IMG_1027color cropScience in Action to Improve the Sustainability of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Food Systems

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Perspectives on Sustainability - CSANR Blog

  • CAFOs manure use on small farms – from liability to asset

    January 18, 2017

    This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

    TariqMy research work at Washington State University deals with environmental problems associated with big agricultural enterprises, with a focus on large dairy operations. However, I got an opportunity to hear the concerns of small acreage farmers during the Tilth Conference. A glance at the State of Washington statistics tells us that about 89% of the farms are classified as small farms. Like other small businesses, these farms are valuable community assets, generating both income and employment as well as serving critical environmental, aesthetic, and social functions. These small, family owned and operated farms produce a range of commodities from fresh vegetables and fruits to meats, dairy products, flowers, and grain crops. These small entrepreneurs, particularly those with organic practices, have a variety of challenges and fewer choices. A big challenge for these small organic farms is getting financial support. Many banks are reluctant to approve loans to them, as financial institutions do not consider very small operations to be viable agriculture. In contrast to the perceptions of lenders, however, consumer support is growing for small scale, local agriculture.  Farmers are seeing a rise in community support for small farms and a preference for local and organic produce options, thus farmers are challenged to meet the demand with little financial support. Therefore, the potential for locally available nutrient sources could decrease the input cost.

  • Mycelial Connections and Symbiotic Networks at the Tilth Conference

    January 4, 2017

    This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

    img_9234There is something fascinating and beautiful about gathering like-minded people under the same roof to talk about shared interests. There is a connection that is felt amongst the attendees at Tilth Conference. There is a depth of relationship that fills up the hallways of each convention center across the state as the conference travels from region to region. Conversations take place around tables where friends look forward to seeing other friends and colleagues this one time a year. For most, Tilth Conference is sacred ground.

    This connection is further encapsulated in the joining of three organizations into one Tilth Alliance. That formal alliance sufficiently represents the alliances forged and fostered at this conference. Like the keynote speaker, Michael Phillips, constantly showcased through his lectures on fungal symbiosis, there is both strength and mutualistic benefits that come from connections. This breadth of connectivity is what encourages fellow farmers, scientists, researchers, interns, and advocates of the organic and sustainable agriculture community to press forward in the midst of what might feel like daunting opposition at times. Furthermore, it is the depth of these relationships that promote a sense of expectation for attending the conference each year.

  • Cover crop best bet is monoculture, not mixture

    December 21, 2016
    Can you see 17 species in this cover crop mix? Photo: A. McGuire.

    Can you see 17 species in this cover crop mix? Photo: A. McGuire.

    Cover crops are great. If I thought I could get away with it, I would just grow cover crops in my garden. They protect the soil, feed microbes, build soil structure, add root channels, and support beneficial insects. I think they look cool too. When cover crop mixtures got popular a few years ago, I got excited and grew a 17 species mix. It looked really cool, I mean, diverse, with all sorts of seeds that became all sorts of plants.  I took pictures, showed my kids, and even had a neighborhood open garden event! (Well, maybe not that last one) Then I grew some vegetables after the cover crop. They did OK. Just OK. I wanted it to be the best tomato/squash/cucumber/lettuce crop ever, but I could not tell the difference between these vegetables and those I had grown after many previous un-biodiverse cover crops. Recent research results may explain this.