Born and breed in Ohio...mountain biking and composting
Mountain biking and composting together...two of my favorite things. It's like a Reese's cup but only better for me and the environment. When we arrived at Vulture's Knob Mountain Bike Park in Wooster, Ohio and saw the sign, I thought we had found paradise...as the name implies ;)

The joint enterprise is a perfect example of how land can be repurposed. Once a landfill, an innovative group of locals got together 16-years ago and turned the 125-acre dump site into a recreational area including a 6-acre mulch and organic food waste facility, Paradise Composting. Brilliance! Only needing room for an 8-mile bike trail, they wanted to incorporate other features that benefited the community. Features that invested in the region's future. A compost facility connected with the agricultural history of the area but communicated a mission of sustainability. Surrounded by monocultures of corn and soybean, Vulture's Knob is finding ways to connect with area partners and hopefully rebuild not only their ecosystem but those of their neighbors. The remainder of the property has naturally restored itself and is now a thriving woodland where carbon can be sequestered while still being able to manage the forest and harvest evergreens sustainably for local construction and Christmas tree sales.

Entrance to the mountain bike park at Vulture's Knob
Rehabilitating the land through projects like Vulture's Knob and Paradise Composting demonstrates the kind of thinking we need to take with all properties. One of the solutions to "feeding the world" is better utilizing land already available and putting it into agricultural production. If food security is a concern, we need to inventory all land opportunities. Providing food abundance will require more than just preserving farmland but reclaiming lost land. Large, private estates could lease portions of their open land to young farmers instead of sitting fallow. Incentives could be provided to turn lawns into edible landscapes. Vacant city land could be rezoned to allow more urban farms, community gardens and farm incubator programs. State and local parks could be reconfigured and initiatives for things like roof top gardens could be implemented.

I can't end this without giving a few props to the trail itself...it's the best mountain biking I've found so far in Ohio. Littered (pun intended) with features like bridges, log rides and balance beams, I was a hog in heaven. What struck me most was their efficient use of space. Just like you have square-inch gardening, this was square-inch trail building. A terrain park parallels a portion of the cross-country trail. The two zig-zag above and below each other with natural bridges so they never have to intersect.Phenomenal! It was consistent with their whole philosophy...use only what you need.

Joel Salatin on Polyface Farms
"Festivaling with my Mom" had not been on my bucket list of things to do but after this weekend, it had a speedy induction and then swiftly checked off. It wasn't a music festival but an earth festival. One we could both appreciate. Together we attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. My mom was the first to teach me about healthy eating and growing food so to share this experience with her was a mother-daughter trip of a lifetime. One to remember!

The 40yr. old magazine comes to life once a year hosting one fair on the west coast in Washington and a second on the east coast in Pennsylvania. In only its second year, Pennsylvania's attendance has doubled from 10K to 20K visitors. A testament to people's hunger for planetary knowledge. Mother Earth News is the largest and oldest, environmental magazine. The festival is a 3D version of the print copy and gives readers a chance to interact with experts and leaders in sustainable living through workshops, presentations and demonstrations. It was a major download of information and a exuberant upload of inspiration.

One of the keynote speakers was farm evangelist, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms (as seen and heard in Food, Inc. and Omnivore's Dilemma). Having seen Joel speak before, I was ready with pen and paper to scribe some of his "Joelisms." He has a deep command of the English language which commands a crowd's attention equally.

He began his speech with an open invitation and detailed directions to his farm in Swoope, Virginia. It immediately diffused any naysayers because it demonstrates his transparency and his integrity. Pointing to the ground, he shakes his hands like a preacher reminding us that there is more life below our feet than there is above ground and that it is largely responsible for our survival. It draws a profound and spiritual connection to the role soil plays in our lives. He should know. Joel is in the soil business. Or "land healing ministries" as he likes to call it. With the help of his "teammates and co-laborers," the cows, pigs and chickens, he runs his soil through an "exercise program." Animals and land are treated fairly and with respect for the abundance they provide. He "massages the ecosystem through a choreographed dance with his co-workers to create healthy soils and a forest of perennial grasses."

Here's a look at his rotational grazing method...The cows "dump goodies" on the ground from their backsides. As they rotate onto the next pasture, the chickens arrive in their "Goobley-Go," a chicken coop on wheels (egg mobile). They pick out the larvae spreading the manure around with their beaks - yummy! "Pigaerators" then move onto 1/2-acre paddocks disturbing the land mimicking nature's biological cycles just as wildfires do in forests and on prairies. He describes his pigs as being "four-wheel drive plows" using their snouts and hooves to root and stomp the ground to "the next succession in his accumulation of biomass," a.k.a. grass. According to Joel, and I agree, there is not ONE reason why we need a single CAFO in this country considering the natural technology that Joel and others like him have designed. We know we will arrived he says, "when soccer moms exclaim in jubilation that little Johnny wants to be a farmer," just as they would now when told he wants to be a doctor or lawyer. With new models like Joel's and new markets for local food, we will get there.

Here is a sampling of Joel's lexicon with my best-guess definitions:
  1. Constipation of Imagination = failure to use ingenuity in conjunction with nature's biological processes.
  2. Portable fermentation tanks = cows
  3. Carbonization diaper = the layered bed of manure, hay and sawdust that is collected when the cows are in the barn.
  4. Bankruptcy tubes = corn silos
  5. Pasture sanitization program = rotational grazing
  6. Wheel of Fortune = the cone used to slit a chicken's throat
  7. Rent-a-Chicken = Joel's chicken take-back program - at the end of summer, customers can bring back the egg-laying hens they purchased earlier from Joel if they have no way to winter them.
  8. Germinating = young farmer apprenticeship program
  9. Grass farmer = Joel Salatin

These aren't the best videos so treat them more like podcasts with optional viewing capacity. I was about seven rows back and wanted to be discrete with my camera. Most of the videos are under two-minutes, so not very long but definitely worth checking out. Get a glimpse of Joel's gospel with two or three of the following:
  1. Prioritize your purchases and we can all afford sustainably grown food
  2. We can feed the world with edible landscapes and pasture-raised livestock practices
  3. The Pasture Principles  - mimicking wild herd behaviors when raising happy cows and healthy grass
  4. Before we can demand a better food system, we need to start at home and reclaim "family time"
  5. Mechanical vs Biological - the land can heal itself, machines can't (this one goes a minute too long. I was hoping he was going to bring it back around but he didn't. i don't know how to edit film footage yet, so just stop at 2:25)
  6. Move and we will dance - Joel's closing remarks.

NPR coined it best when they came up with the series, "This I Believe."  We all have a voice. We all have big thoughts. We all have an opinion. But often don't have a place to express ourselves outside of private journals and coffee talks. "This I Believe" makes writers, orators and philosophers out of all of us - the proverbial soapbox. I'm a believer and deep thinker. And perhaps that's why I started a blog. I needed a clearinghouse to sort through and process all that I believed in.

One thing I believe...is that the way we grow, manage, distribute and market food can change the world! "Change" being the operative word. A lot needs to change in order for that to happen making the food question very complex. You could put your hand in a sack full of important issues related to this topic and write a book about how each one could contribute to this change, i.e. farming practices, sustainable agriculture, food justice, pest management, diet and nutrition, local food, dairy production, soil management, food safety, farm-to-table, feed the world, etc…The tricky thing is linking up all these issues. What needs to happen first? And in what order? I'm not claiming I have the solution but I am going to offer my suggestion on what I think we need to focus on in order to see positive impacts in our food system.

To help me make sense of complex issues like our food system, I strip them down to their most basic. From there I create a foundation upon which I can stack all the related information in an organized manor. It's like a big flow chart in my head. A filing system of sorts. Yes, I'm a "Type A" personality but governed by a left brain. I like creative order! If such a thing exists. The first complex issue I was given was in Mr. Hanley’s eighth grade class. We literally put our hand in a sack and pulled out a topic upon which we had to prepare a one-hour presentation. I drew “oil.” I used up more poster board and transparencies than the drug store could supply. I could have spoken for six hours with all the research I did. I think that project scared me for life and is probably why I’ve been an over analyzer ever since. It’s helped me though…like when I was a mountain bike instructor. If I gave my students too many, “do this, do that’s,” they would look like Tiger Woods in a yoga pose. So I would break each skill down into just three main points so they would not over think the task. For instance, when approaching a rocky downhill section, I would coach them by saying, “weight back, off the front brake, look ahead.” They would make it through ever time.

When looking at the food complex, I will rely on my "power of three" methodology using the three core principles of Agroecology: environmental, social and economics. We could break it down even further into just two, social and economic, because it is their demands upon the environment which drive how we treat it...We ask the land to provide high yields but often at an expense, we want to sustain our natural resources but exploit them at the same time,  we want to create more jobs but our farms require less workers. For the purpose of this exercise, I'll pull in some visuals to relate all three principles (if I only had an overhead projector and some transparencies). Imagine a scale with food production on the left (representing the environment) and food access  on the right (representing social). And at the fulcrum point is the economy. When you strip down the food economy, producing and access are at the core - food has to be grown and eaten. Equitable food production and food access creates a fair and balanced economy because value is built all the way through the supply chain. The focus is not on the profit but investment in the land and people...the two things at either end of the food system. Place ecologically sound farming practices in a regional food system and local economies will strengthen. More money stays in the community which in turn creates jobs, improves food access and develops infrastructure for a new food system. Healthy land management leads to healthy economies.

p.s. I'm not sure what I can footnote but somewhere between pages 126-208 of Oran Hesterman's book, Fair Food, I came up with this theory so it must be his or those of the people he interviewed. Thanks guys!

Brunty Farm Owners:Jeff Brunty and Melanie Schenk
I'm a farm tour junkie... I love visiting different farms, meeting the growers, hearing their story and learning new practices. I seriously get a natural high going from field to barn to field discovering new things. Yesterday, I toured Brunty Farms in Peninsula, OH. It is one of eleven farms in Cuyahoga Valley's Countryside Initiative.

The Initiative reestablishes old farmsteads once operated in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Farm houses are restored and land is prepared in anticipation of its new caretakers who lease the property and agree to farm it. Since the programs conception in 1999, one to two farms have come available each year. Applicants must demonstrate not only their financial commitment but their commitment to environmental stewardship. While not expected to be certified organic, every farm is expected to follow sustainable farming practices. At a time when farmland is being lost to development; people are looking to green their careers and get into farming; and communities are seeking local food sources, the Countryside Initiative is a program right for the times. Currently, it is the only lease-to-farm program operating in National Parks. The model, however, can be adapted by any land trust, municipality, land grant or landowner.

Jeff Brunty is a growing breed of "greenhorns" - passionate, young people finding a career and future in farming. He got his start with seven chickens ten years ago raising them in his great, great grandfather's barn. He managed the growing chicken business on the side till 2008 when he learned about the Countryside Initiative. He and his girlfriend, Melanie, applied and were accepted. Just four years out of high school and he was running his own farm. Melanie had a degree in international business but chose rubber boots over high heels to help make Brunty Farms a reality. She works the 2-acre vegetable garden and Jeff raises the chickens, lambs, ducks, turkeys and pigs. Together they make a dynamic team farming 17-acres servicing a 100-person CSA, one farmer's market and a robust farm stand.

They keep 350 egg-laying hens and raise 9,000 meat chickens annually (broilers). They process all their own broilers on-site making it the largest private operation in the state of Ohio with plans to expand to 20,000 over the next year. And that's just the chicken's. They raise 400 Broad-Breasted White Turkey's for the holidays as well. These poultry 'without borders' enjoy a plentiful supply of pasture foraging for bugs and eating grass. During our visit, brush piles smoldered in the fields where the turkeys roamed. They are a form of pest control for the turkeys. Watch this video to find out why, click here. The coolest fact of the day...was learning the difference between white eggs and brown eggs. White eggs actually come from white chickens. They are often used in conventional chicken operations because they are small and more can be crammed into a cage. But when allowed to forage, they will eat 40% of their diet on pasture requiring less feed. Brown eggs give the appearance of being more farmy and wholesome but actually these birds are a bit lazy and eat less than 20% of their diet on pasture thus eating more feed. Not only are the brown eggs more expense to raise but without a more natural diet aren't as nutritious as the white eggs. Go figure! Brunty has both white egg-laying hens and brown egg-laying hens, White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds, respectively.

The highlight on any farm tour, for me at least, are the pigs. They are such showmen. Pigs have BIG personality!The Brunty pigs were no different rooting and trotting around their lavish 3-4 acre marshy estate with floppy ears.  Watch this video to see them at their piggyness.

Right to Left: Floyd the beekeeper, Me and my niece Allyson.
Haven't had enough video yet...watch Jeff call the lambs over for a snack break, click here. And we also had a chance encounter with the beekeeper. He was arriving just as we were leaving and invited me my niece, Allyson, who had joined me for the day if we wanted a closer look. They were getting the hives ready for winter helping the bees bulk up their stores by giving them a little sugar water. And ever wander what those oil-can looking things are that beekeepers use when opening the lid to a bee colony? They have a little fire inside and the smoke is used to confuse the bees so they don't press the panic button when the beekeeper is examining the hive. Take a peak through the zoom lens to learn more, click here.

Agrarian life runs in my blood...My mom's whole side of the family are farmers. As a child, I can remember the hour drive to visit my grandmother and relatives in Salem, Ohio and thinking it must be in another state or something; it seemed so far away. It did transport me in a way though. You could see for miles across rolling fields with fluffy clouds overhead. I loved wide open spaces then and I love them now.

I returned this past weekend to my Uncle Bill's farm (pictured left) for the marriage of his grandchild, and my 2nd cousin, Emilie. Bill has since past but his children have honored his legacy by preserving the farm just as he left it...immaculate. Bill's son-in-law and Emilie's father, Rusty, gave the opening toast. Standing in the center of the barn, he stood behind his daughter at the bridal table with one hand on her shoulder, the other clutching the microphone. He recalled the first time he came to pick up his now wife for their first date and the impression the farm left upon him as a young man, and farmer. Even now, year's later after seeing many barns, he has never seen a more orderly and clean barn as Bill's. And today, it looked dressed and ready for a Sunset magazine feature on barn dinners. For an entire month leading up to the wedding, family members came together in preparation transforming the working barn into a rustic dining hall. Every square inch was pressure washed and the basement floor was finished with a new layer of concrete where the cows bed in the winter. The wood beams gleamed with a sawmill freshness and the structure stood proudly like the tin man after getting polished in the Wizard of Oz. The 100 year old barn didn't look a day over 10.

We felt a little like the Kennedy's! But unlike the Hamptons, it was as much a community celebration as it was a wedding. The bridal party arrived on a horse-drawn wagon to the cheers of family and friends - live the moment and watch this short video: Our heritage is Slovenian so no wedding would be complete without a few polkas. My mom and her sisters have been polkaing in barns before it was fashionable. As their partners swung them across the dance floor, huge smiles shown across their faces knowing that their brother, Bill, was looking down from heaven and clapping his hands with the music. My parting shot...dancing late night with my 84-year old Aunt Dorothy (pictured below, yes she really is 84!!) to Party Rock Anthem. She could do a pretty good shuffle :)

Right Picture:My Mom (center) and her two sisters, Margie (left) and Dorothy (right). Left Picture: The barn ready for the reception

Thursday was my last day working at George Jones Memorial Farm. I'm sad to miss the rest of the growing season and the birth of the farm cat's kittens but this Saturday's event is something I will miss seeing unfold as well...Weed Dating! Fox News even came out to the farm to do a segment promoting the event. Was hoping the video would be available online but it has not yet been posted. Should be worth a few laughs with me and some fellow co-workers in the background pretending to be "weed dating." For the daring folks who attend the actual event, I think they will be pleasantly surprised. I've had some very enlightening and stimulating conversations while weeding. More importantly, it is puts a fun spin on farming and gets more people in the community out in the fields and connected to their food. Whoever coined the term, "agritourism," I'm sure they never envisioned weed dating would be added to the list. But to engage eaters, we need more ideas like this. Instead of Tupperware parties there could be planting parties or harvesting contests to see who can quart the most berries.

As for the rest of my time in Ohio...I've got a packed schedule. I'll be attending the MotherEarth News Fair, taking a soil class at The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, attending a Food Summit in Detroit focused on fighting hunger and meeting with area farmers and others involved in the local food movement in NE Ohio. Should be a pretty vibrant next month so stay tuned!

The more I read and observe, the more I struggle with the variance in organic farming practices. The organic label allows pest & weed applications derived from "natural sources" like roots and flowers. Some are crafty, homemade concoctions made from garlic, cayenne and eggs to ward off aphids. Sounds honest enough. But many of the over-the-counter products push the boundary with labels that read, "can be used in organic gardening." They all must be OMRI certified but a product could be borderline or not even permitted in all states. My question is...is it realistic to think that organic farming can rely on natural farming techniques alone to manage pest and weed concerns? Or is some external intervention okay? I'm going to peel back the onion and give my best assessment...

When people define organic farming, it should include, "grown without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides." What this usually evokes is a field of sunshine happy vegetables that never receive anything but water and compost. Within organic, no synthetic chemicals are used but there is a broad spectrum of accepted amendment practices. On the left, you have those who believe that the natural interactions between living and non-living organisms in a biodiverse ecosystem will keep the peace. On the right, you have growers who take an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach monitoring the different life cycles in the growing environment and use "organic approved" remedies to keep the weed and pest population in check. In the middle, are those who lean to the left but are pulled to the right on occasion.

My philosophy is...farm management style will determine where on the spectrum a grower falls. I've identified three key areas of farm management...biodiversity, soil health and organization. Yes, organization! In my opinion, to be a successful farmer, you must run a tight ship with a planting schedule, record keeping, discipline and protocols. Being organized builds resiliency in a farming practice because it helps a farmer take a whole systems approach to managing their farm, systems that are less reactionary to economic and climate fluctuations, i.e. one crops fails but the farmer has back-up crops, anticipating a wet spring can help a farmer adjust their planting schedule. But most importantly, an organized farmer will "know" their farm keeping a watchful eye for intruders and outbreaks. Observation can be the best line of defense.

Biodiversity measures the variety of different life forms around the farm from bugs and bees to livestock and wildlife as well as woodlands. Imagine an ecosystem. A farm should mimic those principles. Biodiversity, however, can also include crop diversity. Monocultures (growing one crop in a field) are risky because the crop is more vulnerable to attack. One pest and the whole crop goes down. And monocultures give and take the same nutrients from the soil year after year creating an imbalance and depleting soil of essential minerals. With polycultures, you grow a variety of different fruits and vegetables...a few rows of this, a few rows of that, etc. From year to year, different plants enrich the soil with nutrients that will benefit next year's crops. But even within the same year, crop's inter-planted together (intercropping), or in immediate succession, can have a positive exchange. Above ground,  hedgerows or "trap crops" can attract pests away from market crops. It can sound a little like whose on second but here's an example..on the edge of a squash crop, sunflowers are planted to attract insects. The secondary benefit is birds will then eat the insects off the sunflower. Below ground, the chemical make-up of one crop can help mitigate soil-born disease for another crop or reduce the proliferation of certain weeds.

Plants aren't totally helpless though. They have natural defenses to ward off pest and disease. But these natural defenses are only as strong as the soil. The soil is like a plant's immune system. Just like humans, when our immune system is low, we get sick. As a rule, soil that is properly amended with compost, receives a cover crop in the winter and different crops each growing season will produce healthy plants.

When we look at the different applications, many sound pretty safe. Take Surround for instance. it is made from a type of clay, kaolin. When sprayed on a plant it leaves a non-toxic, milky barrier that bugs don't like or have a hard time eating through. It's approved but should it be applied as a prophylactic or only when necessary? It's easy to give these "organic approved" substances too many liberties. Just because a product is deemed "safe" doesn't mean it can't have adverse effects. Routine and in discriminate applications can enable bugs to develop resistance. Insecticidal soaps seem pretty benign. They can be used to to kill bugs when hand-picking or spraying water doesn't work. It can be bought or made at home with a simple recipe. It's safe for the garden and isn't harmful to most beneficial insects but does that give it free reign. Sean Swezey, a professor at UC Santa Cruz, said it best, "Don't think conventionally when problem solving in organic farming."

Another product is corn gluten, which stops the germination of weed seeds. All reports look good and it is ecologically safe but is the corn GMO? And can the additional nitrogen in the corn gluten overload the soil (doing an annual soil test is important before using additives)?  One product I've been researching is Sluggo Plus. The active ingredient is Iron Phosphate which is naturally occurring in soil so when dissolved, it acts as a nice soil amendment. But it also includes spinosad which attacks an insects nervous system forcing them to stop feeding and die. While non-toxic to most beneficial insects, except honeybees, who are we to say what is beneficial or not. We humans know a lot about insects, organism and bacteria but we don't know everything.

Even if "organically approved," insecticides can be broad-spectrum killing non-target bugs which disrupts the garden's biodiversity and its ability to self-regulate naturally. Kill one bug and next there is an explosion of another pest which use to get eaten by the bug that was just killed. It begins a vicious cycle of pest control measures. Other alternatives include introducing parasites to attack the target pest. While natural, mishandling of his method can backfire. But studies show that when done correctly the ecosystem is more likely to self-regulate the populations than with an insecticide.

I don't claim to be an authority. Just a regular Josephine trying to make sense of it all. But I do believe...a rigorous and thoughtful schedule of cover crops, crop rotation, intercropping and compost will enable a farm of, any size, to take care of itself with minimal to no foreign inputs. Run an organized, biodiverse farm and the soil will deliver.

What was a Friday lunch with the Director of City Fresh, Nick Swetye, rolled over into a Farm Bill roundtable with Ohio Senator, Sherrod Brown.That's pretty much how it happened...Nick had a 2pm engagement and asked if i would be interested in attending. It took me all of a split second to respond, "Yes!"

Senator Brown was fresh off the plane from Washington D.C. and President Obama's job speech the night before. In preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill, the Senator was here to get a better understanding of the food climate in NE Ohio. He wanted to hear first hand from his constituents what they wanted in a farm bill. Brown's office had gathered a diverse group of area representatives including institutional food buyers, area grocers, farmers' market coordinators, university ag extensions, growing co-ops and food policy coordinators. The Senator opened the conversation with, "I want to make a Farm Bill that works." He went on to explain that it is not just a bill for farms but a bill for "nutrition, health, food, energy and environment."

Everyone had gone around the table giving the Senator their 1-2-3 pitch when he threw a curve ball, "why aren't there more African-Americans at this table?" He was right! Black residents represent the majority in Cleveland and many of its area suburbs. And one of Cleveland's biggest concerns is addressing access to healthy, quality food in the inner city. The picture above captures the moment when Senator Brown (middle, blue shirt) set the stage for farmer, Eric Hooper who was seated to his right (orange shirt). Up till know, the comments carried the usual, but accurate, food rhetoric, i.e. redesign the subsidy program, repurpose urban areas for farming, jobs, etc. Eric immediately gained the room's attention with his straight talk, "hire people within the system to build the system." Mr. Hooper was loaded with all kinds of great ideas like a Peace Corps type initiative that trained urban farm programs. He held the floor for about five minutes leaving a powerful energy floating in the room. He used the word, "tenacity," a few times to drive his point. I liked that! Here is a picture of Eric admiring the community garden outside the facility. You gotta love it...raised, straw-bale beds placed directly on the blacktop. Just another example that you can grow food anywhere. You just need "tenacity!"

The location of the roundtable could not have been more appropriate....the newly acquired home of Communty Greenhouse Partners (CGP). It's the building and grounds of an old church on Cleveland's east side. About three years ago, the Cleveland diocese closed 40 Catholic churches. St. George's Lithuanian Church was one of them. It fell quickly into disrepair. But under new ownership there are huge plans for this 67,000 sq.ft. space including a commercial kitchen on the first floor, food co-op on the second and a community center on the third where the church parish congregated. CGP's ultimate dream is to become Cleveland's first food hub aggregating locally produced food and distributing it out into the community. Ideally, food suppliers would be a myriad of area farms, urban gardens as well as a place for backyard gardens to sell their produce and create a small business for themselves. The master plan (pictured below) shows the main building and surrounding grow areas with greenhouses, orchards and raised-garden beds. The project is the vision of Timothy Smith. Timothy was transformed by one of the very food films, FRESH, that encouraged me to purse a career in sustainable food systems. I'm very impressed with what he has been able to accomplish in just two years. I hope to be as successful. One of his staff members stood up during the meeting with a strong reminder, "Sustainability projects need one-time catalyst money to get off the ground but then they are true to their word and are, as the name implies, sustainable!"

After the meeting adjourned, I asked the Senator's staff how they would glean key items for inclusion in Mr. Brown's Senate speech. I got a wishy-washy, political answer but I'm confident that the Senator had a few, solid take-away items which resonated with everyone's comment...small and mid-scale farms can not compete on price and volume in the traditional food model. But a regional food hub could aggregate local food so it could compete. The last to speak was City Fresh's own, Nick Swetye. He summed it up for the Senator in two simple bullets, 1) create food hubs and 2) generate consumer interest and demand.

I have a new favorite word..."Agtivist!" Saw it on Grist.org the other day. They have a whole series profiling different food activists. If the Oxford Dictionary can select "Unfriend" as the 2009 Word of the Year, then Agtivist must have a chance. Usually you see folks like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters gracing these Top 10 charts but many were people I had never heard of before. Before they became famous, Michael and Alice were once regular people doing great things in their community. Those are the stories we need to celebrate!

Have had food crusaders on the brain lately. One of our very own was recently recognized for his contribution, Maurice Small. He will be awarded the Rodale Institute "Organic Pioneer Award" on September 16th. Maurice, came up with the design of the City Fresh CSA program in Cleveland. The farm I am working on supplies food to City Fresh.  I would love to hear who your favorite foodies are. Could be your mom for what she taught you about food, the guy at the nursery who is loaded with good gardening tips, the produce manager at your grocery store or perhaps your farmer. Whoever he/she is, send a quick comment below with a name and a short reason why. Com'on...Pretty please! Thanks!

I weaved through gorgeous farm country this past weekend to go mountain biking just north of Columbus. Unlike the Amish country of last week, the landscape here was bordered by magnificent forests and ground that undulated with slopes and valleys. It had just rained so the green was exceptionally vibrant. Big corn country! Stakes stood proudly like soldiers at the end of rows to indicate where a different variety of GMO seed had been planted.I glanced from side to side. Fields alternated between corn and soy bean. From afar it looked beautiful, but the soil could tell a different story. Cruising along, I did a double take. Amidst all the GMO signs was one, lone, little sign that squeaked, "Don't Spray - Organic!" I slowed down on the way home to get a closer look. It was an organic dairy. Most of the acreage was pasture with other fields growing hay. Holstein cows speckled the green slope. Matching red barns and a white farm house sat on the hill. An oasis in a desert.

It got me thinking more about this whole pasture-raised vs grain-fed thing. It's not just about what's better for the cow and the environment. It's also about land management. A lot of land is used to raise cattle conventionally. Land that could be sequestering carbon while raising happier cows. On a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), livestock are designated to a dirt feedlot while their feed is grown on a different field perhaps a few hundred miles away. So big is that field that over 55% of the corn produced in the US is for animal feed. Not only are the animals concentrated but so is there waste which creates air and water pollution. And the field that grew their food is GMO and uses buckets of chemicals. The soil quality erodes so more chemicals are needed. In the case of nitrogen fertilizer, soil and plants can only absorb about 30%. The other 70% leeches into ground water. Season after season, these fields are tilled further reducing the soil's potential to sequester carbon.

In pasture-raised, the cows get a diet they were designed to digest, mixed grasses plus loads of room to roam. And barrels of oil didn't need to be used to truck in their feed. Instead, they grow their own food. Talk about "farm to table." The farmer rotates them between fields not letting them overgraze. In their path, they leave manure to fertilize the grass. Soil is kept in tact and never needs to be tilled allowing the soil to reach its full carbon storing potential. Pasture-raised is way less land intensive both in scale and impact. Cattle share the same land upon which their food was grown and it requires no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Keep it simple and manage the land wisely. We might just eat better and mitigate climate change in the process.