Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

posted by | on , , , | 1 comment

By Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist and DC EcoWomen member

I remember a time, growing up in a small rural community in the Caribbean, where my grandfather would disappear into the backyard on Sunday for about an hour and return with a chicken– dead and defeathered– for my grandmother to prepare for lunch. Back then your eggs, peas, and even orange juice came from the backyard. And, if for some reason you didn’t have enough, you called your neighbor over the fence.

These were my first impressions of food and how we eat. Food was not about driving to the grocery store, examining labels, or wondering whether you should pay the extra $2 for the organic version. I may be showing my age here, but while my childhood experience may be from another generation, our food system has changed. Drastically.

Food deserts abound in poorer communities, especially communities of color who, now removed from living in close cooperation with the land — like my grandparents did, fight the challenges of distance and decreasing paychecks to put fresh, healthy foods on their tables. These communities face very real food insecurity challenges that tend to go ignored.

Our diets have also changed. Indigenous varieties of corn, once in shades of black, red or blue have been replaced by yellow– the color corporate agriculture has decided we should prefer. Not only that, but this corn is genetically engineered to resist the pesticides we spray on fields, killing beneficial insects, and poisoning our waterways. Instead of chickens running in open backyards, like those at my grandparent’s house, thousands are crammed into tiny holding cages, often unable to walk and fed antibiotic and hormone-laced grain until they become so large and deformed that they cannot stand.

Let’s face it. The way we grow food and feed our families has changed. And while we are told large monoculture fields, factory farms, intensive chemical application, and corporate takeover of our seed banks is the way we will feed a growing global population, we are beginning to see the ravages industrial agriculture places on our environment and farmworker health.

However, there are sustainable ways we can grow our food system, put healthy foods on our tables, eliminate food deserts, and take pride in the stewardship of the land. Taking the lead are often small beginning farmers, many of whom are farmers of color returning to the ways our grandparents farmed with a few tweaks of their own. These farmers, along with farmer-led organizations that support them, are building collaborative networks in their communities integrating sustainable food production that enhances the environment and social health of people, while improving safe handling, distribution, and consumption of the food they produce.

African-American, Latinx, Native-American, Hmong farmers and others are finding ways to reintroduce indigenous varieties of fresh and healthy food back into their communities. These farmers are building their skills, training other farmers, focusing on building healthy soil, conserving water, and providing habitat for wildlife. They are in rural and urban communities, in food hubs, farmer’s markets, community gardens. They are involved with groups like the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS), bringing together farmers of color, educators, chefs and food justice advocates around conversations like, “Where does our food come from and who provides it?” and “Why don’t we see more Black farmers at the farmer’s markets?”

Unfortunately, at the national level, these farmers are often overlooked for federal funding to expand and retain their operations. For many years, federal policies did not grant the levels of support to farmers of color as they did to their white counterparts. This inequity has historically led farmers of color — often cash-strapped and unable to access credit or pay back loans — to lose their farms, pushing them out of business.

But things are changing and many organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, and others, are working on policy to increase farmers of color’s access to agriculture research and funding to sustain their farms. In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that oversees much of U.S. agriculture. There are some significant improvements to programs that support agriculture research for organic and sustainable systems, which will help beginning, underserved/farmers of color, and veteran farmers. These improvements include more funding for training and support. With new funds, these farmers will be able to get the support they need and help feed their communities.

The diversity of what we eat should be reflected by diversity in our food system and the farmers and workers who put food on our tables. A movement of farmers of color are primed to do just that while challenging our relationship with food. Will you join us?

Learn more about these farmers and organizations. Support sustainable food systems that also fight for food justice for all. Recommended Resources: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS) https://www.blackurbangrowers.org/; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition http://sustainableagriculture.net/; Rural Coalition https://www.ruralco.org/

Nichelle Harriott has spent 10+ years working to educate consumers about the food they eat and advance environmental health and agriculture policy. She is currently a policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and lives in Maryland where she plans her next travels.

Photo credits: Pixabay, USDA

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Global Warming Affects Our National Security and Agriculture

By Sodavy Ou

“Planning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits—saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment,” former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel

Similar to wealth, global warming’s detrimental impacts are not distributed equally across the globe.

Developed nations, such as the United States and Western European countries, have the resources to lessen the magnitude of global warming in their nations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for less developed nations where economic development needs outweigh environmental needs. However, since the world is inter-connected, environmental issues in other countries significantly influence the U.S. economy and national security.

Additionally, even though the U.S. can mitigate many environmental impacts, and even though most Americans feel relatively isolated from global warming, major changes in the national economy affect our daily life. Changes that we may have failed to notice.

Agriculture: A multi-billion dollar industry threatened by global warming

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain (Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain

In addition to feeding Americans, agriculture is an important sector of the U.S. economy. Contributing at least $200 billion to the economy each year, it also provides almost 17 million jobs for farmers, textile mill employees, and distributors, among others.

Changes in precipitation patterns—consequences of climate change—are already significantly affecting the economy. For instance, the severe drought in California, the top agricultural producing state, costs the state approximately 21,000 jobs and $900 million in revenue related to crop losses.

Stakeholders and consumers pay a high price

In 2011, a drought in Texas increased the price of feeding cattle. Three years later, the drought still influences the industry despite the recent rains in the Southern Plain. In its 2015 – 2016 Food Price Outlook, the USDA predicts that beef and veal prices will increase by 5.5 to 6.5 percent in 2015 and 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2016.

The same increase cannot be said for all fruit and vegetable prices, mainly because the cost of growing produce is much lower than the retail price. However, some fruits and vegetable prices have experienced a sharp increase. For instance, the USDA also predicts that lettuce and avocado prices will increase by 34 and 28 percent, respectively.

Changes in global temperatures and precipitation patterns affect national security

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

Tasked with ensuring American security, the Department of Defense plans for a wide range of contingencies. According to the DOD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap, this includes strategy to address global warming impacts that range from intensifying infectious diseases to terrorism to natural disasters.

One study demonstrated that changes in rainfall are associated with large- and small-scale political and social conflicts. It showed that as the global temperature increases, dry regions become drier and wet regions experience more severe floods, resulting in decreased food production. As food and water become scarce, social conflicts can intensify.

Global warming is not simply an environmental issue, but also an economic and national security issue, and various industries and players must continue to work collaboratively to address the threats properly.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in Long Beach, California. She received her Bachelors in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at University of California, Santa Barbara. Outside of the academic field, she enjoys hiking, camping, running, and any other activities that take her to the great outdoors.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Country Meet City: Urban Farming at Walker Jones

By Jamillah Muhammad

Welcome to the Farm at Walker JonesI recently attended the second EcoWomen urban farming event at the Walker Jones Educational Center. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s ward 6, it’s the last place you’d expect to see an open plot of land with rows of crops, bee hives, compost piles and pumpkin patches. With busy New Jersey Ave on one side, K Street on another, and a basketball court that sits between the farm and the public housing complexes on 1st St., the farm is like an oasis…albeit surrounded by chain link fencing, but an oasis nonetheless. I’ve done a fair amount of volunteering, but this was my first time on a farm. What I enjoyed the most was learning the science behind all of the decisions that are made, which techniques are used and why, and the challenges that accompany introducing an alternative learning project to a school system not typically open to change.

Once a lot with a dilapidated building on it, it is now home to bees, butterflies, marigolds, corn, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli and numerous other staples for the children to cultivate and eat. Creating a new educational tool, David Himly (a teacher at Walker Jones and a tropical biologist) runs the farm and has fought to add it to the school’s curriculum. The children get a hands-on outdoor escape from the conventional elementary/middle school learning environment, as the farm sits adjacent to the school.

The children learn to cultivate plants and crops, but also learn the science behind farming. Why lavender plants are set next to the beehives, or why the black fly larvae is used for the compost instead of just worms. They learn what a cistern is, how a rain garden works, all while learning to work together and to communicate effectively outside of the classroom.

We worked to clean up, weed, sow seeds and add compost freshly sifted from a large pile at the far end of the lot. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the police cars, fire trucks and other city sounds wailing the background and focus on the experience. Luckily for us the sky stayed overcast for most of the day, keeping the sun out of our eyes as we weeded the rows.

When I think of farming, I used to imagine of acres and acres of land with rows and rows of crops, but now I have a much better understanding of how urban farming works and how a small plot of land can not only feed children physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I look forward to doing it again soon!

Related Resources:

Remember our last trip to Walker Jones?
Have ideas for volunteer opportunities you’d like to get involved with? Let us know, email Jen Howard >>