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Rethinking ‘Pandora’s Potatoes’

Former Genetic Engineer for J.R. Simplot & Monsanto, Dr. Caius Rommens Questions Biotechnology Safety, Authors Book on His Work with Potatoes

Dr. Caius Rommens

For 26 years, Dr. Caius Rommens was an ambitious and prolific genetic engineer. He held positions of great responsibility at major corporations. As director of the company’s biotech effort from 2000 to 2013, he developed GM potatoes for the Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Company, the leading U.S. producer of frozen French fries. These GM potatoes are being sold under innocuous names such as Innate, Hibernate and White Russet in thousands of supermarkets across the United States and Canada. They are not labeled as GMO.

Eventually, growing doubts about his GM creations led Rommens to question the validity of the simplistic dogma of biotechnology and renounce his career. His re-evaluation of the data and study of the broader scientific literature has given him insight into the risks and fallacies of the GM potatoes he created. He recently published a slim volume entitled Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMOs to communicate what he has learned. Continue Reading →

Preserving a Way of Life with the Cooperative Model

Most of us Amish baby boomers grew up on family farms. We were farmers. We were born on the farm, or somewhere close by. The farm provided food and shelter. It was where we gathered for worship. We got married on the farm. Our elders died and were buried on the farm. We lived and breathed farming. It was what we knew and did. Everyone expected that we would someday own and operate our own farm.

Soil samples are collected from individual fields and sent to an outside lab for analysis. The lab reports are analyzed by Green Field Farms’ trained field specialists. They make recommendations for a custom blend of soil amendments to balance the soil for the intended crop.

In addition to providing the family’s income, the farm was considered the ideal setting to raise and nurture children to adulthood. Those of us who grew up on family farms can attest to this. One of our first responsibilities was tending animals. At a young age we were introduced to the cycle of life. We quickly learned the facts of reproduction, the miracle of birth and the stark finality of death.

A short 50 years ago, 90 percent of Amish families in North America were farmers. They lived and retired on the income from their small family farms. Today, less than 10 percent farm for a living. This transition from farming to other occupations is cause for concern — even alarm — within the community. The further we stray from our agricultural heritage, the more we acquire the social ills of the world around us.

Adapting to Change

On January 20, 2003, a group of 20 Amish farmers and business owners from Holmes County, Ohio, assembled to discuss these concerns. How did we get from there to here? What happened? What changed? What has this transition from farming to other occupations done to us, to our culture, and to our way of life? Is this where we want to be? If not, are we willing to do something about it? And, finally, what can be done? What will it take? Continue Reading →

Reducing Food Waste: Compost Production Recovers Nutrients for Soil Benefits

When you consider our nation’s health, the quality of our food, its decreasing nutritional value and the increased degradation of our farmland, it’s not a pretty picture — and the challenges related to these issues keep growing.

Green waste used as part of a mixture of ingredients for compost.

By 2050 the world’s population will likely reach close to 9 billion people. To feed everyone, we’ll need to globally produce more food. Yet, almost 40 percent of food currently produced ends up in landfills.

According to ReFED, a collaboration of over 50 business, nonprofit, foundation and government leaders committed to reducing food waste in the United States, American consumers, businesses and farms spend $218 billion per year growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food waste.

Food waste is a global problem. The 2017 Food Sustainability Index ranks 34 countries from best to worst. In France, No. 1 on the Index, supermarkets don’t toss food approaching its sell-by date; they must donate it to charities or food banks. This has lowered the country’s annual wastage to 1.8 percent of its total food production. Germany, Spain and Italy, which follow close behind, also scored high with agriculture-related conservation and research and nutrition education. Continue Reading →

Successful Crowdfunding for Agricultural Pursuits

With bank loans hard to come by, many farmers are looking for alterna­tives, and one of the new models is online crowdfunding, a form of Inter­net-based donations, loans and invest­ments. Many of the online platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, attract large numbers of entrepreneurs looking for funding.

Barnraiser founder Eileen Gordon with Rob Keller of the Napa Bee Company.

According to Eileen Gordon, founder of Barnraiser, hers is the only crowdfunding platform devoted spe­cifically to funding the sustainable food movement “one farm or healthy food business at a time.”

Speaking at a recent EcoFarm con­ference, Gordon told attendees, “We’re trying to connect with the 40 or more million Americans who care about sustainability, health and wellness, yet they don’t often know how to affect change. There are still many parts of the country where consumers don’t have the opportunity to vote with their forks at the grocery stores by choosing sustainable foods.”

Gordon asserts that crowdfunding is rapidly changing the way we drive innovation, personal aspirations, new products and social change.

“No group is more deserving than those on the front lines of the food movement, leading us toward health and sustainability,” she said. “Barn­raiser is a place to meet and back the thousands of food and farming innovators and put better food on our collective table. When one farmer gets a new barn, the whole community gets better food.”

Gordon is also co-owner with her husband, Michael Chiarello, of Chiarello Family Vineyards in Napa Valley. About 12 years ago, she and Chiarello acquired a 100-year-old vine­yard in the Napa Valley and converted the land into a sustainable farm. It was an old historic farm that had been planted before prohibition and hadn’t been farmed in over a decade.

“In the process of taking this old farm and rejuvenating the land and converting it to sustainable farming, we met some fantastic people in the realms of organic and biodynamic farming. As we saw our property come back to life as a healthy ecosystem started to thrive, this was incredibly exciting to us.” Continue Reading →

Gabe Brown on Ecosystem Stewardship

North Dakota farmer and rancher Gabe Brown stands at the forefront of the regenerative agriculture movement. He is perhaps best known for popularizing the concept of cover crop cocktails as a key strategy for jumpstarting soil health and nourishing soil biology, but that’s only one of his many contributions.

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown stands among his crops

North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck.

To his life work, Brown brings an inquisitive mind and an infectious love of the journey. He revels in trying new things and is not reluctant to fail at some of them, as experiments always yield food for thought and generate ideas for future exploration. As a pioneer, Brown has forged close relationships with fellow seekers and fostered a stimulating community for trailblazers. Generous with his knowledge, he’s a consummate educator who strives to open minds and is known for making a deep and sustained impression on his audiences.

As science begins to catch up with what Brown has been demonstrating on the ground, his sphere of influence has steadily expanded to include more mainstream researchers, policymakers, and even leaders in the conventional food industry.

Brown grows crops, cover crops and trees and manages diverse livestock on 5,000 owned and rented acres outside of Bismarck. By area standards, Brown’s Ranch is not that big. But what is astonishing is how much more this dryland farm is able to produce than comparable operations — both for market and deep within the soil. Continue Reading →

Book excerpt: Honor System Marketing by Jeff Mcpherson

The book Honor System Marketing, by Jeff Mcpherson, shows you how to implement honor system marketing into your own operation. It offers multiple honor system examples, and details how to avoid common pitfalls, manage finances, and maintain a sense of optimism. This book shows how an honor system payment method can become a useful tool for doing business and reviving our spirit of trust in humanity.

The excerpt below introduces the concept of honor system marketing, and explores the author’s philosophy of why this system is good for the farmer, the customer and the world.

Copyright 2011, softcover, 200 pages.

 

Continue Reading →