Sustainability RSS feed

Training the next generation of farmers

Posted by Bethany Wolters | December 18, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual 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.

Bethany Wolters - student guest blogger

Bethany Wolters – student guest blogger

If you want to get me excited about something, mention food, farming, or teaching.  I am studying to be an agriculture professor and am currently a soil science master student at Washington State University, learning everything I can about growing vegetables, healthy soils and teaching.  At the beginning of November I had the opportunity to attend the Washington Tilth Producers Conference in Vancouver, WA. One of the events I participated in was a workshop called “The Next Generation of Farmers and Eaters: Changing the Food System through Education.”  It was presented by Stuart O’Neill, who organizes an on-farm internship program in Oregon called Rogue Farm Corps, and Elizabeth Wheat, who is a Whidbey Island farmer and lecturer at University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Wheat talked about her experiences introducing agriculture to students at an urban university and their campus farm.  I came away from the presentations and discussion inspired to re-image how agricultural education fits into higher education. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
1 Comment

The healing power of soil

Posted by Alison Detjens | December 15, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual 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.

Alison Detjens - student guest blogger

Alison Detjens – student guest blogger

Tilth Producers of Washington has been holding yearly gatherings for 40 years. The annual conference brings together farmers, interns, intermediaries, educators and food activists for a three day long celebration of sharing knowledge and ideas.

Some of the workshops are technical, providing best practices or innovative ideas; others focus on community and health. One of the workshops I attended this year spoke of a farm that bridges the social and physical aspects of food and farming in a profound, yet simple way: a farm dedicated to working with veterans of war to help heal and reintegrate men and women into civilian society. Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
1 Comment

Science’s future: telling the story of your data

Posted by Christopher Gambino | December 11, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual 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.

The opportunity

Christopher Gambino - student guest blogger

Christopher Gambino – student guest blogger

A conference focused on sustainable agriculture?!  Yep, and I got to attend.

I am a PhD Candidate at Washington State University where I am among a cohort of National Science Foundation IGERT students. This is a multidisciplinary doctoral training program designed to create a new generation of scientists who seamlessly integrate nitrogen cycle science for effective communication with public policy makers. As such, my training allows for engagement in food, agriculture, and environmental policy dialogue. In those interactions I usually find myself to be one of the few voices with a holistic perspective of sustainability.

Read more »

Filed under Community and Society, Sustainability
4 Comments

Analyzing Near Your Own Roots

Posted by Mary Stewart | December 8, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual 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.

Mary Stewart - student guest blogger

Mary Stewart – student guest blogger

At the 2014 Tilth Producers of Washington Conference I attended Dr. Susan Kerr’s workshop on parasites in farm animals. Worms especially are a serious problem in ruminants, notably sheep and goats. Slide after slide, Dr. Kerr showed sheep suffering anemia, bottle jaw and diarrhea. Ultimately such conditions can lead to death. Unfortunately, parasites cannot be eliminated, but they can be reduced to an insignificant or inconsequential level in the herd. There are several steps farmers can take to prevent their animals from becoming infected. Some practices are: rotational grazing, kidding or lambing during intensely cold weather, preventing overgrazing (minimum height of grasses at 3.5 inches), letting animals out after morning dew dries and performing fecal egg counts for each animal. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
2 Comments

Flexibility and Sustainable Agriculture

Posted by Jesse Wimer | December 1, 2014

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual 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.

Jesse Wimer, student guest blogger

Jesse Wimer, student guest blogger

My recent participation in the Tilth Producers of Washington annual conference helped me pin down an idea that, for some reason, has taken me awhile to articulate. The idea is a simple one, and may seem like a no brainer – in fact, is a no brainer – once I took some time to think about it.

As a grad student in the Department of Horticulture here at WSU, I sometimes think back and try to reconstruct the steps that led me to where I am. For 10 years now I have been chasing sustainable agriculture. My journey began as a history major, sifting through 19th century Russian literature, trying to make sense of historic struggles over land rights and ownership. I moved on to organic farming in Montana, taking refuge in a turn-of-the-century barn and a mouse-ridden trailer. After scraping in the soil for a few summers I went back to school as an undergrad, hoping that the institution would help me figure something out. Sometime later I moved on to grad school. Read more »

Filed under Sustainability
2 Comments

Promoting Global Food Security One Crop of Tomatoes at a Time

Posted by Chuck Benbrook | October 23, 2014
Photo: C. Benbrook

Photo: C. Benbrook

In early September I visited a remarkable organic farm on the coast of California.  This farm has been in organic production for about 30 years, and its harvests of mostly organic tomatoes have been marketed through a variety of outlets in Northern California.

I arrived on the day picking had just begun on a sloping tomato field about 6 acres in size.  The crop was exceptionally clean, with virtually no insect damage and few weeds.  Minimal, organically approved control measures had been used, including applications of sulfur and releases of trichogramma (beneficial wasps), along with many hours of hand weeding.

Read more »

Agriculture Requires Fertilizer Inputs, and That’s Good

Posted by Andrew McGuire | October 16, 2014
Harvest is an export of nutrients.  Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

Harvest is an export of nutrients.
Photo: S. Bauer, USDA

On a brown, August-dry field in Eastern Washington, a farmer in a combine cuts a 24-foot swath across a field of wheat. The harvested grain then begins a journey, first to the storage bin, then to the local elevator, on rail to a flour mill, by truck to a bakery, by oven to bread, and by car to a home where it is eaten. This is good; our foremost mandate to agriculture is to produce food. However, with this successful export of food from farm fields to nearby and distant cities comes a problem: the nutrients in the bread, the nutrients that we need from food, and that plants need to grow, are now far from the field they came from. How do we replace them?

High yields, which we want, increase the problem.  A typical irrigated winter wheat field will yield 140 bushels per acre; about 5,600 loaves of bread. For a center pivot circle of 100 acres, the nutrients in those loaves amount to 182 pounds of N, 70 of P2O5 and 49 of K2O and smaller amounts of other essential nutrients that do not have to be replaced every year. All this ends up somewhere else (in people’s bodies or in sewage treatment plants); it will not be returned to the field1. Read more »

Can We Save Nature by Improving Agriculture?

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 16, 2014
An example of land sharing in Tanzania.  Photo: Rod Waddlington

An example of land sharing in Tanzania. Photo: Rod Waddlington

There is an ongoing debate about how to produce food for a growing population without losing more of our wild lands. Two options are being promoted; “land sparing” where production on current agricultural lands is intensified to produce more food thereby sparing the conversion of wild lands, and “land sharing” where agriculture and wild lands are integrated and small producing parcels are intermixed with wild lands. The former strategy is championed in a paper by Phalan et al. (2011) where the authors report that more bird and tree species were negatively affected by agriculture than benefitted from it. A contrary view from Tscharntke et al. (2012) argues that the land sparing view ignores the complexity of the real world, and that the land sharing strategy would produce more ecosystem services. From these two views, a range of options expand, all of which are being researched and debated.  Read more »

Have we drastically underestimated the productive capacity of plants?

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 28, 2014

A new paper published in Environmental Science & Technology (DeLucia et al., 2014) suggests that scientists have drastically underestimated the earth’s theoretical potential to produce biomass – by as much as 2 orders of magnitude! That’s going to take a minute to wrap my mind around.

x10x10

Read more »

Filed under Climate Change, Energy, Sustainability
No Comments

Questioning the Value of Soil Quality for the Irrigated Arid West

Posted by Andrew McGuire | August 21, 2014

Grant County potato yield Sign“The Nation’s Leading Potato Producing County” states a sign on I-90 at the Grant County border1. In 2010, Washington potato yields averaged 33 tons per acre, compared to Nebraska at 20.7, Wisconsin at 19.8, and Maine at 14.5 tons per acre (Idaho’s main potato producing counties averages 27.2 tons per acre). And it is not just potatoes; the Columbia Basin produces high yields of corn, dry beans, onions, and many other crops. However, the productive soils in the Columbia Basin often have soil organic matter levels less than 1%, much less than the level considered as adequate for proper functioning, and certainly not high enough to be considered high quality soils. How can such “low quality” soils produce high crop yields, yields higher than other regions with higher soil quality? This paradox highlights a problem with the concept of soil quality; that it does not take into account the soil management practices that farmers employ to overcome problems in so-called “low quality soils” and therefore does not reflect real production capacity of soils, especially in the West. Read more »

« Older Posts