All posts by onlinesustfoodfarm

The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers online education leading to college degrees in Sustainable Food and Farming.

Destructive farming is the issue — not whether you eat meat or vegetables

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Growing grain for cattle — who eat grass, not grain — is one of the worst idea humans have had.

The ongoing destruction of the globe’s rainforests has been brought into devastating focus by the Amazonian blazes. One of the chief mainstream responses has been: “Stop eating meat.”

On the face of it, that’s an understandable response. Much forest destruction is caused by agriculture, mostly livestock farming. About 80% of Amazonian soya grown is for cattle feed. About 60% of the cleared land is used for pasture. Horrendous. But “Stop eating meat” is a simplistic response that ignores the bigger problem: destructive agriculture.

We’ve been increasingly dividing diets into plant vs animal. It’s a split that fits nicely into social media virtue-signalling and current (insanely misguided) nutritional advice. It’s an ideological division. Viewing this sort of compartmentalising through the prism of rainforest concerns highlights its unhelpfulness.

Continue reading Destructive farming is the issue — not whether you eat meat or vegetables

Our Food is Killing Us

NY Times – August 26, 2019

 Dariush Mozaffarian and 

Mr. Mozaffarian is dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Mr. Glickman was the secretary of agriculture from 1995 to 2001.

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Alex Edelman/Getty Images

The Democratic debate on health care has to date centered around who should be covered and who should pay the bill. That debate, which has been going on for decades, has no clear answers and cannot be easily resolved because of two fundamental realities: Health care is expensive, and Americans are sick.

Americans benefit from highly trained personnel, remarkable facilities and access to the newest drugs and technologies. Unless we eliminate some of these benefits, our health care will remain costly. We can trim around the edges — for example, with changes in drug pricing, lower administrative costs, reductions in payments to hospitals and providers, and fewer defensive and unnecessary procedures. These actions may slow the rise in health care spending, but costs will keep rising as the population ages and technology advances.

And Americans are sick — much sicker than many realize. More than 100 million adults — almost half the entire adult population — have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million people and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year, or about 2,300 deaths each dayThree in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy.

Instead of debating who should pay for all this, no one is asking the far more simple and imperative question: What is making us so sick, and how can we reverse this so we need less health care? The answer is staring us in the face, on average three times a day: our food.

Continue reading Our Food is Killing Us

Boston Passes a Groundbreaking Food Justice Ordinance

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“In short, the Good Food Purchasing Program helps build the local, sustainable, thriving food culture that we know we need—for the sake of our planet and for the health of generations to come,” said Corporate Accountability’s Alexa Kaczmarski.(Photo: Yarian Gomez/flickr/cc)

Food justice advocates heaped praise on Boston Monday after the city’s legislative body unanimously passed an ordinance that boosts the local economy and environment as well as workers, animal welfare, and healthful eating.

“With this passage, Boston has loosened the stranglehold that corporations have over our food system, especially in schools,” said Alexa Kaczmarski, senior organizer at Corporate Accountability, following the vote on the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP).

“This will have ripple effects throughout the entire nation,” she added.

The GFPP, sponsored by Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu, affects public food purchasers, the largest of which is the Boston Public Schools, which has a $18 million Continue reading Boston Passes a Groundbreaking Food Justice Ordinance

Are their jobs for college graduates in sustainable agriculture?

gradOne of my most popular blogs was “Sustainable agriculture jobs after college”  in which I reflected on the process of getting work after graduating college. ”  In this next essay, I share a few thoughts about the jobs situation in sustainable agriculture.  My conclusion is that while there is much work that needs to be done, well-paying, meaningful lifetime “career” jobs that offer a sense of security are hard to find.  At the same time, many mid-career folks  who have security are finding their work unfulfilling.

It may be that getting hired for a lifetime job is an unrealistic expectation in our emerging “on-demand” economy.  And while that realization may feel disheartening, it Continue reading Are their jobs for college graduates in sustainable agriculture?

Eliot Coleman’s definition of organic

UNDERSTANDING ORGANIC FARMING – SEVEN POINTS – Eliot Coleman

colemanThe popular press defines organic farming by the toxic chemicals it rejects.

A more accurate portrayal defines organic by the biological systems it embraces.

  1. Real organic farming is based on the creation and maintenance of a biologically active fertile soil.
  2. Organic farming succeeds because of the benefits derived from that fertile soil.

Successful production of pest-free plants and animals with active immune systems is a direct outcome of farming a biologically active fertile soil that has been shown to induce pest and disease resistance in the crops. Pesticides are rejected because they are not needed where # 1 is done correctly.

  1. Extensive modern scientific research into the marvelously complex soil micro-biome is revealing the vital ecological processes that support organic agriculture. This research underscores the intuitive brilliance of the founding organic farmers.
  2. As a bonus, truly fertile soil produces food of the highest nutritional quality. This was the foremost initial aim of the soil care techniques that became organic farming.
  3. Soil fertility does not require inputs from off the farm. It can be endlessly self-renewed with farm-derived compost, crop rotations, green manures, cover crops, grazing livestock, and other time-honored soil-care practices that nurture the boundless energy and logic of the earth. Real organic farming focusses on redesigning agricultural production methods rather than merely substituting organic inputs for chemical inputs.
  4. Deep rooting grass and legume pastures in the rotation help to maintain fertility and make available the almost inexhaustible mineral supply from the lower levels of the soil. Grazing livestock benefit the soil; pasture raising benefits the livestock.
  5. Most significant of all, since the biological systems of the real organic farm are powered by ecologically sound management – rather than by purchased inputs – this food production system is accessible at no cost by farmers everywhere and can thus feed the planet with exceptional food in perpetuity. That clear path to a bounteous well-fed future for mankind will remain neglected if we allow any misunderstandings about – and subversions of – the foundational concepts of real organic farming to go unchallenged. CAFOs for livestock and hydroponic fruit and vegetable production are NOT organic.

Do you agree?


If you want to explore this topic in more depth and learn some practical skills along the way, check out our fall online class,

STOCKSCH 320 – Organic Vegetable Production Online

All of our online classes cost $482/credit…. for more information, click on the class link above.

Do you have a “BS job”? Have you thought about farming?

Excerpts from The Economist interview with David Graeber, author of..

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The Economist: What is a “bullshit job” and can you give a few examples?

David Graeber: A bullshit job is one that even the person doing it secretly believes need not, or should not, exist. That if the job, or even the whole industry, were to vanish, either it would make no difference to anyone, or the world might even be a slightly Continue reading Do you have a “BS job”? Have you thought about farming?

Why We Can’t Separate Justice and Sustainability in the Food System

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, SCIENTIST, FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT | JANUARY 31, 2019

Most of us wish we could eat with the confidence that everything on our plate has a story we can feel good about, a story about taking care of both people and the environment. In the food system (as elsewhere) these twin issues, justice and sustainability, have often been talked about as if they were unrelated, independent problems with separate solutions.

This disconnect has consequences. Our understanding of the connections between justice and sustainability shapes our work in the food system and determines our chances of making real progress toward our goals. We know that industrial agriculture–large-scale, highly mechanized monoculture farming systems making intensive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers–does not meet these aspirations. We know that the food system with industrial agriculture as its foundation does not protect the environment, does not protect human health, and doesn’t produce enough nutritious food or distribute it equitably. Sustainability and justice are connected, in part, because injustice and Continue reading Why We Can’t Separate Justice and Sustainability in the Food System

Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?

Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?
These “sibling” pairs of trees only differ in whether they have the blight-tolerant gene. These are grown at the Lafayette Road Experiment Station in Syracuse, N.Y. TNS

Original Post in the LA Times – June 25, 2019

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The wild chestnuts around this leafy college town used to grow in such great numbers that locals collected the nuts by the bushel and shipped them off to New York City for a small fortune.

These days, though, it can be hard to find a single tree thanks to a devastating blight imported from Asia in the late 1800s.

“Every fall, I look for the burs,” said Neil Patterson of the Tuscarora Nation, a Native American tribe that has lived in the region for centuries. His ancestors depended on the trees for food and medicine. But in 10 years of searching, he’s never found the spiny pods that hold the chestnut’s prized fruit.

Soon, scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry here could change that. They say they’ve found a way to resurrect the chestnut by giving it a gene Continue reading Should we resurrect the American chestnut tree with genetic engineering?

Sustainable Farming Grant Opportunities

Original Post – May 2, 2019

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Grant funding announcements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been log jammed due to a series of government delays over the course of the last six months: passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was delayed by roughly three months, the last several appropriations and budget bills have been delayed, and the government shutdown earlier this year put USDA behind schedule on their farm bill implementation work. Now that Congress and the government are fully back in action with a new farm bill and a fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget in place, USDA is finally releasing stalled funding opportunities for the coming fiscal year.

Open RFAs are listed below in order of the application deadline (soonest to farthest out).

For more detailed information on these and other USDA grant programs, see

Continue reading Sustainable Farming Grant Opportunities

The Healing Power of Gardens

This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.

As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.

The wonder of gardens was introduced to me very early, before the war, when my mother or Auntie Len would take me to the great botanical garden at Kew. We had common ferns in our garden, but not the gold and silver ferns, the water ferns, the filmy ferns, the tree ferns I first saw at Kew. It was at Kew that I saw the gigantic leaf of the great Amazon water lily, Victoria regia, and like many children of my era, I was sat upon one of these giant lily pads as a baby.

The Palm House at Kew Gardens in London.  CreditMike Kemp/in PIctures, via Getty Images

As a student at Oxford, I discovered with delight a very different garden — the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe. It pleased me to think that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.

Continue reading The Healing Power of Gardens