Food production in the United States is currently dominated by two methods: organic farming and traditional farming that incorporates the benefits of engineered seeds. If early successes are any indication of the future, then it may soon be time to make room for a third: vertical farming. There are numerous benefits to vertical farms, which are springing up from Singapore to Pennsylvania, ranging from the elimination of pests to significant reductions in the amount of water used to irrigate crops. However, the disruptive shift in the way the world produces food will also reshape the battle between organic champions such as Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM ) and engineered seed producers such as Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON ) .
Consider that the conditions of enclosed vertical farms could be precisely controlled. Farmers wouldn’t need seeds that resisted droughts or pests. Pesticides use would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated, while water and energy use would also plummet. Does that set the stage for Whole Foods Market to throw its weight behind the new production systems? Will this mark the beginning of the end of GMOs and pesticides from Monsanto?
There has been much reporting on the effects of the current drought on crops, particularly corn and soybeans, and the news isn’t getting any better!
The new estimates coming out are even worse than anticipated and the prices continue to rise. Get ready folks this is going to be a record year for higher food prices. Those of us that actually cook will also pay higher prices but even those that eat junk food will pay higher prices since corn and soy products are in virtually every fast food/junk food item!
Have you thought about a greenhouse? Growing an organic garden or just buying some dried beans and grains now to help reduce the impact that higher prices will have on your household budget?
I am continuing to get prepared for this by storing some foodstuffs now before it is too late!
While the FDA maintains that GMO ingredients are no more harmful than other ingredients CA residents have amassed enough signatures to get the ‘labeling’ law on their Nov. ballot…three cheers for them.
The FDA maintains that GMOs are innocent so to speak while there is a plethora of scientific evidence that condems them to the sewer, which in my opinion is where they figuratively belong. I simply can’t say enough, nor can anyone else, about the dangers these nasties impose on our health and environment.
When will we learn that you can’t have government agencies/politicians and the like funded by the very companies that need regulation in the worst kind of ways. One in particular comes to mind, Monsanto! Yes, I am one of the millions against Monsanto!
Let’s stay tuned to the vote in CA. The reasons being brought forth for not requiring labeling, beyond the stance that GMOs are safe, are the liklihood of frivolous lawsuits etc. I would ask you to define frivolous. While I am sure there could be some stupid lawsuits filed, I would also warrant that the majority would be bona fide!
These GMOs have been around far too long and have not only contaminated our ‘heirloom’ crops but have contaminated our entire political/judicial system! We can theoretically recover from the latter but no one can see a full recovery of the integrity of our crops!
Sad this is I say!
On January 31, 2012, a hearing on GMO’s was held in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. On the evening news you often times see convicted former Wall Street financiers walking out of the doors of this courthouse in New York City. This court is the setting for a major legal battle which will impact all grain farmers in the United States.
The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association squared off against Monsanto.
The case, at the moment, goes off on a legal issue of whether the organic farmers have standing to bring a declaratory judgment action against Monsanto. Simply, the question is whether the organic farmers have suffered harm which allows them to get their case before a court for a possible trial.
The case involves 96 plaintiffs claiming that “Society stands on the precipice of forever being bound to transgenic agriculture and transgenic food. Coexistence between transgenic seed and organic seed is impossible because transgenic seed contaminates and eventually overcomes organic seed.”
The question is who will grow our food for the next generations? With factory farms creating high barriers to entry, will our family farms just completely die? It is more and more difficult for young people to enter the agricultural arena! Watch and Pass It On: Who Will Grow Food for Future Generations? September 2nd, 2011 To create a revitalized, healthier, and safer U.S. food and farm system we need to cultivate a new generation of farmers and ranchers – and quickly. The current farm population is aging rapidly, and while there are many people that want to farm and ranch they face tremendous obstacles entering this field. In the coming weeks NSAC will be joining members of Congress and other farm groups in introducing a new Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. This is an extraordinary opportunity to break down barriers to entry and give real support to aspiring farmers across this nation. Watch this new NSAC video, pass it on, and sign up to take action!
That some groups of folks are coming together to begin to explore how to establish a ‘sustainable’ food production system in their immediate area is a conversation that is way past due in my opinion!
Given the state of the world at this point, economics, social destabilization, natural and man made disasters, wouldn’t you agree. Please read the article below and perhaps you will gain some insight and get some ideas on how and why this discussion needs to begin today!
Coffee, Tea and Sustainability
A Sunday breakfast and panel discussion informed Bethesdans about creating a sustainable food system in Montgomery County.
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Sunday, a group of local residents, advocates, and food industry professionals met at Bethesda Green for the first of three events in the group’s “On the Farm, Around the Table” series.
Hosted by Bethesda Green and Full Plate Ventures, Sunday’s event, entitled “Closing the Loop in Our Food System – Let’s discuss over breakfast!” attracted a large group. Attendees first enjoyed a breakfast of quiches, fruits, breads, jam and butter made from local foods and produce. After breakfast the group listened to a panel of area experts talk about efforts to create a sustainable food system in Montgomery County.
The panel focused on successes as well as roadblocks that challenge a sustainable food system in the county. Panelists included Montgomery Countryside Alliance executive director Caroline Taylor, Shannon Varley, owner of Bella Terra Family Farm, registered dietician and author Diane Welland, Yamas Mediterranean Grill owner Tony Alexis, and Jessica Weiss, executive director of growingSOUL. Cheryl Kollin, a principal with Full Plate Ventures, moderated the discussion.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve Welcomes a New Generation of Farmers
The demand for locally grown food is on the rise and the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve is uniquely suited to support a new group of farmers committed to growing and selling locally. The Montgomery Countryside Alliance, which oversees activities in the Ag Reserve, has been working to support farmers focusing on sustainable farming.
“The Agricultural Reserve came into being in 1981 by some very forward looking planners. They made farming, not development, the primary use of the land and 70,000 acres of the 93,000 acres in the reserve is protected from development. We can mentor and provide the educational tools to the next generation of farmers,” said Taylor during the panel discussion.
Varley, a former environmental lawyer, represents the new generation of farmers in Montgomery County and echoed Taylor’s comments about the potential of Montgomery County for sustainable farmers.
“There’s a lot going on to ensure that the next generation of farmers have access to land,” Varley said.
Taylor also observed that the growing demand for local and sustainable food has started to change farming in the Ag Reserve.
“There is a transition going on in the reserve. Historically the crops have been very large scale – soy, wheat, corn and hay,” Taylor said. Most are genetically modified crops. However, even this group of farmers is starting to be aware there is a market for heritage crops, specific table crops, and organic meat, poultry and eggs for consumers that want to know where their food is coming from.”
Industry Professionals Say That Eating Locally Calls For a New Mindset About Food
Alexis and Welland both emphasized that eating locally means that people need to think – and act – differently when it comes to eating and shopping for food.
“Bethesda is a wonderful place for business,” said Alexis. “I felt there was so much wrong with the way people eat, especially in the restaurant business. Most people are not able to slow their life down enough to eat natural and whole foods. We’re looking to bring a little bit of that culture to Yamas.”
Welland spoke about the need to think differently when it comes to food shopping.
“You have to understand the seasons,” Welland said. “For a couple of generations we haven’t really had to think about seasons.”
Welland emphasized that local foods are available in many places – farmers markets, local stores, CSA’s, food co-ops, and that now is a great time to shop for local foods.
“Around here, August and September is the most abundant season. At farmers markets, take advantage of the people who grow the food who are right there. If you start learning about the foods and what goes together you can start menu planning. What goes together, grows together.”
Creating Sustainable Links Between Restaurants and Farmers
Weiss talked about creating relationships with local restaurants to take food waste from restaurants, turn it into compost and deliver the compost to local farmers.
“We think of nutrients as the most valuable thing the planet has to offer.” Weiss said. “By composting we are creating a viable, sustainable loop.”
Weiss is facing a current challenge, and mentioned during the panel discussion that she is seeking a new location for growingSOUL. “Our biggest barrier is land. We need to be off our current location by September 15. Everyone says there is a need for compost. We just need to find the right location.”
Despite challenges, Weiss has created a network of restaurants that provide a source of food waste for composting. “Our biggest mission is zero waste. That’s our sustainability goal.”
Bethesda Central Farm Market Showcases Local Farmers and Producers
After the breakfast and panel discussion, the group walked over to the Bethesda Central Farm Market to meet Mitch Berliner, the market’s founder. Berliner talked about the creation of the market, working together with the Federal Realty Investment Trust to offer a complete farmer’s market on Bethesda Row.
“We have the longest season of most markets,” said Berliner. “We have farmers from the northern neck of Virginia, from Maryland and from Pennsylvania. So, as strawberries finish for the northern neck, they’re just getting started in Maryland. When they’re finishing in Maryland they’re still ripening in Pennsylvania.”
Berliner had good news about the future of the market. “We’re staying in this spot indefinitely, and we’re going year-round.”
Berliner said he is always open to new farmers and vendors, even those who just want to sell at the market for part of the year.
Thank you to Bethesda Green and Full Plate Ventures for such an informative – and delicious – morning! The next event in the On the Farm; Around the Table series is ‘Fertile Ground – Local Farm Tour and Lunch’ at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville from 12:30p.m. – 3p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10. For this event a bus to Rocklands Farm will leave from Bethesda Green at 11:30a.m. and return by 4p.m. for attendees who prefer to travel by bus. Sign up here to take part in this unique opportunity to enjoy a farm lunch and tour a local farm practicing organic farming.
It is only through community will we have a chance in the world to come! No one can make it in the current circumstances alone either! In a very disconnected way the majority of folks rely on ‘distant’ others to fulfill their requirements to live! Think about that!
Ah it was nice to read an article that points to a sure fire ‘growth’ area of our economy, FOOD…the slow food movement is catching on and I personally support it…buy local as much as possible, grow your own when you can and don’t look for huge profits fast…
The constant fight for more profits, greed if you will, is just killing our economy. Wall Street looks for growth in all the wrong areas, at least in my opinion. Of course, government looks to grow itself, forever, and that is never a good idea. Eventually it will crash under it’s own weight.
Take a read below, well worth the time!
Our Economic Problem: Where Will Growth Come From?
While I was on vacation recently, trying to forget all my problems, I couldn’t help but notice the stock market plummeting. Oh, I tried not to pay attention. But being in business, it was hard not to. My very social littlest daughter made dear friends with two girls on the beach (she wasn’t worried about the stock market one bit!). And it turned out their dad worked on Wall Street — so at the end of the day, I couldn’t help but ask him what he thought of what was happening.
“The problem is,” he said thoughtfully and worriedly, “no one knows where the growth is going to come from.” After all, stock markets and economies always thrive on growth, and the traditional means of growth are slowing around the world — even in China. So, how can we continue to “grow” in a world where we have consumed more than we need, and destroyed our precious resources in the process?
For a moment, my stomach churned and I had a fleeting feeling that we are all doomed. But then I looked around. He and I, two random strangers who met because we were staying at the same hotel, were standing together at an event that was buzzing with excitement, sold out — a major clue to our future of growth right before our eyes.
What was the event? Well, that’s another random story.
I had pulled into the hotel that afternoon after a bit of sightseeing (OK, I confess, shopping!) to see a sign that said: “Farm fresh vendors park here.” Happy-looking people wearing cool-looking clothes were mingling around. I stopped at the front desk to ask what was up, and they said it was a sold-out event, but as hotel guests we could attend. “Some Rhode Island local farm thing,” the manager said. Well, of course, being me, MOI, Maria of Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen, why would I even think of missing it?
It was a Farm Fresh Rhode Island Local Food Fest, and the festival happened to be honoring one of my dear friends, a fellow board member of the Rodale Institute, Michel Nischan, chef at the Dressing Room in Westport, Connecticut, and author of Sustainably Delicious. (I shocked the bejeezus out of him when I appeared at the reception!) Also being honored were the great, epic, amazing heroine of organic food for all, Nell Newman, of Newman’s Own Organic, and their mutual friend and associate Gus Schumacher. All three of them are involved in Michel’s nonprofit Wholesome Wave. I mean, what are the chances??!! We celebrated. We ate amazing food. I tried to keep track of my little one (and later found pages and pages of photos of her making faces in the awesome free photo booth). And we watched the sun set over the harbor as the sailboats passed by.
Nell Newman, Gus Schumacher and Michel Nischan
I’m getting to the growth part, truly I am.
As I was walking back to our cabin on the beach (and Lucia was flying down the path on her scooter), I thought about where the growth was going to come from, and it hit me. There is one thing that’s still been growing, even during the darkest days of the recession: the organics industry. But not just the organics industry — also the local food industry; the sustainable, renewable energy industry; and the services around health and healing industry. Sure, we are still small. But the organics industry, at $30 billion a year, is now bigger than the publishing industry. And part of playing the market successfully is picking something small that will grow big over time. (Trust me, I bought Amazon.com stock back when people thought it was a joke… who’s laughing now?!)
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the growth of our future came from industries that are actually making the world a BETTER place rather than sucking out the value, spitting out the waste, and leaving a trail of damage and destruction in their wake? Maybe this is our global tipping point — the point at which the world realizes that you can’t create healthy economies without having businesses and services that respect people and the planet. Wouldn’t that be amazing and wonderful if it turns out to be true? Perhaps, if we believe it, we can make it true. After all, we’ve already accomplished much, much more than the early naysayers said we would.
I’m betting my money on the future growth of businesses that are organic, renewable, sustainable, and good for everyone. Organic growth is the only growth that actually improves things over time, rather than destroying things in the process.
Maybe nothing is random after all.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.
I wish I had been at the above mentioned event!
If you are surprised by the recent FDA regulation revision where they plainly state that they can and will seize foods even without evidence that there is contamination present. This of course will be judiciously applied mostly to natural and/or local food growers/providers and NOT the large factory farms where most of the problems stem.
I don’ know about you but I am thinking about now that the regulatory agencies are way, way, way out of control now and I have no idea where that will end. I do know that I will continue to support local growers and help them in any way I can.
Rady Ananda, Contributing Writer
A few hours ago, the Food and Drug Administration declared it no longer needs credible evidence to seize food that may be contaminated. Ignoring the Fourth Amendment entirely, the FDA claims that based on mere suspicion that a food product has been contaminated or mislabeled, and that serious illness or death will result, it can hold the food for 30 days while it then looks for evidence. It claims this power under the Food Safety Modernization Act, which President Monsanto, I mean, Obama, signed in January.
On May 4th, the FDA stated:
Previously, the FDA’s ability to detain food products applied only when the agency had credible evidence that a food product presented was contaminated or mislabeled in a way that presented a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.
Beginning July, the FDA will be able to detain food products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded for up to 30 days, if needed, to ensure they are kept out of the marketplace. The products will be kept out of the marketplace while the agency determines whether an enforcement action such as seizure or federal injunction against distribution of the product in commerce, is necessary.
Credible evidence no longer applies, it seems.
The Fourth Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
FDA thinks it can engage in search and seizure willy nilly. They’ve already been doing this, of course — but only at natural food facilities. Factory farms like DeCosta Eggs can sicken thousands of people over a period of years, without ever being shut down or having its product seized or destroyed. But, if you raise natural foods without pasteurizing them or adulterating them with drugs and genetically modified ingredients, even though no one becomes ill from your product, then be assured, the FDA will seize your products, your computers, your paperwork, and shut you down.
Most recently, the FDA shut down Pennsylvania farmer Dan Algyer, though no one became ill from his natural milk. Morningland Cheese and Estrella Family Creamery are but two more in a long line of victims of the corporate war on natural food, though their products sickened no one. And most of the nation knows of the armed raid on Rawesome Foods last year. (Also see David Gumpert’s book, The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights.)
In the May 2011 edition of the Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine (hat tip FTCLDF), Greg Breining summarizes the issues in MILK vs milk: Do consumers have the right to choose? Well, of course we do. Food freedom is as inalienable as the right to breathe. The freedom to eat the food with which humans evolved is requisite to our survival as individuals and as a species. Thomas Jefferson agrees: “Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.”
That’s often paraphrased as: “If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
Another rule announced by the FDA requires importers to declare if any nation refused their food or feed product for any reason, and to give the reason. Both rules go into effect July 3, 2011.
This article is so shameful that it is hard to look at it and think that this is happening in our country. Is it time to become incensed at such outrageous denials of our constitution and our rights?
The USDA is on a roll this month, allowing GMO alfalfa into our food chain, then GMO Sugar Beets, GMO salmon and now…GMO Corn! The article below really hits a home run on the truth behind the newest attack on the public welfare!
USDA deregulates GMO corn engineered to produce fuel, not food
(NaturalNews) Right on the heels of the USDA’s decision to deregulate GM alfalfa , the U.S. Department of Agriculture has now decided to completely deregulate genetically engineered corn used for ethanol production. This is just the latest Frankenfood horror unleashed by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has firmly established himself as the regulatory puppet of Monsanto and other GMO giants.
The public spin on this decision is that it will allow the growing of corn engineered to produce more ethanol fuel, thereby improving the efficiency in the conversion of corn to fuel. This claim is, of course, scientifically invalid on so many levels that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But I’ll take a shot at it…
Remember when we used to actually EAT corn?
For starters, in a world where food prices are rapidly rising, where crops are failing due to radical weather events, and where food stockpiles are at their lowest levels in many decades, the idea of converting food to fuel is utterly ludicrous. Making matters even worse, there’s the simple fact that the ethanol advocates simply refuse to admit: Growing corn for fuel consumes more fuel than it produces!
The whole corn-for-ethanol debacle is simply another government-run agricultural cluster shuck involving the wasting of billions of taxpayer dollars which disappear into the black hole of subsidies handed out to corn growers. The whole thing smacks of economic insanity combined with an almost alien view of the natural world. To look upon an acre of corn and think that it’s supposed to be burned in combustion engines rather than consumed as nutrition represents a whole new level of mental illness — an illness which has infected the minds of regulators and lawmakers. (Is there a vaccine shot to prevent it yet?)
Beyond that, the claim that this corn-to-fuel effort is now the justification for unleashing genetically contaminated GE corn across North America is not just bad thinking; it’s dangerously bad thinking from people who should know better.
The end of agricultural genetic integrity
Because you know what happens next? With GE corn being planted everywhere, the wind will cross-contaminate regular corn crops, resulting in widespread genetic pollution of the corn grown in America. This, in turn, will result in America’s corn being refused for importation by other nations which don’t want to poison their people with genetically altered corn (unlike the U.S. government).
It will damage the entire U.S. corn industry, in other words, and further devastate U.S. farmers who are already squeezed by freak weather events.
“The USDA’s decision defies common sense,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program. “There is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn. Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards will slip. In this case, there are no required precautions.”
Over at the Center for Food Safety, science policy analyst Bill Freese wrote, “Syngenta’s biofuels corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and could well trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers.” (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/…)
An article at Truth-Out.org reveals some of the possible under-the-table financial links that may be behind this decision to deregulate GE corn: http://www.truth-out.org/big-win-bi…
The Alliance for Natural Health has also posted a very good summary on this situation. It’s a great read: http://www.anh-usa.org/now-usda-has…
Our corn supply is being stalked by Monsanto
So what does it all mean? It means that between the GE corn, GE sugar beets, GE alfalfa, cotton, soy and other ingredients, we are living in a grand, dangerous experiment of playing God with seeds.
I’ve said this before: It’s almost as if people like Tom Vilsack (and other Monsanto minions) are just begging Mother Nature to wipe out human civilization and start over. Here, everybody! Let’s turn our food crops into pesticide absorbers, then feed them to cows and people!
It’s all being done for corporate profits, of course. Because that’s all it takes to compromise the future of life on our planet: Just another buck on the bottom line.
That’s all it takes at the USDA, too: Just another promise of a sweet, cushy job in the corn industry after you’ve left the agency. Bend enough rules in favor of Big Ag, and you can name your salary a few years down the road. Because if there’s a kernel of truth to be found in any of this, it’s that corporations — and regulators — will operate with outrageous disregard for the integrity of the natural world.
By the way, this decision was made under the guise of “science.” All the lies now being repeated about the safety of genetically engineered crops are being bolstered by the laughable claim that they are “scientific” and that anyone who opposes GMOs is, by default, “unscientific.”
I urge each and everyone to write, complain and vocally disagree in whatever forum you can with these latest decisions by USDA and the infamous Tom Vilsack.
Natural farming techniques such as the one portrayed in the article below dispel the myth that only conventional farming can produce large yields. In fact, natural farming techniques can not only increase yields above conventional but also maintain and improve soil conditions! Sustainable, high yielding farming techniques should be the emphasis on our food chain from here on out!
A self-sufficient system of farming is increasing yields across Hawaii
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 18, 2011
Farmer Samson Delos Reyes reached into his bluejeans pocket to grab a phone call from a buyer and ended up smiling but shaking his head.
The caller wanted to triple her order of his pungent Thai basil, to 60 from 20 cases a week, but S&J Farms of Waianae is already booked solid. Since trying “natural farming” last year under the guidance of a folksy South Korean master farmer known as Han Kyu Cho, Delos Reyes said production on his 10-acre plot has doubled — and demand is growing even faster.
“This is my first time having earthworms on my farm,” he said, scooping up a handful of earth and nutrient-rich worm castings in his fingers. “They’re cultivating the soil for me.”
Unlike conventional or even organic farming, “natural farming” is a self-sufficient system to raise crops and livestock with resources available on the farm. Rather than applying chemical fertilizers, farmers boost the beneficial microbes that occur naturally in the soil by collecting and culturing them with everyday ingredients such as steamed rice and brown sugar. They also feed their crops with solutions containing minerals and amino acids made from castoff items such as eggshells and fish bones.
“What others consider rubbish, we use,” Cho told gardeners and farmers at a workshop in Honolulu last month. “Natural farming uses local resources, but you have to give what the plants need, when they need it and in the right amounts.”
On land once classified as unsuitable for farming, Delos Reyes’ sturdy stalks of Vietnamese kalo now stand taller than he does, and his basil bushes are thick with leaves. He no longer has to buy fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides, and he has cut water use by 30 percent. The indigenous microorganisms in the dirt — bacteria, fungi and protozoa — help nourish his crops. The plants grow hardier because their roots have to reach further to find water, according to Cho.
“You use less water, you use less inputs and you end up with a healthier plant which produces more nutritious food, of a higher quality,” said landowner David Wong, who ran Oahu’s last dairy on this Waianae property and is working with Delos Reyes in the first commercial operation using Cho’s methods on Oahu. “Here’s a system that is not freight-dependent, and it changes the economics of how agriculture could be done in Hawaii.”
Cho, founder of the Janong Natural Farming Institute in Chungbuk, South Korea, held his first workshop in Hilo last February. Dr. Hoon Park, a retired physician in Hilo, heads Cho Global Natural Farming-USA, a nonprofit that promotes Cho’s approach. Its workshop last month was sponsored by the Hawaii FFA Foundation, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Kamehameha Schools, among others.
Across the state, an unusual piggery in Kurtistown on the Big Island is another showcase for Cho’s system of “natural farming.” The pig farm’s claim to fame: It does not smell or attract flies or even require cleaning. And its pigs are thriving.
“It is the first piggery of this kind in the United States,” said Michael DuPonte, a livestock extension agent with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and a technical adviser on the demonstration project. “It’s been in production for 20 months, and I haven’t cleaned the piggery yet. It looks the same as the day I opened it. No smell, no flies. It’s a combination of the dry litter soaking up all the liquids and the microbes working together to break down the manure.”
DuPonte said the idea of not cleaning a pigsty did not sit well with him at first blush. “When Master Cho came to see me, I was a skeptic,” DuPonte said. “I asked him, ‘What about disease?’ You don’t clean a piggery in Hawaii, guarantee your pigs are going to get sick. He said, ‘Don’t worry about disease. The microbes will take care of that.’ I didn’t believe him.”
But after a trip to Korea to see a piggery in action, DuPonte became a convert. The Kang Farms “Inoculated Dry Litter System” piggery building, opened in August 2009 in Kurtistown, measures 30 by 60 feet and handles up to 125 pigs. It uses natural ventilation and is oriented for sunlight. The pens are filled with a deep bed of dry sawdust and wood chips, spiked with microorganisms cultivated from local soil that help break down the manure. The pigs are fed rations made from agricultural waste, including sweet potatoes, macadamia nuts and bananas.
DuPonte says the pigs seem “stress-free and contented,” and they are good neighbors because the piggery produces no waste, runoff or telltale smell. That is important for Hawaii’s swine farmers, who have been pushed from one location after another by urbanization and complaints from neighbors. The piggery project was supported by the University of Hawaii, Farm Pilot Project Coordination, Hawaii County and Agribusiness Development Corp., among others.
“Pig farmers are very, very interested in the system,” DuPonte said. “I’ve had 50 people come in and ask me if I would build these piggeries in their place. It’s going to take off, mainly because of lack of odor. Pig farmers have been kicked out of Kam IV Road and then Hawaii Kai, and now they’re getting challenges in Waianae and they don’t know where they are going to go next.”
Versions of natural farming have been practiced for generations in Asia. But scientific proof of its efficacy is hard to come by because it is a complex system that adapts to local conditions, said Ted Radovich, assistant specialist in the Sustainable and Organic Farming Systems Laboratory at the UH College of Tropical Agriculture.
“It looks like there is value there,” Radovich said. “There is increasing interest in doing research. While I think there is potential, we’re quite a way from understanding how it works.”
He said the appeal of Cho’s approach in Hawaii lies in its “localness.” “Any system that makes some inroads into decreasing our reliance on external inputs and improving the profitability of our local farms is important to consider,” he said. “We’re not at the point where we can make recommendations yet.”
DuPonte estimates that 150 people are practicing “natural farming” techniques in the Hilo area, mainly backyard farmers and gardeners.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering small grants to a few farmers in each Hawaii county who want to try converting part of their fields to natural farming, though not livestock. DuPonte said the ideal candidate is a farmer with about two acres, who would use the money to cover the cost of switching to “natural farming” on a quarter of an acre and keep track of costs and yields.
Cho will return for another workshop in July in Kohala, and he urged folks to give “natural farming” a whirl. “Don’t doubt,” he said through an interpreter. “Just jump in and try and practice and see how it works out.”
Support your local farmers and especially those that are tuned into sustainable farming techniques!