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MOF&G Cover Summer 2009
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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSummer 2009Reviews – Summer 09   
 Reviews & Resources – Summer 2009 Minimize


Books
   
The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening
     Cultivating Life – 125 Projects for Backyard Living
   
The Winter Harvest Handbook
   
The End of Food
    Shedding Light on Genetically Engineered Foods
Web Resources
Funds

Books
All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening

The All-New Illustrated Guide to Gardening
Hardcover, $35
Reader’s Digest, N.Y., 2009; www.rd.com

This mainstream book is notable because it recommends only organic practices. The average homeowner can now consult an encyclopedic but highly readable reference book and know how to plant and maintain a lawn, vegetable garden, shrub border and more without using toxic pesticides or highly soluble synthetic fertilizers.

The Guide to Gardening covers all aspects of home horticulture, from soil preparation and composting to growing herbs, trees, shrubs, ornamental flowers, fruits, vegetables, etc. Much of the information is in a step-by-step, how-to format, as single topics on well-illustrated, individual pages. Want to know how to train apple trees into a living fence? Just spend a little time studying the directions in this book.

Tables for each type of plant make the Guide useful as a quick reference. Looking for the low-down on daphne shrubs? The table on shrubs and vines describes its characteristics, uses and requirements, soil and light preferences, propagation, varieties, hardiness, height and spread. Learn which varieties are most fragrant; when to take cuttings; and more.

I question the inclusion of Eleagnus species in the shrub table. Although the potential invasiveness of autumn olive and Russian olive are noted, the book says this can be problematic where winters are warm; but I’ve been picking a fight with those plants in a zone 4 garden.

Overall, a gardener who does not have a good, organic encyclopedia would do well to consult Reader’s Digest’s new offering.

– Jean English

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Cultivating Life

Cultivating Life – 125 Projects for Backyard Living
By Sean Conway and Lee Alan Buttala
$29.95 paperback or $35 hardcover
Artisan Books, N.Y., 2009; www.workman.com/products/9781579653828/

Cultivating Life is pure fun. Its 125 projects come from Conway and Buttala’s television show and are beautifully photographed by Webb Chappell. Clear directions for making the projects using common tools take away the intimidation factor. This book is so varied – with woodworking projects, recipes (bean curry with cauliflower; yum!), gardening ideas and more – that it’s a joy to sit down with it and dream.

For Portland residents who are now allowed to raise backyard hens, a green roof for a poultry coop is a great idea.

Want to grow moss on a clay pot? Conway and Buttala tell how.

Building a waist-high salad table might take a little longer but will result in a patch of edible greenery, about 5 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide, that can be started indoors and moved outside in warm weather; can enable those who have trouble kneeling to grow a little garden; and can grow salad crops even on balconies.

And then there’s the bamboo trellis (easy!), the tabletop rice paddy (alas, a use for that old pig trough), recipes for homemade mustard (using beer), and more than 100 other fun/odd/savory/useful ideas.

– Jean English

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Winter Harvest Handbook

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
By Eliot Coleman
248 pages, paperback
Chelsea Green, 2009; www.chelseagreen.com
$29.95

Eliot Coleman’s valuable, self-published The Winter Harvest Manual is now updated, expanded, more accessible and less likely to get lost on your bookshelf with this attractive, highly readable book. In The Winter Harvest Handbook, Coleman details his three decades of experiences with extending the growing season in New England (especially Maine) – through “quick hoops” row covers (at 1/20th the cost of a greenhouse); greenhouse construction, maintenance and moving; planting schedules for all four seasons; crop management; and harvesting and marketing methods. More than 100 color photos and illustrations inspire and instruct on intensive planting, tool design, product packaging and presentation, and more.

Farmers and gardeners who want to expand their production season will find Coleman’s tables of planting dates and list of varieties invaluable. They’re based largely on research that Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch (a MOFGA board member), have done at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. Anyone who seeks to make a living by farming but has limited acreage and limited money for tractors or other expensive equipment will appreciate this book.

In discussing his cold (unheated) and cool (slightly heated) greenhouses, for instance, Coleman says, “We realized that we could achieve the equivalent growing area of a whole new greenhouse simply by adding heat to one of the cold houses, because the added heat would allow us to double the number of winter harvests in that house. The cost of a heater is much less than the cost of a new greenhouse.”

The Winter Harvest Handbook also covers the history of season-extending efforts; ways to coordinate off-season with main-season farming; soil preparation and seed sowing – which Coleman has down to an exact art; weed control; and economics (including the importance of making a profit, and of training workers to recognize that importance).

As always, Coleman is moving the organic community forward, this time with his discussions about deep-organic farming. “The idea that we could ever substitute a few soluble elements for a whole living system is like thinking an intravenous needle could deliver a delicious meal,” he says. He tells how to pay careful attention to the nutrient density of crops (hence to the health of soils, micronutrients included); and how to farm in a way that nurtures healthy crops rather than relying on inputs (even organic products) to fight pests. When pests are present, growers should see them as indicators that something is wrong with the crop (and soil) and should address that problem directly, says Coleman.

Appendices include climate maps; effects of temperature on plants; sources for tools and supplies; seed suppliers and recommended varieties; and sowing dates for fall and winter harvests (in Harborside). They are followed by an annotated bibliography and a good index.

This is an important volume to add to the Coleman collection on your bookshelf.

– Jean English

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The End of Food
By Paul Roberts
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2008
390 pgs., hardcover; $26

In The End of Food, Paul Roberts takes readers on an agricultural journey, from the time of hunter-gatherers to today’s low-cost (so-to-speak), high volume, industrial system. We learn how dramatically food production changed as processing increased to meet the needs of factory workers; as food companies took over smaller companies and globalized to the point that they can bargain down prices paid to farmers, can source inputs where they are most cheaply produced and can dictate to stores how to handle their products.

To remain profitable, these companies must keep introducing new products, penetrating new markets and getting us to eat more. Roberts covers the repercussions of this industrial food system, such as obesity and antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The author relates fascinating stories from his international travels. China’s diverse, intensive crop and livestock farms, for instance, generate more calories per acre than large, U.S. monocropped farms. “Collectively, China’s two hundred million family farms produce 20 percent more output than do the United States’ two million farmers, and on a land base less than three-quarters as big as America’s.”

The End of Food asks how we will feed everyone as population increases, the land base for farming decreases, resources diminish and climate changes. In fact, we already don’t: 900 million people worldwide are malnourished and another billion have chronic nutrient deficiencies. Will genetic engineering or local, organic farming solve these crises? Roberts’ coverage of these approaches is not comprehensive but he makes some interesting points. He asks how engineered crops can help feed the world when their proprietary seed is so expensive and when the “root causes [of food insecurity] go far beyond a lack of quality seeds.”

Regarding the local foods movement, Roberts says that reducing the distance a food travels doesn’t always save energy. The food-mile concept is “a simplistic solution to an extraordinarily complex problem.” He cites research showing that shipping food from the farm to the grocery store accounts for a mean of only 2 percent of that product’s total environmental impact, while processing, packaging and farming methods account for much more.

Roberts epilogue is too short but presents some potential solutions to the food problems facing the world, including short-distance supply chains and regional food systems; eating less meat (although many parts of New England are best suited to producing meat on grass); and a “Blue Revolution” – eating more protein from fish, which are more efficient converters than other animals and can be raised more ecologically than at present. He emphasizes human population reduction less.

– Jean English

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Shedding Light on Genetically Engineered Foods: What you don't know about the food you're eating and what you can do to protect yourself
by Beth H. Harrison, Ph.D.
Self-published through iUniverse, 2007; www.iuniverse.com
155 pages, softcover, $15.95

This book poses far more searching questions than its title would suggest. It unmasks the villains in the tragic farce that has allowed the biotech industry to subject millions of unsuspecting consumers to a mass feeding experiment. How have we come to this? How have chemical industry public-relations flacks ("viral promoters," so to speak) managed to hoodwink the regulators and flood the U.S. market with foods that have not been proven to be safe? And how have they packaged the message so that both conventional and organic farmers are now threatened routinely by genetic drift and pesticide contamination that can ruin their harvest?

Beth Harrison knows. She has worked in public relations herself and is adept at condensing complex information into short summaries. Introduced with big boldface headings, these abbreviated sections provide a useful corrective to disinformation put out by Gene Giants, who hire their own experts to spin science. The Hudson Institute, the American Council on Science and Health, and the International Food Information Council are only three of the many industry front groups whose mission is to disseminate what they call sound science (propaganda) to medical professionals, educators, government officials and the popular press. The author tells us how an elaborate biotech network is plugged into the corporate power elite in every state.

"[T]he largest biotech lobby group, BIO [Biotechnology Industry Organization,] represents more than 1,100 biotech companies,... academic institutions, [and] state biotechnology centers...." One such center, the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau, publishes letters to the editor regularly and shows up in Augusta to lobby lawmakers and regulators.

Harrison says that corporations like Monsanto and DuPont buy access to state legislators also through the American Legislative Exchange Council, which comprises some 40 percent of all U.S. state legislators. Working with corporate donors, "[ALEC] members introduced more than 3,100 bills ... and passed 450 into law in 2000 alone." They have authored many of the state Right to Farm and preemption laws that prohibit the passage of bills to protect against genetically engineered (GE) organisms. So it's not surprising that campaigns to label GE food have failed in Maine and that the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, relying on advice from its toxicologist and from industry affiliates, has ignored health warnings and approved several GE crops, most recently varieties of insect-resistant corn for both human and animal consumption.

Harrison profiles the four most infamous "life-sciences" companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and DuPont, all responsible for chemical pollution on a massive scale, she says, and all now attempting to make the most of their investment in pesticides by marketing new products dependent on their agricultural chemicals. Sections called "Revolving Door" and "Biotech Oppression" summarize some well-known scandals in recent history along with lesser-known tactics through which biotech advances its nefarious agenda. (Who knew that Monsanto has enlisted the Congress of Racial Equality to advocate for GE foods?)

Harrison does much more than shed light on the subject; she laserlights what is wrong with the system, and she plans to continue via a coming Web site – www.thetruthaboutgmos.com – to discredit biotech spin.

– Jody Spear

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Web Resources

Evaluate Your Site for a Small Wind System

Industrial wind generators need a year of data from a site before owners can receive financing, as these large machines can cost $3 million each, installed. Wind assessment studies can cost $50,000, mostly due to installation of the test tower and instrumentation.

For small wind, an inexpensive measurement system costs as little as $600 to $1200. Also local wind machine installers can provide wind studies for your site, or at least give their opinion. You can also put up a small, half-kilowatt machine as a wind assessment device before installing a larger machine at a site; or you can “flag” – read the deformity on evergreen trees to determine average wind speeds.

Before installing measurement equipment, check wind resource maps. Department of Energy maps (www.nrel.gov/gis/wind.html#high) provide insufficient detail, but a new site (http://firstlook.3tiergroup.com/), with more detailed maps of good wind locations, interfaces with Google Earth to closely approximate wind at your address.

In addition, Unity College has a wind resource guide (www.unity.edu/facultypages/womersley/windwebdata.htm) with an excellent, detailed map of possible wind sites in Waldo County.

Besides collecting data to help determine your wind site potential, consider also the actual placement on your property. One basic rule requires that the machine be mounted 30 feet above any obstruction within 300 feet. If you’re using a tilt-up tower, leave room to tilt it down.

The higher the tower, the more power you will get from your machine. For instance, raising a 10-kilowatt machine from a 60-foot to a 100-foot tower height increases cost 10 percent but can produce 29 percent more power.

– Vernon LeCount, MOFGA Facilities Coordinator

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The Organic Center publication “Shades of Green: Quantifying the Benefits of Organic Dairy Production” at www.organic-center.org/science.environment.php estimates the impact of organic farming in avoiding pesticides, nitrogen fertilizers and animal drugs.


“Quackgrass Management on Organic Farms,” by Heather Westwood, Kara Cox and Eric Gallandt of the University of Maine, is available free at www.umaine.edu/weedecology/_Media/quackgrass_layout.pdf .


The fifth edition of the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper's Guide to Pesticides (www.foodnews.org/) has the latest government data on pesticide residues on produce. It lists the “dirty dozen” to avoid (if conventionally grown) and the “clean 15” with the least pesticide residues.


The Environmental Communication and Social Marketing Newsletter is an electronic publication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for professionals in the social and natural sciences who want to promote pro-environmental behaviors. See http://ecsm.uwex.edu. Subscribe at join-ecsm@lists.wisc.edu.

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Clean Energy Farming, a free bulletin from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Outreach, features Vermont dairy producer Roger Rainville’s work to achieve energy independence on his farm. Working with UVM Extension Specialist Heather Darby, Rainville trialed canola varieties in northern Vermont for three years. The easily grown crop fit well into his corn-alfalfa rotation. By the third year, after realizing that he could eliminate swathing, Rainville harvested directly from the field for a yield of 1.5 tons per acre. He produced his own fuel from the seed and used the by-product for cattle feed.

Other examples of energy efficient farming practices and producing and using renewable energy are also featured. "Years ago,” says Rainville, “farmers used 10 percent of their land to fuel the farm – the feed went to the horses. This is the same idea."

The publication is posted at www.sare.org/publications/energy.htm. Order print copies from www.sare.org/Webstore, 301-504-5411 or tech@sare.org.


Farmers' Guide to GMOs (Second Edition, February 2009) helps farmers understand laws surrounding GE crops, including farmers’ legal obligations under GMO contracts and the possibility that farmers may be liable to pay thousands of dollars to biotech companies for violating contracts or to neighboring farmers whose fields become contaminated with GMOs. It also highlights the impact of GMO contamination on some markets and lawsuits surrounding those events. Download the book or order a bound copy through www.lulu.com/content/5971692 for $18 per plus shipping.

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Maine Home Energy bulletins help Mainers keep warm, save money, heat safely and conserve energy. Topics include weather-stripping doors and windows, making indoor shutters and insulated window covers, heating safely, saving energy in apartments, comparing heating fuels, doing a home energy audit, and taking advantage of passive solar heat. Download the bulletins free at www.extension.umaine.edu (click “Publications”) or buy printed copies from 800-287-0274 (in Maine) or 207-581-3792.

Search for hatcheries for poultry varieties, mail order seed company catalog offerings or information about pest problems at: www.MotherEarthNews.com/hatcheries.

www.motherearthnews.com/Find-Seeds-Plants.aspx. Enter the variety you're seeking in a search box and get links to companies offering the variety; or search for any crop and browse new or rare selections.

www.motherearthnews.com/Find-Organic-Gardening-Products.aspx

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Multimedia recordings of the conference Growing U.S. Organic Agriculture: Accessing the 2008 Farm Bill (www.ota.com/pics/documents/Final_Agenda.pdf) are available for purchase at organicexpo.confex.com/organicexpo/browse.cgi?categoryid=131&action=category.


New England Gardener (www.newenglandgardener.com), a Web site of New England Cable News, features advice, photos and videos of reporter and master gardener Amy Sinclair’s organic, low-maintenance, high-yield, 10-foot by 10-foot “Just Add Water” plot in Yarmouth. This garden was designed in cooperation with Johnny's Selected Seeds.

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Funds

Federal Grants for Value-Added Products, Enterprises

The USDA has grant funds for planning activities or working capital expenditures for farmers considering value-added agricultural enterprises. The project must involve new and emerging markets and a value–added product, defined as:

Changing the physical state of the product, such as making wine, milling wheat or turning berries into jam.

Production that enhances a product’s value, such as developing organic products.

Physical segregation of an agricultural commodity that enhances its value.

Producing an agricultural commodity that is a source of renewable energy, including solar and wind projects.

A wind power feasibility study is ideal for a planning grant.

Producing a local agricultural food product.

Grant recipients must be independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmers or a majority controlled producer-based business. Farming or agricultural production does not have to be the principle income source; as little as $1000 in income from farming in the previous year is required. The maximum grant is $300,000 for Working Capital Grants and $100,000 for a Planning Grant.

Although capital expenditure grants can be used for labor, inventory and advertising, they cannot be used to purchase or rent fixed equipment or to repair or acquire a facility. These grants are for rural development, so farmers in the greater Portland area are not eligible.

For more information, contact Michael Grondin at the USDA office in Bangor, 207-990-9168, or mike.grondin@me.usda.gov, or see www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/coops/vadg.htm. The deadline for applications had not been determined when we went to press. Matching funds of at least 50 percent of project costs are required.

– Vernon LeCount


USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services offer up to $1,000, five-year loans for farmers and gardeners to purchase electric fencing to exclude wildlife from their property.

Contact John Forbes, State Director of Wildlife Services, 207-622-8263, John.Forbes@aphis.usda.gov. (From Farm Scoop, Richard Brzozowski and Tori Jackson, March 2009, Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extension, Androscoggin-Sagadahoc counties)

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