's best organic trade event - ORGANICOLOGY! The 2014 conference will continue to focus on sustainability, farming and seed issues, as well as a wide range of pertinent and timely topics. Seed producers, farmers, distributors and retailers, researchers and educators, chefs, food policy activists, and of course, eaters of great food - all find topics of interest and sources of inspiration at Organicology. Find out more on the website: www.organicology.org. What date does registration close for this event?
How does trivia work?
Each week we tuck a juicy bit of organic knowledge into our produce report. Everyone who answers will be entered into our monthly drawing. Then, the first week of every month we'll pick a winner and announce it here in the Market Report. The monthly winner will get to choose between an OGC t-shirt, apron or hat. Reply with your answer by Wednesday after receiving your Market Report to be entered in the drawing.
Send your answers to: email@example.com
We encourage everyone to join in the fun--the more the merrier!
Organic New Variety of the Week!
Who Gets Kissed?
New Sweet Corn Variety for Organic Farmers Hits Marketplace: the variety is the first in a series of open-pollinated sweet corn releases.
Port Townsend, WA - Organic Seed Alliance and the University of Wisconsin-Madison are proud to announce the release of a new sweet corn variety called 'Who Gets Kissed?'. The open-pollinated variety is the first in a series of organic sweet corn releases developed through participatory plant breeding, where farmers and formal breeders collaborate on farm-based breeding projects to improve agricultural crops.
"Our approach to plant breeding is what sets 'Who Gets Kissed?' apart from other sweet corn varieties in the marketplace," says Micaela Colley, executive director of Organic Seed Alliance. "'Who Gets Kissed?' was not only bred under organic farming conditions, but organic farmers were equal partners in the breeding effort."
The story of the new variety's development starts with Minnesota farmer Martin Diffley. Diffley couldn't find an organic sweet corn variety with adequate vigor and that tolerated his farm's cool soils. He approached Dr. John Navazio, OSA's senior scientist at the time, who put Martin in touch with University of Wisconsin-Madison sweet corn breeder Bill Tracy. Tracy was already selecting for cool soil emergence in sweet corn, and a collaborative plant-breeding project emerged.
'Who Gets Kissed?' is an open-pollinated sweet corn variety with yellow and white kernels that yields well, tolerates cool soils, and is resistant to common rust and corn smut. It also demonstrates superior flavor and sweetness.
"Most of the sweet corn varieties in the marketplace that demonstrate similar traits are hybrids," says University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Adrienne Shelton, who has worked on the project as a member of Tracy's lab. "Hybrids are developed to be genetically uniform, where the ears are the same color and same size, and they mature at the same time. 'Who Gets Kissed?' has similar traits, but was developed for organic growers who appreciate a more diverse, open-pollinated sweet corn."
"And because it's open-pollinated," she adds, "growers are encouraged to save and select seed from their harvests to adapt the variety to their own local conditions and market needs."
The variety's name is based on a game played at corn husking bees - a historic community event that coupled husking corn with fun activities, such as dancing. Corn was much more genetically diverse back then, and when a person found an ear with all red kernels, known as a "pokeberry ear," instead of yellow kernels, they could choose one person among the group to kiss.
The new variety is available for purchase through High Mowing Organic Seeds.
"'Who Gets Kissed?' is an example of the amazing results that can be achieved in open-pollinated and collaborative breeding, where the consumer, farmer, breeder, seed grower and all other stakeholders are involved," says Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Organic Seeds. "Innovative varieties with a dynamic process like this connect the dots and foster a deeper engagement in developing the food system of the future."
This organic sweet corn breeding project was funded in part by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and USDA's Organic Research and Extension Initiative.
Organic Seed Alliance advances the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. Learn more at www.seedalliance.org