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Film: Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?
This Life Is in Your Hands
The Real Dirt
Web Resources



Queen of the Sun
Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?

83 minutes, Collective Eye Films
Directed by Taggart Siegel
Produced and edited by Jon Betz
For local screenings and information about purchasing the DVD, see www.queenofthesun.com.

Queen of the Sun is a gorgeous video about the importance and predicament of bees. It takes us around the world visiting organic and biodynamic beekeepers, seemingly the ultimate optimists even in the face of the drastic decline in bee populations; and it contrasts the lush and diverse habitats these beekeepers create or conserve for the bees with what are essentially, from a bee’s point of view, the deserts of industrial agriculture – monocropped, pesticide-treated, genetically engineered corn and soy throughout the Midwest; a 600,000-acre expanse of almonds and nothing else in California.

For two weeks each year, those almonds flower and are pollinated by trucked in bees. Among the authorities speaking in the video is noted food writer Michael Pollan, who tells us that every February, around Valentine’s Day, “the single greatest pollination event in the word” occurs in California as three-quarters of the bees in America are trucked in midwinter from as far as New England to California, where they’re awakened, fed high fructose corn syrup and antibiotics, and set among the almonds to pollinate the fastest growing, most profitable crop in the state. After those two weeks, the bees find nothing else to sustain them for the other 50 weeks; so they are trucked elsewhere for another pollination job.

In 1923, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner predicted that industrialization would do in bees by the end of the 20th century. He may not have been far off – unless more people do as biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk did when, after his retirement, he began turning 610 previously maltreated acres in Illinois into a biodynamic farm “with a bee sanctuary at its heart”; or as organic bee breeder Kirk Webster of Vermont does, breeding queens with a broader, stronger genetic base than conventionally raised queens bees; or as any of us can do by forgoing using toxic chemicals on our lawns and gardens. (The neonicotinoid class of insecticides, such as imidacloprid, may be especially important to avoid here. Used widely in agriculture and even on lawns to kill grubs, they may also be partly responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder of bees. They are so suspect that they have been banned in several countries.)

Queen of the Sun compares the current plight of bees with that of canaries in coal mines. “Their crisis is our crisis,” says Hauk in the video. Pollan notes that 40 percent of our food depends on honeybee pollination.

The video features striking close-up shots of bees and flowers. It talks about the healing properties of honey; about keeping bees on urban rooftops; about the nature of a beehive – a “superorganism” that is not just a collection of individuals but one whole being, “a picture of harmony and coherence.”

Gardeners will enjoy watching Queen of the Sun for those beautiful shots and for the hope that the featured beekeepers keep alive. They’ll be motivated to maintain existing biodiverse ecosystems and to enhance others – and certainly to keep a pesticide-free lawn and garden, for all our sakes.

– J E

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This Life Is in Your Hands

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
By Melissa Coleman
326 pages; HarperCollins, 2011; $25.99; www.harpercollins.com/book/index.aspx?isbn=9780061958328

This is a stunning memoir of the author’s early childhood growing up in the 1970s on Greenwood Farm, the back-to-the-land homestead of Eliot and Sue Coleman, in Harborside, Maine.

Her story centers upon the tragic death of her younger sister, Heidi, in 1977, and the dissolution of the Colemans’ marriage, but initially proceeds through more than half of the book with a lovingly detailed and delightfully humorous child’s-eye view of her parents’ early relationship, her own birth and that of her sister, along with a younger sister, Clara, the expansion of the farm, and the community of apprentices who came to work in the gardens.

This early portion of the book recreates an emotionally rich and idyllic time of childhood exploration and play, celebrating the seasons, often in the nude, alongside interactions with Helen and Scott Nearing, the farm’s neighbors and mentors. The author skillfully weaves together an enormous amount of acute personal memory with impressions and recollections reported by many others who lived with the Colemans and Nearings during those years.

With the accidental drowning of three-year-old Heidi at the farm on a certain terrible Saturday, everything changes for the author, the family, and the farm (and for many others who heard about the tragedy from friends and co-workers). The author’s childhood seems to end at that moment as she experiences profound grief and a sense of personal responsibility for what happened, a sense that is shared in different ways by each person at the farm. The poetry of her prose takes on a more adult tone as she relates the events of that day, then describes with almost unbearable candidness the process of the Colemans’ separation and the farm’s eventual abandonment. Throughout even this portion of the book, the author maintains a clear-eyed honesty in her observations and feelings without losing a dignified sense of acceptance of all that has occurred. No blame is assigned, little anger is expressed.

It would seem almost impossible for such a story to end happily but it closes by bringing us into the present, as vividly as ever, with reports of what everyone is doing, the author with her own young family now, Eliot Coleman with his wife Barbara Damrosch at world-renowned Four Season Farm, an expansion of the original homestead, and Sue Coleman with her husband living near Boston. It’s a story about overcoming grief, a courageous effort to heal a time in the past which many of the people involved probably thought too difficult to ever talk about.

Melissa Coleman’s book is a powerful and remarkable achievement.

– Tim Nason, Dresden, Maine

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The Real Dirt

The Real Dirt: Toward Food Sufficiency and Farm Sustainability in New England
By John E. Carroll
2010; 136 pages, soft cover; $15 plus $5 shipping. Checks payable to The Univ. of New Hampshire. Mail to: John Carroll, Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment, UNH, Durham, NH 03824. Phone: 603-862-3940. Download an order form at extension.unh.edu/news/realdirtflier.pdf.

So, here we are in the twenty-tens talking once again about the national food system’s utter dependence on fossil fuels for every phase of its production and distribution (and disposal), and about New England’s lonely place at the end of the national food supply route and New England’s coincidental position at the end of the energy pipeline. I say once again because we agreed on all this back in the 1970s with the then-current oil crisis in our then-fervent discussions about the need for New England food self-reliance, energy conservation and home gardening expertise.

John Carroll’s The Real Dirt fast-forwards these ancient ideals with renewed urgency (we really are running out of oil and natural gas, this time) and in the process dusts off some of even-older examples of local food self-reliance (Victory Gardens) and resurrects 1960s- and 1970s-garden-writings of California’s John Jeavons and England’s John Seymour that were so cherished in back-to-the-land days. But Carroll’s handsomely illustrated book barely pauses for retrospection; instead, he urges immediate renewal of once-familiar social ideals and practical skills that might save New England from certain food shortages, or at least stem the region’s epidemic of obesity caused by consuming industrial food.

That Carroll writes with such force about all this strikes me as remarkable, especially since this is a University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service publication. On the other hand, Carroll has been a professor of environmental conservation at UNH for 36 years, and the book follows his two earlier works that also deal with aspects of New England’s local food phenomenon.

This third book in his “trilogy on sustainable agriculture and food security” advocates for “infrastructure” changes in three areas: home gardening, town government and land-grant universities.

A return to home gardening is a vital first step in local food self-reliance, Carroll argues, basing his ideas on John Seymour’s concept of the 2.5-acre “smallholding,” a mixture of vegetables, fruit gardens and animals surrounding the house. Where such efforts are impractical, Carroll advocates community gardens, and community-based demonstration and research gardens, similarly based on Seymour’s guidelines. Gene Logsdon’s comparable “Garden Farming” ideal is promoted, too, along with similar mixed plant-animal gardens suggested by Dr. Gerold Rahmann, director of the German Government Organic Agriculture Research Institute.

The second proposal is that towns form Agriculture Commissions (or Food Councils in cities), based on the model of conservation commissions, to develop food self-reliance plans, research the town’s food production capacity, preserve farmland, and bring together farmers, businesses, organizations and government programs to implement the plan. Farmers would direct such commissions, with other residents assisting. This would enable food self-reliance planning to occur under the auspices of town government, an option that Carroll observes is not possible in states where local control has been ceded to counties and state government. Carroll notes, in one of many sidebars, that MOFGA’s Russell Libby has suggested that multi-town commissions might be more effective.

The City Council of Burlington, Vermont, has adopted not only a Food Council, with two employees, but has developed a Food Policy, and a Climate Action Plan as well, which are implemented by the city’s Community and Economic Development Office and an impressive roster of local agencies, nonprofit programs, schools and the University of Vermont. The multifaceted effort includes a variety of activities on a city-owned property of some 350 acres, called The Intervale, once a brownfield site and now a burgeoning swath of local food-related enterprises. Carroll devotes a full chapter to the city’s achievement, citing Michael Pollan’s assessment that Burlington is the “Capital of the Local­vores,” and concluding that Burlington is a “city serving its people well while others spin their wheels.”

On the lookout for other opportunities where local food infrastructure can be reorganized, he casts his gaze across the campus landscape and realizes that land grant colleges, such as his own, all operate large farms, often several of them, that mostly fail to address the vulnerabilities of New England’s oil-dependent food supply.

Thus, the second half of Carroll’s book details the current status of land-grant university farms in all six New England states. He strongly advises repositioning (restoring, renovating and re-tooling) these farms as leaders in the research, demonstration and creation of regional food self-reliance. He argues that such facilities are perfectly suited to train new farmers, research and promote local food production, teach new processing and distribution techniques – all based on non-petroleum-based farming and gardening. Too expensive a proposition? He points out that small-scale farming is a low-cost activity. No staff? Students could run the farms, with the help of alumni, current faculty and other employees, along with retired faculty, local volunteers and area organizations.

Carroll points out that such farms are supposed to be the “people’s farms” anyway, originally intended to provide the sort of services that he recommends, such as feeding campus residents.

In regard to the three University of Maine farms at Orono, he asks, “Where is the UMO Dairy Bar with its own UMO ice cream, cheese and eggs?” He expresses delight with the work extant at UMO’s Rogers Farm, with its gardens of the Black Bear Food Guild, Master Gardener plots, forage and grain research efforts, IPM, solar-operated hoop houses, and sorghum/sudangrass plots in collaboration with the UNH Organic Dairy Research Project, but is mightily discouraged by the decline of the Witter Farm, where animal-related work is supposed to occur but now “gloom prevails.” He asks, “Is this the goal – a symbol of decline at Witter?” As a first step toward revitalization, he urges “Bring on the goats, with their milk, cheese and meat!” and concludes that “Witter is a classic example of a farm in need of a renewed mission.” The forage-focused Smith Farm gets barely a mention, but fruit-oriented Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, though distant from Orono, sparks some optimism. Carroll asserts that Blueberry Hill Farm, specializing in blueberry research, should include “attention to the organic blueberry sector,” and Aroostook Farm, now used for industrial-style potato research, could incorporate beef cattle, integrate grains for Maine’s bakers and micro-breweries, and involve grains and other plants in crop rotations, such as soybeans, canola and broccoli. Higher-value organic potato production at Aroostook Farm could justify the longer-distance transportation required to get them to farmers’ markets, he suggests.

He pays equally detailed attention to university farms in each state, which yields some surprises (an EcoGastronomy degree offered at UNH – first in the nation) and the news that the “very popular” University of Rhode Island‘s Peckham Farm with its full integration of animals into a highly diverse program “provides demonstration and a model for extension purposes and values, and a true launch of what must be done to accomplish sustainability.” Who knew?


The Real Dirt provides a wealth of visionary ideas and targeted proposals, highlighting their implementation at communities and land-grant universities throughout New England, as we move toward, as Carroll calls it, the “imperative of local food.”

– Tim Nason, Dresden, Maine

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Resources

Videos of MOFGA events
Jeremy Bloom – “The Internet Farmer”
Growing Produce for Food Pantries
Food Safety Modernization Act
Maine AgrAbility
Natural Substances for Protecting Ourselves from Radiation
MP3 Audio of A Revolution of the Middle … and The Pursuit of Happiness
ATTRA webinar on organic apple production and marketing
Organic bread wheat variety trial reports
Video: How to Create a Rain Garden
Blog: Agrarian Nation
Organic Seed Alliance: “State of Organic Seed Report”
2011 NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care
Minnesota High Tunnel Production Manual



Videos of MOFGA events

Watch videos from MOFGA events at www.youtube.com/user/MaineOrganicFarmers. Postings include: “Achieving the Right to Healthy Food,” Molly Anderson’s keynote at the 2010 Farmer to Farmer Conference; “Environmental Coalition Urges Legislature to Reject LePage Roll Back Proposals”; “Observations from Thirty-five Years of Watching the Maine Organic Community Grow,” Jim Gerritsen’s keynote at the 2010 Common Ground Country Fair; “How The Era of Food Safety Regulation Is Affecting Small Farms and Rural Communities in Maine,” panel discussion, 2010 Common Ground Country Fair; “Organizing Opportunities for a Clean and Healthy Maine,” 2010 Common Ground Country Fair; “Hoophouse Production,” MOFGA’s 2011 Spring Growth Conference.

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Jeremy Bloom – “The Internet Farmer

MOFGA friend Jeremy Bloom (“The Internet Farmer” – www.internet-farmer.com) has buying club software that helps consumer groups manage members and wholesale purchasing, deliveries and pickups, and helps farmers manage their own buying clubs if they are selling wholesale. Internet Farmer has another software product for creating online markets with in-person pickups – like a CSA, but the customers purchase exactly what they want.

Grow Produce for Local Food Pantries

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Volunteers Program is asking gardeners to consider growing extra produce for local food pantries. The program coordinates volunteers, helps them connect with local food pantries and provides advice about what to grow and when to harvest. See http://umaine.edu/harvest-for-hunger or in Franklin County call Lauren St. Germain, 778-4650, 1-800-287-1478 (toll free in Maine).


Food Safety Modernization Act

What does FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act mean for small farms and food producers? The New England Farmers Union has a summary at http://newenglandfarmersunion.org/pdfs_docs/FoodSafety.pdf.


Maine AgrAbility

Maine AgrAbility, a new statewide resource through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, helps farmers, farm workers and farm family members who have injuries, chronic health conditions and disabilities continue to farm successfully. It offers resources, tools and connections to make work easier and more productive. Maine AgrAbility (24 Main St., Lisbon Falls, ME 04252; 800-287-1458; maine.agrability@maine.edu; www.umaine.edu/agrability) works directly with farmers and offers educational programming to groups about health and agriculture.


Natural Substances for Protecting Ourselves from Radiation

After the devastating events in Japan in March, Maine herbalist Gail Faith Edwards published her article “Natural Substances for Protecting Ourselves from Radiation” at www.gailfaithedwards.wordpress.com. Edwards also produces free weekly “Way of the Wild Heart” podcasts about herbal medicine at www.blessedmaineherbs.com/wayofwihewew.html.


MP3 Audio of A Revolution of the Middle … and The Pursuit of Happiness.

John Ikerd, keynote speaker at MOFGA’s 2008 Farmer to Farmer Conference, made an audio recording of his online book, A Revolution of the Middle… and The Pursuit of Happiness. Download the MP3 audio files (free) at: www.johnikerd.com/johnikerd.com/Revolution_of_the_Middle.html. Says Ikerd, “This book is my latest effort to help people understand what we must do, individually and collectively, not only to create a sustainable economy but also to sustain society and humanity.”


ATTRA Webinar on Organic Apple Production

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has a free, 1-hour webinar on organic apple production and marketing at www.attra.ncat.org/video/#apples.


Wheat Variety Trial Reports

Organic bread wheat variety trial reports from Maine and Vermont are posted at www.extension.umaine.edu/localwheat.


How to Create a Rain Garden

How to Create a Rain Garden, a 3-minute video from Maine Cooperative Extension, is posted at http://umaine.edu/gardening/blog/2011/03/04/how-to-create-a-rain-garden/.


Blog: Agrarian Nation

New York homesteader and writer Herrick Kimball has a new blog called Agrarian Nation (http://agrariannation.blogspot.com/) with excerpts from farm almanacs of pre-1900 New England. “We’re digging for clues in the old agricultural writings. We're learning about how life once was (and how it may be again)!” says Kimball.


State of Organic Seed Report

The Organic Seed Alliance has published the “State of Organic Seed Report” (www.seedalliance.org/Publications/) to increase success and minimize risks for the organic farming and food sector by advancing the viability and integrity of organic seed systems.


NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care

The 2011 NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care are posted at www.organiclandcare.net/sites/default/files/upload/standards2011.pdf.


Minnesota High Tunnel Production Manual

Minnesota High Tunnel Production Manual for Commercial Growers, Second Edition, 2010, is available free at
http://hightunnels.cfans.umn.edu/2010Manual/2010manual.htm. The publication covers site selection and high tunnel construction, the high tunnel environment, cultural practices, crops (tomatoes, overwintered garlic, mixed vegetable crops, raspberries, blackberries and day-neutral strawberries), marketing and economics.

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