Tag Archives: organic farming

Agriculture and the Media

Friday morning, I biked to Portland’s EcoTrust building for a conference that I learned about just last week at a Friends of Family Farmers event: Food+Agriculture Media Project. The idea was to get food and ag journalists, editors and researchers together to talk shop, meet each other, and maybe learn a few things along the way. I did all three!

The keynote speaker was from American Public Media’s Marketplace program, Adriene Hill. She talked about the challenge reporters face in trying to keep issues like organic food and global warming fresh to a weary audience. If a story about global warming leads with the subject itself, no one hears the story—the people who agree with the idea pat themselves on the back and turn off the story, and those who don’t agree curse at the radio and turn off the story. But, she continued, if the story begins with the price of chocolate going up everyone listens, even as the cause is identified as global warming.

Food, Hill noted, is uniquely suited to lead into any number of topics. “Everyone eats,” she said, “so everyone can relate on some level.”

After a few presentations about storytelling and the necessity of multimedia platforms, a panel convened to discuss the subject of raising and eating meat. The panelists considered a number of angles of meat production, discussing the cost of raising and processing grass-fed beef and compassionately raised poultry, and how that cost consigns the farmer to meager profits and precludes many from being able to afford it.

They also talked about the utter failure of the federal Farm Bill to meet the needs of mid-sized farmers and ranchers. Microenterprises and, especially, corporate industries fare much better, in the latter case to the detriment of vast swaths of land as well as people. A rancher from Eastern Oregon remarked that if direct subsidies from the Farm Bill were reinvested in conservation efforts, the landscape would “change overnight.”

What was sort of amazing—exciting and daunting at the same time—is how clear everyone is about how no one has all the answers, and they’re also not sure how to collect and assemble them. The Big Picture, it turns out, may be altogether too big for any single person to comprehend. As I contemplate future projects in the world of agriculture and rural life, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

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Organic Gardening: Not the Hippie Lovefest It’s Made Out to Be

I don’t want to start bashing any particular farming resource—they are all valuable! However, this article from Urban Farm is an example of the thing that drives me crazy about most rural-living reference material. In their mania to sell copies, the publishers sell hope by making farming seem natural and effortless.

In this piece, the author grows broccoli. Awesome. Broccoli is indeed a great over-wintering plant. However, it is also a favorite of aphids. Organic food-growers love to downplay the threat that pests can pose to a garden. Just spray a little soapy water on the aphids, and they’ll disappear! So easy! Go play with your children!

Guess what: “a misting of insecticidal soap on the morning of a sunny day” is not going to cut it. Firstly, the aphids I’ve dealt with are not so stupid as to hang out on the topside of a leaf, where they’ll get dried out by the sun, eaten by birds and noticed by you. They congregate on the undersides.

Secondly, they reproduce faster than rabbits. In fact, rabbits could learn a thing or two from aphids, whose females can reproduce asexually, as many as twelve times a day! Before I took aphids seriously, I would give my brassicas (the family of plants that includes broccoli and also collard greens, Brussels sprouts, etc.) a cursory glance, not see any trouble, and move on. Then, I turned a leaf over … and gaped. There were thousands of them, green so they blended in. Clever little things.

I had read in some book or article to “wash aphids off with a garden hose,” so I tried it. I got some, but most just dug in their mouthparts and refused to budge. I think I heard them giggling. Insecticidal soap (part vegetable oil, part dish soap, mostly water) was slightly more effective because it sticks to them and desiccates their soft bodies. The best means of killing them was to smash/smear them all with my thumbs, but this took a long time. All of it made a mess of the poor plant.

So, what to do? The best thing is to catch them early. I resigned myself to harvesting warped, half-eaten broccoli spears and Brussels sprouts. Maybe you’ll do better! Share your struggles and successes in the comments field—but no false organic happy happy joy joy, please …

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