The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that there are more than 570 million farms in the world. Behind each farm—at least 90 percent of which are considered family farms—is a farmer or team of farmers, collectively responsible for growing the world's food. Food Tank is highlighting farmer heroes who go beyond cultivating the land, acting as employers, experimenters, keepers of tradition and contributors to healthy lifestyles.
Family farmers are key players in job creation and healthy economies, supplying jobs to millions and boosting local markets that are vulnerable to difficult climate and financial hardship, particularly because of the disproportionate amount of work required given the financial returns in farming. Farmers aren't just food producers—they're business women and men, they're teachers in their communities, they're innovators and inventors and they're stewards of the land who deserve to be recognized for the ecosystem services they provide that benefit us all.
Meet 17 farmer heroes from around the world, working for innovation, sustainability, the environment and local economy, all doing more than putting food on our plates.
1. Janki Bai (Madhya Pradesh, India): In the Madhya Pradesh state of India, Janki Bai sacrificed an acre of her semi-arid land for the digging of a watershed pond in 2013—a significant economic project for the community. Not only could she begin to grow rice on her land, but the pond, built with the help of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics quickly began to benefit farms within a half a kilometer of hers. Today, her family has increased financial stability and her community has a more reliable water source.
2. Mary Seton Corboy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.): Founder of Greensgrow, a Philadelphia urban agriculture non-profit, in 1998 on the former site of a galvanized steel plant. Greensgrow has since become a model for sustainable food systems in Philadelphia and beyond. With CSAs, farmers markets and more, Corboy is heralded for not only growing vegetables, but changing attitudes around food.
3. Ibrahima Coulibaly (Mali): Chosen as one of six Special Ambassadors for the International Year of Family Farming in 2014, Ibrahima Coulibaly is the president of the National Coordination of Farmers' Organizations of Mali (CNOP). Under Coulibaly, CNOP has contributed to the first agricultural policy in Mali focused on family farming. CNOP has projects for food security, natural resource management and for strengthening farmers' organizational and financial capacity.
4. Jess & Matt Fealy (Mareeba, Queensland, Australia): In 2012, the Fealys moved across Australia to begin lives as family farmers. In Australia, 99 percent of farms are family farms. Their farm, Blue Sky Produce, makes them proud to contribute to their rural community. They are grateful for the opportunity to use a variety of skills: “one day you're repairing a wiring harness on the tractor, the next you're stripping down a chainsaw, the day after that you're pouring over soil and leaf analysis," the Fealys said.
5. Bryan Gilvesy (Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada): Originally a tobacco farmer, Bryan Gilvesy has become an ecological agriculture champion throughout Ontario with his sustainable cattle ranching operation, Y U Ranch. He works with Alternative Land Use Services, which supports farmers in restoring and preserving natural resources throughout Canada.
6. Thomas Harttung (Jutland, Denmark): Thomas Harttung is the Co-Founder of Aarstiderne an organic produce and meal box delivery program that now supplies more than 45,000 customers across Denmark and Sweden with fresh, nutritious food. He serves as the Chair of the Trustees for the Sustainable Food Trust, a nonprofit committed to building a food system that causes the least possible harm to humans and the environment. Harttung is also on the board of the Nordic Food Lab which is dedicated to exploring food diversity and potential in the Nordic region. He has an 18,000 acre biodynamic estate in Jutland.
7. Larry Jacobs (California, U.S.): Larry Jacobs suffered illness from pesticide exposure as a young farmer and dedicated his work to pesticide-free farming. Jacobs Farm, now 35 years old and the largest organic culinary herb provider in the U.S., won a notable lawsuit over a pesticide applicator whose application on a nearby field found its way to Jacobs's dill crop. Jacobs and his wife, Sandra Belin, have also helped a cooperative of family farmers in Baja California, Mexico, form an organic growers association called Del Cabo, which now imports millions of pounds of organic produce into U.S. markets.
8. Rahab Kithumbi (Ng'arua Division, Laikipia West, Kenya): Rahab Kithumbi began her research with observation of poultry in a farmer-to-farmer exchange visit. After the visit, Kithumbi experimented with rearing chickens and turkeys and found an increased hatching rate when reared together. Turkeys also provide food for her family and more manure than chickens, useful as fertilizer. She displayed her innovation in 2013, becoming one of the first participants in Prolinnova's Farmer Innovation Fair in Nairobi and earning the name “Mama Turkey" in her village.
9. Robert Morris & Gigi Pontejos-Morris (Padre Garcia, Batangas, Philippines): In 2005, Robert and Gigi Morris bought a traditional mango orchard in the Philippines and named it MoCa Family Farm. Certified for agri-tourism, MoCa is a “blueprint for family farming," lending insight into the business of farming. With “several small-scale business operations running at the same time," MoCa has incorporated specialty crops, niche market and branded farm products, farm accessory item sales and hospitality services. The Morris family promotes farm-to-fork and local food.
10. Edward Mukiibi (Uganda): Edward Mukiibi is the current vice president of Slow Food International. Living in Uganda, Mukiibi has experience developing community and school gardens in Africa through his Developing Innovations in School and Community Gardens project and sees great potential in Slow Food International's 10,000 Gardens in Africa goal. Mukiibi is working “to promote our own food gastronomy, to strengthen traditional food systems and communities and to defend African biodiversity."
11. Kathy Ozer (Washington, DC, U.S.): Kathy Ozer is the executive director of the National Family Farm Coalition, where she has worked in farm policy for more than two decades. Ozer dedicates her work to ensuring that “family farmers and fishers can not only survive but thrive in order to support themselves, their families and their communities." She has expertise in the global credit and food crisis and the dairy farmer crisis.
12. Denise O'Brien (Ames, Iowa, U.S.): An Iowa native, Denise O'Brien founded the Women Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) in 1997 to coordinate information and networking for women as supporters of sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems. WFAN provides women with agricultural educational opportunities, an apprenticeship program, as well as tools for serving as political advocates for agriculture. O'Brien farms and raises organic chickens and turkeys with her husband on their farm in southwest Iowa.
13. Bernie Prince (Washington, DC, U.S.): Bernie Prince is the co-founder of FRESHFARM Markets, an operator of producer-only farmers markets in the Chesapeake Bay region. Since 1997, FRESHFARM has been helping to provide opportunities for local farmers and has branched into other areas, like the FoodPrints nutrition and healthy eating education program for elementary school children. After retiring as co-executive director of FRESHFARM in 2015, Prince now spends more time on her 10-acre farm in Georgetown, Delaware, where she and her husband grow organic fruit, vegetables and flowers.
14. Flora Cañete de Sanabria & Edita de Jesús Franco de Sanabria (Caaguazú District, Paraguay): Once the only women members of the Paraguayan Ministry of Agriculture's Sustainable Rural Development Project committee of rural producers, Flora Cañete de Sanabria and Edita de Jesús Franco de Sanabria have influenced rural development and agriculture decisions in Paraguay and increased the involvement and voice of women in local grass-roots projects.
15. Lindsey Lusher Shute (Hudson, New York, U.S.): National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) Executive Director Lindsey Lusher Shute is a young farmer with a background in policy. NYFC believes in affordable land for farmers, sustainable practices, fair labor, farmer-to-farmer training, diversity among farmers and independent family farms for sustaining young farmers in the future. Its awareness campaigns include topics like student loans, land access, water conservation and federal policy. The White House named Shute a Champion of Change in 2014. She has a particular interest in structural issues in family farming.
16. Mike & Gayle Thorpe (East Aurora, New York, U.S.): The Thorpes run two organic family farms—one in New York and the other in Florida—with an more than 540-member CSA. The Thorpe family began farming in 2001, supporting a 42-member CSA, always with a “[belief] in nurturing the soil" by using well-composted material for the healthiest nutrient balance. The Thorpe farms are successful examples of true family farm CSA.
17. Arkhiben Vankar (Gujarat, India): Arkhiben Vankar is known as The Pesticide Lady in her community in the Indian state of Gujarat. She developed a toxin-free pesticide from herbal plants that has shown to be as effective as chemicals on pests like mealy bugs, white flies and aphids. Not only is this pesticide safer for farmers, but Vankar's pesticide is cost-effective too.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.