8. Harvest time 

From: The Michigan Daily


By Catherine Badgley on 10/3/07 

It's harvest time in Michigan. Pumpkins for sale crowd the lawns of
farmhouses on a few rural roads. The combines are harvesting truckloads
of corn. The farmers' market offers a dozen varieties of crisp apples.
In my garden, a riot of morning glories still covers the gate. The last
tomatoes are ripening and the chard grows exuberantly in the cool
weather. Last spring, it was hard to imagine that the empty beds and
piles of compost would eventually yield such bounty. Now all the
weeding, mulching and coaxing of seedlings has given me enough onions,
potatoes, squash, tomatoes and beans to last through the winter. 

Food encompasses sublime tastes and hidden cruelties, personal health
and environmental quality, individual choices and global trade policies.
The food we eat today represents choices made by our ancestors over
thousands of years about taste, texture, color and hardiness. In turn,
the choices that we make about which foods to purchase affect the foods
of future generations. In choosing the foods we eat, we're participating
in political and ecological processes across the globe.

I learned many of these connections after my husband and I moved to a
small farm 15 years ago. We were neophytes to farming. Since our
livelihoods didn't depend upon farming - both of us are professors at
the University - we could afford to experiment with subsistence farming.
We farm organically, partly because we're committed to that philosophy
and partly to understand what the challenges are. It's a way to learn
about soils, plants, animals and weather on a daily basis. We've
received valuable information and assistance from neighboring farmers,
both organic and conventional. We've found friendship and mutual support
in our neighborhood - such as a pint of fresh raspberries in our mailbox
and a neighbor plowing our driveway early on a snowy winter morning. 

In a large vegetable, herb and flower garden, I grow about half of our
vegetables for the year. From early April, when the rhubarb and
asparagus poke up, to November, when I harvest the last carrots and
leeks, we are treated to a succession of flavors. The garden has been
the source of many lessons about food. I've tried many varieties of
vegetables and different methods of weed control. I've had unexpected
successes and total failures. I've learned about companion planting,
cover crops and composting. 

Some of the most valuable lessons are about the bigger picture of food.
For example, I realize how much time and effort it takes to grow food.
Much of the work goes to preparing the soil, weeding, watering and
harvesting at the right moment. For me, it's part education, part
relaxation and part recreation; I don't calculate a cost-benefit ratio.
But for our farmer neighbors, the work is relentless and the pay is low.
This pattern occurs throughout the United States and is part of the
economic crisis that has caused many small farms to collapse, many rural
communities to vanish and most remaining farms to become larger and more

Contradictory ideas prevail about the cost and value of food. We live in
a society that expects and purchases cheap food. Consumers and
Washington policy makers enforce this pattern each in their own way -
consumers by purchasing food at stores that offer low prices and
lawmakers by awarding subsidies to crops whose products permeate our
food system. Growers and farmworkers are caught in the middle. In the
United States, the average family spends a smaller proportion of its
income on food than in any other developed country. But the
affordability has its own cost. Faced with an abundance of cheap food,
Americans have a high daily caloric intake and are beset with a host of
food-related afflictions - a high incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart
disease and stroke. 

I often hear the question - why is organic food so expensive? This is
the wrong question. The right question is - why is regular food so
cheap? Although the checkout price is low, the full cost is much higher.
Agricultural subsidies, which now cost taxpayers over $25 billion per
year, go to conventionally produced food. Conventional agriculture
aggravates environmental deterioration through soil erosion, runoff of
synthetic fertilizers and pesticides into wetlands, biocide poisoning of
non-target plants and animals, greater greenhouse gas emissions and loss
of native biodiversity. Programs to reverse this damage are funded by
taxpayers. And finally, most research funding, whether from federal or
industry sources, is directed toward conventional agriculture. Thus we
pay for conventional agriculture at many stages. In contrast, organic
agriculture pays its own way. Ongoing research is revealing other
benefits of organic food and farming. A recent study from the University
of California at Davis showed that organically grown tomatoes had higher
levels of anti-oxidants (anti-aging, anti-cancer compounds) than
conventional tomatoes did. A long-term study of organic and conventional
methods of raising grains at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania found
that the organic system, using cover crops, sequesters more carbon in
the soil than the no-till conventional system. 

The conventional lore is that the yields from organic farming are well
below those of chemically intensive farming - hence, organic food must
remain a niche market in the global food system. A group of us on campus
decided to investigate whether the yield data from the scientific
literature supports this claim. On a field trip for a course I teach
with Ivette Perfecto, called "Food, Land, and Society," we visited
Garden Works, a small organic farm north of Ann Arbor. There, an
impressive patchwork of vegetables undergoes several harvests each
growing season. We asked Farmer Rob how much produce comes from his 2.5
acres each year. His answer was 27 tons. That's a lot. If he can grow 27
tons of produce on 2.5 acres, why can't organic agriculture feed the

For a year, eight of us combed the literature for studies comparing the
yields of organic and non-organic crops and analyzed the results. What
we found differed from the conventional lore. Our results, based on 293
yield comparisons of plant and animal foods, showed that organic
agriculture has the potential to feed the entire human population based
on the amount of agricultural land currently in use. We also found that
leguminous cover crops, grown between normal cropping periods on current
cropland, could fix more nitrogen than all of the synthetic nitrogen
fertilizer currently applied. 

Our study was published in the June issue of the journal "Renewable
Agriculture and Food Systems." The paper attracted attention at a
conference on organic agriculture sponsored by the Food and Agricultural
Organization of the United Nations, and subsequently, several press
releases reported that the FAO was supporting organic agriculture. We
have received inquiries from all over the world about our paper, and the
reception has largely been enthusiastic. There has also been a backlash.
Both academic crop ecologists and a spokesman for a right-wing think
tank have criticized the validity and accuracy of our data. Ironically,
their standards seem to differ for the studies that come to the opposite
conclusion from ours. A colleague at the FAO has notified us that
lobbying on behalf of conventional agriculture increased after they
circulated press releases promoting organic agriculture. High stakes are
involved, because global agribusiness corporations make billions of
dollars each year selling synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides
and genetically modified seeds. But more and more people are aware of
the benefits of organic farming, of eating food in season, of supporting
local farmers and of the impacts of farming on ecosystem services
locally and globally. 

So enjoy the bounty of the harvest. Also, know that what you choose to
eat will have a wider impact reaching all the way to the farmworkers,
the farmers, the soil, the earthworms, the grocers, the Secretary of
Agriculture, the monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico and beyond.
Through our food choices, we affect the world. 

- Catherine Badgley is a research scientist in the Museum of
Paleontology and an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology.



9.  Position for project coordinator for Michigan Youth Farm Stand


Please help us find the right person for this job as project coordinator
for the Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project.  The person who fills this
position will be liaison between campus team members and local project
sites. He/she will provide technical assistance to local sites regarding
both content and process for accomplishing goals and will coordinate
with evaluation components.   The coordinator will assist local sites to
connect with local and/or state markets.  He/she will ensure that local
sites adhere to the nutrition education objectives and guidelines of the
USDA Food Stamp Nutrition Education (FSNE) Program.  

With assistance and support from other team members, the coordinator
will organize educational retreats/trainings for local site coordinators
and youth.   He/she will also train local site coordinators in the
objectives of the YFSP: Nutrition education, entrepreneur experience and
reaching FNP target populations.  With Graduate Student Assistant(s),
the coordinator will revise the project handbook and materials. He/she
will guide site leaders/coordinators through action plan and budget
development, and invoicing process.  Along with other team members,
he/she will assist with fund development for project continuation.  The
coordinator will also assist in organizing and coordination of new local
sites.  Additional information about the Michigan Youth Farmstand
Project may be found at <> .

The position requires a bachelors degree and some community-based work
or volunteer experience.  The salary is limited to $, but benefits are
provided.  The Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project is part of the C.S.
Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU, which engages
communities in applied research and outreach to promote sustainable
agriculture and food systems.  The coordinator will be a member of this
group, with many opportunities for networking and engagement with local
food and farming scholars and activists.  

For complete position details, see

The deadline for applications is October 18, 2007, or until a suitable
candidate is found.  If you have questions about the position, please
direct them to Ms. Anne Scott, 517-353-0751 or [log in to unmask]

<mailto:[log in to unmask]> 

9.  Policy Internship with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute 


Hello All - 


The message below and attached announcement outline a great opportunity
for students to take part in a Policy Internship with the Michael Fields
Agricultural Institute (
<> ).  I was an intern in 2006 and
had an amazing experience!  You're welcome to contact me directly
([log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> ) to have a
discussion about my experience.  Also, feel free to contact Margaret
Krome ([log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> ), Policy
Program Director at Michael Fields, for more details.


Please circulate widely.

NEWS RELEASE, September 24, 2007

3480 Potter Rd, Bear Lake, MI 49614

231.889.3216, toll free 877.526.1441

[log in to unmask]

*	Please publish in your calendar or resource listings. 
*	Please publish narrative as appropriate to your publication;
edit as necessary.
*	Contact us for a disc or email attachment of this information:
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