Local foodie blog, Organic Broadcaster, Climate Hub winter forecast

Radish Quick Pickles Photo by Bridget Aleshire
Radish Quick Pickles
Photo by Bridget Aleshire

For foodies who want recipes and a food blog centered in our part of the country, using seasonal produce, see sustainexistence sustainable sustenance for our existence. This blog is written by one of my fellow Twin Oakers, so you can be sure that you’ll find dishes you can make if you are growing in our bio-region. The latest post is a Pretty Salads gallery and includes Apple Rhubarb Flower Salad; Cucumber, Apple, & Pear salad; the famous Massaged Kale; Mixed Greens & Purples with Feta; Wild-Harvested Salads and more. Other posts include recipes for the under-appreciated rutabagas and turnips, what to do with eggplant, and a series on delicious soups. I can especially vouch for the soups!

This blog makes a nice companion to my blog, as you’ll never find recipes on mine! (Joys of community living #305: I never have to cook!). While I was looking for the link to Sustainexistence, I found another interesting blog with a post from Louisa, A Ride Across America | An Unlikely Hotbed of Food Activism in Small-Town Virginia. Over the course of eight weeks, Ben Towill, the co-owner of the Fat Radish, and the photographer Patrick Dougherty are biking 4,500 miles across the U.S. to talk to strangers about food. Each week, they’ll file a post about their discoveries. While in our area, they visited the Louisa County Community Cupboard, which is worth knowing about if you grow food nearby and have extra. You can take it there and help those less well-off.


Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame. Photo Bridget Aleshire
Pulling plastic over the hoophouse frame.
Photo Bridget Aleshire

My latest post on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening blog is

How to Put New Plastic on a Hoophouse (High Tunnel): A Step-by-Step Guide.  This is based on our recent experience of replacing just the outer layer, as well as our previous replacements of both layers on the same day.


broadcaster-picture-e1443112899347For more winter reading see the Organic Broadcaster November/December issue. There are articles on silvopasture, the benefits of organic, how to do cost assessments of various crops and markets, collective marketing, organic no-till, a review of Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture, the MOSES Conference, and the controversial practice of aquaponics. Well, it’s not the practice of aquaponics that’s controversial, but rather whether a system without soil can ever be truly organic.

Take Back Organic by Dave Chapman, is a report from the National Organic Coalition (NOC) meeting. Many hydroponic operations are gaining organic certification, even though most organic farmers disagree with the USDA decision to allow hydroponics.”Keep the Soil in Organic” has become a rallying cry. Others include “Take Back Organic,” “Soil Matters,” “Keep Organic Real For Me,” “Dirt Matters,” and “Soil Grown.”.

“On the first day of the meeting, a group of Vermont farmers gathered outside at lunchtime for a protest against the weakened organic standards. It started with a procession of marchers and tractors (and one beautiful delivery truck!). . . . As the standards get watered down to become “Certified Sort Of Organic,” we see something  precious that we have worked at for a long time being diluted.”

Eliot Coleman, one of the mentors of organic farming, addressed the meeting and read the following parts of the 1980 USDA report called “Report  and Recommendations on Organic Farming”. That report listed some of the “basic tenets” of organic agriculture:
“Feed the Soil, Not the Plant — Healthy plants, animals, and humans result from balanced, biologically active soil.”  “Soil is the Source of Life — Soil quality and balance (that is, soil with proper levels of organic matter, bacterial and biological activity, trace elements, and other nutrients) are essential to the long-term future of agriculture. Human and animal health are directly related to the health of the soil.”

There is now a USDA Task Force on Hydroponics and Aquaponics in Organic. Unfairly, two thirds of the task force members were selected for their support of including hydroponics and aquaponics in organic certification.

Barbara Damrosch wrote about the farmers demonstration in the Washington Post
www.keepthesoilinorganic.org is a blog on the topic of keeping aquaculture and hydroponics separate from organic certification.


And lastly, for today, here’s a link to the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH).  SERCH connects the public, academic, and private sector organizations, researchers, and outreach specialists and provides technical support, tools and strategies for responding to climate change. Their goal is to help producers cope with challenges associated with drought, heat stress, excessive moisture, longer growing seasons, and changes in pest pressures.

The current El Niño is on track to be one of the largest on record (since 1950, and. has the potential to surpass the 1997/1998 event, which has been the strongest El Niño so far. Most climate models are in agreement that this episode will peak during the winter and subside to neutral conditions in the spring or summer of 2016. Above average precipitation is expected across the Southeast (see the map below).

off01_prcp

off01_tempTemperature is harder to predict. Sometimes an El Niño can cause above average temperature, sometimes below normal. Currently, December looks like being above average for both temperature and precipitation. In winter, the Arctic Oscillation (AO) plays a strong role in our temperatures. The past two winters have demonstrated this. The AO switches phases fairly unpredictably over weeks or sometimes just days. If it weakens, we can expect nasty cold temperatures again, as Arctic air zooms south to greet us.

El Niño can also cause storms to track along the southern states, if the right temperatures are in place. The SERCH Winter Season Outlook concludes: “However, I do not expect this winter to receive above normal snowfall. For most of the winter, I believe it will be above normal for temperature and precipitation.”

VABF Richmond Area Farm Tours, Buckwheat Trials, Methane and Climate Change

2015rvafarmtour8x11The Virginia Association for Biological Farming has organized this event, and Twin Oaks Community Garden will be tourable at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday (ONLY!). Tickets (per vehicle) are $25 in advance, $30 on the day, for as many farms as you care to tour.

BUY TICKETS

Download Farm Tour Guide

Read all about it: 2015 Richmond Virginia Area Farm Tour #RVAFarmTour

Shake the Hands that Feed You!  October 3 & 4, 2015 1 PM to 6 PM
Spend the weekend of October 3 & 4 touring Richmond area organic farms!
Buy your ticket now. Load up your car with friends and family (one ticket covers everyone!) and head out for a day — or two — of meeting area biological farmers and seeing where and how your food is grown. Go at your own pace. This farm tour weekend is self-paced with farms located throughout the area.

Interested in volunteering? Help us support the local organic food movement in Richmond. Volunteer on one day of the tour and receive a free pass to take the tour on the other day of the tour with a carload of people. Please contact Sue Ellen Johnson at [email protected].

More info on the tour and the farms

FARMS:
Amy’s Garden, Avery’s Branch Farms, Broadfork Farm, Byrd Farm, ChiknEGG Cook ‘N Nook,  delli Carpini Farm, Elim Springs Farm, Forrest Green Farm, Reynolds Community College Gardens, Keenbell Farm, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, Renew Richmond Community Farm,  Shalom Farms, Tricycle Gardens, Twin Oaks Community Garden, Victory Farms, Virginia Vegetable Company, Waverly Farm

Read More About the Farms Here


Welcome to Twin Oaks Photo Wren Vile
Welcome to Twin Oaks
Photo Wren Vile

And if you can’t make it then, maybe you have enough interest in buckwheat and other technical gardening details to join the VABF-VSU Buckwheat Trials Field Tour at Twin Oaks:

Twin Oaks Garden Tour: Oct 7, 2015, 4pm – 6pm

Buckwheat trials are now underway on four Virginia farms. A field tour at Old Crowe Farm in Red Oak happened on August 22. Now it’s the turn of Twin Oaks. The buckwheat trial plots are unlikely to still have buckwheat. Instead you can see the next stage of our experiment – a version of Carol Deppe’s Eat-All Greens. I reviewed her lovely book, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening here. Carol lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she broadcasts small patches of various carefull;y selected crops to cut at an adolescent stage and use for salads or cooking greens. Here in the mid-Atlantic, we are experimenting with fall sowing of rows of various crops that she recommends, and a few others to see what happens.

We can also talk about about cover crops, year-round vegetable production and fall season crops.

http://www.twinoaks.org/

Twin Oaks Community, 138 Twin Oaks Road, Louisa, VA 23093


Methane and Climate Change.

I received a comment on my review of Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture. I’ve given Randall Snyder’s comment more thought and replied to him. Here is some information I found while reading Ben Hartman’s Lean Farm (review coming soon, I promise!)

a0701e00Is animal farming the chief cause of climate change? Not according to what I’ve read. A UN report (FAO Livestock’s Long Shadow, 2006) says that cattle-rearing generates 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured as the CO2 equivalent. 37% of all human-induced methane  (which is 23 x as warming as CO2) is largely produced by the digestive systems of ruminants. So, clearly livestock farming makes a big contribution to climate change. But the high level of pollution from cattle is because of intensive agriculture. Specifically, feeding grain to cattle rather than grazing them. In order to produce lots of meat cheaply, industrial farmers feed grain, which is not a natural part of the ruminants’ diet.The UN says we need to improve animal diets in order to reduce enteric fermentation and methane emissions. Cost-cutting by industrial farming has simply passed even larger costs to all of humanity.

We need to eat. Some people like to eat meat. There are parts of the world where farming with grazing animals makes best use of the land. For example, slopes and highly erodeable soils are best kept under sod, rather than plowed up for crop farming. On many farms some combination of vegetable, grain, tree crop and meat farming makes sense, and indeed the diversity can be a strategy for dealing with a changeable and unpredictable climate, as Laura Lengnick points out in Resilient Agriculture. Ducks, chickens and pigs can eat food scraps and vegetable crop residues, and contribute manure.

Reducing food waste is an important step to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Organic matter (including food) in landfills accounts for 16% of US methane emissions (Dana Gunders, “Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40% of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.” Natural Resources Defense Council, August 2012.)


And I’ll leave you with this fun, surprising, interactive website from the LA Times on the Food-Water-Footprint, where you can see how much water is used to produce the plate of food you choose. Inevitably the choices are limited, and the foods are all “Commercial US Average” (let’s hope we’re doing better!), but the information from the relative values is useful.

Chickpeas Photo LA Times
Chickpeas
Photo LA Times

 

Farmer-to-farmer Tips for Dealing with Climate Change

Red Salad Bowl lettuce. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Red Salad Bowl lettuce.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

As I read Laura Lengnick’s Resilient Agriculture I was struck by the many good ideas from farmers and growers for reducing the risks of climate change on our livelihood. The major transformation being brought by climate change is hard to consider. Producing food in the face of an increasingly erratic and unpredictable climate will be a big challenge. Here I will list the challenges and the practices mentioned by the farmers interviewed for the book. In the future I will explore some of the ideas in more detail.

Laura Lengnick’s framework

The vulnerability of each farm to the adverse effects of climate change is a combination of its exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

  • Exposure is the term for the conditions the region is facing: the severity of the risks. Collectively, we can reduce exposure overall by reducing emissions and increasing carbon sequestration. These broad efforts are vital, but will have less immediate effects at a farm level.
  • Sensitivity is a measure of how much a given farm is affected by those conditions. For example, if the farm in a flood plain in a region that can expect more floods in future, the sensitivity is higher than for farms in other regions, or farms in that region on high land.
  • Exposure and sensitivity together decide just how bad the effects of climate change could be.
  • Assessing the farm’s sensitivities provides a good starting point for planning adaptive strategies.
  • Adaptation is the most successful method for addressing the local challenges of climate change. Adaptive capacity includes our individual capability to respond and plan, our knowledge and understanding of the options, as well as each farm’s particular combination of economic, social and ecological conditions (the operating context).

 

A frosted strawberry flower with a black center. Photo Kathryn Simmons
A frosted strawberry flower with a black center.
Photo Kathryn Simmons

The challenges

  • Water issues (too much and too little) are being the most immediate changes in conditions.
  • Rising summer air temperatures, including night temperatures.
  • Average temperatures are set to rise 4-10 F before the end of this century, depending on our national reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, if any.
  • Colder winter and spring temperatures affecting bud burst of fruit and nut trees.
  • More extreme temperatures outside of our experience.
  • Increasing CO2 levels will provide some positive effects such as faster crop growth and earlier harvests.
  • Weeds which can grow faster than before.
  • Different bugs.
  • Different pest mammals.
  • Different plant diseases.
  • Hurricanes and other strong winds.
  • The East has become a bit warmer and has heavier rainfall/snowfall, while the West has become hotter and has a smaller percentage change in the amount of heavy precipitation.
Young blueberry bush in the snow. Credit Bridget Aleshire
Young blueberry bush in the snow.
Credit Bridget Aleshire

In the Southeast, farmers already report

  • More frequent extreme weather events of all types, more often.
  • More frequent summer droughts,
  • More and hotter heat waves,
  • Higher summer humidity,
  • Increased intensity of hurricanes,
  • Starting around 1980, the length of the frost-free season in the SE became 6 days longer. Ours is the region of the US with the smallest change.
  • The Southeast has seen a 27% increase in the amount of rain and snow dropping down as very heavy precipitation.
We run out stored drip-tape using a garden cart, rebar axle and four spring clamps. CREDIT: Luke J Stovall.
We run out stored drip-tape using a garden cart, rebar axle and four spring clamps. CREDIT: Luke J Stovall.

Some responses

We need to be ready for these challenges, at the same time as we reduce our own carbon footprints and campaign for national changes. In some cases we have already been practicing some of the skills we’ll need. Other practices we will need to make a conscious effort to learn.

  • Grow a diversity of crops and livestock to spread the risk. Whatever the weather, something will grow (surely?)
  • Diversify to include some annual vegetables because of problems with late frosts or insufficient chilling hours that can lead to a complete crop failure in perennial crops such as fruits and nuts.
  • Grow mixtures of cover crop seed, cocktails of 10 – 20 different cover crops, to increase the chance of improving the soil and gaining longer-term benefits of resilience.
  • Build soil organic matter been more than we have been doing.
  • Learn from our experience (monitor crops, keep good records, adjust planting schedules).
  • Stop growing the most challenging crops.
  • Consider focusing on spring and fall crops, reducing crop production in mid-summer.
  • Learn from the experience of other local farmers (pool our wisdom)
  • Consult farmers in regions that have been hotter/wetter/drier and have had pest and disease issues we anticipate.
  • Pay attention to the weather and learn to forecast local weather.
  • Make plans we are prepared to change as conditions change. Resilience.
  • For risky crops, have a Plan B if conditions are not right at planting time or harvest time.
  • Have enough workers, seeds and machines to take advantage of smaller windows of opportunity.
  • Take advantage of any changes we can benefit from. Some vegetable growers noted the arrival of longer growing seasons, and particularly, a longer fall season before cold weather arrived.
  • Improve irrigation systems and access to water supplies.
  • Learn the water needs and critical periods for water for each crop we grow.
  • Improve soil drainage and soil water-holding capacity.
  • Bring more land into production.
  • Increase yields by intensifying production.
  • Plant shelter belt trees to reduce impact of increased strength winds.
  • Learn about C3 and C4 plants. Production of C3 plants increases as CO2 increases, but are less productive under hot and dry conditions. We’ll need to be paying attention.
  • Learn about Growing Degree Days and how to use this information to make decisions based on current conditions. Almanacs from the 19th century won’t help us decide planting dates any more.
  • Practice sustainable soil nutrient cycling for maximum benefits.
  • Use hoophouses for weather-protection as well as season extension and pest protection.
  • If fruit crops are an important part of your farm, invest in wind machines to combat spring frosts during bloom.
  • Keep a living root in the ground at all times – reduce periods of unplanted soil.
  • Consider cross-training: vegetable growers look at including some livestock, livestock farmers look at including some vegetables.
The 30' x 96' gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community
The 30′ x 96′ gothic-style hoophouse at Twin Oaks Community

Some Resources