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The Biggest Surprises From 'The Biggest Little Farm'
By Andrew Amelinckx
Take a broken-down 200-acre property that has been transformed into an incredibly lush and diverse biodynamic farm over eight years and capture it all on film and you get The Biggest Little Farm. This documentary tells the story of two newbie farmers and their rescue dog as they leave Los Angeles behind to build a farm that will work in harmony with nature in Moorpark, California. John Chester, the Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker who directed the film, and Molly Chester, a private chef and blogger, discovered that nature isn't easily harnessed when there are coyotes, gophers, snails, windstorms and wildfires to contend with. Here are some of the biggest reasons to go and see this film, which is at times heartbreaking, funny, achingly beautiful, charming and full of surprises.
Both the farm and the film owe their existence to a dog named Todd. The Chesters rescued him from an animal hoarder and promised him that their home would be his last. But Todd was a prodigious barker when left alone, so when the inevitable notice to vacate arrived due to noise complaints, the Chesters decided to take a chance on their dream. "It changed the course of our future because we had blindly committed to an animal and weren't willing to break that promise," said Chester. "Our love for that dog gave us this incredibly epic and magical existence."
“We Went Crazy”
In less than a decade, Apricot Lane Farms went from a dilapidated monocrop operation to a thriving farm with 10,000 orchard trees encompassing 75 different kinds of stone fruit, lemons, and avocados; a cornucopia of vegetables; and a boatload of animals, from pigs and sheep to horses and highland cattle. "We piled too much on from the beginning and were growing way too many things," said Chester. "We wanted a biologically diverse ecosystem, but we went crazy."
An Untimely Parting
The reason for such diversity rests with the agricultural ethos of Alan York, a pioneer in biodynamic growing, an integrated system that builds soil fertility through composting, animals, cover crops and crop rotation. Chester enlisted the help of York early on, and he convinced the couple to bring in an incredibly diverse mix of crops and animals to help rebuild the soil. But an untimely parting with York, just when the system he had set up needed the most attention, left the Chesters feeling angry and frustrated. In the end, it forced them to become more creative and self-reliant to overcome their challenges. "I had to respect that there was something special about this farm, and I needed to look at in a different way," said Chester. "The problems were just things to be solved — they weren't going to kill us or our dream."
Working in Harmony
By year five, the system created by York had begun to show results. Nature and agriculture were working hand in hand, with a balance between predators and pests that kept both in check. Yet, even with this dynamic ecosystem chugging along, every season would see a new pest or problem crop up, said Chester. The only difference now is that the system responds faster, preventing infestations and epidemics. Beyond this, their farm remains resilient in the face of climate change, with less soil erosion, an ability to store more groundwater and higher levels of carbon in the soil than a typical farm. "I didn't want to make a film about climate change," said Chester. "I wanted to make a film about its consequences and living through them. It's about the potential to unlock these ways to integrate ourselves within a system that regenerates it rather than depletes it."
The film is was released on May 10 in the U.S. Here's the trailer.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.