Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Days June 18 and 26

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Whether you’re a farmer or a wannabe, the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Field Days may be of interest to you. Two upcoming events, June 18 and June 26, are geared for farmers (and farmers at heart) who strive for sustainability along with production.
June 18: Improving a Perennial Pasture

What does it take to establish and care for a pasture with perennial plants? One that is good for grazing a growing herd of cattle? Come find out from farmer Nathan Anderson of Cherokee. Together with his dad, Randy Anderson, and his fiancée, Sarah Joachim, Anderson participates in a Practical Farmers of Iowa project to monitor “ecological productivity and financial indicators” related to improving pastures and grazing systems….

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Organic Winemakers: Napa Valley’s Stewards of the Land

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The story of ZD Wines is a family saga—a family as principled about the environment as it is dedicated to wine making.

It’s evident as soon as you pull into the parking lot, where, you’ll note, everyone on staff drives a hybrid. “Except our CEO,” Dustin Moilanen, the vineyard’s hospitality director, explains. Winemaster Robert deLeuze’s car is all-electric. “He plugs it in at his solar-powered home, so his commute to work is completely ‘green.’ ”

For the ride home, he can charge up at the winery, where 712 solar panels generate more electricity than the entire facility can use. “The excess is returned to the grid,” Molainen assures his visitors….

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Top Ten Must-See Environmental Films

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There are some fantastic films on the environment, but it can often be difficult to find the truly great ones. To make your life a little bit easier, here is a list of ten fantastic, eye-opening movies for any individual passionate about saving our planet. 10. Tapped, 2009 Director Stephanie Soechtig’s examination of the bottled […]

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Truth on Earth – Making Music to Change the World

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In a society where many teens and young adults spend their free time in front of the television, playing video games, grabbing fast food, or hanging out with friends at the mall, the three Halpern sisters lead exceptional lives. They’re talented musicians, who together comprise the band Truth On Earth (T.O.E.).

So what else is unique about Serena (20), Kiley (19), and Tess (16)? They’re lifelong vegans, have always been home schooled, and have spent the last two years traveling the country in an RV with their parents….

And this is another way the three are different from most of their peers: Their songs aren’t about the issues many young women are thinking about — boys, flirtations, or the angst of being a teen. “We picked a musical style that had a message and meant something,” Kiley says….

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Why You Should Read THE WORLD PEACE DIET (and Buy It March 12)

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The first, and most important reason to buy The World Peace Diet March 12 (or any time) is that it will very likely reshape your thinking about the foods you choose to consume. Unless you’re already bypassing meat and dairy products, your diet isn’t as healthy as it should be….

The second reason is that for purchases made on March 12 only, many sponsors have donated excellent bonus gifts and prizes to anyone who buys The World Peace Diet….

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Plains Justice – CAFOs and Threats to Human Health

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Today, Plains Justice, an environmental law center working on behalf of the public, released “Public Health and Livestock Confinements: Identifying Threats to Human Health.” Donna Wong-Gibbons, Ph.D., author of the report, calls it “a science-based review of some of the available research and literature on livestock confinements, specifically on the possible public health risks associated with those.”

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Wong-Gibbons by phone today.

BPGL: What can readers expect to find in the Plains Justice report?

WONG-GIBBONS: The report focuses partially on Iowa, although similar problems exist in other states where there are livestock confinements. It’s designed to be a plain-language document, so that the public, regulators, and legislators can all read it. It’s intended to help educate people about some of the potential public health problems with CAFOs.

Yet, it’s also designed to help educate people about some of the ways that those problems can be addressed. It’s important, when you’re talking about public health, to identify the problem, then to also look at solutions. So that’s what the report is trying to do….

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Francis Thicke on Farming Alternatives, CAFOs, and the Future of Farming

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In this, the fourth post in a continuing discussion with Thicke, he talks about changing the minds of Big Ag with sustainable models, the rules regarding concentrated feeding operations (CAFOs), and his vision for the future of farming in Iowa. We believe Thicke’s views about agriculture are applicable not only to Iowa, but also to the nation….

BPGL: How can anyone convince Big Ag to change?

THICKE: I think the way to do it is to find alternative models that are successful, that are ecologically sound, profitable, and socially responsible. And then try to expand adoption of those successful models, rather than try to fight what we’re not necessarily in favor of….

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Francis Thicke on Small Farms and Local Foods

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Francis Thicke and his wife, Susan, are organic dairy farmers who recently received the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture. Francis is also a scientist and a highly respected thought leader on agricultural policy. In this, the third post in a four-part discussion with Thicke, he discusses ways to encourage the growth of small farms and local food production….

BPGL: How can we increase biodiversity in agriculture?

THICKE: On the federal level, we have the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is being implemented now. The CSP, which was authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, provides farmers with incentives to adopt resource-conserving crop rotations. Those incentives will help farmers go beyond growing just corn and soybeans. The incentive payments will help defray the cost of adding perennial and cover crops to crop rotations….

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Francis Thicke on Biofuels, Biodiversity, and Erosion

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Francis Thicke is a soft-spoken, thoughtful man. He is also an accomplished scientist and an award-winning organic farmer. Thicke’s list of credentials is impressive, including selection by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation as a Policy Fellow in their Food and Society program, work as the National Program Leader for soil science for the USDA-Extension Service, and a current seat on the board of directors of the Organic Farming Research Foundation….

Thicke (pronounced TICKee) is also a candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Thicke to learn about his vision for improving agriculture in Iowa….

BPGL: Why did you decide to run for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture?

THICKE: I see a lot of challenges coming down the road for agriculture in Iowa, as well as opportunities. I think we need new vision and new leadership to meet those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities.

One challenge is escalating energy costs….

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So Cute You Want to Love Them – But Alpacas Are Livestock

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Agriculture, Blog, Ecopreneurs, Front Page, Iowa, Livestock

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Across the fence, a pair of huge, black eyes stare into mine, with pupils so wide and dark that they look like giant, solid-black marbles. The eyes belong to Calleana, an alpaca whose shaggy bangs hang over her forehead, and whose curious gaze seems to be inviting me to touch her.

“Is it okay if I pet her?” I ask our host, Chris Schueller, co-owner of Andaluz Alpacas, near Oxford, Iowa. …

“If she’ll let you,” he replies with a laugh. “You know, the worst part of raising alpacas is that they’re so cute, you want to love them; but they don’t want to come to you — they’re livestock.”

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Soil Is a Finite Resource – Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone for Good

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I asked Angie Tagtow, a registered dietitian who serves as a Food and Society Policy Fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy out of Minneapolis, to speak to the issue of soil quality in farmland. Tagtow previously served 10 years at the Iowa Department of Public Health. This is Part Two of a two-part interview.

TAGTOW: Having a registered dietitian talk about environmental resources and natural resources conservation is a little bit of an anomaly — I am often drawn to the work of Sir Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann. But the justification is there, because if you don’t have a healthy environment, you’re not going to be able to produce healthy food.

For me, the connection to soil started on our property more than 15 years ago. We live north of Elkhart, Iowa, and when we bought the property, we didn’t have the means of taking care of it. So we continued to cash-rent it to the farmer who sold it to us. Over the years, we noticed that we had a tremendous amount of erosion. We had flooding. We were witnessing a lot of destruction that we were not prepared to observe. …

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Indie Film “A River of Waste” Issues Urgent Call to “Vote with Our Ballots as Well as Our Forks”

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“Only after the last tree is cut down, the last of the water poisoned, the last animal destroyed… Only then will you realize you cannot eat money.” — Cree Indian Prophecy

So begins the documentary film A River of Waste, setting the stage for a discussion of how agriculture in the U.S. — and indeed, much of the world — has left behind the family farm and turned into profits-at-any-cost Big Ag. And there are costs — costs to the animals kept in filth and confinement; costs to the environment in air, soil, and water pollution; and costs to the health and well-being of people.

This excellent indie film presents a story that has been carefully researched and seamlessly assembled to show consumers just how dangerous CAFOs are. But it doesn’t stop there; it presents solutions in the form of regulations and practices that are common in the European Union…

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Foxhollow Poultry Farm – “Respecting the Food We Raise”

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Whoosh! A huge ball of feathers flaps past my head, catching me completely by surprise. “It’s just Cy Snoodle,” says Tai Johnson-Spratt, co-owner of Foxhollow Poultry Farm. She laughs. “He’s showing off.”

Tai and I are standing in the roomy, sunny hen house among a couple dozen busy birds. Several walk past our feet, checking out the things chickens, turkeys, and peacocks find most interesting — each other, food, grit, water, and whatever they can scratch up in the dirt. A few hens are perched on a series of boards that resemble bleachers at a football game. That’s where Cy, named after nearby Iowa State University’s Cyclones, was apparently perched when he decided to do a flyby. Cy is a fitting name for this cloud of feathers that seemed to appear in the air out of nowhere.

Now Cy struts across the floor of the hen house, his feathers puffed up and fully open, showing off just how big and manly he is. He’s got his eye on a svelte lavender female, his favorite. “See how he turns his tail feathers,” Tai says. “That shows where he’s directing his attention. He really likes her; he’s always following her around.” The object of Cy’s affection is a heritage variety that is critically endangered…

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Farm to Table’s 100-Mile Menu Coming Soon to NYC

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Orchestrated by Great Performances, Farm To Table conducts the 100-Mile Menu, bringing fresh, seasonal, local foods from New York State farms within reach of New York City slickers — coming soon…

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Local Foods Connection – Providing Healthy Foods and Smart Nutrition to Low-Income Families

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Imagine you’re the head of a family. You’re out of work. Or maybe you have a job that pays minimum wage. Maybe you’re an immigrant, trying hard to adjust to a new country, new foods, new customs — all on a limited income. Or, perhaps someone in your family has a serious illness, and your struggle to pay for medical care leaves little to spend on nutritious food for your children and yourself. In this harsh economic climate, for many of us, eating a diet of organic foods is as much a fantasy as a taking a trip to Mars.

“As incomes drop and food budgets shrink, food choices shift toward cheaper refined grains, added sugars, and vegetable fats. The first items to drop out of the diet are usually healthy foods – whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, vegetables and fruit. Energy-rich starches, sweets, and fats, many of them nutrient-poor, frequently offer the cheapest way to fill hungry stomachs.” — Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet? Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer March 2009. A publication of the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition…

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Take Action to Support Healthy Foods

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Over the weekend we saw the movie, Food, Inc. with friends. We were told to have dinner first because the movie would take away our appetite. We didn’t doubt that possibility. But, for one very simple reason, we don’t have the same kind, or the same level, of concern: We know where nearly all our food comes from, and we know the producers and growers who provide it.

Still, the movie is unsettling. None of us were vegetarians before seeing the movie, nor did we leave ready to become vegetarians. But the level of cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in the film was difficult to watch. And, witnessing the levels of bacteria, chemicals, and waste products involved in America’s industrialized food system was very disconcerting, to say the least…

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Hall Wines St. Helena Earns LEED Gold Certification

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You’re out to dinner with friends, ready to order a glass of wine with your meal. You look over the wine list, considering your options: White or red? Dry or sweet? Domestic or imported? Organically grown or not? And on and on… But it’s a good bet that you never stop to wonder whether the wine you will choose was produced with energy-savings in mind. For most of us, energy savings don’t spring readily to mind when we’re sitting in a restaurant. But starting today, there’s another factor to consider when choosing a wine…

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All Abuzz about Habitat: A Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day and Potluck

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Join Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and One Step at a Time Gardens on Saturday, July 25, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. to explore the many benefits diversity on the landscape offers to the sustainable farm. At 6:00 p.m., PFI will hold the first of its summer potlucks. Bring a dish to share and your own tableware, and enjoy music from the local band The Shifting Gears during dinner. Beverages will be provided.

During the field day, tour One Step at a Time Gardens and hear presentations from local conservation offices. PFI staff member Sarah Carlson will discuss current and emerging opportunities with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the 2008 farm bill…

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A Symbolic Funeral for the Iowa River

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Every so often, an issue consumes me. I read as much as I can on the subject. I attend lectures. I join action groups. I get involved. This is one of those issues: my beloved Iowa River. The Iowa River isn’t dead yet, but, like so many other rivers, it’s heading that way. And I think it’s worth saving. So, I decided to do something about it.

Tomorrow, on the Fourth of July, the Save the Iowa River (STIR) group will hold a mock funeral for the Iowa River in conjunction with Iowa City’s annual jazz festival. We’ll be rocking a pine casket, loaned by Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Services, while playing “Down by the Riverside,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and other standards. We’ll march in true New Orleans style in a second-line, jazz funeral parade. We’ll have fun, while spreading the word — and water samples — to the public. And you’re invited to join us…

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Hog CAFOs Can Affect Human Health

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Iowa produces more corn, soybeans, pigs, and egg-laying hens than any other state in the US. There are approximately 100 million farm animals — and only 3 million people. Animal feces is actually the state’s largest product. MRSA bacteria — which causes the flesh-eating disease — and swine flu are growing problems. Concerned about these facts, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) contacted Dr. Alan Kornberg, a physician who serves on the board of directors of the Farm Sanctuary. We asked Dr. Kornberg about the human health effects associated with farm animals in confinement…

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