For 15 years, Felda Alividza and 21 other widows in this village in Kenya’s Vihiga County have grown something that might not sound that unusual: indigenous African vegetables.
But in a country where many farmers focus on raising kale, cabbage or spinach to sell locally – or higher earning broccoli and cauliflower – traditional African vegetables have often been overlooked, not least because seed for them can now be hard to find.
The Musiega Women Group, however, is one of more than 1,200 such cooperatives in western Kenya following the advice of Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o, an evangelist for a return of African indigenous vegetables and other crops to curb malnutrition and hunger.
In front of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Tucson, patrons can claim round concrete landscaping beds for free and create their own gardens with seeds from the library’s seed collection. Some of the three-foot-wide planters are festooned with exuberant jungles of squash, flowers and trellised bean plants, while others look more Zen garden than vegetable garden.
In addition to books and DVDs, in 2012 the Pima Country Public Library system became one of the first in the nation to circulate seeds. Aspiring gardeners can look up varieties electronically, put seeds on reserve and check out 10 packs at a time. Availability changes with the seasons: By mid-September, tomato seeds are long gone, but many other seeds — including dill, arugula, cucumbers, the flat white teardrop shapes of squash seeds, and the small dry beads of tepary beans — rattle in paper envelopes. Participating branches offer support as well as seeds, such as gardening classes, brochures, and, of course, books. The greenest beds flourish with flowers, herbs, vegetables and an idea: That public libraries can be resources for local food growers as well as local readers.
When the worst of Irma’s fury had passed, Gene McAvoy hit the road to inspect citrus groves and vegetable fields. McAvoy is a specialist on vegetable farming at the University of Florida’s extension office in the town of LaBelle, in the middle of one of the country’s biggest concentrations of vegetable and citrus farms.
It took a direct hit from the storm. “The eyewall came right over our main production area,” McAvoy says.
The groves of orange and grapefruit were approaching harvest. But after Irma blew through, it left “50 or 60 percent of the fruit lying in water [or]on the ground,” says McAvoy. Many trees were standing in water, a mortal danger if their roots stay submerged for longer than three or four days.
Making the transition from agriculture to solar farming…
As Kevin Sullivan slowly rumbles his pickup truck across his 60-acre farmnear the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, he leans in and asks: “What’s farmland?”
“You picture [a] cow,” says Sullivan. Perhaps “Farmer Joe, like me.” Maybe you think about my tomatoes and peppers, he adds.
But now, Sullivan and other New England farmers are turning their farms into sources of another kind of commodity – electricity. They are allowing utility companies to set up solar panels on their land, and in the process making some much-needed extra money.
Sullivan, like many New England farmers, had been struggling to make ends meet in recent years; a volatile market and slumping commodity prices have challenged many farmers in the region.
Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.
“This is the liquid nitrogen tank,” Deppe explains. “It’s a million-and-a-half gallon tank.”
Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.
“How much nitrogen goes out of here in a year?” I ask.
Deppe pauses, reluctant to share trade secrets. “Not enough,” he eventually says with a smile. “Because I’m in sales.”
For the environment, though, the answer is: Way too much.
A staple food in the diet of millions throughout the Andean states, quinoa has 36 percent more protein and 73 percent more fiber than wheat. Its protein content covers all eight essential amino acids and it has high levels of iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as B vitamins riboflavin and folic acid.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, quinoa could help “fight against hunger and food insecurity”.
The UN declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. But four years on, Bolivian quinoa has suffered some setbacks.
Prices have fallen dramatically as new competitors, such as Peruvian farmers who, with the aid of synthetic fertilisers, produce two harvests a year instead of the one harvest in Bolivia, where synthetic fertilisers aren’t used, enter the market.
Jim Adams met his wife on a trip to Uganda a decade ago. Rosette Basiima Adams, 35, grew up in Kasese, a town, she said, where “everything we ate, we grew.”
“I went to see the gorillas in the Congo,” Mr. Adams, 42, recalled recently. But he left his tour group and ended up meeting Rosette, who was working at a hostel where he stayed.
Today, the couple are trying to grow a business cultivating crops on suburban lawns on Long Island. Their business, Lawn Island Farms, is the result of research and a desire to find a way to farm on the island.
A potential solution to the Virgin Islands’ susceptibility to food shortages…
In the US Virgin Islands (USVI), dense green vegetation and turquoise waters suggest a land of plenty, where the tropical sun allows crops to grow year round. But the verdant landscape belies a simple truth: food shortage is a constant threat.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, residents of the USVI import more than 97 percent of their food. The situation leaves the islands highly vulnerable to any shocks in global food systems. Changing commodity prices, influenced by global politics, affect production costs for farmers and food prices for consumers. And even simple logistical challenges, such as bad weather, can delay shipments, cutting off access to food or causing it to spoil in transit.
Our global dependency on a few crops could be problematic…
Governments may be seriously underestimating the risks of crop disasters occurring in major farming regions around the world, a study by British researchers has found.
The newly published research, by Met Office scientists, used advanced climate modelling to show that extreme weather events could devastate food production if they occurred in several key areas at the same time. Such an outcome could trigger widespread famine.
At the wine tasting room of Taylors Wines in Sydney, Australia, bottles are uncorked, poured, swished, sniffed and sipped. There’s a lot for employees to toast this year.
“The Australian wine sector is growing at a fast rate,” says Mitchell Taylor, the winery’s managing director. “And what is exciting is the top level, about 20 to 30 dollars a bottle and above, that segment is growing at 53 percent.”