Modern Farmer http://modernfarmer.com Farm. Food. Life. Mon, 25 May 2015 15:59:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Meet the Modern Farmer: Military Veteran Edition http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/meet-the-modern-farmer-military-veteran-edition/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/meet-the-modern-farmer-military-veteran-edition/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 15:59:23 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36454

With deep passion for their country, some veterans find a way to serve both abroad and on our own soil. Meet some men and women below who turned their love of country into a love of land.

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With deep passion for their country, some veterans find a way to serve both abroad and on our own soil. Meet the men and women below who turned their love of country into a love of land.

IMG_0036Matt McCue, 33
United States Army. Served in Iraq and Korea
Owner of Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, California

“I like the idea of working for myself. The Army is all about teamwork and cohesion, and taking someone else’s orders and putting them into reality—it’s a beautiful thing to keep your friends alive. The interdependence is a beautiful thing, too, because you learn teamwork. Farming, though, is more about independence.”

Matt and his wife Lily have been farming in northern California since 2009. They run Shooting Star CSA, providing high-quality produce (like strawberries in the spring and cauliflower in the fall) to more than 250 families in their area.

Touting the wonders of living off the land, Matt says it’s not just he and Lily that get to share that privilege. “Our CSA members also live off the land in our mind, in a very no-bullshit way. Those meals are from here, not from three states away.”

The reason the CSA members choose to purchase from Shooting Star, and the reason Matt and Lily choose to grow it all, is because of an interest in quality food and a respect for the land. “We all do it out of belief that we don’t just need to destroy the land. We can survive and thrive. We don’t need to feel that everything we do is going to ruin the environment.”

Matthew Raiford, 47
United States Army. Served in Desert Storm
Owner of Gilliard Farms and The Farmer and The Larder in Brunswick, Georgia

Matthew and his sister Althea are sixth-generation farmers from Brunswick, Georgia. Before either of them entered the military—and before either of them had a clue they’d be farmers—they made memories eating food off of their grandmother’s property and helping her with anything from tending the crops to plucking the chickens.

Fast forward to Matthew getting out of the Army in pursuit of another dream. “I originally wanted to be a physical therapist, but the cooking bug was all over me. I love to cook. Wherever I’ve lived, in every country, I’ve always tried to find the local markets and cook the local food.”

A few years after the start (and success—he was the executive chef at the restaurant in the U.S. House of Representatives) of his culinary career, Matthew took a leap of faith. He quit his job to attend the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, via the scholarship the school gives to one veteran each year.

Their mother’s generation had decided not to farm, so their family farm was inactive for the first time since 1874. “I had been telling my family they needed to get back to farming, then I thought, ‘No, I need to go back to the farm!’ When my grandmother signed us over the land, I thought, ‘I haven’t been out here on this land since I was a kid. How am I going to do this?’ But one of the things I like about being a veteran is that I’m always all-in, never half-in.”

althea_matthew_AMP2752 9x6

Matthew and Althea Raiford

For the past five years, though, he’s done it. He and his sister grow fruits like plums, apples and watermelons, and vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes and ghost peppers. They even have muscadine grapevines growing on arbors from nearly 100 years ago.

Matthew and his fiancé Jovan have also created The Farmer and The Larder, a culinary mixed space that he says was always what he saw Gilliard Farms growing into when he brought it back to life. The Farmer and The Larder is a space where people can eat the food grown on the farm, but also learn how to cook with it.

“Cooking and farming have a symbiotic relationship. I can grow the food, and I can cook it. My personal relationship with food has transcended anything I would have ever thought possible.”

Althea Raiford, 42
United States Navy. Served in Iraq and Kuwait
Owner of Gilliard Farms in Brunswick, Georgia

Althea lives and works in Tennessee, but her passion for Gilliard Farms keeps her traveling back and forth five hours each way on the weekends to make sure work gets done.

When her brother suggested they get back to the farm together about 10 years ago, Althea was still on active duty. As soon as the opportunity arose, she dove head first into farm life out of a deep interest in serving her community.

“This part of Brunswick is rural, and the stores for groceries are on the other side of town. We want to feed the people nearby good food and affordable food,” Althea says. “We try to make it as accessible and affordable as possible, selling at farmers markets and being involved in the SNAP program [formerly known as food stamps].”

To Althea, the community interest is her personal interest. Farming after the military was a way to come home to both be better and to do better.

“Farming gave me a purpose. For a lot of us veterans, we feel kind of lost when we come back. Some of our skills don’t really translate into the civilian world. You have to find a new method. That’s one thing I learned in the military that translated into farming: adapting and overcoming.”

This proved a useful skill when a severe windstorm seriously damaged their hoop house and a large portion of their chicken flock. They needed to think of something to do with a smaller flock and a ruined hoop house. By throwing a shade cloth over the hoop house, they created a coop for their chickens and ducks.

“There’s always going to be something that’s unplanned for you to get around. Get your farm hack on and make it work!” she says.

unnamedJusten Garrity, 32
United States Army. Served in Korea and Iraq
Owner of Veteran Compost in Aberdeen, Maryland

Justen started Veteran Compost in 2010 to remedy his post-service unemployment.

“I didn’t have shit for a job. Instead of being sad about it, I just wanted to do something. I researched scrapping metal and other things people were doing for money and found info on composting,” he says.

According to his research, 50-60 percent of what ends up on garbage trucks is compostable. Justen and the team he has hired want to capture that material and give it a new life.

“When trash breaks down in a landfill, it gives off methane gas, which is 23 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. I started with six months of research, found a farm, found a lease and figured it out as I went along.”

Justen, who originally started out with just himself and a shovel, has gone from small-scale solo work to big-time composting. “We’ve composted 2 million pounds of food scraps in the last 12 months.”

His clients range from private households to grocery chains to the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium. Until he can purchase more trucks, there is currently a waitlist for commercial business clients. However, Veteran Compost is looking to expand the residential composting side of business.

“The thing I like about this job is that there is a mission and a purpose to it. It’s tough work, and some people think it’s convenient to military people because we’re used to hard work. People join the military because there is a purpose and a reason, and that’s what attracted me to composting.”

Since a large part of why he started Veteran Compost was his own unemployment, Justen hires veterans whenever possible. When asked about what keeps his going, he says, “A bad day here is better than a good day in Afghanistan, which was my backup plan, so that’s kept me going. We scraped by for the first year—really, I ate ramen for a whole year—but it’s grown into what I always thought it could be.”

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How an Agricultural Weed came to Symbolize Memorial Day http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/how-an-agricultural-weed-came-to-symbolize-memorial-day/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/how-an-agricultural-weed-came-to-symbolize-memorial-day/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 12:47:48 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36471

It was a poem by a Canadian soldier that helped turn an agricultural weed into a symbol inexorably tied to Memorial Day in the United States and to various other days of remembrance for fallen soldiers elsewhere in the world.  

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It was a poem by a Canadian soldier that helped turn an agricultural weed into a symbol inexorably tied to Memorial Day in the United States and to various other days of remembrance for fallen soldiers elsewhere in the world.  

Papaver rhoeas, also known as the common poppy, corn poppy and red weed, among other names, is considered a nuisance plant by European farmers and often grows in areas where the soil has been disturbed. In the warm spring months beginning in 1915, with World War I in full swing, across many of the shell-blasted, trench-strewn battlefields in Belgium, France, as well as in Turkey, poppy seeds (which can lie dormant  for more than 80 years) began to germinate in the newly turned earth, and poppy flowers were soon dotting the war-ravaged landscape, including the frontlines where John McCrae, surgeon for the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, was stationed.

In May 1915, McCrae was tending the wounded in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium. He noticed the bright red poppies that had begun to bloom between the many simple graves of soldiers, including near the spot where one of his best friends had recently been buried. The scene inspired him to write a poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which begins: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row.” It would soon become the most famous poem about the war.

Three years later, in November 1918, Moina Belle Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, came across McCrae’s poem, which both inspired her to write a poem of her own on a similar theme and to begin to wear an artificial silk poppy on Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day and specifically associated with the American Civil War) as a way to honor those who had died while serving in the military. She also sold the silk flowers to her friends and coworkers to raise money for soldiers in need. Eventually, the tradition spread. By the 1920s, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, a national service organization for military veterans, began to distribute silk poppies on Memorial Day as a way to help provide disabled vets with some financial assistance, and the flower became forever linked with the holiday. 

The common poppy also plays a role in Remembrance Day, observed in many Commonwealth countries on November 11 to coincide with the end of hostilities in World War I, and Anzac Day in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among other countries, which is observed on April 25 as a day of remembrance for the war dead in those nations.

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One Trip Click: Best Stories of the Past Week http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/one-trip-click-best-stories-of-the-past-week/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/one-trip-click-best-stories-of-the-past-week/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 12:06:46 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36425

Pot Farming, Italian Army style The Italian Army is growing medical marijuana in an attempt to provide lower-cost cannabis for patients there.   Massive Group Of Scientists Thinks You Shouldn’t Use Non-Stick Many scientists say you should stop using non-stick pans. Maybe it’s time to switch to cast iron.   Local Food, Local Learning At [...]

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Faced with too many choices this week? Burnt out by constant decision-making? We’ve collected the best stories of the past week right here to save you from stressing out.

ItalArmy

Pot Farming, Italian Army style
The Italian Army is growing medical marijuana in an attempt to provide lower-cost cannabis for patients there.

 nonstick

Massive Group Of Scientists Thinks You Shouldn’t Use Non-Stick
Many scientists say you should stop using non-stick pans. Maybe it’s time to switch to cast iron.

FarmHubSmallgrainsresearchplanting 

Local Food, Local Learning
At the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, they hope to teach old farmers new tricks and new farmers old tricks.

 goatfriend

Raw-Milk Loophole: Goat-share Programs
If you live in a place with restrictive raw milk laws, maybe goat-sharing is for you.

 japanpig

Does A Pig Fed With Green Tea Taste Better?
Is that tea I taste in my pork chop? We look at whether what livestock eat can influence the flavor of their meat.

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Mass Poultricide Blamed on Drug-tainted Feed http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/mass-poultricide-blamed-on-drug-tainted-feed/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/mass-poultricide-blamed-on-drug-tainted-feed/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 20:12:25 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36419

An FDA investigation recently determined that the deaths of 57,700 turkeys on a Michigan family farm last summer resulted from consuming drug-tainted oil mislabeled and sold as feed oil.

The post Mass Poultricide Blamed on Drug-tainted Feed appeared first on Modern Farmer.

An FDA investigation recently determined that the deaths of 57,700 turkeys on a Michigan family farm last summer resulted from consuming drug-tainted oil mislabeled and sold as feed oil.

Shur-Green Farms, which recycles organic waste and materials, sold an animal feed manufacturer a shipment of oil tainted with toxically high levels of lasalocid sodium, which is used in animal drugs to combat parasites. The issue: this blend of oil is only approved for use as biofuel, and Shur-Green mislabeled this oil as food-grade. The oil was then sold to Sietsama Farms, a network of family farms.

Within days of feeding their flocks contaminated feed, the farmers at Sietsama had to face a devastating reality. Five of the farms’ turkey flocks were dead, several tons of feed were rendered useless, and 35,900 swine that were fit to go to market had to wait about one month to ensure that none of them were contaminated as well. Overall, Shur-Green’s misrepresentation of the biofuel oil cost Sietsama more than $1 million.

According to the FDA warning to Shur-Green obtained by Michigan Small Farm Council, Shur-Green not only knowingly marketed, sold and shipped the biofuel oil as for use in animal feed in late July, it sold the misrepresented oil twice in September after the FDA had already ordered the incineration of the remaining oil.

MLive states that there is no insurance coverage for this kind of loss that would help offset the impact of this incident on Sietsama Farms, which plans to file a legal complaint soon.

 

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Our Soil Is Bad. Are We Doomed? http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/our-soil-is-bad-and-were-all-going-to-die/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/our-soil-is-bad-and-were-all-going-to-die/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 17:26:18 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36359

The solution might be recycling chemicals the same way we recycle soda cans.

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Leading soil scientists conducted a large review on the quality and condition of today's soil, and the results are not encouraging. In fact, the quality of our soil could become a huge threat to our food supply in the next century.

A new review published in the journal Science from top soil scientists paints a pretty dire picture of the condition of the world’s soil. The leaching of vital nutrients and erosion, both partly due to industrial agriculture, are seen as so severe that the review claims we may be reaching a plateau of just how much food our planet can produce. Without significant change to the way we treat our soil, this might be as good as it ever gets.

Soil isn’t a particularly sexy thing to investigate, but for the vast majority of farmers (excluding those using, say, hydroponics), soil is everything. And the review indicates that we haven’t been great stewards. “Ever since humans developed agriculture, we’ve been transforming the planet and throwing the soil’s nutrient cycle out of balance,” says the paper’s lead author, Ronald Amundson, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, in a press release.

One of the more devastating problems arising from industrial agriculture is that of nutrient depletion. Soil used for farming naturally contains various chemicals necessary to produce a high yield in crops. The most important are phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium. Nitrogen can be produced artificially to some degree, though its creation uses an awful lot of energy. Phosphorous and potassium are mined, and soon, say the paper’s authors, the most valuable raw materials in the world might not be oil anymore. Amundson goes so far as to suggest “phosphorous cartels” may pop up in the future to control their sale.

Some of these problems can be dealt with by using more careful methods of farming, like crop rotation. Planting different crops in sequential years can help restore nutrients to the soil, because different crops draw different percentages of those nutrients, leaving some in the soil. Some varieties of legume actually discharge nitrogen into the soil, so alternating legumes with a crop like wheat, which sucks up a lot of nitrogen, allows the soil to remain stable and healthy.

Amundson also suggests we recycle various chemicals. Some of these chemicals, like nitrogen, are actually byproducts of various industrial processes. Even, sometimes, from farming. Chicken poop, for example, is super-high in phosphorous, and it’s already been proposed that we recycle it. What if we recycled chemicals the same way we recycle paper and plastic?

Read more of the paper here.

Image via Natural Resources Conservation Service

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NASA’s Earthbound Endeavors in Agriculture http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/nasas-earthbound-endeavors-in-agriculture/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/nasas-earthbound-endeavors-in-agriculture/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 14:24:56 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36383

In Virginia, NASA DEVELOP recently completed two projects in conjunction with the state government. The first looked at water efficiency in the state’s agricultural sector while the second was designed to help with the growth of the state’s wine industry. The water project, “Coastal Mid-Atlantic Water Resources III,” used two of NASA’s satellites in conjunction [...]

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When you hear the name the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), your mind is likely to drift toward thoughts of space exploration rather than agriculture, much less vineyards. That may change thanks to NASA DEVELOP, a collaborative program that uses applied science to address diverse environmental issues a little closer to home.

In Virginia, NASA DEVELOP recently completed two projects in conjunction with the state government. The first looked at water efficiency in the state’s agricultural sector while the second was designed to help with the growth of the state’s wine industry.

The water project, “Coastal Mid-Atlantic Water Resources III,” used two of NASA’s satellites in conjunction with aerial drones to provide groundwater observations within the state’s coastal aquifer region and also looked at the water usage of crops at the surface level, according to Michael Finneran, a media representative for NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

map“This project was led by [state] Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward, who was interested in expanding the commonwealth’s efforts to better measure and manage the coastal aquifer system,” says Finneran in an email.

They were able to estimate evapotranspiration (the sum evaporation from the land surface plus transpiration from plants) using NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite, which will help them get a better understanding of how often farmers need to irrigate their fields. The goal is to decrease water waste and lower costs, according to Finneran.

A second project, “Virginia Agriculture II,” a collaboration between NASA and the Virginia Wine Board, which is part of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, mapped all the acreage of the state’s vineyards with the help of NASA satellites.

The state’s wine industry generates about $750 million a year. It supports close to 5,000 jobs and is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the state, according to a 2012 economic impact study. One of the challenges for the industry, says Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore in a media statement, is to increase fruit production in order to stay ahead of wine demand.

“Through this research project, we now have a better, more accurate count of vineyards throughout the commonwealth,” says Brian Coy, a spokesman for the Office of Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Beyond this, says Coy, Virginia will have a better idea of where more vineyards can go in the future based on “location data with information about the soil, slope of the land, angle of the sun and frost dates.”

“The projects were carried out at no cost to the Commonwealth of Virginia and other partners,” say Finneran. “NASA paid the competitively selected project participants a modest hourly rate to implement the project and share their results.”

NASA DEVELOP, which launched in 1999, collaborates with a number of academic, non-governmental and regional organizations on projects ranging from mapping and modeling the spread of invasive species to providing data to boost hazardous weather notification systems, and employs young professionals to do the research. The program is centered at NASA’s Langley Research Center and has regional hubs throughout the country, as well as an international center in Kathmandu, Nepal.

As for NASA’s work with Virginia, there are also discussions about a possible forestry-related project, according to Finneran.

“There are no [new] crop or animal agriculture projects currently planned, but DEVELOP and the commonwealth are always on the lookout for great new ideas,” he says.

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Why Aren’t We All Drinking Peanut Milk? http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/why-arent-we-all-drinking-peanut-milk/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/why-arent-we-all-drinking-peanut-milk/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:27:04 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36340

Can its own version of milk finally move the peanut back to the top of the nut (or nut-like foods) rankings?

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Peanuts have recently been overthrown as the most popular nut (or nut-like foodstuff) in the United States. Is creating a peanut milk to compete with other nut milks the way back to the top?

For decades upon decades, the peanut was king in the United States. Native to the Americas, this legume’s reign started in the 1930s, thanks in part to its high oil and sugar content and inexpensive production. Even though the peanut is a legume and not a tree nut, for more than 80 years it has ruled over the likes of walnuts, cashews and other nuts in the marketplace. But all of a sudden, around 2012, a challenger sprung up out of nowhere: the almond.

Almonds, grown mostly in California if they’re not imported, passed the peanut in popularity just a few years ago, rocketing on the strength of their delicious flavor, purported health benefits, and, perhaps most importantly, a liquid made from water mixed with pulverized almond meal known as almond milk. In an interview with Food Navigator USA, the president of the National Peanut Board let slip that peanut growers and processors might have something that could compete: Peanut milk. With a certain caginess, he said: “We can’t comment on specific company activities with peanut milk, but a concept has been developed.”

The peanut milk that’s in the works, says the NPB president, attempts to achieve the same sort of function that almond milk has as a replacement for cow’s milk. That means no strong peanutty flavor and a creamy texture to replicate the emulsion of fats and sugars in regular milk.

There are some precedents for peanut milk. In the Caribbean, especially Trinidad and Tobago, a drink called “peanut punch,” a sort of more liquid-y milkshake made of peanut butter with milk and sugar, is very popular. Homemade peanut milk is an option for those seeking an alternative nut milk and don’t want to wait for the commercial product.

This is a huge sector; alternative milks net more than $1.6 billion this past year, and with California’s desperate drought, perhaps we’ll need to look outside the almond (and, to a lesser extent, the cashew) for nut-based milks. Could peanut milk be the next big trend?

Via Food and Wine, image via USDA

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How to Build a Living Summer Shade Structure http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/how-to-build-a-living-summer-shade-structure/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/how-to-build-a-living-summer-shade-structure/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 12:44:22 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36361

Willows can be woven into more than just baskets—here’s how to plant your own gazebo for hot weather lounging.

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Living roofs, living walls, living structures—architecture and horticulture are increasingly intertwined. A biotecture project might sound like it would require an engineering degree to undertake, but it can be fairly simple, especially when using willow trees, perhaps the most flexible, fast-growing, malleable tree on the planet.

Willow trees have an unusual trait: freshly cut branches will sprout roots and grow into new trees when merely plunked into the ground and watered. By taking cuttings from an established willow tree, “planting” them strategically and weaving the supple young branches together as they grow, any number of structures—such as a gazebo, pergola, play hut, party dome, sweat lodge, art cave or even a shady area for your livestock—can be created on your land.

Though it’s possible to build an elaborate willow palace, this is, in its essence, a simple DIY project with plenty of potential for creative interpretation. There are a few basic steps needed for any type of willow structure and a few things to keep in mind so you end up with something that’s functional and aesthetically graceful. It will take a few years for a willow structure to mature into its envisioned form, so the best time to plant one is now. Anytime in spring, summer or fall is a fine time to start the process.

Step 1 — Make Cuttings

Finding a willow to take cuttings from may take a bit of sleuthing, but the trees grow wild almost everywhere (except deserts and tropical places) and are often planted in parks and yards, so chances are there is a willow near you. Any type of willow tree can be used (click here for help identifying them). Make sure you have permission before cutting, but don’t worry about harming the tree—it will sprout back with vigor.

Any size cutting will work, but it’s best if all the cuttings are roughly the same size so they grow in evenly. Straight, pliable sections of branches are best; avoid older branches with thick bark. The larger the cutting, the more quickly it will grow into a usable structure. Four to six feet in length is ideal, though you will have to gauge how many cuttings of a consistent size you can get from the willow tree(s) that are available to you. One cutting per foot of wall space is a general rule of thumb to follow.

Strip the leaves from the cuttings and cut off any side branches. If the cuttings will not be planted immediately, store them in a bucket of water to keep them from drying out. They may be kept in this way for several months if needed—willows are water-loving trees and will begin to sprout while sitting in water, which only speeds up the process after they’re put in the ground. Throughout the process, it’s important to keep the cuttings oriented in the same way that they were on the tree. When planted, the ‘direction of growth’ needs to be pointed up.

Step 2 — Plant According to a Design

Here’s where creativity comes into play. Do you want a dome shape, a globe shape, a long tunnel, a square or a hexagon? The possibilities for design are numerous. It’s important to have a vision in mind when you put the cuttings in the ground. You may want to angle them laterally in a criss-cross pattern or angle them toward a central point so they grow into a pyramid. If you space the cuttings tightly together, you’ll end up with a dense wall of foliage once they start growing. If you’re more interested in a shady canopy, space them farther apart for of an open air, pavilion-like structure. Always leave at least one gap for an entrance.

Pick an area that will get at least six hours of sunlight every day. Loose, rich soil helps them grow faster (adding compost never hurts), but willows will grow in very poor soil as long as they have lots of water. If the willow cuttings are stout enough and the ground is soft enough, it’s possible to carve one end of the cutting into a point and push it into the ground or even to pound it with a sledgehammer. If needed, use post hole diggers to make planting holes. To encourage abundant rooting, cut scar marks into the bark on the portion of the cutting that will be underground. Bury them about one-quarter of their length.

After planting, irrigate religiously to promote fast, lush growth. There is no such thing as overwatering willow trees; until they are well-established, the best rule of thumb is to water whenever the surface of the soil dries out.

Step 3 — Prune, Train and Maintain

The willow cuttings should start growing within a week or two. Immediately prune out any branches that sprout in a direction that does not conform to the desired shape. This will force the sapling to put all of its energy into the branches that do grow in the right direction.

The training process begins at the end of the first growing season, when the willows are dormant. This is the time to weave the supple new branches together or tie them to each other to start creating the structure you’ve imagined. Use stretchy plastic gardening tape if you’ll be tying them together. Each year, repeat the process of removing unwanted branches and weaving new growth into the desired form. Remember to keep watering to keep the willows alive and healthy.

If you need guidance along the way, consult one of the many books on willow structures. If you live in the UK, you can order a DIY kit from www.thewillowbank.com.

Over time the supple young branches will harden into the shape in which they’ve been trained and you’ll discover another astonishing trait of willow trees: wherever two branches touch each other, they will eventually fuse into a solid, living piece of architecture.

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Does A Pig Fed With Green Tea Taste Better? http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/does-a-pig-fed-with-green-tea-taste-better/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/does-a-pig-fed-with-green-tea-taste-better/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 15:11:13 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36226

This could open up a whole new world of flavor.

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A farm in Japan gives its pigs green tea, instead of plain water. The farm's owners say customers prefer the flavor and, especially, aroma of the pork. Should more farmers look into switching to green tea?

The Japan Times introduces us to Kitagawa Farm, a pork farm in Shizuoka, Japan, that has an unusual way of differentiating itself from the herd: it feeds its roughly 50 pigs green tea, instead of plain water. The owner of the farm says customers prefer his pork. But what effect can green tea really have on our meat?

It is uncommon, but not unheard of, in parts of Asia, especially China and Korea, to feed pigs with the waste from green tea production. Experimenting with flavorful extracts and ingredients such as acorns and whey in animal feed has long been a tradition, but scientifically, it’s a practice still in the experimental phase. Chefs are excited about the possibilities: can you impart totally new flavors into meat just by adjusting what the animal eats?

Generally, chemical compounds in foods that are eaten by an animal (including us!) are either water-soluble or fat-soluble, meaning, according to my second-grade science textbook, that these compounds dissolve in either water or fat. Water-soluble compounds aren’t of much use in trying to flavor meat; water doesn’t make its way into muscle tissue, and is typically flushed out of the body in urine not long after it goes in.

But fat-soluble compounds are much more interesting. In some animals, like beef and salmon, fat is interlaced within muscle tissue–this is called “marbling,” in the butchery business. What if a flavorful chemical compound is dissolved in fat, and that fat makes its way into a nice cut of meat or fish? It’s possible—not certain, but possible—that the flavor will have survived its trip semi-intact and creates some sort of flavor or aroma.

There are a few common techniques to feed livestock animals specific food in hopes that it will affect their flavor. Perhaps the most famous is the luxurious and expensive black Iberian pig, which is the sole pig breed used to create jamón ibérico, an extremely fatty and prized cured ham. The black Iberian pig isn’t kept in pens but is instead encouraged to roam through the Spanish oak forests gorging on fallen acorns. Acorns are quite fatty and rich in various tannins and other potent flavonoids, and it’s believed that the diet has a direct impact on the flavor of the meat.

Another example: Grass-fed versus grain-fed beef. Grain-fed beef is the predominant variety we have here in the U.S.; it’s easier and cheaper to feed cows a mixture of corn and other grains than to let them slowly grow by grazing on grass. But grass-fed beef is generally considered more sustainable and more natural. Blind taste tests have indicated that people can indeed taste a difference between the two varieties of beef, and even more interestingly, that the grass-fed beef has an actual “grassy” flavor. On the other hand, the Iberian pigs don’t taste tannic, or much like acorns—their fat content is boosted, and the flavor is different, but it can’t be easily pinned to acorns. Which is all to say that flavor is linked to feed, but that the link is complex.

But what about green tea? Well, there’s not much data on the actual flavor of animals fed with green tea, though there is a good bit of research on other effects of feeding livestock tea. According to some studies, green tea may well help the pig (or us) be healthier, but doesn’t have much effect on the quality of meat. (That said, another study fed yerba mate, a tea-like beverage made from the holly plant, to dairy cows, and found that their milk output increased, possibly due to the caffeine.)

On the other hand, feeding pigs the actual leaves, which contain different chemicals than just the steeping liquid, could actually affect the flavor and texture. A study from 2014 found that goats fed with green tea byproducts actually produced higher quality meat, more vibrantly colored and with less “crude fat.” The byproducts, though, are sometimes fermented, and fermentation can produce all kinds of beneficial effects.

None of this proves anything, really; these are all individual studies that we should be hesitant about drawing firm conclusions from. But they certainly do indicate that this isn’t totally bunk. Pigs, like us, sometimes really are what they eat.

Image via Flickr user bertconcepts

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Meet Modern Farmer’s Guest Instagrammer: Sidewalk Ends Farm http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/meet-modern-farmers-guest-instagrammer-sidewalk-ends-farm/ http://modernfarmer.com/2015/05/meet-modern-farmers-guest-instagrammer-sidewalk-ends-farm/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 19:03:50 +0000 http://modernfarmer.com/?p=36324

Say hello to Sidewalk Ends Farm in Providence, Rhode Island. They're taking over Modern Farmer's Instagram account for a couple of weeks. Stop by and have a look!

The post Meet Modern Farmer’s Guest Instagrammer: Sidewalk Ends Farm appeared first on Modern Farmer.

Say hello to Sidewalk Ends Farm in Providence, Rhode Island. They're taking over Modern Farmer's Instagram account for a couple of weeks. Stop by and have a look!

Sometimes a farm is more than just a farm. For the 20-something women who run Sidewalk Ends Farm, farming is a platform for social issues and creativity as much as a way to provide great food and beautiful flowers for their community.

Tess Brown-Lavoie, 25, says farming provides an opportunity to “explore the political dimensions of issues regarding food access, justice and environmental sustainability through our relationship with land, and the principles of stewardship we work within.” It’s also “creative work” that allows them to “manifest” their “interests, values and aesthetics,” she says.

Tess Brown-Lavoie and her older sister, Laura Brown-Lavoie, along with Sarah Turkus, both 27, grow a variety of vegetables and flowers on two separate plots. One, a 5,000-square foot urban garden in the city’s Armory Park neighborhood, was started in 2011. Last year, the farm expanded to include a two-acre plot in nearby Seekonk, Massachusetts.

The farm was started by the Brown-Lavoie sisters and Fay Strongin, 27, of Brookline, Massachusetts, at what was once a vacant city lot, but thanks to lots of hard work and dedication has become a food production hub and focal point for community agricultural education, with classes on such subjects as seed sharing and soil remediation.

“We don’t make lots of money, but we eat the best food there is, and we are able to be generous with it with our friends and neighbors,” says Tess Brown-Lavoie.

Strongin is still helping out with the farm when she can, but is headed off to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study urban planning this fall. Turkus joined the farm last year.

Besides selling their produce and flowers at a nearby mixed-income market, they have a 50-member CSA, and also provide produce to Providence and East Bay restaurants through the Little City Growers Co-op, a wholesale cooperative of small farms.

“We try to take advantage and give back to the resources in our community as much as possible, by trading homemade bread for tractor repair advice from a neighbor, harvesting seaweed from the Rhode Island coast to add fertility to our soil, shoveling manure at the Providence Mounted Police stables to add to our compost piles, along with the food scraps from a few local soup kitchens,” says Turkus in an email.

The Brown-Lavoie sisters and Turkus began farming right out of college. They are first-generation farmers, and all three have apprenticed at various farms before their involvement with Sidewalk Ends Farm.

Besides farming, the three have other passions they pursue. Laura Brown-Lavoie writes and performs poetry and stories. Tess Brown-Lavoie writes and is the drummer for the band Mother Tongue. She and Turkus also coordinate the Young Farmer Network, an organization that works to support young farmers in the region. Turkus does after-school programs with young children.

“We love working with our bodies and being outside. We don’t make lots of money, but we eat the best food there is, and we are able to be generous with it with our friends and neighbors,” says Tess Brown-Lavoie.

Photo: Sophie Sarkar

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