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Archive for August, 2008

Fungus on my Beans in the Apprentice Plots

Possibly Botrytis on my Beans!

Hello from the apprentices…or the apprentii as we have been come to know around the farm.

August has come and almost passed. We are deep into the weeks of a harvest-packed walk-in cooler (almost to the point we can’t get in). The beans won’t stop producing their bounty (Bean Fest anyone?), the cherry tomatoes are in full swing and the cabbage heads are sizing up. It is a full on abundance.

Most plants seem to reaching their maximum production, however in the midst of their climb to this peak, stirs the sense of the immanence of a wind down. Already we are talking amongst our group of the wrap up of the season and what we need to do on the farm at the tail end of the year. Most confronting and daunting is the talk of what we as apprentices will do once the course concludes on November 1st. More conversations are being had about the probability of going and doing our own thing next season. Ee gads!

Back to the farm and our ‘learnings’ over the last few weeks. We have been delving into the world of pests and plant pathogens and all things that ail plants. Becky, a former apprentice who had to dip out of the course earlier on due to other commitments, came by to give us a pest ID session. She has masters in agricultural pest management and therefore is the ultimate expert on the subject. We walked the farm armed with our magnifying glass and some jars, finding numerous pests; their pupae, their larvae and fully metamorphed selves.

We are now studying the diseases that plants can succumb to. What amazes me about these potential plant ‘enemies’ is that on close inspection they are actually everywhere. Prolific you might say. But the key thing to note is that the damage they cause is actually relatively benign, as long at the plants’ strength and resistance is up to snuff. I am learning that it is a delicate dance between pathogen/pest virulence and host/plant resistance.

In fact the survival of the pest or pathogen most often depends upon the survival of its host –the plant. Without which, it would spell its own demise. As enemies, ironically, there is a certain reliance on each other. Perhaps we have it wrong and they aren’t actually enemies at all. I have pondered this thought and I am not sure of the answer. Maybe we need to be content with the fact that we may not have all the answers and that it is okay to accept the mystery of inter-relations in the natural world.

Powdery Mildew on My Squash

Pwedery Mildew on my Squash in the Apprentice Plots

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Andrea at HeavyPetal drew my attention to this video following Richard Reynolds, author of On Guerrilla Gardening, through the process of planning and executing an urban guerrilla operation. It’s quite an interesting insight into the work that goes into a public space makeover like this.

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Looking for a bit of reading this morning? The Organic Consumers Association has links up to three articles of interest:

Victory Gardens Symbolize a New Age, by Barbara L. Minton

Food, Fuel and Water Crises Converging, by Thalif Deen

How Cities Across the World Are Promoting Urban Agriculture, by de Zeeuw, Dubbeling, van Veenhuizen and Wilbers

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Photos from the fields…

Beans on the trellis, Gemma picking…

Pole bean flowers…

Summer and winter squashes…

Purple cabbage, the brassica field…

Psychadelic cauliflower, peas on the vine…

Hoophouse peppers and eggplants…

… and last, an aster and a Venidium, blooming.

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Touch the Soil

As a new monthly feature on this blog we’ll be syndicating the free column produced by Touch the Soil magazine, a publication dedicated to “raising agricultural awareness for households of the future”. This month we’re happy to share with you a piece by Benjamin Grissin on the global economics of agriculture. For more information please visit www.touchthesoil.com.

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Food Security Takes Precedence over Global Free Trade

Benjamin Gisin

Global food tremors over the last 12 months have given many governments the jitters. At the heart of the issue is that global free trade, under World Trade Organization protocols, limits what a nation can do to protect its farmers and national food production. The practice of limiting agricultural imports, in an effort to protect a nation’s farmers, is something the WTO wants to eliminate.

As dozens of governments nearly collapsed due to internal food shortages made worse by high prices, riots and demonstrations, other governments, particularly India and China took notice. Who is next?

The WTO mission – global free trade by reducing tariffs particularly in agriculture – backfired. Nation after nation saw it’s domestic stability threatened by food issues. Either they could not find a source to import from, prices were too high or the dramatic global price hikes infected their own countries unsustainable food inflation. In addition, food prices were rocked by hundreds of billions of dollars moving into commodity speculation that added volatility to prices and political stability.

This year has seen a new consciousness emerge – membership in the WTO and following its protocols does not ensure access to food.

While proponents of free trade argue high agricultural prices are good in that they will give agriculture an incentive to produce more, their argument is suspect. The free market waited too long to give farmers their due until food shortages and high prices threatened the stability of the world’s two largest nations – India and China.

It is not that farmers don’t deserve better prices for feeding us, the question is about how its done. And global free-trade got a failing grade from many nations for its performance during the recent global food crisis. Free trade left them high and dry as major wheat and rice exporting countries limited or stopped exports to protect their own food security – something the WTO should have addressed long ago. Both the USDA and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) have consistently issued reports on the ongoing collapse of global grain reserves for the last 10 years.

The International Herald Tribune (July 31st) reported that growing worries in China about the adequacy of its food supply now appear to have overridden the country’s previous commitment to free trade. In a shocking move of solidarity, China joined India at the Doha round of global trade talks in Geneva demanding safeguard rules for agriculture including implementation of high tariffs as a way to protect farmers in poor countries and increase national food output.

The unyielding position of China and India in protecting domestic food security ended up collapsing seven years of ongoing WTO negotiations on further trade harmonization. We must remember the WTO is not a democratic institution and is not accessible by the average citizen. So poor people can only go to their governments for redress leading to protectionism. Perhaps if the global free market did not wait so long to give farmers their due, before the world fell into a global food crises, things may have been different.

The obvious goal of India and China is to insulate their countries from the uncertainty of foreign food imports, unaffordable prices and from Western-style commodity speculation that artificially raises food prices – causing additional starvation and political instability.

China has some 300 million small farmers and hundreds of millions of poor people. Having access to a reliable and affordable food supply has erupted as China’s number one national security issue.

There is yet another element that underlies the growing disappointment with the WTO – its glaring lack of oversight and warning as global grain stocks collapsed to levels insufficient to protect the world from shortages and price spikes.

The future success of the world’s farming sectors in producing enough food and the global free market in distributing that food may well determine the future of WTO negotiations, if not the WTO itself.

Farmers must stop being economically punished for producing a surplus that helps the world cope between farming seasons. If that means building national, regional and local food stocks, the time has come to get our checkbooks out. ■


Benjamin Gisin has visited hundreds of farms in his banking, farm consulting and publishing careers. He writes and lectures extensively on the global and domestic food situation, the promise of local food first and grass-roots economic issues.

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Last minute food event announcement!

If you’ve got time tonight and love food, you might want to take a bit of time tonight to drop by the  Vancouver Fruit Tree Project’s harvest season kick-off at the Rhizome Cafe (map) from 6-9pm. Attractions include cheap food, door prizes, and very cool people.

About the project: “The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project is a community-based, registered charity that works to increase access to fresh local fruit in communities throughout Vancouver. We connect people who have fruit trees, people who can help harvest fruit, and community groups that distribute the fruit or use it in their programs. ” More info on how to get involved will be available at the event tonight, or you can contact info@vancouverfruittree.com.

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