Archive for the 'agriculture' Category

With us on our first live episode of Tractor Time is agroecologist Nicole Masters. She has a new book out. It's called, "For the Love of Soil," and there's an excerpt of that book in the August edition of Acres U.S.A. magazine. Go to acresusa.com to subscribe. Nicole has 20 years of experience working in Australia and New Zealand, in North America, to create regenerative food systems.

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On this episode of the Tractor Time podcast, we're joined by Chris Smith, author of the James Beard Award-winning book, “The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration.” Chris lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he is the founder and executive director of The Utopia Seed Project.

 

It seems like a perfect time of year to talk about okra. And I have to say that okra is one of my favorite vegetables. I grew it back when I lived in Texas, and it is just a stunningly beautiful plant. It loves the heat. It’s drought tolerant. I loved serving it at dinner parties because people were always surprised it could be so good.

 

But, let’s face it. Okra is polarizing. There’s the slime, for one. At the grocery store, you find it in a can, which, no thank you.

 

But beyond all that, it turns out okra is a powerful vehicle for telling stories about genetic diversity, seed to stem eating and even the American slave trade. Chris weaves all that, and much more, into his book.

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Rebecca Burgess is the co-author of the new book Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy. Her previous book was Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes.

If you listen to Tractor Time, then you likely care about where your food comes from and how it’s grown. But if you’re like us, clothing doesn’t always get the same consideration. We often talk about farm to table, but not farm to closet.

All of us buy clothing. We buy for comfort, for style, for status, for functionality. We have the brands we stick with. And, yes, sometimes we’ll spend a little extra for a garment made of something we feel virtuous about — an organic cotton t-shirt, maybe, or a pair of hemp slacks. But mainly, we look for things that look good, won’t wear out too quickly and protect us from the elements. But what is this often-opaque global supply chain of fast fashion really doing to our world and to us? What Rebecca describes in this interview and in her book is truly stunning and might just change the way you think about clothing forever.

As you listen to this interview, I suggest you do some laundry, or at least take a look in your closet. Are you as conscientious about your clothing as you are about your food?

In this conversation, Rebecca opens up her closet, somewhat literally, to us, and shines a bright light on a system that takes an enormous toll on our environment. She isn’t just exposing a broken system, however — she has a bold and hopeful vision for what a regenerative clothing system could look like. And it isn’t just about persuading big clothing brands to do the right thing. Her Fibershed movement is well underway, with more than 50 communities already participating.

Rebecca is the executive director of Fibershed. You can find out more about it at fibershed.org. Rebecca is also the chairwoman of the board for the Carbon Cycle Institute and a skilled weaver and maker of natural dyes.

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When you think about recycling, what do you see — plastic containers piling up in the garage maybe? The overflowing bin of clinking wine bottles you’re more than a little embarrassed by on pickup day? Do you just see waste? Out of mind once it’s out of sight.

Or … do you see a farm?

Today, we’re talking with Gerry Gillespie. When he thinks about recycling, he sees healthy soil and nutritious food. He sees communities coming together to claim the rightful value of what most of us think of as trash.

In his native Australia, Gillespie saw two big problems he wanted to fix: farmland that had been degraded by years of chemical agriculture and overstuffed landfills that were belching methane into the atmosphere.

The answer to both problems would be to harness a largely untapped resource hiding in plain sight — the massive amounts of organic matter being discarded every day. We’re talking about yard waste, cardboard and newspaper. We’re talking about kitchen scraps — the potato peels, the coffee grounds, the eggshells. What if we could capture these nutrient-rich resources and funnel them into regenerative farming systems?

An internationally recognized recycling expert, Gerry Gillespie wants to challenge our preconceptions about waste. And he’s been doing this kind of work for decades. He’s a pioneer in the Zero Waste movement and the mastermind behind the City to Soil project, which connects household organic matter with farmers. He is the author of a new book from Acres U.S.A. called The Waste Between Our Ears: The Missing Ingredient to Disrupt Climate Change is in the Trash. He’s traveled all over the world to spread the word, but he calls New South Wales home.

 

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On this episode, we’re talking with Darby Simpson. If Tractor Time is only but a part of your farming podcast diet, you may already know who he is. He does the Grassfed Life podcast with Diego Footer. He’s also a contributor to Acres U.S.A. magazine. And what I really value about his perspective is its practicality. Through his podcasts and online courses, it’s clear he wants to help equip farmers with the tools to run successful farms — not just act out a romantic, Instagram version of farm life. He truly puts the economical in eco-agriculture. But he’s a conscientious farmer too, running a pasture-based, non-GMO livestock operation in Indiana, located between Indianapolis and Bloomington. In this interview, we talk about everything from farm diversification to the future of farmers’ market to the impact of COVID-19. Darby’s answers are thoughtful, insightful and, hopefully, prophetic.

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Recently, an Acres U.S.A. reader gave us a piece of sheet music he found while cleaning out his barn. The song’s called “The Farmer Feeds Us All.” It’s an old standard that has been performed in some form or fashion by everyone from Fiddlin’ John Carson to Pete Seeger to Ry Cooder. You should go listen to it. I’ll link to the Fiddlin’ John Carson version in the show notes. 

I’ve been thinking about this song as the coronavirus pandemic lays low entire sectors of the U.S. and world economy, spreads sickness to the rich and poor alike, and gathers a dark cloud of fear and uncertainty over our future.

And yet, as national emergencies often are — at least for a time — the pandemic has been clarifying, forcing us to think about what truly matters most. Now, if you watch the evening news, you might assume that’s toilet paper. But for many, this time has been about reconnecting with loved ones. It’s been about reconnecting with the things that nourish us — things like faith, family and food.

 Along with “social distancing,” “essential services” has been one of the new phrases to enter our lexicon over the last few months. In addition to health care providers and grocery store workers, we are reminded during this time that farmers, too, are essential to our survival.

We here at Acres U.S.A. have always marveled at the determination and the creativity small farmers show us in their tireless efforts to bring us nutritious food. In preparing for our May issue, which we put together this month, we reached out to many of these men and women to see how they were weathering the storm. What we heard was inspiring. Farmers aren’t panicking. They’re just getting to work.

Marty Travis runs Spence Farm in Illinois along with his wife Kris and son Will. He’s also an Acres U.S.A. author. His book, My Farmer, My Customer can be found at the acresusa.com bookstore. Marty leads a co-op of farmers that serves some of the top restaurants in the Chicago area (watch the documentary Sustainable for more on that). Many of those restaurants went into hibernation during the outbreak, but they didn’t forget about Marty’s group. The chefs put out the word that there was plenty of fresh food for sale. The demand from families was so high that the co-op saw a big spike in its usual revenue. And even though he had barely slept a wink when we talked to him this month, Marty was still finding time to offer farmers words of encouragement. I was really inspired by what he had to say and I hope you are too.

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Tractor Time is brought to you by Acres U.S.A., the Voice of Eco-Agriculture. On this episode, we welcome Mimi Casteel, a wine maker in Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills. At Hope Well Vineyard, Casteel is blazing her own trail and fast becoming one of the leading voices in the regenerative agriculture movement. Mimi talks eloquently and brilliantly — not just about wine, but agriculture and land use in general. As you’ll hear, her beyond-organic farm is singular within the American wine world. It’s not your typical vineyard, with its neat and tidy rows, it’s a dynamic ecosystem that incorporates livestock, welcomes in wild animals, eschews industrial inputs and produces prized pinot noirs. And for this work, Mimi was recently named the Wine Person of the Year by Imbibe Magazine.

She grew up on her parent’s vineyard, and winemaking is truly in her blood, but so are wild landscapes, the ones she drew nourishment and meaning from when she was a botanist for the Forest Service. She left that job in 2005 to work at her family’s vineyard and eventually started her own on an old Christmas Tree farm. Although it might be a surprising coming from a former Forest Service employee, she believes that the world won’t be saved by wilderness areas, but by completely re-envisioning how we grow our food.

 

 

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Dr. Zach Bush is a triple-board certified physician, with a focus on internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice and palliative care. He currently runs a clinic in rural Virginia that focuses on plant-based nutrition and holistic health. He’s an entrepreneur with a mind-boggling array of projects to his resume. So why is he on a podcast devoted to sustainable and organic agriculture? It’s quite a story, as you’ll hear. At his clinic a few years ago, Dr. Bush began noticing that nutrition-based medicine just wasn’t working as he had expected. Some of his patients were just getting sicker. That led him on a journey deep into a dysfunctional and toxic agricultural system that through the heavy use of chemicals like glyphosate is robbing crops of nutritional value, accelerating the decline of human health, destroying the environment and paving the way for mass extinction. Yeah, it gets pretty bleak — there’s talk of disease, cataclysm and collapse — but stick with it — because Dr. Bush is at heart a radical optimist. He believes that regenerative agriculture can save the world by creating healthy soils that will sequester carbon, reverse climate change, produce highly nutritious food and create healthy humans. To further that mission, Dr. Bush has started Farmers Footprint, a nonprofit that aims to transition 5 million acres to regenerative practices by 2025. According to Dr. Bush, all successful revolutions start with farmers.

 

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If you’ve seen the documentary “Sustainable,” you know that Spence Farm is a special place. It’s owned and operated by Marty Travis, along with his wife, Kris and son, Will. Their farm supplies organic vegetables and heritage meats to some of the top kitchens in the City of Chicago — Fronterra Grill, Girl and the Goat and The Publican, to name a few. But that might undersell what Marty and his family have built. The way that they’ve developed relationships, not just with chefs, but also with a network of small farmers, is nothing shorting of astounding. To our mind, Spence Farm is a vision for the future of food. Marty has a new book out titled, “My Farmer, My Customer: Building Business & Community Through Farming Healthy Food” (Acres U.S.A., 2019). It's currently available for pre-order at the AcresUSA.com bookstore. Marty is also a featured speaker at the Acres U.S.A. Eco-Ag Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota in December.

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Doug Fine, an investigative journalist by trade, has emerged as a leading voice in the effort to bring hemp back as a major American crop. 

His writing has appeared in places like Washington Post, Wired and Outside Magazine. He’s travelled all over the world, including to places like Burma, Rwanda, Laos, Guatemala and Tajikistan. He’s given TED Talks. He’s appeared on late-night talk shows. And he’s written several books, including Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man, Farewell My Subaru, which is about his attempt to wean himself off fossil fuel, and Too High To Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.

His latest book is Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution.

And for Fine, those frontlines are found at Funky Butte Ranch, his 40-acre spread in southern New Mexico where he and his family grow hemp, tend a garden and raise a herd of mischievous goats.

Although Fine sees himself as a journalist first, he doesn’t shy away from speaking up for what he believes in. And what he believes is this: Hemp represents not just the next big money-maker in agriculture. It isn’t just about cashing in on the CBD craze. Instead, he believes it’s an opportunity to change the whole game — and maybe fight off the effects of climate change in the process.  

Fine will also be a featured speaker at Acres U.S.A.’s December Eco-Ag Conference & Trade Show in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  

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