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Stepping, rather than jumping, towards sustainability

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 25, 2012

As several CSANR faculty members have agreed to do, I am responding to the question posed by Center director Chad Kruger on September 18th: Achieving farm and food system sustainability: incremental vs. transformational pathways?

In sustainable agriculture circles, and especially among agroecology proponents, it is asserted that a well-designed farming system will encourage self-regulating populations of pests (called homeostatis) while sustaining yields at acceptable levels. Furthermore, this state of self-regulation is claimed to be a property of the system as a whole (system-level emergent). Therefore, when pests do more damage than acceptable, the system is assumed to be wrong; lacking in diversity, using the wrong inputs, too much of this or too little of that, or the system has not been in place long enough to allow these properties to emerge. This assumption has led to the call for more systems-level research, the “transformational pathways” of this Blog series. Read more »

Achieving farm and food system sustainability: incremental vs. transformational pathways?

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 18, 2012

While the general concept of “sustainability” has largely gained acceptance in mainstream society, there remain significant differences in what people mean when they use it. Perhaps the most fundamental difference of opinion is whether sustainability can be achieved (if it can be achieved at all) through incremental changes or whether it requires societal transformation. For farm and food system sustainability, is it possible to shift our existing system in the right direction with small, positive changes or do we actually need to completely redesign our farm and food systems? Read more »

Feeding the World?

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 6, 2012

Earlier this year The Economist posted an entry entitled “How to Feed the Planet (continued)” on their Feast and Famine blog. The author presents data that demonstrates the role of international trade (particularly the increase in agricultural exports from Brazil and Russia) in meeting the increased demand for food for the growing populations in Africa and Asia over the past two decades. The author argues that in order to continue meeting the increased demand for food to feed a growing population, we will need to find another region currently under-producing its resource potential (available arable land, water, sunlight, etc.). The Economist suggests that Sub-Saharan Africa is the next logical region of investment in agricultural productivity growth. Read more »

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Doin’ the Dots: farmers market data collection engages community participation

Posted by Colleen Donovan | August 30, 2012

How many customers do we have? What do customers care about most? How much do they spend?

And how do you answer these questions with no turnstiles, barcodes, or cash registers to be found? The very charms of shopping a farmers market – a weekly intimacy with the product and producer; low-tech, hand-crafted displays; and the intermittent transformation of parking lot or city street into colorful, bustling marketplace – can make data collection a real challenge. And these questions don’t just matter to farmers and other vendors, they matter to the farmers market as a whole. Read more »

Love farmers markets? Thank your market managers.

Posted by Colleen Donovan | August 24, 2012

August is peak season for Washington State’s 160 farmers markets. With the rain in check and days long, farmers are out in full force with their tree-ripened peaches, corn picked that day, heirloom tomatoes, farmstead cheeses, grass-fed meats, and more. We estimate that farmers markets support around 1,400 unique farms. Some of these farms have been selling directly to customers for decades, building profitable family enterprises. Others are just getting started, experimenting and learning each season. Regardless of scale or product, farmers markets provide a vital marketplace for these farm businesses. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Food Systems
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Frequently Asked Questions about climate change and agriculture: Part 3

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 14, 2012

To get you up to speed, here are the first two questions:

1.The EPA says agriculture only accounts for 6% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on bigger problems such as coal fired power plants and automobile emissions instead?

2. Do “food miles” – the distance that food travels from producer to consumer – really matter to the climate?

Today’s FAQ is

Is organic farming “climate-friendly”?

While there are many general principles and concepts that are broadly considered part of the culture of organic agriculture, modern “organic farming” is actually now legislatively defined as a specific set of agriculture and food production standards regulated by a diversity of national and international bodies. The USDA National Organic Program defines Certified Organic as:

“…a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” (Source: USDA NOP Website)

The fact that there is a substantial diversity of management principles, practices and production systems utilized by organic farmers to achieve a balanced set of environmental outcomes makes it impossible to provide a scientifically definitive answer to the question of whether organic farming is “climate friendly”. Therefore, the best approach to addressing this question is to evaluate a set of organic management principles and indicate whether they have generally “positive” or “negative” impacts on global carbon, greenhouse gas, and energy balances.

Read more »

Frequently Asked Questions about climate change and agriculture: Part 2

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 9, 2012

Last week I introduced a series of frequently asked questions and began by addressing the first:

The EPA says agriculture only accounts for 6% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on bigger problems such as coal fired power plants and automobile emissions instead?

Today I’ll address the following:

Do “food miles” – the distance that food travels from producer to consumer – really matter to the climate?

Not only is this a “frequently asked question”, but it has become a fairly contentious issue in both the commercial retail industry as well as in local / community food systems discussions. As with many catchy slogans, the phrase “food miles” hints at a larger truth but is actually too simple to adequately address issues of transport of food. Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Energy, Food Systems, Sustainability
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