Tag Archives: GreenGardens

Julián Castro on the Goya Boycott and How to Support Communities of Color

The CEO of Goya Foods, Robert Unanue, ignited a political firestorm last week during a visit to the White House for the launch of the president’s “White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.”

“We are truly blessed to have a leader like President Donald Trump, who is a builder,” Unanue said. He went on to describe Trump in glowing terms that the president’s critics say ignore his political record and rhetoric—both of which have been linked to anti-Latinx hate crimes, xenophobia, and regulations.

That the head of the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned food company would praise the politician who campaigned on the promise of building a wall between the United States and Mexico sparked outcry from prominent Latinx figures including U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. But Julián Castro, a former 2020 presidential candidate and Obama-era Housing and Urban Development Secretary, was one of the first to call for a boycott against the company, using the hashtag #goyaway on Twitter to spread the word.

“Goya Foods has been a staple of so many Latino households for generations,” Castro tweeted. “Now their CEO, Bob Unanue, is praising a president who villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain. Americans should think twice before buying their products.”

During his White House visit, Unanue not only praised Trump but also discussed how the Goya staff “doubled our efforts” during the pandemic. Overrepresented in the food industry—particularly as farmworkers, restaurant workers, and meatpackers—Latinx Americans are contracting COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. And the virus is now soaring in Latinx-heavy states including Florida, California, and Castro’s home state of Texas, where he once served as a San Antonio city councilman and mayor.

COVID-19 has personally affected Castro, claiming the life of his stepmother last week and infecting his father. He and his twin brother, U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) haven’t hesitated to criticize to criticize Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s handling of the pandemic or to point out the large number of people of color dying from COVID.

Civil Eats spoke with Castro about COVID-19’s impact on vulnerable populations, his call for a Goya boycott, his advocacy for labor rights, animal rights, and universal school lunch, and his thoughts on climate justice and factory farming reforms.

What prompted you to call for a Goya boycott, and what’s your response to Unanue’s assertion that the boycott is a “suppression of speech?”

When he said our country is “truly blessed” to have Donald Trump as a leader because he’s a “builder,” he was offensive because Donald Trump has been spectacularly terrible. Trump has built his political career on scapegoating and attacking Latinos. It felt like betrayal from a company that has gotten wealthy primarily off of Latino consumers. And we live in a time where if corporations are going to play politics, contributing to political candidates and standing with a bigoted president at a campaign-style event at the White House, then they should expect that consumers are going to react to that.

I know some have suggested that calling for consumers not to buy Goya products is a suppression of free speech, but free speech works both ways. Goya and their CEO have every right to support whomever they wish, but each consumer also has the right to make a purchasing decision however they wish. And people decide whether to purchase a product based not only on how good your advertising makes them feel, but also on how your embrace of a bigoted president like Donald Trump makes them feel.

At the White House, Unanue discussed how Goya employees have worked consistently throughout the pandemic, even doubling their efforts, bringing to mind the predicament of the nation’s food workers, farmworkers, and meat packers. We know that people of color are overrepresented in the food industry, making them more susceptible to contracting coronavirus. What should be done to keep them safe?

Food workers have absolutely been some of the heroes of coronavirus. They’ve also been many of the most vulnerable, and we need to fix that. It’s time for workers throughout the food service chain to get paid what they deserve, to get the kind of health care that they deserve, and to get workplace protections that keep them as healthy as possible. And, right now, our country’s failing on every score. It’s why we need to raise the minimum wage, including for farmworkers. We need to offer universal health care and make sure that businesses are responsible for keeping, not only their customers but also their employees, safe from the coronavirus.

You’re married to an educator, so I also want to ask you about reopening schools during this pandemic. Those who want schools to reopen argue that they provide stability, routines, and, of course, learning opportunities for students. In addition, they note that kids depend on them for lunch.

I have an 11-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. Like most parents, I’m torn, because I know it would be better for their education for them to be in the classroom. On the other hand, I want it to be healthy and safe. I think that school districts should have the opportunity to offer a traditional learning environment if they meet certain safety standards, but I don’t think they should be required to reopen because there are likely school districts that just can’t meet basic standards or won’t have time to by the middle of August or the beginning of September. Frankly, right now, my wife and I are still thinking through whether we’re going to have our kids back in a regular classroom setting in August.

You supported universal school lunch during your presidential candidacy. Advocates for free meals say they’re more important than ever and school meal programs are going broke. What are your thoughts on universal school lunch now?

We need to make sure that no child goes hungry in this country, and school breakfast and lunch are a very important part of that. I’m proud of the effort many school districts have made to have breakfast and lunch, or at least lunch, still made available for kids even when they’ve been out of class during this pandemic. Ultimately, however, the fact that so many kids have to rely on getting a meal in school is a failure of our country. That’s why we need to invest in all of those things—universal health care, affordable housing, better job opportunities, better educational opportunities—to improve economic mobility and quality of life in the 21st Century.

Unionization is one way U.S. workers have achieved a higher quality of life. You have supported strengthening protections and encouraging union participation for vulnerable categories of workers, particularly farmworkers, domestic workers, and trade unions. What do you think needs to be done to protect farmworkers during COVID?

Farmworkers have not been treated like other workers. They were left out of minimum wage standards. They continue oftentimes to work in bad conditions with inadequate facilities and, sometimes, not enough access to water and other basic necessities on the job. Whether it’s farmworkers or meatpacking plant workers or other vulnerable workers, we need to make sure that people are paid at least a $15 minimum wage, that they have good healthcare benefits—so that their health care is no longer tied to their employment—and they’re able to join a union. That means administrative rules that foster union membership instead of undermine it. It means passing things like the PRO Act that would make it easier for people to join in, and then rolling back some of the attacks on union membership, like we saw in the Supreme Court in terms of public sector unions.

As a presidential candidate, you devised an animal welfare plan that aimed, among other measures, to reform factory farming. Where do you stand on recent efforts by Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren to ban factory farming?

Across the board, Americans are paying more attention to animal welfare, including the food industry, and that’s a good thing. Because of the leadership of Senator Warren and Senator Booker and many people, I’m glad this issue is getting more traction now. When I was campaigning in Iowa, I would often hear concerns about factory farming, about the environment, about the animals. It really is ripe for reform.

Factory farming contributes to climate change, and you have endorsed the Green New Deal to tackle climate change and economic inequality. Why is climate justice an issue that should particularly concern communities of color?

Climate change and climate justice are inextricably linked. Today, oftentimes, low-income communities and people of color especially are the hardest hit by climate change. We need to make sure that they’re protected as we feel the effects of climate change—and that we reverse the impact of climate change for the benefit of everybody. Climate justice means not being colorblind and being sensitive to the fact that certain communities are paying a greater price on a daily basis for how irresponsible we’ve been in the past when it comes to combating climate change.

As former HUD secretary, what are your concerns about housing insecurity and homelessness during the pandemic, and how these problems intersect with other issues, like food insecurity?

We’re staring down a homelessness crisis like we’ve never seen before. By one estimate, about 20 million people could face eviction over the next eight weeks. Now that means that a lot more people will be on the street. It means that we need to make a big investment immediately in rental assistance and also extend an eviction moratorium nationwide and stop mortgage foreclosures to stabilize families to help them get through this time period.

As people have gone on the unemployment rolls and their income has dwindled, there’s greater housing insecurity and food insecurity. Food banks across the state of Texas, for instance, have been inundated with families who need their help, including a lot of families who are going to a food bank for the first time. In my hometown of San Antonio, they went from serving about 60,000 families in a week to 120,000 right away [when the pandemic hit the U.S.]. And that’s a common story at food banks across the country.

In so many ways, what we’re witnessing now is a culmination of underinvestment in people throughout the decades. And if there’s an alarm going off about anything, it’s that we need to change course in this country and recognize the investments we should be making in housing, food security, job opportunities, and healthcare to create a stronger safety net and a better quality of life, permanently, for people.

Edited for brevity and clarity.

The post Julián Castro on the Goya Boycott and How to Support Communities of Color appeared first on Civil Eats.

How to Get Poison Ivy Off Your Skin and Avoid Getting it There in the First Place

Anyone else gardening around poison ivy?

How to Remove Poison Ivy Oil on your Skin

I’ve been wondering what to do about the poison ivy in my garden, so clicked on this video about how to avoid the rash with great interest. It’s on a channel called “Extreme Deer Habitat,” which seems to be for hunters. (So if you don’t want to see photos of dead deer, don’t browse the channel.)

In the video he demonstrates the efficacy of 3 products in removing poison ivy oil (urushiol) and concludes that what’s far most important is shrubbing. He illustrates the point by using grease, which we can see, unlike the invisible PI oil.

Sounds reasonable, but does he know what he’s talking about? For the answer I go to the Garden Professors Blog FB group (now with over 23,00 members worldwide!) and search the name “Tecnu,” and found lots of members familiar with the same research illustrated in the video. Excellent!

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine compared Tecnu, (a chemical inactivator), Goop (an oil remover) and Dial ultra dishwashing soap (a surfactant) against no treatment and found these percentage reductions in the amount of urushiol left on the body, compared to no treatment.

  • Tecnu – 70%
  • Goop – 62%
  • Dial – 52 %

While Tecnu was the best, the difference wasn’t determined to be statistically significant, so probably not worth paying more for it.

Other suggestions from commenters at the Garden Professors group:

  • One wrote “Scrub, scrub, scrub,” but another cited a new source saying too vigorous may make the impending rash worse!
  • Someone with repeated exposure to tons of PI wrote that she uses Tecnu pre- and post-treatment products, with great results. (I couldn’t find a Tecnu pre-treatment product, just a “pre-contact” product called IvyX.)
  • Wash with COLD water.
  • Use a harsh soap like Fels Naptha.
  • Use a degreasing detergent like Dawn.
  • Scrub with a fingernail brush.
  • If you already have a rash, the only effective treatment is with Clobetisol, available by prescription only.

How to Avoid Skin Contact when Removing Poison Ivy

I have poison ivy in my garden in spots like this one, where somehow it’s arose from a thick patch of Sedum takesimense, as well as in other wilder spots around town that I’m still trying to tame. But when I’m out weeding I avoid dealing with the damn stuff because I don’t have a plan for keeping it away from my skin.

But then a friend told me about a simple but safe way she removes PI using 2-3 plastic bags. I looked for a video about it and the top results show a full hazmat suit contraption that may require a second person’s help: googles, taping of pants and gloves, etc. There’s one by This Old House and this video by Pesky Pete Barron.

“Survivalist Gardener”

Another search result on YouTube was “How to Kill Poison Ivy on One Day – Without Poisonous Chemicals” by “Survivalist Gardener,” who naturally recommends copious spraying with vinegar. 

Moving on, how about something simpler, when you just need to remove the occasional bit of PI in the border?

On a channel about “drought-proof urban gardening” I found this video about PI that demonstrates the exact plastic bag/disposable glove process I was looking for, starting at 6:32.

Using Google, I found some answers in text-only:

Readers, what do YOU do about poison ivy in your garden?

How to Get Poison Ivy Off Your Skin and Avoid Getting it There in the First Place originally appeared on GardenRant on June 21, 2019.

No pesticides and 95% less water – the indoor farming revolution


Indoor farming is not really that new, the most prevalent example being that of greenhouses. A New York based company is taking the concept to another level. Bowery, which launched just last year, has started up their concept of vertical indoor farming by acquiring warehouses in urban areas and turning them…..

Farm Runoff in U.S. Waters Has Hit Crisis Levels. Are Farmers Ready to Change?

Short answer in no, because the farms that make a difference are owned by large corporations.

For the last two decades, Bill Kellogg hasn’t told many people about the approach he uses to growing 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Hardin County, Ohio.

The conventional farmer grows cover crops, tills less often than most of his neighbors, applies fertilizer to his fields 4-6 inches underground, and has planted several pollinator patches on his acreage—all in an effort to improve his soil and cut down on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that runs off his land in the winter.

When the Ohio Farm Bureau first asked him to talk about these practices as part of a multimedia website designed to educate farmers on how to protect their watersheds, he initially declined. “We’ve tried to stay under the radar, and just do our thing in our corner of the world,” he says, acknowledging that other farmers in his area will often talk at the local coffee shop whenever someone tries something new. “I’m not a coffee shop guy,” he added.

“It was out of my comfort zone to give up our information.” However, after long talks with his son, Shane, they decided it was time to share what they do. Kellogg fears that if farmers in this region don’t make progress to improve water quality soon, they’ll face government regulations.

In a video on the demo farm website, Kellogg explains: “We need to be proactive in showing our community and neighbors that we’re serious about taking care of the world around us.” The website provides 360-degree aerial tours of three farms in the Blanchard River watershed and gives users an intimate view of their fields. Kellogg and his son have given talks to around 1,400 people and another 1,000 visitors have stopped by the farm.

“If I didn’t have Shane pushing me on the technology end, I don’t know whether I’d be doing some of these things,” he says. “I know we’ve opened some peoples’ eyes.”

Across farm country, local and state governments, federal regulatory agencies, and farm groups are searching for lasting strategies to keep farm nutrients out waterways. But despite a robust combination of incentives or “carrots,” such as subsidies and cost-sharing programs, and increasingly, regulation, the problem remains dire.

The Size of the Problem

Kellogg is all too aware that many more eyes need to be opened to realize the Ohio Phosphorous Task Force’s goal of reducing excess phosphorous flowing off farms by 40 percent—the amount needed to reduce or eliminate algal blooms in Lake Erie. The Blanchard River is one of the waterways delivering farm runoff to the lake, where it fuels toxic algal blooms.

As they do throughout the Corn Belt, Ohio row crop farmers—notably of corn and soy—typically apply fertilizer on their fields in fall. When winter precipitation arrives, the system of tile drainage pipes used on 46 percent of farm fields provides a perfect pathway for fertilizer runoff to enter waterways. In fact, Lake Erie’s 2014 algae bloom left more than 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio without drinking water for three days.

Nitrogen pollution, in the form of dead zones, algal blooms, and contaminated drinking water, has gotten to be such a dire problem globally that the five-year, $60 million International Nitrogen Management System—a research effort patterned after the International Panel on Climate Change—was launched in 2016 to tackle the issue. In the U.S. alone, billions so far have been spent to encourage farmers to voluntarily adopt practices to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico—yet neither region has seen significant change.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie on August 14, 2017. Credit: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc./Zachary Haslick

State and federal level governments have introduced a variety of cost-share incentive policies and other “carrots” to convince farmers to adopt conservation approaches, but few have successfully yielded the kinds of voluntary adoption necessary to make a lasting dent in the pollution. The 2008 U.S. Hypoxia Action plan, a national strategy to reduce the Gulf of Mexico’s annual dead zone to 5,000 square kilometers, had an ambitious goal of reducing nitrogen and phosphorous amounts by 45 percent by 2015, a deadline extended to 2035 amid dismal progress. The 2017 dead zone was the largest ever, at 15,032 square kilometers.

When carrots don’t work, governments are increasingly turning to the “stick” of regulation. Minnesota’s governor just proposed the state’s first-ever regulation on farmers’ fertilizer use to protect drinking water. After 12 years spent relying on voluntary efforts in the Chesapeake Bay region, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally resorted, in 2010, to imposing a total maximum daily load (TMDL), of nitrogen and phosphorous from six of the Bay’s surrounding states. In Pennsylvania, compliance has been “painful,” says Jim Shortle, director of the Center for Nutrient Pollution Solutions at Pennsylvania State University. The state has the most farmers (in excess of 30,000) of the six and, “it got the worst grade on agricultural oversight on the EPA 2016 report card,” he says.

The threat of regulation—a concern raised in a recent farmer survey—has been a powerful motivator for some farmers to start changing their practices, says Kellogg.

But most state agencies struggle to reach the majority of farmers, who are working within a system that prioritizes crop yield. As Bill Kellogg notes, reluctantly, there are two kinds of farmers: those who practice conservation with the future in mind and those farmers who are only in the here and now for profit.

Self-starters like Kellogg are perhaps the best sign of hope. “We’re beginning to see farmers say they want to be leaders, rather than be forced into actions by regulations,” says Shortle. And that’s welcome news. “The most effective pressure will come from fellow farmers,” he says. Rebecca Power, director of the North Central Regional Water Network at the University of Wisconsin, agrees. She says she has seen “a fundamental cultural change” begin to take effect among farmers.

Still, change is slow considering the formidable obstacles in the path. Chiefly, ongoing research on conservation practices can sometimes yield conflicting findings about what will work in particular regions, sowing enough uncertainty that landowners avoid taking action. To that end, there is a scramble to get enough technical skill in place to help farmers identify and adopt the best options for their circumstances.

But it’s unclear whether increased social pressure and technical skills will be enough to reach the magnitude of change many agree is necessary. “As long as we rely on voluntary action, it is going to be an uphill battle,” says Shortle. “The low-hanging fruit is all picked,” says Shortle. “[Progress] is going to cost money.”

Roger Wolf, director of environment programs and services for the Iowa Soybean Association, admits that the federal government has largely failed in its attempts to get states to address water quality issues caused by nutrient pollution. A big part of the challenge at this moment is coming to grips with the scope and scale of the management solutions necessary to move the needle, he says.

Mixed Messages

Of all the conservation practices being championed, farmers have perhaps most readily focused on precision fertilizer management, a strategy that combines soil tests and GPS to generate highly calibrated soil maps to help identify which farm fields require more or less nitrogen. Yet studies used to develop the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy show this solution decreases nutrient pollution by about 10 percent, so clearly other strategies will also be necessary to reach that 40 percent reduction target.

Nitrogen stabilizers, which farmers apply directly to the soil alongside the fertilizer, are also being developed and sold as a cheap, easy solution. But once they wear off and soil bacteria bounce back, nitrogen will continue to run off, says Sarah Carlson, strategic initiatives director at Practical Farmers of Iowa. The competing, mixed messages frustrate Carlson, who argues that the key is “having a living root [in the soil] all the time to keep nutrients from leaking out of the system.” Banishing bare soil is the basis for the group’s new T-shirt slogan—“Don’t Farm Naked, Plant Cover Crops.”

Carlson argues that the data show cover crops, grown between and often alongside cash crops, are the most cost-effective conservation practice. Plants like cereal rye or winter wheat are best at soaking up nutrients, leading to as much as a 30-40 percent reduction in nitrogen loss, on a large scale.

Field day participants share soil health and pollution-reduction strategies on Nathan Anderson’s farm.

Growing cover crops also builds valuable soil health, providing other potential economic benefits such as reduced pest pressures and improved water retention. Edge-of-field practices such as wetlands, buffer zones, and bioreactors, which filter nitrogen out of runoff using wood chips, have also been pointed to as solutions. But they may not offer a direct benefit and be pretty costly to install, says Matt Helmers, an agricultural engineer at Iowa State University.

Programs to help offset the cost of cover crops have also flourished in the region. Seven years ago, Iowa only had roughly 10,000 acres of cost-shared cover crops, says Sean McMahon, executive director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance. In 2017, he says, the state boasted 760,000 acres of cover crops, about half of which were funded by cost-share programs. And yet that number represents about 3.3 percent of the total farm acreage in the state. “In order to meet the goals of the nutrient reduction strategy, we probably need between 12 and 17 million acres of cover crops—between 50-70 percent,” says McMahon.

Weather extremes are making cover crops more appealing, while simultaneously harder to execute. They offer some farmers a way to reduce soil erosion during downpours and floods, but heavy rainfall can also make it difficult to realize their benefits. Put the crop in too late and it may not germinate; plow it under too early and it won’t be there to help keep soil on the ground

One thing is certain—farmers don’t like uncertainty.

While some say cover crops will save the world, they come with complex nutrient management dynamics to untangle, says Robyn Wilson, a behavioral decision scientist at Ohio State University. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agricultural engineer Kevin King has shown that cover crops, such as rye, can significantly reduce nitrogen losses in subsurface tile drainage, but had no effect on phosphorous. Yet not all cover crops act the same. Recent studies have shown that cover crops that die naturally in winter—such as some radishes—could even increase dissolved phosphorous concentrations in surface runoff.

Wilson’s research suggests there are additional, legitimate reasons farmers aren’t adopting some conservation practices more effectively. For example, subsurface fertilizer placement would help maintain the benefits of reduced tillage and reduce nutrient runoff, but it costs twice as much to apply and the equipment can be expensive and hard to find. A heavy-handed regulatory approach may help achieve faster progress, says Wilson, “but unless we fix some of these problems, we’ll get pushback.”

It’s also easy for uncertainty to translate into apathy. To adopt a new practice, farmers need to believe it will be effective, says Wilson. “Motivated farmers are looking for solutions and we [researchers] haven’t convinced them we know what those are,” he adds.

Getting information to farmers remains a hurdle. “There are not enough boots on the ground to deliver conservation information,” says McMahon. While National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff and extension agents do a good deal of that work, their numbers are often very limited, and farmers have come to rely on private-sector crop advisors for support as well. Wolf argues that arming fertilizer reps with a better understanding of conservation practices could play an important role, however, since state and federal agencies are chronically budget-constrained.

“The ag retailers are the dominant way farmers get information,” says Carlson, adding, “and they overwhelmingly are not giving the right recommendations for growers of cover crops.” Carlson has been arming growers with information to share with fertilizer representatives in a bid to change the system from the bottom up.

Online Resources Help Fill in the Gaps

It’s a problem increasingly being tackled online as well. A growing group of no-till and cover crop practitioners share images and videos on YouTube and Twitter. And Practical Farmers of Iowa has a series of YouTube videos, called Rotationally Raised, which describe how to successfully grow diverse crop rotations.

Blanchard Demo Farms Project lead Aaron Heilers says the goal of web-based outreach is to offer data and personal experiences to farmers who may not attend traditional Field Day events that are miles away from their own farms. “Farmers want to see the data, [and know] that these things are working,” he says.

One of three demonstration farms that users can “tour” on the Blanchard Farms Demonstration site.

Many early adopters often find their own ways to minimize risks when trying something new. Nathan Anderson, an Iowa farmer who grows corn, soybeans, and small grains in addition to beef cattle, uses cover crops on nearly every acre. The cattle made it easier, he says, to get through the learning curve with cover crops because the cost spent on cover crop seed could be rationalized as feed for the animals. “We reduced our risk by having cattle that could eat our mistakes,” he says.

There’s a cultural dimension as well. For example, Anderson’s first season of cover crop-grazing cattle was a source of curiosity among neighboring farmers. “Knowing that people are talking about what you are doing can be intimidating,” says Anderson, although it didn’t hamper his experimentation. As Anderson and others worked out the kinks, neighbors who may have once been dismissive of the added management time and risk associated with conservation practices are increasingly interested. “Farmers that I never thought would be asking me for cover crop advice are asking those questions,” he adds.

Building New Strategies from Data

To realize results on the ground, a number of conservation professionals are turning to data-visualization tools to identify places where shifting practices could have the most impact and help farmers weigh the potential impact of those practices. To that end, a number of state agencies are developing tools to capitalize on the fact that most farmers need to “see it to believe it.”

In Pennsylvania, the Chesapeake Conservancy uses a high-resolution digital mapping tool to prioritize areas where restoring nitrogen-filtering buffers along waterways offer the greatest “bang for the buck,” says Carly Dean, the nonprofit’s project manager. Working together with property owners, they explore ways to improve both habitat and income opportunities. “It’s definitely a new chapter in the conservation story,” she adds.

Farmer Nate Anderson shares his cover-cropping and grazing strategies with field day visitors.

In areas pursuing a watershed-level strategy, such as Iowa, wetlands can be put in key hot spots to reduce nitrate inputs to downstream waters—and visualization tools will help set goals for their placement on a broader scale, says Iowa State’s Helmers. Wetlands can serve as a holding tank, slowly filtering incoming nutrient-rich surface water.

“It’s not the same old information, simply repackaged,” says Ohio State’s Wilson of data visualization. It can be powerful to run scenarios or role play to find the most effective strategies for landowners—something, she imagines, will have more of an impact.

Wolf says government agencies, farmers, conservation organizations, as well as industry, are all working hard to innovate. Last fall, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship tried a novel approach: farmers who plant cover crops receive a $5 per acre discount on their crop insurance over the next three years.

Nate Anderson jumped at the chance to enroll in the program. “A number of [cover] cropping systems may only yield a $50 return,” he says, “a $5 per acre discount just added 10 percent to a bottom line.”

Companies Push for Progress

While farmers like Anderson explore marketing options that help him get a premium price for his practices, companies—increasingly motivated to ensure sustainable supply chains—are also getting behind a number of nascent ventures to reduce nitrogen pollution.

The Midwest Row Crop Cooperative is a coalition of top companies and conservation groups—from Cargill to the Nature Conservancy—testing projects to improve and accelerate conservation practices in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. The goal is to incentivize farmers to withstand the cost, risk, and learning curves that currently keep them from changing their practices.

Food giant Unilever is involved with two cost-share programs overseen by Carlson at Practical Farmers of Iowa. The first focuses on Hellmann’s mayonnaise soybean oil supply chain. It aims to get 850 soy growers to adopt cover crops—in an area where they’re rarely grown—over the next five years by offsetting costs and arming farmers with a detailed plan and a network of their peers from whom they can learn.

Last month, Carlson launched a similar program with Cargill and Pepsi to encourage 150 corn suppliers to adopt cover crops. She says the approach—which lowers farmer costs from $25 to $15 per acre on average—is gaining momentum throughout the region. “We provide the recipe for how to make it easy to get farmers to sign up,” says Carlson, who says one of the key ingredients is the requirement that farmers go to field-day events and talk to experienced cover crop farmers.

The days of soft-selling farmers on conservation practices may be over. There is some concern that funding to support voluntary adoption efforts may dry up. Wilson just received EPA funding to determine how cost-effective the billions spent in the Great Lakes have been. And Trump’s budget dramatically cut several conservation programs, Anderson points out. He believes that cost-share programs have a role to play in farmer education and transition—but he also thinks they should require greater accountability and not go on indefinitely.

While it’s not yet clear the role regulations may play, it is clear that policymakers are running out of patience. “We need better outcomes for the dollars we spend,” says Penn State’s Shortle. “While regulation can be very effective, agriculture is expensive and difficult to regulate.” It’s imperative that we find approaches that are collaborative, cost-effective, and pay for performance, he adds.

Kellogg thinks that farmers will be perceived to be making a difference. Whether or not it will happen fast enough is another question entirely.

This story is part of a year-long series about the underreported agriculture stories in our rural communities.

The post Farm Runoff in U.S. Waters Has Hit Crisis Levels. Are Farmers Ready to Change? appeared first on Civil Eats.

Take Lavender Cuttings Now to Make New Plants

Lavender plant in Feb.

It’s time to check your lavender plants for new growth and take cuttings to make new plants. I do this every year.

Most winters we lose at least one of our lavender plants and I like to maintain a supply of them for replacements. If we don’t need them in our garden, we give them to other gardeners.

At this time of year you can use either/both hardwood or softwood cuttings.

Lavender cuttings in moist vermiculite

lavender%2Bcuttings%2B%25281%2529.JPGThe hardwood cuttings have worked for me but can take longer to strike roots.

Cut a 4 to 6 inch long piece of the plant that includes a growing tip.

The softwood grows out of the bottom of the plant where it has recently emerged from the roots.

Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cuttings.


Put moist sand, vermiculite or perlite into a container and make a hole in it with a pencil or other object – for each cutting. If you try to just stick the tender cuttings into planting medium it will bend.

Press cuttings in firmly, bringing sand up to the base of the cutting.

The rooting medium should be kept moist but not soggy. I check them every day or two.

Some of them will not make roots and those will just die after a while. Toss them out. But if you take 6 or 8 cuttings, you’ll have plenty of lavender in time for fall perennial planting.

Cuttings need no sun or artificial light while making roots. The photos were taken in the sun for visibility only.

California Congressman Takano Works to Unleash Power of Agriculture for Riverside’s Health and Prosperity


Congressman Mark Takano, a Democrat from California’s 41st congressional district, was born in Riverside, California. The longtime Riverside Community College Board of Trustees member delivered a keynote address at GrowRIVERSIDE’s “Citrus and Beyond” conference in 2014, and he understands … Read More

Clematis You Need

Starfish Clematis

On Saturday, Feb 20th, the Flower Garden Nature Society is hosting Dan Long of Brushwood Nursery. His vine nursery in Athens Georgia features native vines but Clematis, too.

The nursery’s website has two sections: 1) for growers and 2) finished retail products. It looks like the grower side is just for a few of their hybrids.

The Gardenvines website for gardeners still says Brushwood. At any rate, there are links to their various collection of Clematis, Passionflower vines, Climbing Roses, Honeysuckle and Jasmine,

Dan Long

Long’s talks on the 20th will focus on Clematis and native vines for our gardens.

The 10 am talk is titled “Clematis You Need/You Need Clematis”

His 2 pm talk is titled “Social Climbers: Native Vines that Won’t Kill Your Garden Party”

$15 for both talks.

For more information contact Gail Pianalto 479.361.2198 or Joyce Mendenhall 479.7265