Perspectives on Sustainability RSS feed

Inspired by the mission of Seattle Tilth

Posted by Lederson Ganan | January 25, 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.

Lederson GananDid you know the mission of Seattle Tilth is “to inspire and educate people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system”? Well, after attending my first Tilth Conference in November 2016 in Wenatchee, I can say that I was encouraged to contribute to this mission. My name is Lederson Ganan, I am a graduate student in Plant Pathology at WSU, and I wrote this blog to share some of the most interesting aspects and topics that I want to highlight from this conference. It was a great experience for me; most of the presentations I attended were so interesting, and being it my first time in Wenatchee it was a good opportunity to meet other students, as well as professionals and farmers. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
4 Comments

The Original Horsepower

Posted by Crystal Allen | January 23, 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.

Crystal AllenBefore mechanized farm equipment, there were animal-powered implements. Before that there was man-powered farming, and before agricultural crops were domesticated there were hunters and gatherers. All of these methods still exist today in various arrangements; some are utilized more than others. The size and scale of the farm operation are factors that play into what methods are used. Combinations of these methods are common at a typical farm.  As an owner of a family hay farm, my personal experience includes mostly mechanized farm equipment, but I’m intrigued by these other systems.  Here, I examine a small-scale re-energized method of farming, using animals to carry out duties on the farm. Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
3 Comments

CAFOs manure use on small farms – from liability to asset

Posted by Tariq Khalil | 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. Read more »

Mycelial Connections and Symbiotic Networks at the Tilth Conference

Posted by Brendon Anthony | 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. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
1 Comment

Cover crop best bet is monoculture, not mixture

Posted by Andrew McGuire | 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. Read more »

Flex Cropping – Storing More Carbon Under Challenging Environmental Conditions

Posted by Georgine Yorgey | December 16, 2016

Residues from more frequent cropping feed the soil by adding organic matter. Grower Bill Jepsen pictured. Photo: S. Kantor.

Organic matter – the organic component of soil – is key to soil health. Organic matter serves as a reservoir of nutrients for crops, provides soil aggregation, increases nutrient exchange, retains moisture, reduces compaction, reduces surface crusting, and increases water infiltration into the soil. And organic matter is closely related to soil organic carbon, the carbon stored in organic matter. Soils with high levels of organic matter have higher levels of carbon, and consequently also benefit the climate by “sequestering” carbon that otherwise would be in the atmosphere.

In the rain-fed croplands of the Pacific Northwest, wheat-based agriculture has historically mined carbon out of the soil. Near Pendleton, winter wheat grown every other year depleted soil organic carbon up to 63% over 80 years of cultivation.[1] Re-building soil carbon is thus an important task for supporting continued agricultural productivity across the region. Read more »

Farm Incubator Programs Offer Strong Foundation

Posted by Janel Davisson | December 14, 2016

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.

orchard-picMy name is Janel Davisson, I am a senior at WSU in the Organic Agriculture program. I attended the Tilth Conference last year in Spokane and I was excited to get the opportunity to go again. Last year I really enjoyed the varied topics of discussion and the practical knowledge that was shared, and was looking forward to hearing from people working in their field of passion.

This year in Wenatchee one of the workshops I attended was on farm incubators by Kate Smith, a graduate student at WSU. The current studies on incubator farms are miniscule at best, partly due to the infancy of this program. The goal of these farms is to introduce new farmers into the system and get them a solid foundation to begin their farming careers. Going into this workshop I had an elementary knowledge of what an incubator farm entailed. I knew that larger farms would lease out small plots of land to up and coming farmers and provide infrastructure and knowledge shared by landlords and other incubator farmers. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which these farms provide for the new farmers. Viva Farms in Mount Vernon not only provides the land, but they also work with the local school to provide an in-class education and on-farm practicum on how to run a farm. One of the biggest surprises to me was that they also subsidize capital loans to the farmers to help them get started. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
2 Comments

Comparing effects of herbicides, fertilizers, and tillage on the soil

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 8, 2016
Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

Is this better than an herbicide for the soil? Photo: United Soybean Board.

In a past post, I argued for the use of an herbicide instead of tillage to kill a soil-building cover crop. My post was mostly observation of the damage of tillage on the soil as compared to the lack of damage, at least visually, from the herbicide. But others suggested that herbicides may not be as benign in the soil as I portrayed them. Here is the latest science on the topic.

A series of reviews have been published on the effects of herbicides on the soil, starting with Bunemann et al. in 2006. They concluded, “The herbicides generally had no major effects on soil organisms.” More recently, a review by Rose et al. (2016) found, “Overall, the majority of papers reported negligible impacts of herbicides on soil microbial communities and beneficial soil functions when applied at recommended field-application rates.” Read more »

Resiliency achieved by sustainable agriculture

Posted by Corina Serban | December 5, 2016

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.

corinaMy name is Corina Serban, and I am currently working towards my Master of Science in the Horticulture department at Washington State University. Attending the Tilth Conference for the first time gave me an ideal opportunity to network with other professionals and learn a lot from the workshops presented.

This year’s conference focused on change and resiliency. It brought ideas and people that inspire organic and sustainable farming. I personally found this event to be valuable to me as a Horticulture graduate student. Through my research, I want to contribute to the development of pre- and postharvest management strategies to reduce physiological disorders related to calcium deficiencies on ‘Honeycrisp’ apples. Even though my research approach is on conventional orchards, I have always had a passion to know more about organic and sustainable tree fruit production. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed being in the natural world and had my own garden. I grew up with values that show how important is the respect for the land and the care that is an integral part of growing healthy and nutritious crops. After sharing my ideas with others who were passionate as well about organic and sustainable agriculture, I felt like I was in the right place.  I could express my opinions and learn about new ideas and technologies in sustainable agriculture. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
2 Comments

Crop rotation: In praise of deliberate, sequenced disruption of natural systems

Posted by Andrew McGuire | December 1, 2016

For years, researchers have been looking to polycultures, biodiversity in space, as a way to improve agriculture (Trenbath 1974; Tilman et al. 1997; Cardinale et al. 2011; Finney and Kaye 2016). Behind this research is the idea that nature is the best model for agriculture. Because we find that nature is generally a polyculture, we should mimic this biodiversity on the farm. Natural is now viewed as the best option. Today, however, I want to commend a most unnatural practice, crop rotation.

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

The unnatural, disruptive transition of wheat monoculture to bean monoculture – good for agriculture

Read more »

Filed under Sustainable Practices and Technology
2 Comments

« Older Posts

Newer Posts »