Category Archives: natural

The promise of ecological farming

farming's bright future

According to Reuters, a  recent U.N. report claims that ag production could be doubled within 10 years if farmers switched to ecological farming practices, especially in developing countries…

So far, eco-farming projects in 57 nations had shown average crop yield gains of 80 percent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests, it said.

Recent projects in 20 African countries had resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years. Those lessons could be widely mimicked elsewhere, it said.

“Sound ecological farming can significantly boost production and in the long term be more effective than conventional farming,” De Schutter told Reuters of steps such as more use of natural compost or high-canopy trees to shade coffee groves.

Typically, ecological farming requires less technology, so adoption would be easier for low-income farmers in developing regions. It’s a long-term strategy for sustainable growth —  build up production and the health of the soil at the same time.


Filed under environment, food, natural

New info on polyphenols

stress inducer

Polyphenols are a group of secondary metabolites produced by plants. Many also have health benefits for humans. In short, they are commonly considered antioxidants, but new research is revealing more detail on how these compounds work. This blog — Whole Health Source — by Stephan Guyenet is really interesting. The latest enty [HERE] is a well documented explanation of how some polyphenols don’t necessarily prevent oxidation in cells, but promote it at low levels, such that it stimulates the cells own antioxident response. His explanation is much better than mine.

The interesting thing is that some organically grown crops have been shown to contain higher levels of some polyphenols. Plants produce these compounds as a self defense mechanism against stresses caused by insects or other damage. Because organically grown crops are subject to higher levels of stress, they produce higher levels of polyphenols, and can therefor be healthier for humans.

For more info, go HERE. Dr. Alyson Mitchel (UC Davis) has done some fantastic research in this area.

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Filed under food-health connection, natural, organic, organic research

Natural farming goes beyond organic

Guatemala: a nice place to visit in January.

Haven’t blogged for a month. I’ve been traveling. Helped take a group of students to Guatemala and Costa Rica to look at culture and export horticulture in both regions. It was a great trip and a great group of students. Now I’m preparing for my annual Brazil trip to Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, the organic coffee farm paradise I’ve taken students to the last couple years. That happens mid-March and you can read about past trips HERE.

Ran across this article on a new method of “natural farming” coming out of Korea. Sounds similar to the concepts of One Straw Revolution and Permaculture. It’s gaining popularity in Hawaii and providing solutions for small-scale pork producers in that state who are struggling with odor and the issue it raises with neighbors…

“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.”

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Filed under natural, organic, small farms, travel and work

Raising questions about raising beef

happy cows in a happy field

Ever since Frances Moore Lappe authored Diet for a Small Planet back in 1971, some folks have been down on beef. The premise of that early work was that the solution to feeding everyone was to eliminate one of the foods that people love most — beef. It’s a compelling argument for vegetarians. The amount of land it takes to produce a steak is orders of magnitude larger than what it takes to produce the equivalent number of calories of edible vegetables. In addition to the efficiency argument, there was the health issue. In 1971 it was clear — fat is evil, especially animal fat, therefor, beef is the devil’s food. It’s killing us and taking up too much space.

Raising cows in CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations — provided beef production with the illusion of increased efficiency; more cows crammed into much smaller area. Problem solved until you look at how much space it takes to grow the corn to feed wall-to-wall cattle. Not to mention the other side effects of grain-fed beef — health and environmental. Forty years down the path we also now know that not all fat is bad. The fat from grass-fed animals might actually be good for us. So now the swing is back to raising animals on pasture. For this I am glad because I like meat. I’m not ready to be a vegetarian yet, and grass-fed makes me feel a lot better about it.

The result is that we’ve circled  back on a version of the original question — is animal production bad for the planet? If so, which is worse, grass-fed or grain-fed animal protein? According to Brian Palmer in the Washington Post this week, we really don’t know. He peruses some of the recent research on both sides and concludes there’s no clear answer.

From a strictly environmental perspective the answer is obvious — grass-fed wins! On a properly managed grass-based system, the land improves (soil quality, soil conservation, species diversity, water quality, etc.). The animals are healthier, and the system is easily sustained, because it takes a lot fewer external inputs to maintain. And animals such as cows can be raised on land that is of marginal quality, leaving the better land for growing higher yields of crops, including vegetables.

The trade-offs are that it takes longer to raise beef on a pure grass system. Ultimately, that results in a higher price for consumers. But within that higher costs, consumers are paying for environmental protection they are not getting from CAFO-raised beef.

Bottom line: eat grass-fed beef (and hogs and chickens and dairy). Go one better and buy these products directly from a local farmer. Doing so will help keep him/her in business and support the protection of the local environment.

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Filed under animal ag, environment, food, food-health connection, local food, natural

Food craft

Remember when food was a craft? Probably not. These guys are bringing it back. Watch this lovely video…


The Mast Brothers from The Scout on Vimeo.


The Mast Brothers. Many of their products are organic, but they have gone so far above and beyond in producing quality chocolate products, that organic is almost an afterthought.

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Filed under food, local food, natural, organic

A little piece of organic history: the strange death of J. I. Rodale

"I've decided to live to be 100."

I was reading through the object of my previous post — Historical Development of Organic Agriculture — when I stumbled across an incredible fact I had never heard before.

Anyone with a modicum of interest in organic farming will recognize the name Rodale. There are two Rodales, Jerome and his son Robert. Jerome was a successful businessman who became fascinated with natural farming methods, bought a farm and founded a publishing empire, writing and selling books on the natural life-style and organic farming. So controversial were his books that the Federal Trade Commission ordered him to stop selling them, claiming the advice therein was not consistent with modern medical science. The resulting legal fight went on for 20 years, and put at risk Jerome’s entire estate. By the end of it, doctors who had testified against Rodale at the beginning of the case were denouncing their earlier testimony, because subsequent medical research had proven Rodale’s ideas to be valid.

In 1971, Jerome’s picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Dick Cavett needed another guest for his show that night. They invited Jerome to appear. He did, and during the taping of that show, before a live audience, Jerome I. Rodale had a heart attack, and died.

There’s a wonderful account (if I can use that word) of the event HERE. It’s very interesting…

When I’m doing an appearance somewhere and taking questions from the audience, I can always count on: “Tell about the guy who died on your show!” I generally say, “I will, and I promise you that in a few moments you will be laughing.” (That gets a laugh.) I go on: “First, who would be the logical person to drop dead on a television show? A health expert.” (Laugh.) I go on to explain that he was Jerome I. Rodale, the publisher of (among other things) Today’s Health Magazine. (Laugh.) The irony gets thicker.

Robert Rodale, Jerome’s son took up the work. The Rodale Institute is still thriving and publishing cutting edge research and information on living healthfully and growing things without chemicals. Robert died in 1990 in an automobile accident in Moscow. He was in the Soviet Union to establish a Russian-language edition of The New Farmer.



Filed under ag education, agriculture, food-health connection, natural, organic

A history of organic

After careful study, we've determined the liklihood of the presence of soil at this location.

Organic didn’t start with the Hippy movement of the 60s. The intellectual foundation of natural, regenerative, sustainable, chemical-free farming goes way back.

If you want to learn more, this link will connect you to a YouSendIt download page for an Acrobat Adobe slide show presentation titled, Historical Development of Organic Agriculture.

It contains some great old images and texts from before the chemical (de)revolution.

The author of the presentation is Dr. Joel Gruver, School of Agriculture, Western Illinois University. He developed it for his Intro to Sustainable Ag class.

[NOTE: the YouSendIt link will only be live for a week.]

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Filed under ag education, agriculture, natural, organic