CIRS Blog about Rural California
Cover crops don’t look like much. To the untrained eye, these vast fields of green grasses, clovers, and legumes might be reminiscent of a long-neglected lawn gone to seed. For acres. On the contrary, these in-between crops are anything but the product of neglect. And they’re growing in popularity as a relatively easy way for farmers raising commodity crops at an industrial scale to show some care for the environment. In fact, the rapid growth in their use can be seen as one of the more hopeful things to come along in the world of big commodity corn and soy farming in a long time.
An important report released last month by the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program found that the 750 Midwestern farmers surveyed planted 350 percent more cover crops in 2012 than they had just four years earlier. And SARE expects even more of these crops will be put in the ground this fall.
Why do these numbers matter? As Rob Myers, one of the University of Missouri scientists behind the SARE survey, sees it: “From a sustainability standpoint, one of the best things a farmer can do is plant cover crops.”
We’ve all heard the drumbeat from nutrition experts: Eat more fruits and vegetables. We know this advice is good for our health. But what does it mean for our land—and for the farmers who grow food on our land?
With obesity rates at epidemic levels, easier access to fruits and vegetables is important, especially in low-income neighborhoods where healthy options can be hard to find. But ramping up demand for affordable produce means stepping up production, which means more demand on land and water.
How we use these resources will affect our environment and communities for years to come. We need to find new ways to protect both human health and the health of our land long into the future.
The poverty of the Central Valley of California and the abundance of the region’s agriculture is a conundrum. Even though there has been a decrease in community-based access to healthy food, and a rise in chronic disease in the heartland of the state of California, and the nation, we are beginning to see people and agriculture coming together for the good of both.
The exciting change arising in the Central Valley, honoring our agricultural roots and reinventing our regional economy, has been led by the smart growth investments of Smart Valley Places, with support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation. These buds of change are blossoming into a new triple-bottom-line Central Valley economy that honors the environment, equity and economics. Environmentalists, supporters of the organic movement, and advocates for social justice, are not the only ones talking the regional food system talk anymore. The Fresno Business Council, the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and regional cities are choosing smart growth and healthy communities and realizing that the Central Valley, a place with the capacity to feed the nation, can also feed our region. Institutions (such as schools, hospitals and city and county governments) are looking at their ability to access healthier, affordable local food, and the ability for local purchasing to drive their economies home.
Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, California, shares his research on the widely used herbicide Atrazine and its disturbing effects on frogs, the environment, and on public health. We learn that Atrazine is the most widely used herbicide in North America. Atrazine is used throughout the United States to control weeds in agricultural fields, residential lawns, Christmas tree farms, and, golf courses, despite evidence of its toxic nature. Professor Hayes’ research published in Narture magazine shows that there is enough Atrazine in rainwater in Iowa to make male frogs “yolk eggs in their testes.” This module shows what can happen when a company in Switzerland is allowed to market their products in America when they can not be sold in Switzerland or most of Europe.
There is a contradiction of US interests opposing child labor in the international context while allowing agricultural exceptionalism to undermine child labor protections here in the US. Agriculture is the largest employer of children worldwide. According to the UNFAO, “Poverty and child labor interact in a vicious cycle and are mutually reinforcing. In rural areas, there is need to fight poverty and hunger in order to fight child labor.”
Beginning farmers face a number of serious barriers. This narrative in the first person explains some of those and offers solutions from the perspective of Neysa King, a young farmer.
I began my blog Dissertation to Dirt in May 2009. I was hoping to answer a single question: can young Americans make a career of farming?
By Gail Feenstra*, David Visher*, and Shermain Hardesty**
A recent study by University of California researchers examines factors that influence the development of emerging distribution networks embedded in values-based supply chains. Included in the study are financial considerations, government regulations, industry business practices and entrepreneurial factors. The study looks at five values-based supply chains in the California produce industry to draw out insights, best practices and conclusions.