Brain Pickings

Sustainable Agriculture: Top 5 Innovation Efforts

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What sheep have to do with high-rises and Obama first oversight.

We’re big on sustainability. The real, policy-changing, culture-redefining kind, not the I-Heart-Recycling graphic tee kind. Which is why we think agriculture, the literal lifeline to our vitality, is a tremendously potent tool for ensuring a sustainable future. Here are 5 innovative projects that propagate progress through smart, sustainable food initiatives.

HERDSHARE

The days of making small talk with the milkman may be long gone, but the relationship doesn’t have to be.

herdshare Australian startup Herdshare is building a platform that enables farmers and their shareholders to form and manage their herd share arrangements, essentially cutting out the middleman and making the relationship delightfully personal.

For the un-initiated, a heardshare is coop of people who buy a small herd and pay a farmer to take care of their animals, milk them, and deliver the goods. Herdshare is founded on principles of fair pricing, food quality, landcare, better animal husbandry and, above all, simplicity.

The site itself is still being built, but we have high hopes for the project. In the meantime, you can read their brochure to find out more.

FOODZIE

Farmers markets have long been the scene of the grassroots eco-eating movement, especially with the recent emphasis on local over organic as the more sustainable consumer choice. (Ideally, of course, we take ours local AND organic.)

foodzie Unfortunately, not every city is as lucky as Philly, with its legendary Reading Terminal Market, North America’s first and largest indoor farmers market. Enter startup Foodzie — an online farmers market where small growers and artisan producers can get their foodstuffs to the hungry and socially conscious masses.

An Etsy for food, Foodzie features anything from bakery to herbs and spices to meat and seafood. You can find such delicious divinities as the hazelnut truffle cookie, the Vindaloo curry sauce or the hickory-smoked buffalo jerky strips. You can even shop by location, if you subscribe to Google’s 100-mile-radius philosophy.

sugar Foodzie also carries occasion-specific treats, like the curret selection of editorially-curated Easter products — so grab yourself a sheepie-shaped sugar cookie and tell your favorite local farmer about the site. It’s a grassroots movement, after all, so your individual word-of-mouth may have more power than you suspect.

via The New York Times

LOCAL HARVEST

You know we’re talking grassroots when there’s a hideously designed yet brilliantly conceived site in question.

Which is exactly what LocalHarvest is — an online tool for finding local, organic food across nearby CSA (community-supported agriculture) initiatives, farmers markets and family farms.

We’ve mentioned the project before, but it’s worth a revisit since it’s constantly adding new farmers markets as well as new site features — you can do anything from finding a CSA subscription to reading the blogs of the actual farmers whose food is on your table.

Food really doesn’t get more personal than that, and we love how LocalHarvest marries the old-timey relationship between the spinach-eater and his spinach-growing neighbor with the tools of today’s web-centric culture.

POLYFACE FARMS

We’ve sung the praises of Polyface Farms before — extensively — so we won’t over-elaborate. But we will say that when agricultural activist Michael Pollan puts his seal of approval on something, there’s good reason. (Which is a shame, since Obama recently shot down The Sustainable Dozen, Pollan’s recommendation for head of the Department of Agriculture — a big mistake by Obama, in our generally Obama-loving opinion.)

Polyface founder Joel Salatin has a vision far broader than the food itself:

We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.

What’s unique about Polyface Farms is the uniquely designed permaculture system that the six different animal species inhabit. They’re all engaged in a fascinating ecological dance, brilliantly orchestrated by the farm to maximize the symbiotic relationship the animals have with one another and with the land.

Polyface is a hopeful exemplar in sustainable agriculture, a model we hope will be replicated on a scale large enough to truly impact the entire industry’s business model and thus its cultural and ethical footprint.

VERTICAL FARMING PROJECT

We had the fortune of seeing TED 2009 live, where urban farming pioneer Dickson Despommier presented his brilliant Vertical Farm Project, an urban agriculture initiative that takes indoor farming to a new level — literally.

The project aims to increase our ecosystem’s food efficiency by using urban space — high-rises in particular — to start a new movement of city farming for today’s urbanites. Vertical Farming offers so many rationally indisputable benefits we have to wonder why it hasn’t been considered seriously until now — you get year-round crop production, maximize space (1 acre indoor is equivalent to 4-30 acres outdoors, depending on the crop), it’s weather-controlled, so no crop loss due to droughts, floods or pests (unless you count your roommate in the latter), and you can grow fully organically, without pesticides or herbicides.

These are just a few of the multitude of benefits — and now it’s over to the design side, with a number of architectural plans already proposed.

To find out more about the brilliant rationale of vertical farming, take a look at the library of concept presentations. And stay tuned for when the Despommier talk becomes available on TED — this is an idea worth spreading, if we ever saw one.

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