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 Reviews & Resources – Spring 2006 Minimize


This Land is Their Land – How Corporate Farms Threaten the World
The Wisdom of Small Farms and Local Food
Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Scalder
Local Food Directories
Organic Industry News
Farmers and Their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques
Solar is Looking Good!
Web Site Provides U.S. Ag Stats
Work With Nature to Manage Insect Pests
Connect with National Agricultural Library
Business Options for Poultry Producers



This Land is Their Land – How Corporate Farms Threaten the World
by Evaggelos Vallianatos
2006; 316 pgs., paperback
Common Courage Press, PO Box 702, Monroe ME 04951
$19.95, or $11.97 & $7 s&h from Common Courage Press, www.commoncouragepress.com

Corporate farms differ little from the slave-holding plantation farms of the past; corporations are just a little subtler in how they disenfranchise classes and races. They’re not very subtle in how they’re destroying the earth, however, with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and with genetically-engineered crops. In order to save the earth and return its populations to democracies, we need agrarian reform.

That’s the thesis of Evaggelos Vallianatos in This Land is Their Land. Vallianatos’ fascinating background makes him well qualified to write this book. He grew up on his family’s farm in Greece; earned degrees in zoology and in Byzantine, Greek and Russian history at the University of Illinois; and did postdoctoral studies in the history of medicine and science and international development at Harvard. He has studied agrarian issues in the Third World, particularly how the industrialized agriculture of the West – “the green revolution” – has affected the environment, food security, and social and political relations in Africa, Latin America and Asia. He was also an analyst with the U.S. EPA for many years. He lives in Maryland.

In This Land, Vallianatos describes his personal observations of agriculture and of corporate, academic and bureaucratic misdeeds in the United States, Africa, Brazil and elsewhere. Corporations that clear forests to produce cash crops, for instance, “are incapable or unwilling to understand that the roots of African hunger lie deep in the structure of the most persistent of colonial institutions in the continent – the export out of sub-Saharan Africa of plantation agricultural cash crops to the markets of Europe and North America. Such agricultural exports are bad for democracy and the land, concentrating political power in a few hands and impoverishing Africa’s traditional food and agricultural economy… [G]ive the best land of Africa back to the peasant and bring into the field and the village the fabulous biological and cultural diversity and wisdom of traditional farming.”

He is highly critical of the USDA, alleging that its racist policies toward blacks ran 98% of black farmers off the land in the twentieth century, and its policies have eliminated many family farms of whites as well. He criticizes conferences of academics and policy makers, where “experts” talk about “sustainable development” using lots of jargon but accomplishing little in the way of real sustainability; in fact, he believes that this word has been co-opted simply to continue the status quo of corporate farming in many cases.

Much of the information in this book will be familiar to MOFGA members, but the author does a great job of consolidating a lot of bad news into a surprisingly readable book, through specific examples and personal experiences. He says, for instance: “… [W]hen a third of America is set aside for cattle and more than half of the country’s cropland grows feed for that cattle and more than half of the country’s drinking water goes to cattle, something fundamental is afoot. The meat trust has come back into being, anti-trust law or no law. Cargill, Con­Agra and Iowa Beef Processors are the kings of meat.”

Vallianatos lauds the alternatives: biodynamic, organic, community-supported and biological agriculture, peasant or ecological farming – “forms of applied biology that have nature as their primary model.” He rejoices in “sacred farming,” in cultures that find gods in sacred groves and savannah grasslands – “exactly like the ancient Greeks.” The Mende rice peasants of Sierra Leone, for example, have rice varieties adapted to various ecological conditions; “They revere their ancestors for the rice bounty they left them. But they no more feel they own the rice varieties they developed than they own the breeze. Yet they are experts in combining and selecting seeds for their way of life, which is sacred agriculture.” And, by inference, the Monsantos of the world, which steal such knowledge and patent it for their own profits, would be the opposite of sacred agriculture.

An example from Chiapas, Mexico, sums up much of traditional agriculture and why it beats corporate industrial farming hands-down. The Chiapas peasants raise 2 tons of maize per hectare, while local industrial farms raise 6 tons of maize per hectare. But on those 2 hectares, the peasants also raise beans, squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, other vegetables and fruits and medicinal herbs. Some of this food is sold; the rest feeds the family, chickens and cattle. The total output from the 2 hectares? Easily more than 15 tons of food, “without commercial fertilizers or pesticides and no assistance from banks or governments or trans­national corporations.”

Vallianatos’ deep love of Greek culture, its democracy and polytheism, seeps into the reader, as does his anger (much of it built up during his decades working for the EPA). His suggestions for agrarian reform include continuing and expanding the work of NGOs; finding ways to support peasant agriculture and the crop diversity it conserves; and limiting (or eliminating) corporate industrial farms. Perhaps a sequel to This Land is Their Land will give us a roadmap for transitioning worldwide to democratic, sacred farming.

– Jean English

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The Wisdom of Small Farms and Local Food: Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and Sustainable Agriculture
By John E. Carroll
2005 University of New Hampshire
142 pgs. soft cover
$15 & $5 s&h from Univ. of New Hampshire, Attn: John E. Carroll, Dept. of Natural Resources, Durham NH 03824

John Carroll is a glass-half-full kind of guy, and he knows how he wants to fill the rest of the glass and where to get the ingredients: from institutions and organizations in four states that have promoted Aldo Leopold’s land ethic as it relates to sustainable agriculture. Maine is one of those states.

A professor of environmental conservation for over 30 years and frequent visitor to MOFGA events, Carroll champions the land grant university system for which he works. He is not naïve in his praise, though, and acknowledges critics of these universities, such as Wendell Berry. In fact, the shortcomings and industrial mindset of many institutions seem to have propelled Carroll to seek and illuminate the good programs and their connections and cooperation with nonprofits and other organizations in their states. He describes efforts to promote “civic agriculture,” an agriculture of “local food, ecologically and sustainably produced, for local people, wherever that may be.” He promotes farms that, as Dana and Laura Jackson say, operate “as if nature matters” rather than industrial models that operate “as if nature does not matter.”

The book describes Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and philosophy of agrarian values that “revolt against the merely economic.” The biologist, conservationist and ecologist said that working the land thoughtfully is the highest form of citizenship and that good agriculture would foster quality habitat and abundant wildlife. He is best known for his book, The Sand County Almanac. The rest of Carroll’s book describes how entities in Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine and Vermont are promoting agrarianism.

Examples include the Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Vermont Grass Farmers Association. “The pasture walk has become a fine art in Vermont,” notes Carroll.

Maine receives high praise for the sustainable agriculture major at the University of Maine; for MOFGA and the productive links it has with Maine Cooperative Extension, the University and other groups; for the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society; the Maine Women’s Agricultural Network; Working Horse and Oxen Association; and several others.

The Wisdom of Small Farms is valuable for descriptions of programs that are fostering local, sustainable agriculture, and for Carroll’s perspective on what’s missing. He cites, for example, a lack of attention to livestock within UMaine’s sustainable agriculture program – perhaps remedied now that Rick Kersbergen holds a professorship at the University.

This book is full of gems to ponder and model, from Wisconsin’s School for Beginning Dairy Farmers; to the potential of switchgrass as a biofuel; to Matt Williams’ belief that excess potassium fertilizer is reducing cows’ reproductive ability; to Fred Kirschenmann’s statement that “If just 15 people ask the manager of a supermarket for the same food items during the same week, there is a good likelihood that the retail outlet will make an effort to make it available.” I love Carroll’s concept of an “ecology of happiness” that occurs when farmers are doing what they have a passion for and what they do well. The author’s praise for MOFGA is also strong and appreciated.

– Jean English

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Anyone Can Build a Whizbang Chicken Scalder
By Herrick Kimball
66 pgs., 90 illustrations, soft cover; 2005
$23.95 & $4 shipping from Whizbang Books, PO Box 1117, Moravia NY 13118; www.whiz­bangbooks.com; hckimball@bci.net; 315-497-9618

Herrick Kimball is at it again. After the success of his book Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker, readers asked Kimball if he’d develop a scalder for those birds. He did, and in the current book – which is clearly and humorously written and superbly illustrated – he tells and shows how you can build a basic scalder for about $300 using a 40-gallon propane water heater; a dunker frame for about $125; improve temperature control for some $250; and build an automatic dunker for about $400. Kimball recommends building a basic scalder with frame and improved temperature controls at minimum; this will cost about $675 using new parts; about $425 if you can find used parts. Only basic carpentry skills and mechanical tools are needed.

The movable scalder design allows a person to select the exact water temperature wanted, and the unit’s controls automatically maintain that temperature within 4 degrees. “The result is a precision scald that translates into fast, clean and easy feather plucking,” says Kimball. The scalder holds up to three chickens at a time and can be operated by hand or with a motor. Motorized, the “auto-dunker” can process up to 120 chickens per hour. The final chapter of the book, Making A Larger Capacity Scalder (“We’re Talkin’ Turkey”), tells how to adapt the design for turkeys.

The Anyone Can Build… books are more than books. Kimball has created a free discussion group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/whizbangchickenpluckers/) where over 1,000 members share design ideas … and mistakes.

Kimball (whose cousin Bo Yerxa was a founding member of MOFGA) homesteads and invents in New York, where he has been raising and processing his own poultry for six years.

– Jean English

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Local Food Directories

The Local Food Directory Resource includes national, regional, state and community directory resources for all 50 states. See http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/local_food/

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Organic Industry News

News about organic agriculture, USDA certification issues, industrial-organic dairies vs. local, family-owned organic dairies, etc., is available at www.cornucopia.org. The controversy over Aurora Farms’ grazing practices, for example, is covered in depth. Aurora supplies Horizon, owned by Dean Foods, with milk.

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Movie Time

“Farmers and Their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques,” a video by Vern Grubinger, is available from the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture for $15 ($20 in Canada and Mexico). Contact sustainable.agriculture@uvm.edu or www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/.

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Solar is Looking Good!

The first monthly Downeast Solar Co-op (DSC) newsletter was sent to subscribers in early January. Stories cover rebates for solar installations; selling renewable energy credits; and solar workshops taking place in Maine. The DSC is a project of the nonprofit Maine Energy Investment Corporation in Brunswick. Its mission is to speed implementation of solar in Maine. It provides basic information and referrals to Maine’s solar experts, and handouts about solar energy.

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Web Site Provides U.S. Ag Stats

The USDA has a redesigned National Agricultural Statistics Service Web site at www.nass.usda.gov that provides more data in an easily accessible format on every facet of U.S. agriculture. Visitors can search for data by commodity, state and year.

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Work With Nature to Manage Insect Pests

The Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) has a pest management primer for farmers called Manage Insects on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies. Strategies addressed include:

• increasing on-farm diversity above and below ground;

• encouraging beneficial insects to attack the worst pests;

• enhancing plants’ natural defenses against pests;

• managing soil to minimize crop pests.

Download the publication at www.sare.org/publications/insect.htm free or order print copies ($15.95 plus $5.95 s/h) via www.sare.org/WebStore, 301/374-9696, or send a check or money order to Sustainable Agriculture Publications, P.O. Box 753, Waldorf, MD 20604-0753. (Please specify title when ordering by mail.) Discounts are available on orders of 10 or more. Allow three to four weeks for delivery.

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Connect with National Agricultural Library

The National Agricultural Library (NAL) Web site, www.nal.usda.gov, connects users with the services of NAL, with billions of pages of agricultural information within NAL collections and with information resources. The NAL is part of the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Visitors to the front page of the site can browse information on popular agricultural topics – from Animals and Livestock to Rural Community Development – supported by the site’s navigational taxonomy. Each follow-on Web page leads quickly to more carefully selected information, designed to answer frequently asked questions. The site offers several Web pages for specific audiences, including kids and teens, librarians and USDA employees.

Through April 2006, NAL will introduce redesigned Web sites on food safety, water quality, invasive species, human nutrition, alternative farming systems, animal welfare and technology transfer.

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Business Options for Poultry Producers

Poultry Your Way, a free, 124-page book from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, provides an overview of poultry production systems for meat and eggs, including breed selection, marketing and processing alternatives. It describes management options, including organic, semi-confinement, day-range pasture, pasture using movable pens and industrial. Order print copies from the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at 608-262-5200, or download the book as a PDF file at www.cias.wisc.edu/crops-and-livestock/free-publication-profiles-business-options-for-poultry-producers/. See also Sustainable Poultry: Production Overview at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/poultryoverview.html.

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