Category Archives: small farms

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

Book: a different field

the stories of real farmers in Illinois

Here’s a book I wrote several years ago. You can order it cheap from the University of Illinois.

A Different Field — Innovative Entrepreneurs in Illinois Farming

Grapes, earthworms, buffalo, pecans, honey, and catfish-not typically what comes to mind when thinking about farms in the state of Illinois. But these and other unusual “crops” are featured in a new book about innovative farmers. This book tells the stories of 18 farmers who are exploring alternatives to corn and soybeans: a first look at a growing trend in Illinois as consumers become “more conscious of their health and more particular about their food.”

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Filed under agriculture, environment, local food, organic, small farms

A ui webinar on legal issues in local foods

URBANA – University of Illinois county Extension offices will host the upcoming webinar, “Managing Legal Risks in the Direct Farm Business,” on Tuesday, Jan. 25 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. with a follow-up webinar on Thursday, Mar. 3, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.   A. Bryan Endres, associate professor of agricultural law at the University of Illinois, and attorney Nicholas R. Johnson have developed the webinar to  clarify some of the unique legal issues pertaining to direct farm businesses and  to guide direct farm business owners through the maze of laws.

The webinars will be held at 20 locations throughout Illinois. Visit for a complete list of locations and to register.

“In today’s food marketplace, more health-conscious consumers are seeking out local sources of food, and they are increasingly turning to direct farm businesses such as farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and U-pick operations to fill their needs,” Endres said.

“The farmers who run these businesses stand to benefit greatly from the increased demand, but in order to manage a successful direct farm businesses, owners need to navigate a labyrinth of laws and regulations.  These laws are implemented and enforced by more than a dozen local, state, and federal government authorities that each have their own (sometimes overlapping) requirements.  Just figuring out who to contact about a particular law or regulation can sometimes be a daunting task.  This webinar will help guide farmers through it.”

The webinar will look at general business topics such as taxation, labor and employment, business planning and setup, rules and regulations that apply to specific direct farm business products (such as dairy, eggs, grains, honey, livestock and poultry, fruits and vegetables, and organic produce), and other legal issues that may arise in the context of establishing and operating a direct farm business.

The follow-up webinar on Mar. 3 will address questions on issues that came up in the first webinar and provide an opportunity for participants to ask additional questions.

For complete information about locations and to register, visit the website or contact Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant at or 217-968-5583.

The webinars are sponsored by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (CFAR), North Central Risk Management Center, and University of Illinois Extension.

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Filed under local food, policy, small farms

A kid with message

Eleven year old, Birke Baehr, does a great job outlining the problems of our food system…

If you watch it at the TED site, read the comments. Very interesting. It’s a great microcosm of the big debate going on over food right now. On one side — “We need all these chemicals to feed the world!” On the other side — “We are killing the Earth and the people with our food!”

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Filed under ag education, food, food-health connection, gmos, local food, organic, small farms

Wwoof your way around the world


I’ve heard of people working on organic farms in other countries (there’s one sitting about 4-feet from me right now), but here’s an organization through which you can actually find organic farms to visit, live and work on.

It’s called Wwoofing, and it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Wwoofing, “has become an international movement that is helping people share more sustainable ways of living.”

WWOOF is an exchange – In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

WWOOF organisations link people who want to volunteer on organic farms or smallholdings with people who are looking for volunteer help.

This is one of those win-win situations. Adventurous farmies and foodies get to see the world on the cheap and meet interesting people. Small-scale farmers get some labor (on-the-cheap). Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. The grad student sitting 4-feet away from me has used Wwoof to find and work on several farms in the US and other countries, including Africa. For the most part, his experiences were excellent, but there were a couple bad ones. Unfortunately, the Wwoof web site doesn’t have review capabilities that allow traveling farm workers the chance to provide public feedback on their experiences on particular farms.

If you’ve worked on a farm through Wwoof, leave a comment and tell us about your experiences!

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