Tag Archives: farming

Friday Linkage 10/6/2017

This country is messed up in so many ways.  What has happened in the past weeks in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas are horrific reminders of the role our politicians play in responding to disasters and shaping our future.  However, we are saddled with Trump and his merry band of Republican sycophants who care for nothing more than self-adulation, guns, and tax cuts.  In reality, Trump cares only about self-adulation and Republicans really only care about tax cuts but both are willing to use the issue of gun rights to get their desired outcomes.

I do hold out hope that there is a better and more constructive future in the works as the coalition that has propped up the right wing for the past twenty years fractures under its own internal pressures and external demographic realities.

On to the links…

The McKibben Effect: A Case Study in How Radical Environmentalism Can Work—It’s not radical if the end goal is the survival of humanity as a species.  It’s only radical because the forces opposed have deduced that the easiest way to create opposition is to label something as radical in an effort to saddle it with semantic baggage.

Skiing IS Politics—The personal is political and it always has been.

New Era of Solar Power is Now Upon Us—According to the International Energy Agency, two-thirds of the power installed in 2016 was solar.  The same agency predicts that solar growth will be the highest of any energy source through at least 2022.

US Renewables Grew 10% In 1st Half Of 2017—That is a damn good number for the first half of the year given that the number usually spikes in the second half due to large projects coming on line before the year’s end.

Growth of Green Energy Sector Surges in Minnesota—Clean and green energy is producing a lot of jobs in a lot of places.  No one really thinks about Minnesota being a hot spot for solar, but solar is big business now.

What’s Up in Coal Country: Alternative-Energy Jobs—This is what the future looks like.  It is not Trump’s attempt to use clowns like Rick Perry to prop up the coal industry for the benefit of a few crony capitalists.  It is about providing jobs for people in an industry that can help make the world a better place.

Courts are Waking up to the Cost of Climate Change—The guy at the top and his minions—here’s looking at you Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke—may be tools of the fossil fuel industry, but it looks like the rest of the world is realizing the true costs of these fuels need to take into account externalities.

Here are the Actual Tax Rates the Biggest Companies in America Pay—As the debate over tax reform…errr tax cuts heats up in Washington D.C. take note of what is really happening.  American companies do not pay higher taxes than their counterparts in Europe.  However, you will hear this time and again in the coming months.  It is a right wing myth.

Americans Have Soured on Junk Food. Don’t Worry, Food Companies Have a Plan.—Americans no longer mindlessly consume ever more Big Macs, Whoppers, and whatever the hell Taco Bell is making today.  Oh, we still consume the veritable shit ton of junk food but the growth has stalled.  On to the developing world the titans of garbage in a paper sack say.

Bicycle Highway in the Netherlands Built Using Recycled Toilet Paper—Leave it to the freaking Dutch to build a bike path out of recycled toilet paper.

This Entire Barley Field was Planted and Harvested without Humans—Automation in farming may happen before automation in our personal automobiles.  I do not know what the positives and negatives are of this development but robotic farming is kind of cool.

Which Is Better for the Environment: Meatless Mondays or #NoRedOctober?—Why not do both?

Friday Linkage 7/31/2015

The end of July. School is only a few weeks away for my daughter. Where did the summer go?

On to the links…

Farmworkers Score Big in New Tomato Deal—The Coalition of Immokalee Workers just got Ahold USA to sign up to its program. This is a big win. Pressure is working.

Battle of Solar Pits Rooftop Against Utility-Scale Systems—Why not both? Seriously, why is there a conflict between these two? Oh right, follow the money…

Hillary Clinton Pledges Half a Billion Solar Panels for US—This has to be one of the easiest policy wins of recent memory. Let’s see…clean, emission free power from the sun for the next twenty five years after the panel is installed. I am sure Ted Cruz is pissed about this.

Hillary Clinton Still Won’t Take a Position on the Keystone XL Pipeline—Why is this such a hard thing for her to disavow? Keystone XL is a loser on so many levels.

Wind Energy Provides Europe With 8% Of Its Electricity In 2014-8% is a good number. I would like to see more.

Large-Scale Solar Near Parity In World’s Three Biggest Markets—When power from emission free sources is at parity with fossil fuels even accounting for the loss of subsidies we will have reached a major turning point.

First Ever US Offshore Wind Farm Gets First “Steel In Water,” No Turning Back Now—This is exciting because offshore wind has such potential. It can deliver clean, emission free wind power to the heavily and densely populated eastern seaboard.

Rocky Mountain Resorts Race to Defend their Businesses Against Climate Change—Those beautiful powder days are threatened by climate change. Skiing in late March is threatened by climate change. Does anyone care about climate change?

U.S. Craft Beer Volume Production up 16% through 1st Half of 2015—People keep waiting for the crash in craft beer explosion, but it just looks like a lot of people cannot get enough of craft beer:

Mid-Year-Craft-Production-Volume-2015-BeerPulse

Pour some more IPAs folks!

America Is Not Getting Fatter Anymore—This is amazing to me. People are consuming a lot less soda and actually paying attention to their health in terms of obesity.

Looking Up: How Farming Changed my Perspective on Rain—When you make your living from the land you take a whole new perspective on a lot of different issues. Rain is life instead of inconvenience.

Friday Linkage 9/27/2013

So, it looks like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the preponderance of global warming is caused by humans.  Boom, outta’ here!  While this may be hailed as a revelation in some quarters, it will be treated with disdain by a large chunk of the political establishment in the U.S. that treats any news about climate change by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing Christian rock.  Yes, I am looking at you Steve King.

Nonetheless, I am hopeful that the conversation can move beyond the whole “the science is not settled” debate.  Not likely, but I am hopeful.

On to the links…
Cherokee Bear Park May Be Sued By Tribal Elders For Violating Endangered Species Act–The fact that this place exists is a damn shame.  A similar park was shut down recently and the bears were relocated to a sanctuary.  PETA has been trying for years to get these animals released from hellish conditions.

In 2013, Worldwide Solar Power Installations Will Overtake Wind For The First Time–Part of it was a function of regulations and taxation, but solar is really coming on as a competitive source of energy.  Not just renewable energy, but energy overall.

Energy Needs Water and Water Needs Energy–The two are inexorably tied.  Without water there cannot be energy production and vice versa.  It’s one of the angles about hydraulic fracturing that often goes unreported.

Will Offshore Wind Finally Take Off on the East Coast–It’s a trend in Europe, but the U.S. has yet to utilize offshore wind resources.  Will that end with several offshore wind farms in the planning stages on the eastern seaboard?

India Plans To Build The Largest Solar Plant In The World–When solar power reaches the “India price” it should take off, so say the experts.  Guess what?  It’s already passed that boundary.  Get ready for liftoff.

How Algae Could Create Better, More Efficient Gasoline Than Corn–Algae is the next great promising biofuel.  Unlike first generation biofuels it does not compete as a food source and it can utilize marginal land.  However, with biofuels the promise always seems to be illusory.

Supermarkets Should Sell More Ugly Fruit–Walk into the produce section of your supermarket and it is a veritable cornucopia of good looking fruits or vegetables.  Now think back to the produce that comes out of your garden.  How much of the homegrown produce would conform to the beauty standards imposed by retail?  Not much I imagine.

The Solution to America’s Food Waste Problem?  Feed People–It seems so simple, but the systems need to be in place to take advantage of the tremendous waste that exists in the system.  The fact that we waste so much food while so many people go hungry.

Does Corporate Farming Exist?  Just Barely–Mother Jones magazine has an interesting look at the ownership structure of some sectors of the agriculture economy.  The good news is that corporate ownership is not yet monolithic.

Into the Wildfire–In a world where climate change is a reality, knowledge about wildfires will be increasingly important because it is likely that we will see more frequent and intense wildland fires.  Ugh.

Patagonia’s Radical Transparency Keeps Getting Traction–It’s great to see that a company is so committed to this level of transparency, but it is sad to think about how small of a player such a company is in the grand scheme of things.  Keep on keepin’ on Patagonia.

You Must Read—Rebuilding the Foodshed

Ultimately, the size of our individual contributions matter much less than the scale of our multiplied efforts.  Page 222

Do you ever finish a book and realize that it hits on all of the salient points you feel are important to an issue?  Do you ever flip through the pages and realize you have dog eared dozens of pages with statements that you want to go back to ruminate on later?

9781603584234Well, for me the book that most recently did that was Philip Ackerman-Leist’s Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable and Secure Food Systems.  Ackerman-Leist is an associate professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Farm and Food Project at Green Mountain College in Vermont.  So, the book has an academic tone throughout but that is more than compensated for by the fact that he just nails the issues confronting the burgeoning “food movement.”

Creating community- based food systems is one of the most intellectually challenging tasks of our age. Page 2

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Creating the local, sustainable, and secure food system that we need to be successful in the future is going to be a challenge.  Great.  This is a country that has a hard time kicking the habit of soda and Big Macs.  How exactly are we going to build a new food system?  I digress…

But if we ignore the less obvious and more disconcerting aspects of our food systems, then we certainly cannot begin to understand the full scope of the realities we face.  In the end, rebuilding local food systems requires us to connect with the neighbors we’ve never known as much as it does to share the bounty with our comfortable acquaintances.  Page 100

This why it’s going to be hard.  We are going to have to face the ugly reality that the problem is us and we are going to have to interface with people that we are not comfortable around.  It may take a village, but you need to know your village first.

One thing the Ackerman-Leist is very clear on throughout the book is that local, in and of itself, is not necessarily a virtuous thing.  I think as the food movement has matured more and more people have come to the realization that food miles, easy to conceptualize but fraught with shortcomings, is not the be all and end all to define food.

In the end, it’s not just about where the food was produced.  We must also bear in mind the impacts of its production, processing, storage, distribution, marketing, preparation, and even reclamation.  Where matters immensely in the food system world, but so do how, why, by whom, and for whom.  Page 23

What this book does supremely well is link the changes in our food system to changes in our patterns of behavior at home.  As we cook less in the home, we have outsourced that task to factories and restaurants.  This represents energy that is embodied in the meals we consume that we do not prepare for ourselves.  Most people do not think of food this way, but the author is very clear that food represents energy.  Once you break down food this way it is easier to see the flows through the economy.

The health of the soils that we grow our food in also represents energy because synthetic fertilizers are primarily derived from fossil fuels.  The current standard practices in agriculture are too energy dependent to be sustainable in the long run.  Ackerman is even more alarmist:

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you are compelled by a sense of urgency for local self-reliance or for national security.  Soil fertility is key to both.  Page 62

I cannot imagine seeing a right winger bloviate that soil health and fertility is a key component of our national security.  But, soil health and fertility are about more because reclamation of those attributes represents an economic opportunity:

…compost can be locally produced under local control with local dollars creating local jobs and resilience.  Page 82

This is an argument that is lost when the food movement brings its case forward to a national audience.  The creation of these local, sustainable, and secure foodsheds is about our economy just as much as it is about our heath and our environment.

Like all conversations about the food movement, the discussion inevitable turns back to the kitchen.  Why?  Because this is the one place where there is a tangible connection between our actions and the impact on the food system:

We can’t lose sight of the importance of the kitchen.  Hours spent in the kitchen and our time at the table are both critical elements in relocalizing food systems. Page 213

As you can tell, I am a big fan of this book because it brings home so many of the threads weaving through the food movement in a coherent way.  Tying it all together is critical to the future of the food movement because it is easy for these efforts to become Balkanized into rival factions that fight for pyrrhic victories. In some ways, this is where I feel the environmental movement has found itself fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

One part of the book that I just loved was the placing of the bicycle at the pinnacle of energy efficient transportation:

Bicycle transport wins the efficiency game in linking local farms to consumers right in the neighborhood. Page 50

Can you just imagine fleets of two wheeled delivery people fanning out to distribute fresh produce across a city?  I cannot either, but it’s one hell of a compelling image.

NOTE: I read an uncorrected proof copy of the book, so my citations may not line up with the actual pages in the final sale version.

Friday Linkage 7/20/2012

The drought that is gripping the U.S. is now the worst since the 1950s.  The Dust Bowl seems just around the corner.  Maybe not.

On to the links…

U.S. Leads the World in Cutting Emissions—Yep, the U.S. is leading the world in cutting its emissions of carbon.  A lot of it has to do with the recent recession, but there are other positive trends at play like the decommissioning of coal fired power plants, increased vehicle fuel efficiency, and a general reduction in transportation fuel demand as a result of changing habits.  I wonder why no one is making a bigger deal out of this?  It’s not like the recession was a secret.

What’s Killing Coal in West Virginia?—How about we finally realize that this is an environmentally harmful way to generate electricity that harms just about everyone who touches it along the way?  Just saying.

Denmark Ups Its Wind Power Ambition to 50% by 2020—Not to make the rest of the world feel like slackers by comparison, but Denmark is ahead of itself on its goals for wind power as a percentage of total generation.  So, what do they do?  Up the target.  Go Denmark!

Why We Pay Double for Solar in the U.S.—Basically, the balance of system costs in the U.S.—non-panel hardware, permit fees, installation, etc.—drive the price of residential solar higher than anywhere else in the world.  This sucks.

Nevada Plant Combines Solar and Geothermal—This just seems like one of those sensible ideas that everyone smacks their forehead after seeing it in operation.  Why didn’t I think of that?

New Biofuel Process Dramatically Increases Yield—Researchers at Michigan State University have created a process that can increase the energy recovery of biofuel processes by a factor of 20.  Not 20 percent, but 20 times.  The key here is obviously scale.  However, if biofuels are to become a critical piece of our energy future—which I believe is necessary—then innovations like this are critical components.

The Corn Identity—Just take a moment to ponder this infographic:

The U.S. will make ethanol from corn that would be capable of feeding over 400 million people.  This is why ethanol, as it is currently produced, is not a viable solution.

Fracking in U.S. Lifts Indian Farmers—An unintended consequence of the fracking boom in the U.S. is that Indian farmers in Rajasthan have a newly lucrative market for their guar.

Has Organic Been Oversized?—A good article on the divergence of the organic food movement from its origins to its current corporate state.  It poses the really good question of the rule of the law versus the spirit of the law.  No earth shattering or ground breaking insight, just a solid look at a disheartening development.

Jump Starting Urban Agriculture in San Francisco—I am all for producing as much food as possible in every location possible, but have we blown the potential for urban agriculture up just a little bit?  A few books and blogs make everyone think that they can have a little homestead on the freeway.

Bronx May Get 5 Acre Rooftop Farm—Maybe I was being a little cynical about the potential of urban agriculture.  Five acres in town has a lot of potential to put fresh, local produce in people’s hands.

Small Scale Grains a Part of the Locavore Puzzle—One component of our food system that is hard to source locally is grain.  Mass industrial production was almost perfectly suited to these plants as opposed to tomatoes or peppers or even corn.  It’s hard to grow a row of wheat in your home garden.  It looks like some people are out to solve that riddle.

Fermented Food Big on the DIY Scene—Without going all Portlandia on you…we can pickle that!

Otter Attack—I guess the otters in Minnesota did not get the memo about being nice.  How rude!

Zubaz Unleashed—This has nothing to do with the environment or greener living.  It’s just an amazing story.  When I was a kid these pants were huge.  Everyone wanted a pair and if you had a pair you wanted two.  Then one day the things just disappeared only to be seen on gameday parking lots worn by overweight, middle aged white men in team colors.  Even then it was considered in poor taste.