October 17, 2009 – World Food Prize Youth Institute

The final day of the events centered around the youth delegates.  The students were split into groups of nine.

Here Claire is with her group, Ambassador Quinn, 2009 Laureate Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, and 2003 Laureate Catherine Bertini. Her group included students from Peru, Tanzania, Chicago and Iowa.

The students first met to present their papers to the other students and panel.  Claire’s panel included Laureate Catherine Bertini, 2003 Laureate.  The students answered questions from other students and then the panel of adults commented and asked questions on their research papers.

After the papers were presented, they chose a group leader, Claire in the case of her group to lead a session to pick common themes of all papers, a summary of which would be presented to the entire conference.

I must say it was a proud moment for me to get to see Claire represent her group and speak before a group of distinguished people, including past Laureates, ambassadors, heads of state, and scientists of worldwide distinction! If you have any doubts whether the younger generation has capable, caring, smart and eloquent young men and women, this group would certainly be one to look to!

one year ago…”Reading Like a Cat”

October 16, 2009 – World Food Prize Symposium Sessions

Part of tagging along with Claire meant I could participate in the symposium sessions.

One of the speakers was Bill Gates, a guy who used to work for Microsoft.  I was rather disappointed with the Register’s coverage of his speech as the headline read “Gates calls Biotech Seeds Critical to Fighting Hunger.” Although there is no doubt of that as he said “I made a fortune in technology, so it should be no surprise I’m a fan of agricultural technology.”  However, I took his real message as the he said the ONLY way to “solve” world hunger would be a improve the standing of smallholder farmers and working with their governments and local institutions. I don’t see how distributing GMO seeds to every remote corner of the world will be feasible, especially on an annual basis as the seeds cannot be saved from one year to the next.  The logistics of that are staggering.

Gates also pointed out that it also is important to avoid the environmental degradation linked with the Green Revolution in the 1960s, when increased use of fertilizer and pesticides helped boost crop production in Asia.  Of the 1.2 billion the Gates foundation money, about 5% is targeted to biotech.  All in all, I thought the headline was an easy out to focus on the most controversial part of his speech.  After all it’s much easier to write that than delve into the relatively boring details of working on world hunger.

Perhaps a session that was more interesting was this one hosted by former food prize laureate Catherine Bertini. The topic was one that sounded academic and dry, but turned out to be fascinating – “Gender in Agriculture, Nutrition and Health.  The take-home from this panel was that, when we think of worldwide farmers – think of a face of a woman, as 80% of the farmers in the world are women.  Typically women gather the food, prepare the food, and grow the food.

Studies have shown that women are also better stewards of the money for the household – using it more wisely to take care of children than men.  But women, around the world are much less educated, and previous aid programs did not consider the fact of who is dong the farming.  Foods would be sent to fuel-poor countries that took too long to cook – bags of seeds were sent in 50 lb bags, to heavy for women to handle.  Education and extension is delivered to men.  Educated women have fewer children, and thus an easier economic time.

Perhaps one of the best success stories was that relayed by the director of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee.  Over the past 20 years, no country has lifted more people out of hunger than Bangladesh, primarily through BRAC.  This organization is certainly a model for other efforts – I urge you to take a look and also take a look at one of the student interns from the World Food Prize and her paper reflecting on her experience working with BRAC. It is enlightening, heartbreaking, and inspirational.

I found the symposium to present many points of view – including a panel that had the “Sustainability Director” of Syngneta, the Chief Economist from John Deere, a researcher from the Worldwatch Institute and a former Food Prize Laureate and current leader of the Millenium Institute!

Perhaps the most surprising session was one that dealt with global climate change and agriculture.  Unexpectedly, the strongest urge to action to stop human-induced climate change came from a 3 star Navy Admiral. He and other highest-ranking recently retired members of the U.S. Military called climate change the biggest threat to national security the United States faces.

Strategic decisions are, by necessity, based on trends, indicators and warnings because, as a chairman of our panel, retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, said, “We never have 100 percent certainty. We never have it. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

After carefully considering the threat of climate change and America’s current energy consumption to our national security, the  Military Advisory Board finds the trends and warnings are clear. Our sobering conclusion is that climate change and the U.S. energy posture constitute a serious and urgent threat to national security — militarily, diplomatically and economically.

Climate change differs from traditional military threats. It is not a well-defined enemy or a specific crisis spot with a fixed timeline for response. Rather, it is a threat multiplier that magnifies instability in the most volatile places in the world and increases a variety of threats across the board.

This will inevitably create a growing need for U.S. military intervention with missions ranging from humanitarian assistance, to peacekeeping, to the need to deal with dangerous conflicts over resources in regions critical to U.S. national security. The conditions created by climate change will vary across the globe and affect different locations, including in our own nation, in a variety of ways: drought, flood, extreme weather events, crop failure, acidic oceans, fishery collapse, starvation and disease.

These conditions will lead to conflict over scarce resources and cause mass migration by people in search of security and the essentials of life, creating sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale and at a frequency far beyond those we see today.

This, in turn, will create great social and political instability where demands for basic human needs exceed the capacity of governments to cope. As fragile states become failed states, desperation, hopelessness and a vacuum of governing power create a dangerous breeding ground for extremists and terrorism.

When populations get more desperate, the likelihood of military conflicts goes up, and the more instability, the more likely and greater the pressure to use our military. Climate-driven crises are already happening. Darfur and Somalia are present-day examples of instability and failing states. In South Asia and in the Middle East, very densely populated regions with long-standing tensions, climate change will create greatly increased competition, and perhaps regional conflict, over traditional supplies of fresh water.

As the Himalayan glaciers recede, nations such as China, India and Pakistan will have to deal with internal and external unrest due to a much less reliable source of water to meet the needs of growing populations. There already exists a rapidly increasing competition for diminishing supplies of water for agriculture and basic human needs in the Middle East.

The danger of oil

At the same time, increasing demand for, and dwindling supplies of fossil fuels will lead to greater instability around the world, including many of the places worst hit by climate change. In our second report, the CNA Military Advisory Board concluded that America’s approach to energy has placed the nation in a dangerous and untenable position. The report identifies a series of current risks created by America’s energy policies and practices.

Militarily, our inefficient use and overreliance on oil adds significantly to the great risks already assumed by our troops. It reduces combat effectiveness and exacts a huge price tag in dollars and lives. It puts our troops — more directly and more often — in harm’s way.

Fuel convoys can stretch over great distances, traversing hotly contested territory and become attractive targets for enemy forces. Ensuring convoy safety and fuel delivery requires a tremendous diversion of combat force. As in-theater energy demand increases, more assets must be diverted to protect fuel convoys rather than to directly engage enemy combatants.

We saw this in Iraq and we are certainly seeing it in Afghanistan where the pace of military operations, the size of the force and its effectiveness is literally paced by our ability to get fuel when and where it’s needed. Consider the recent hijacking of fuel trucks by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ensuing civilian deaths, greatly damaging the political goals that are central to the NATO and coalition mission.

The commandant of the Marine Corps recently deployed an energy audit team to Afghanistan to find ways to increase energy efficiency and to use more sustainable forms of energy in order to lighten the expeditionary load, lower logistics vulnerability and improve fighting effectiveness.

Beyond the military’s own fuel needs, our nation consumes more oil than any other single country. Ensuring the flow of that oil stretches our military thin — the men and women already fighting wars on two fronts. We rely on our armed forces to protect sea lanes and maintain a continuous high level of forward presence to ensure we can fill up our cars and trucks. The October 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole, while on a refueling stop in Yemen, was a tragic reminder of the convergence of oil, instability, terrorism and the need for ever vigilant forward presence by Americans in uniform.

And our nation’s dependence on oil — not just foreign oil — reduces our leverage internationally and limits our diplomatic options. We simply do not have enough oil resources in this country to ever meet our growing demand or to shield us from the volatile price spikes and shortages in a global market.

Using too much

Even accounting for the recent discovery of deep sea oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico, America controls only 3 percent of the world’s oil supply while we consume 25 percent of the oil produced every year. Making the assumption that fuel is going to be available and affordable whenever and wherever we need it leads to a fundamentally flawed strategy. It will neither be available nor affordable.

The growing divergence of supply and demand curves for global oil dictates ever-greater scarcity and ever increasing cost. By remaining dependent on oil the United States will continue to be entangled with unfriendly rulers and undemocratic nations — simply because we need their oil. And we cannot produce enough domestic oil to change this dynamic. That is just a short-term solution that simply continues our harmful addiction to oil. We need to recognize that we cannot drill our way to sustained prosperity and security — we have to wean ourselves from our reliance on oil, starting now.

Economically, we are in the midst of a severe financial crisis, and our approach to energy is a key part of the problem. We are heavily dependent on a global petroleum market that is highly volatile. In 2008, we sent $386 billion overseas to pay for oil — a good deal of it going to nations that wish us harm. In the last year alone, the per-barrel price of oil climbed as high as $140 and dropped as low as $40. Just a $10 change in the per-barrel cost of oil translates to a $2 billion increase in the Pentagon’s energy costs.

This price volatility is not limited to oil — natural gas and coal prices also saw huge spikes in the last year. While coal and natural gas resources may be plentiful, they are increasingly difficult to access, and have associated impacts that are expensive. As we begin to recover from the current global recession, the price of energy will inexorably go up and with it, the risks to our nation’s economic and security future.

Hummer, be gone

There are those who say we cannot afford to deal with our energy issues right now. But if we don’t begin to address our long-term energy profile now, future economic crises will dwarf this one. The market for fossil fuels will be shaped by finite supplies and increasing worldwide demand, the volatile cycle of fuel prices will become sharper and shorter, and without immediate action to change our energy profile, the national security risks, economic and military, will worsen.

Every single day that goes by, we are more vulnerable to very real threats to our energy supply: a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, Iran closing down the Strait of Hormuz, terrorist actions against major oil production facilities, or an oil embargo by OPEC.

Using the most reasoned and fact-based military judgment, members of the Military Advisory Board concluded that we must transform the way our country produces and uses energy. Diversifying our energy sources and moving away from fossil fuels is critical to our future energy security. This will inevitably mean moving to more renewable sources of energy, greater efficiency and to a significantly reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

As the largest single user of energy in the country, the Department of Defense can play a leadership role. As one of my colleagues on the Military Advisory Board quipped, “America, we gave you the Hummer when oil was cheap; now we’re taking it back!”

So if you ever run against someone who doubts the importance of climate change, you’ve now got the brightest minds of the US military on your side – in essence whose who deny the effects of climate change are essentially undermining United States national security.
one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #137″

October 15, 2009 – World Food Prize Ceremony

Claire had a fantastic opportunity this week – she was selected as a participant in the World Food Prize Symposium Youth Institute.  Usually a teacher accompanies the student to the three day all-expenses paid trip to the symposium, but Claire’s teacher had attended before and asked if Linda or I would like to attend in her place due to our professional and personal interests in agriculture.

The ceremony awarding the World Food Prize, essentially the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, was held at the Iowa State Capital Building.  It was a formal affair.  Here the students line the stairway, ready to greet dignitaries and attendees to the ceremony and dinner.

A huge illuminated earth was placed in the capital rotunda.

Here, winner of this year’s food prize, Gebisa Ejeta, gets down with dancers from his native Ethiopia as part of the ceremony.

The actual ceremony itself was the only event that the accompanying teachers could not attend as the ceremony had sold out of the $450.00 dollar tickets.  In the past, it had not sold out, so teachers attended live – instead we were ushered in to the state capital law library and watched the broadcast of the event live, as it was broadcast statewide and on the internet via Iowa Public Television.

one year ago…”Pepper Harvest”

October 14, 2009 – Pasture Reconfiguration

It is time for a pasture reconfiguration.  The area broadly outlined in white shows where the new temporary fence went up.

This fence allows the animals to get into an area they haven’t yet grazed this season.  It includes the ornamental willow nursery – now that the majority of the growing season is over, they can eat the willows since they will be cut down to the ground next spring to keep ornamental size.  Our fences are mainly cattle panels and metal fenceposts, so it is easy to move things around.

one year ago…”Toothless Martin”

October 12, 2009 – Hog Barn Renovation

Longer time readers might remember the hog barn project.  Now that the growing season is over, I have a month or so to devote to outbuilding work.  The plan with the hog barn is to take out the leaning wall on the left and frame up new walls inside the current structure, keep the roof, and have a covered, outdoor accessible shelter off the  cement paddock.  So there will be steel siding on this new framing.

I’ll be able to use the remaining good pieces of siding on the wall to be removed to patch bad boards on the barn.  It’s been too cold to finish painting the barn – highs int he upper 30’s and 40’s lately and through the weekend.

one year ago…”House Painting”

October 11, 2009 – Front Page News, Part II

Last Sunday the local paper had the first in a three-part series centered around the program Linda started at MCC.  This Sunday was another above the fold front page story.  There was also another article about a local food system meeting that builds on the work Linda has done.

Creating homegrown food

MCC runs crop trials, begins creating food processing facility

By LARRY KERSHNER, SPECIAL TO THE T-R

POSTED: October 11, 2009

Latino restaurants and grocery stores in this county seat community prefer to make their own tortillas. But when a local supplier in Tama went out of businesses two years ago, these tiendas started looking elsewhere for their white corn supplies.

Jesus Gaytan, who owns Gaytan Tortilleria, now travels to Chicago to get his white corn and other food supplies, but said that he would prefer to buy locally, if the food was available. He needs an estimated 600 to 1,200 bushels of white corn annually.

Enter Marshalltown Community College and several other organizations determined to help Gaytan and other local businesses with fulfilling their local food needs.

“If we can do this right,” said Norm McCoy, director of the Midwest Center for Entrepreneurial Agriculture at MCC, “Locally grown white corn would give him another marketing angle for his customers.”

Among a number of other efforts, the college, under the direction of McCoy, ran a series of white corn trials, trying to determine which corn variety works best in Iowa’s cooler soils. White corn is not only a staple for tortillas, but for other dishes, such as hominy used for menudo, a Latino soup.

McCoy also supervises the certified organic food plots the college rents to community people for growing their own produce and for selling at farmers markets. He has planted nut trees and other crops for a variety of different organizations that are involved in Marshalltown’s local foods initiative.

The college is also building a certified, organic-foods processing facility, where produce can be washed and bulk packaged according to end users’ needs, McCoy said. There are plans for greenhouses in the near future.

Although all this is happening on the college campus, no college funds are directly involved, McCoy said. The trials, the gardens, the processing facility, even McCoy’s salary, are paid through grants and other outside sources.

Trials of white corn

McCoy said he volunteered to run the white corn trials for Iowa State University, in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa, this year. He received 19 varieties to plant in a series of four replications. His site was a high ridge that overlooks U.S. Highway 30.

But things did not go as well as he had hoped.

Spring planting was delayed. The first varieties didn’t get planted until June, because those renting private plots needed to use the program’s manual planting equipment. Rains also kept planters out of the field and when fields were dry enough, tilling created large clods that interfered with uniformed spacing of the corn.

“Sometimes the wind blew so hard,” McCoy said, “it blew the seed away as it left the planter.” Conditions were so challenging, McCoy said, he reverted to planting many of the rows by hand in order to get the crop into the ground. The last of the eight-row trial plots were planted in mid-July.

“This was a real poor year to try this,” McCoy said, adding that he hopes to get a second chance in 2010. If so, he intends to plant the trial plots in a more sheltered area on the south edge of the campus. “But I learned a lot.”

The need to find the right kind of white corn variety for local food processors is still there, he insists.

Tortillas need a minimum-sized kernel, the bigger the better, with a waxy coating that is easily removed with a lye solution. His trials were to determine yield, by variety and soil type, at varying plant populations, and recording any stalk lodging.

McCoy expects to harvest, shell and weigh the corn by hand this fall.

Unique opportunity

“We (Marshalltown) are unique to have the Latino population here,” McCoy said. “It’s hard to get them tied into the local food movement, because of communications and because they are not fully integrated into the local culture yet.”

This local food initiative has had intensive Latino interest and involvement since the early efforts to now. John Paulis, director of the Prairie Rivers Resource Conservation and Development, based in Ames, which is assisting in the overall project, said many of the immigrant population has an agrarian background and prefer to move out of the factories and packing plants and make their living on the soil.

“We want to tap into their knowledge and expertise,” McCoy said, in creating a series of local truck farms to bring human-food grade farming to the local populace.

“They have no pre-conceived ideas about farming,” McCoy said. “This is a local foods system waiting to happen.”

Incubator building

An organic foods processing facility, which is touted as a business incubator, is being built with assistance from a federal small business development grant of $250,000, and a matching grant from the Martha Ellen Tye Foundation, based in Marshall County. Of this second grant, $100,000 can be used for equipment purchases.

One limiting factor to developing a functional local foods system, McCoy said, is the lack of a “community kitchen,” where fresh produce can be washed and packaged, or be subject to value-added processes for specific end users.

Ground was broken for the facility on the campus in September. The building is expected to be available for use by late October, McCoy said.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 732-2141or at kersh@farm-news.com.

one year ago…”Homecoming 2008″

October 10, 2009 – It’s Over (Growing Season)

The growing season ended last night.  The first hard freeze was accompanied by the earliest recorded one-inch snowfall in Des Moines.  We didn’t get an inch of snow here, but didn’t miss the freeze.

All in all it was an average year on the farm for crops, but much above average for comfort of the farmers, due to the cool weather.  A quick rundown of the growing season ups and downs follows:

It was a good year for…

Apples
Squash
Cool season crops (lettuce, spinach and relatives)
Flowers

It was not a good year for…

Peaches (hard, cold winter and ice storm)
Honey
Peppers (too cool)
Tomatoes (too cool)

The good news is we still have some canned peaches left over from last year and made extra applesauce this year – that’s one of the beauties of having a diversified crop assemblage – chances are not everything will fail the same year.

one year ago…”Iowa Chops”

October 6, 2009 – Squash

This is the week for squash harvest.  We’ve had a pesky problem with squash vine borers over the years, so squash has always been hard to get to maturity.  For some reason, this year, the vine borers seemed absent – not sure if it was the weather, some other cycle, or having more chickens roaming eating pests, but whatever the case, we’ve got enough to get us through the winter.  This was only to first load to be picked and washed before tucking in the basement.

Look for nice squash soups on the winter menu at high hopes.

one year ago…”Peppers at Peak”

October 5, 2009 – More Front Page News

The Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture program and MCC go more front page love, this time the front page of the Marshalltown Sunday paper.  It is the first of a three-part series.

In case the link expires, the text of the article is reproduced below.

MCC trains farmers to provide a growing demand for local foods

By LARRY KERSHNER, SPECIAL TO THE T-R

POSTED: October 4, 2009

Iowa farmers are often said to be feeding the world, but a cadre of would-be commercial farmers in Marshall County have a desire to feed people in their own community.

Four students from Marshalltown Community College have four different paths they are taking to reach a common goal – to earn a living by growing food and by raising meat and dairy animals for consumers who live in nearby communities.

Their path to the goal leads through a two-year degree program called Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture.

“We’re helping to train farmers to provide the growing demand for local foods,” said Linda Barnes, who created the Marshalltown Community College course in 2003.

Caite Grieshop, of Ames, grew up on a hobby farm near Ames. As an adult and in her second year of the program, she hopes to create a way to provide food to local families. Currently, she has Katahdin hair sheep on her six and a half acre farm and wants to expand into dairy goats and laying hens.

Garret Caryl, 20, of Colo, is a certified welder and helped to erect the wind turbines around his hometown. He is in his second year in the course. His plans are to expand his direct marketing business he has with Birkshire hogs and poultry, plus add a welding business as an additional income source.

Jacque Rhodes, of Marshalltown, said she has no background in farming, except that she worked for three years for a nearby pork producer. She is hoping to eventually start a fish farm, possibly raising organic catfish.

“You never hear of organic fish,” she said. “I hope there’s a market.”

Mary O’Dell, of Kellogg, lost her job, along with her husband, when the Maytag plant shut down in 2007. Although she owns no farm land, this city girl wants to raise pigs, goats, cattle and poultry “in a sustainable way,” she said. She hopes to sell her meat products locally. Her husband is taking courses in ag machinery repair and maintenance.

All have different backgrounds, but they share a common belief that sustainable agriculture is the farming method of the future. They believe in it and want to participate in it.

Sustainable agriculture is sometimes confused with natural farming or organic farming. Although it can include those, sustainable ag simply refers to the ability of a farm to produce farm products without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health.

The MCC course they are studying is part of a widespread local food initiative in Marshall County that includes encouraging people with a passion for producing nutritious food for local markets. Barnes’ course attempts to move them from desire to empowerment to pursue their food-producing goals.

Barnes said there are three key components to the 10-subject curriculum. These include Issues of sustainable agriculture, applied systems thinking and internships.

“This helps them to see the whole as a working system.” Barnes said. On her own farm, every asset has to serve three purposes “or else you aren’t integrated enough,” she said. “Our sheep fertilize the gardens, keep the grass down between the buildings and provide revenue from meat and tanned hides.”

Meanwhile, internships mean students have a chance to work in an ag industry in which they are interested and see how different operations work in the field.

Caite Grieshop, who is an Iowa volunteer coordinator for Heifer International, has a culinary arts background and said she wants to help people connect with the foods they eat. She hopes to eventually create a year-round farmers market with an online format.

She said MCC’s course has helped her to see that successful food growing systems start from the ground up. This includes learning that she can find soil profiles on her farm ground and understand why some crops grow better in some areas. “This will help me improve my production without trial and error,” Grieshop said. “I get my money’s worth here.”

The course includes visits from farmers who have switched to sustainable programs in some or all of their operations. Garrett Caryl said the guest presenters helped him understand how to raise his livestock without antibiotics, unless his animals are ill.

“I don’t have organic livestock,” Caryl noted, “but I hope to work in some organic stock, too.”

Unafraid of voicing his convictions, Caryl said he has considered raising livestock for natural food processors like Niman Ranch, based in San Francisco. “But I don’t think food should have to travel over 60 miles.” Selling locally, he added, “Burns fewer fossil fuels from producer to the plate.”

Mary O’Dell graduates from the two-year course in December and hopes to embark on her new career after losing her 14-year job at Maytag. “I want to grow sustainably and to sell (food) locally.”

O’Dell said that since she was a child she wanted to work with animals.

Her inlaws, she added, are in their 70s and 80s and still farm. She sees agriculture as her new direction that will sustain her and her husband for years to come.

“I like the idea of raising animals in a better way,” she said noting she would like to produce meat animals, most likely swine, not in confinement buildings.

The students say they understand there is resistance in the Iowa farming culture for what they want to do.

“It’s just a different way of doing things,” O’Dell said.

The best revenge against detractors, added Grieshop, “is to do it and make money at it.”

Fact Box

The two-year Entrepreneurial and Sustainable Agriculture course at Marshalltown Community College was created in 2003. It has become a part of a local foods initiative in Marshall County designed to help people who want to produce food for local markets. The course curriculum includes:

Issues in sustainable agriculture
Ecological concepts
Applied systems thinking
Farmstead planning and technology
Fundamentals of soil science
Accounting
Intro to entrepreneurship
Marketing
Organic crop production
Livestock management
Apprenticeships

Contact Larry Kershner at (515)573-2141 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

one year ago…”Morning Sun Party”

October 4, 2009 – Pizza Night

Sunday nights are always the same at high hopes.  Kids get a reprieve from the usual 1/2 per day of computer or TV and get to watch a movie and eat mac and cheese. Later in the evening it’s date night for Mark and Linda as Linda makes a pizza from scratch.

This is a good time of year – fresh from the garden – spinach, tomatoes, hot peppers and onions.

Topped with some mozzarella cheese and tiny peperoni, the tomato slices are eager to poke through the cheese.

one year ago…”Hops Harvest”