Rainforests are an important defense against climate change because they absorb carbon. But many are being destroyed on a massive scale.
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By Julian Agyeman and Kofi Boone
Underlying the recent unrest sweeping U.S. cities over police brutality is a fundamental inequity in wealth, land and power that has circumscribed black lives since the end of slavery in the U.S.
Land Grab<p>The proportion of the United States under black ownership has actually shrunk over <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/19/why-racial-wealth-gap-persists-more-than-years-after-emancipation/" target="_blank">the last 100 years or so</a>.</p><p>At their peak in 1910, <a href="https://psmag.com/news/african-american-farmers-make-up-less-than-2-percent-of-all-us-farmers" target="_blank">African American farmers</a> made up around 14% of all U.S. farmers, owning <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46984/19353_ra174h_1_.pdf?v=41056#:%7E:text=Land%20ownership%20by%20Black%20farmers,acres%20owned%20by%20White%20farmers." target="_blank">16 to 19 million acres of land</a>. By 2012, black Americans represented just 1.6% of the farming community, owning 3.6 million acres of land. Another study shows a <a href="https://thecounter.org/usda-black-farmers-discrimination-tom-vilsack-reparations-civil-rights/" target="_blank">98% decline</a> in black farmers between 1920 and 1997. This contrasts sharply with an <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/46984/19353_ra174h_1_.pdf?v=41056#:%7E:text=Land%20ownership%20by%20Black%20farmers,acres%20owned%20by%20White%20farmers." target="_blank">increase in acres owned by white farmers</a> over the same period.</p><p>In <a href="https://archive.org/details/timetoact1545usda" target="_blank">a 1998 report</a>, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ascribed this decline to a long and "well-documented" history of discrimination against black farmers, ranging from New Deal and USDA <a href="https://eji.org/news/one-million-black-families-have-lost-their-farms/" target="_blank">discriminatory practices</a> dating from the 1930s to 1950s-era exclusion from legal, title and loan resources.</p><p>Discriminatory practices have also affected who owns property as well as land. In 2017, the racial homeownership gap was <a href="https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/breaking-down-black-white-homeownership-gap" target="_blank">at its highest level for 50 years</a>, with 79.1% of white Americans owning a home compared to 41.8% of black Americans. This gap is even larger than it was when <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/redlining-what-is-history-mike-bloomberg-comments/" target="_blank">racist housing practices such as redlining</a>, which denied black residents mortgages to buy, or loans to renovate, property were legal.</p><p>The lack of ownership is crucial to understanding the crippling economic disparity that has <a href="https://prosperitynow.org/blog/black-and-latino-households-are-short-road-zero-wealth-hollowing-out-americas-historic-middle" target="_blank">hollowed out the black middle class</a> and continues to plague black America – making it harder to accrue wealth and pass it on to future generations.</p><p>A 2017 <a href="https://www.bostonfed.org/publications/one-time-pubs/color-of-wealth.aspx" target="_blank">report</a> found that the median net worth for non-immigrant black American households in the greater Boston region was just US $8, but for whites it was $247,500. This was due to "general housing and lending discrimination through restrictive covenants, redlining and other lending practices."</p><p>Nationally, between 1983 and 2013, median <a href="https://prosperitynow.org/resources/road-zero-wealth" target="_blank">black household wealth decreased</a> by 75% to $1,700 while median white household wealth increased 14% to $116,800.</p>
Freedom Farms<p>Land ownership today could look very different. The idea of collective ownership has a long history in the United States. Even during slavery, a piece of ground was granted by slave masters for enslaved African subsistence farming. The <a href="https://www.dukeupress.edu/sylvia-wynter" target="_blank">Jamaican social theorist Sylvia Wynter</a> called this land "the plot."</p><p><a href="https://www.aaihs.org/towards-usable-histories-of-the-black-commons/" target="_blank">Wynter has explained</a> how that these parcels of land were transformed into communal areas where slaves could establish their own social order, sustain traditional African folklore and foodways – growing yams, cassava and sweet potatoes. Plots were often called "<a href="https://english.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/DeLoughrey-Yam-Roots-Rot-Small-Axe.pdf" target="_blank">yam grounds</a>," so important was this staple food.</p><p>The connection between food, land, power and cultural survival was subversive in its nature. By appropriating physical space to support collective growing practices within the brutal constraints of slavery, black people also demonstrated the need for common, shared mental space to enable their survival and resistance. Herbalism, medicine and midwifery, and other African American <a href="https://uncpress.org/book/9780807853788/working-cures-/" target="_blank">healing practices</a> were seen as acts of resistance that were "intimately tied to religion and community," according to historian Sharla M. Fett.</p><p>With the end of slavery, these plots disappeared.</p>
Credit Unions and Co-Ops<p>The accumulation of wealth was not the only desired consequence of a black commons.</p><p>In 1967, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/30/us/harold-cruse-social-critic-and-fervent-black-nationalist-dies-at-89.html" target="_blank">social critic Harold Cruse</a> argued for a "<a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/40034433?seq=1" target="_blank">new institutionalism</a>" that would create a "new dynamic synthesis of politics, economics, and culture." In his view, economic ventures needed to be grounded in the greater aspirations of black communities – politically, culturally and economically. This could be achieved through a black commons.</p><p>As the political economist <a href="https://www.jjay.cuny.edu/faculty/jessica-gordon-nembhard" target="_blank">Jessica Gordon Nembhard</a> <a href="http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06216-7.html" target="_blank">has noted</a> in reference to black <a href="https://www.essence.com/news/bankblack-listing-black-owned-banks-credit-unions-united-states/" target="_blank">credit unions and mutual aid funds</a>, "African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefited greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation's history."</p><p>The nonprofit <a href="https://centerforneweconomics.org/" target="_blank">Schumacher Center for a New Economics</a> is working to rejuvenate the idea of black commons. In a 2018 statement, the <a href="https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/proposal-for-a-black-commons/" target="_blank">center proposed to adopt a community land trust structure</a> "to serve as a national vehicle to amass purchased and gifted lands in a black commons with the specific purpose of facilitating low-cost access for black Americans hitherto without such access."</p><p>Meanwhile, shared equity housing schemes and <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-29/alternative-homeownership-land-trusts-and-co-ops" target="_blank">community land trusts</a> <a href="https://www.lincolninst.edu/publications/working-papers/tracking-growth-evaluating-performance-shared-equity-homeownership" target="_blank">continue to grow</a>, helping black families own property, <a href="https://housingmatters.urban.org/articles/how-community-land-trusts-can-advance-racial-and-economic-justice" target="_blank">advance racial and economic justice</a> and mitigate displacement resulting from gentrification.</p>
Digital Commons<p>The disproportionate effects of the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html" target="_blank">coronavirus pandemic</a> and unrest over <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/police-violence-pandemic/2020/06/05/e1a2a1b0-a669-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html" target="_blank">police brutality</a> have highlighted deeply embedded structural racism. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter and the <a href="https://m4bl.org/" target="_blank">Movement for Black Lives</a> are demonstrating a renewed vigor around collective action and a blueprint for how this can be achieved in a digital age. At the same time, black Americans are also forging a cultural commons through events such as DJ D-Nice's <a href="https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/a31860967/dj-dnice-instagram-dance-party-coronavirus-quarantine/" target="_blank">Club Quarantine</a> – a <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/adriennegibbs/2020/03/28/dj-d-nice-just-had-the-best-quarantine-week-ever/#2c57f81c47dc" target="_blank">hugely popular</a> online dance party. Club Quarantine's success indicates the potential for using online platforms to facilitate community building, pointing toward future economic cooperation.</p><p>That's what organizations like <a href="http://urbanpatch.org/" target="_blank">Urban Patch</a> are trying to do. The nonprofit group uses crowdsourced funding to build community spaces in inner city areas of Indianapolis and encourage collective economic development that echoes the black commons of years past.</p><p>The long history of racism in the United States has held back black Americans for generations. But the current soul searching over this legacy is also an unrivaled opportunity to look again at the idea of collective black action and ownership, using it to create a community and economy that goes beyond just ownership of land for wealth's sake.</p>
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By Martin Kuebler
With hotter summers, severe storms and prolonged dry spells in the forecast, the outlook for Europe's farmers is daunting.
<div id="7b57a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a3140c63ff0a97771d0ad3f85329d728"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1174945780358008833" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">❓How concerned are you about the impact of #climatechange on #farming in #Europe? #Adaptation will be crucial - fin… https://t.co/XPkbPic6DY</div> — EU EnvironmentAgency (@EU EnvironmentAgency)<a href="https://twitter.com/EUEnvironment/statuses/1174945780358008833">1568963878.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Places in northern Europe, meanwhile, could see agricultural benefits from climate change, including longer growing seasons and a shorter frost period "allowing the cultivation of new crops and varieties," said the report. Suitable cropland around the Baltic Sea could more than double by 2100, from 32% of land area today to about 76%, with certain crops now common to southern Europe taking root further north.</p>
UK, Scandinavian Wines<p>Those climatic changes have already borne fruit — quite literally. In the northern German state of Lower Saxony, where average temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Celsius in the last several decades, some farmers have started cultivating fruits typically found further south, such as apricots and nectarines. And wine cultivation, typically associated with more southern slopes in France, Spain and Italy, is now taking off in places like Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom.</p><p><a href="https://www.ryedalevineyards.co.uk/" target="_blank">Ryedale Vineyards</a>, in northeastern England, has been producing British wines since 2006. As one of the UK's northernmost wineries, it relies mainly on hybrid disease-resistant grape varieties more suited to northern Europe's cooler regions.</p><p>The warming trend of the past decades has seen the UK's wine industry quadruple in size since 2000, with English vineyards producing some 13.2 million bottles in 2018. But the changing climate does pose other challenges, including unusual weather patterns and increased risk of disease associated with wetter summers. which have been linked to climate change.</p><p>"Unpredictable weather events, droughts and intense summer storms are a real problem and seem to have increased in frequency," said Jon Fletcher, who runs Ryedale Vineyards with his family. In an email to DW, he listed off the challenges: late frosts, destructive hailstorms and dry spells that can last for months. "This year we have already had the sunniest May on record and no rainfall for two months, so the unpredictable weather continues."</p><p>"Climate change is posing a risk for the sustainability of vineyard management at global scale and, particularly, in Europe," said Josep Maria Sole of <a href="http://visca.eu/" target="_blank">VISCA (Vineyards Integrated Smart Climate Application)</a>, an EU-funded project that aims to help Europe's wine industry develop medium- and long-term adaption strategies. He said wine producing areas will increasingly suffer from intense heat waves and droughts and, in certain regions in Spain, more intense spring frosts, which can damage grapevine buds.</p><p>Blaz Kurnik, an expert on climate change impacts and adaptation at the EEA, said these higher temperatures, especially warmer winters, will also favor the introduction of new diseases and pests, including the olive fruit fly. Increasing swarms are threatening Europe's olive oil industry, responsible for around three-quarters of the world's supply. "In the worst-case scenario, up to 80% of [Italy's] olive trees will be affected by this every year," said Kurnik, adding that flies were also infesting Spain's olive groves.</p>
Mango, Avocado and Lychee: Europe's Future Cash Crops?<p>Italy, which ranks second in the world for olive oil production, saw a disastrous harvest in 2018. Bad weather and frost caused production to drop by 57%, representing a loss of nearly €1 billion ($1.13 billion).</p><p>Sicily is one of Italy's top olive oil-producing regions, along with Calabria and Puglia. But some farmers there have begun focusing their attention on crops native to tropical regions, including mangoes, avocado and lychee fruit. </p><p>Tropical crops were first introduced to Sicily back in the 1970s, but recent years have seen an exponential growth of these crops and the introduction of new species such as papaya, replacing citrus fruits which "are no longer remunerative," said Vittorio Farina, an associate professor in agriculture at the University of Palermo.</p><p>"The favorable climate of many areas in the Mediterranean basin is promoting tropical fruit cultivations," he said in an email to DW. "In fact, the predominant mango and avocado production is concentrated in tropical countries, but recently its cultivation has spread outside the traditional geographical regions to the Mediterranean basin and in particular in Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Europe, mainly Spain and Italy."</p><p>Farina said a succession of milder winters has favored the expansion of mango, avocado and papaya orchards destined for export markets further north, though the corresponding drier summers and extreme weather events remain a challenge.</p><p><span></span>"The problem of the scarcity of water resources for agriculture will increasingly impose the introduction of species with low water requirements," said Farina, suggesting the possible introduction of fruit like the cactus pear. "For most other tropical species, irrigation in the warm months in the dry areas is an essential condition for obtaining a quality product." Farina said they were testing precision irrigation strategies to limit the water footprint of the tropical crops.</p>
Finding the Right Solution<p>Margarita Ruiz-Ramos, an associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, told DW that new crops were also being tested in Spain, including pistachios. However, she stressed that the priority now was experimenting with different varieties of existing crops that could withstand new growing conditions — such as types of fruit that don't rely as heavily on winter chill to produce spring blossoms.</p><p>"There already is the possibility to adapt the variety without changing the [main] crop in the short to medium term," she said, pointing out that some crops could also shift to other more suitable areas within the same country.</p><p>As part of her work at the <a href="http://ceigram.upm.es/" target="_blank">Research Center for the Management of Agricultural and Environmental Risks</a>, Ruiz-Ramos analyzes crop varieties, planting schedules, soil conditions, irrigation options and many other variables to find the optimum strategy for farmers and "design locally tailored adaptations." The most promising solutions are then tested in the field.</p><p>"It's a compromise between different needs. And that's why it's not so obvious as to just bring in some African crops," she said. However, she didn't rule out the fact that dramatic temperature changes could one day lead growers to take a chance on non-native crops.</p><p>Yves Madre, a co-founder of <a href="https://www.farm-europe.eu/" target="_blank">Brussels-based think tank Farm Europe</a>, said the EU's farming sector needs to be more open to new breeding techniques that would introduce drought and disease-tolerance genes to existing crops, which can include genome editing.</p><p>With more innovation and investment, he said the EU would be able to meet its goals in terms of food security and growth, especially in rural areas.</p>
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By Peyton Fleming
Gerison Ndwiga, a small rural farmer in Kenya, felt the economic sting of COVID-19 just days after the government announced a curfew and travel restrictions in late March.
Uncertainty and Hope<p>To be sure, the situation has improved the past few weeks, particularly as flight restrictions to Europe are loosening a bit and more passenger planes are being converted to carry cargo. But major obstacles remain, including in-country transport bottlenecks and prohibitively high air freight costs. Shipping costs to Europe are averaging $2.80 to $4 per kilogram, more than double previous rates.</p><p>Companies are not sitting and waiting. AAA Growers is scrambling to sell more produce locally through popular Nairobi retailers like Carrefour, Quick Mart and KFC. The company's 'sell-local' efforts began last year, and it gained urgency when COVID-19 hit. Local sales now total 12 to 15 tons a week. </p><p>TwigaFoods, which sells all of its fresh produce within Kenya, responded to COVID-19 with a new e-commerce push. In late April, it launched a <a href="https://techcrunch.com/2020/04/28/goldman-backed-ventures-jumia-and-twiga-partner-on-produce-in-kenya/" target="_blank">partnership</a> with e-commerce company Jumia to deliver bundles of fruits and vegetables directly to people's homes. The effort is aimed at affluent Nairobi customers who want to avoid buying at more expensive supermarkets.</p><p>"We'd been thinking about the idea and we were starting to see more home deliveries (due to COVID-19)," said TwigaFoods CEO Peter Njongo. "For now, it's something we'll do in Kenya. We'll see how it works."</p>
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the future of the Cannard Family Farm—whose organic vegetables supplied a single Berkeley restaurant—was looking stark.
Building Food Communities<p>Family farms in California and across the country have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on their markets. But in the health-conscious Bay Area, where celery was already one of the first groceries to disappear from the produce rack, demand for fresh local produce has shot up. The challenge is in redirecting food from farms to new customers.</p><p>Sonoma County has historically been an agricultural region. When the organic food movement sprang up in the 1970s, this area was one of its early proponents. The first farmers markets and CSAs appeared in the 1980s and flourished, but the burgeoning network was later eclipsed by an inflated wine industry, much of it owned by distant corporations.</p><p>According to a 2018 crop report, 60,000 acres have gone to grapes, with only 500 acres in food crops. Land prices have skyrocketed, the cost of labor has gone up, and increased regulations have all made it harder to run a viable business here. Many farmers had turned to "boutique" specialty crops for restaurants.</p><p>"Farmers are always in an uphill battle, especially ecological farmers," says Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "I often hear them say, 'I'm working my butt off and hoping for the best.'" That's even more true now, as the pandemic strangles economies the world over.</p>
Scaling Up Support<p>F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a food hub that aggregates produce from dozens of local farms, was another quick responder. When the pandemic hit, it went from serving Bay Area restaurants to building a cooperative of farmers, filling food boxes for distribution at F.E.E.D.'s Petaluma warehouse and other drop spots in the county.</p><p>"Our local food system is extremely diverse," says co-founder Tim Page, who has the energy of a visionary combined with the skills of a businessman. "We have a ton of small farms but we don't have the infrastructure to support them. That is what F.E.E.D. is trying to establish." Since converting the restaurant supply business to a CSA, it has gone from 90 boxes to 450. Ultimately, the goal is 1,800 or more.</p><p>"I grew up in L.A.," Page says. "Every single farm is gone. The same thing will happen here if the general public does not understand the importance of it.</p><p>"That understanding was on display at the Sonoma Farmers Market, which now operates with strict restrictions and safety precautions because of the virus. "We think F.E.E.D. is going to save us," said Candy Wirtz, co-director of Paul's Produce, a well-established farm in Sonoma, as she weighed out my purchases. The CSA model could be transformative for Paul's and other farms across the country.</p><p>Subscribing to a CSA is a lifestyle change for consumers, to be sure. It means eating what's in season and learning to cook unfamiliar vegetables. But it's a change that many people are making now because of the stay-at-home orders. "People just have to learn to cook again instead of eating out," says Judith Redmond, part-owner of Full Belly Farm near Sacramento.</p><p>In light of this newfound commitment to CSAs, Perrotti, of Coyote Family Farm, says: "My hope is that this solidifies instead of going back to the way things were. I hope the importance of local farming stays at the forefront."</p>
Farms With Futures<p>To help small farmers stay in business during the crisis, Community Alliance is also advocating for stimulus dollars. "Most often subsidies go to a small number of the largest farms, or to buy food that goes to food banks from far away, while local farmers can't sell their food," Wiig says. "We want food banks to buy from local farms."</p><p>This seems like a win-win. Millions of tons of food is being plowed under as 60 million people are now going hungry, 17 million of them since the pandemic began, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks.</p><p>But it's complicated. David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank puts it plainly: Local food is too expensive. "We distribute nine and a half million pounds of produce annually," he says. "It costs about 9 cents a pound, 3 cents to transport. With 82,000 people to feed, it would be a luxury to think of tending to local needs by buying locally."</p><p>That reticence is partly because the food bank system is tangled in bureaucracy. The USDA decides what to purchase and from where. Because of the distances between sites, the federal agency has tended to favor foods with long shelf lives, such as canned and processed foods, and long-lasting produce like apples and potatoes. "If local food is what we need, there has to be a plan," Goodman says.</p><p>Such a plan might be where short-term disaster relief meets long-term resilience. Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transforming California's food system. To get serious about preparing the food system for future disasters, Dimock says, the government needs to be involved. Roots of Change is now advocating for a tax on sugary beverages to help foot the bill.</p><p>Dimock says the state needs a paradigm shift for farms to remain viable in the face of multiplying disasters to come—not only pandemics, but fires, floods, and other symptoms of climate change. "How bold will people get in the months ahead to demand real change? My hope is they will get more radical."</p><p>Food is fundamental. While farmers have yet to face the full economic impact of this pandemic, their collaborative efforts, along with local grassroots networks, could mark the beginning of a new economy laboring to be born.</p>
As the climate warms, growing seasons are becoming more erratic. That uncertainty makes it harder for farmers to decide when to plant and harvest crops.
Plants growing inside of a greenhouse nursery. pixinoo / Getty Images
Indoor farms can grow vegetables close to cities, where there are lots of people to feed.
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By Paolo Mutia
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, it has exposed and exacerbated how the corporate, industrialized food system is harming people and our planet.
1. Sign Up For a CSA Membership.<p>Purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share is a great way to access fresh, healthy, often organic, foods while supporting local small farmers that the Trump administration is leaving behind. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/dining/csa-farm-food-delivery-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">Many farmers are adapting</a> to the current crisis with more direct distribution models, from classic CSAs to custom-built boxes, no-contact drive-thru pickups, deliveries, and more.</p><p>By signing up for a CSA you can <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/dining/csa-farm-food-delivery-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">avoid going to a busy supermarket</a>, and your share can be picked up or delivered. You can <a href="https://www.localharvest.org/csa/" target="_blank">find your local CSA here</a>.</p>
2. Shop at a Local Farmers' Market.<p>Farmers markets serve as a direct channel to sustainable, healthy, locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables and other food staples within your community. Many farmers markets remain open as <a href="https://civileats.com/2020/03/19/the-fight-to-keep-farmers-markets-open-during-coronavirus/" target="_blank">an essential service</a> during the crisis, <a href="https://civileats.com/2020/03/19/the-fight-to-keep-farmers-markets-open-during-coronavirus/" target="_blank">thanks to the efforts of local farmers and their allies.</a></p><p>Many farmers markets are instituting strict rules to keep customers safe. Coupled with a shorter supply chain than most supermarkets, farmers markets are a safe choice for meeting your family's food needs during this crisis. <a href="https://www.doubleupfoodbucks.org/national-network/" target="_blank">Double-Up Food Bucks</a> and other programs under GusNIP, which doubles the value of federal nutrition (SNAP) benefits, are also still being accepted for purchasing fresh produce at participating farmers markets, CSAs, and grocery stores. Here are some tips to help you <a href="https://civileats.com/2020/03/30/how-to-support-farmers-and-safely-shop-at-farmers-markets/?pico_action=checkout_f30ec05d-3c4e-4963-95bf-92288f13287e&pico_custom_price=1&pico_ui=login_link" target="_blank">plan your trip to any farmers' market</a> and safely shop!</p>
3. Tell Congress to Support Family Farmers, Food Workers and Healthy, Sustainable Food for All.<p>Amid the terrible impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, it's clearer than ever that we need to move towards a regenerative, resilient and just food system. Building strong and equitable local food economies make our food system more resilient to shocks and crises.</p><p>For those of us with the ability, we can make daily choices about where we shop. But what is truly needed is a shift in the public policies to make it easier to grow and access healthy, sustainable and local foods. For too long, our policies have led to increased corporate consolidation that has devastated farmer livelihoods and harmed food workers and rural communities. In the US, farm bankruptcies were up 12% last year, and farm debt is at an all-time high.</p><p>As farmers face the new crisis of the pandemic, we must come together to demand that <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/04/covid-19-stimulus-bailout-for-corporate-agribusiness-or-a-lifeline-for-our-food-system/" target="_blank">federal stimulus funding</a> and future farm policies support small and mid-scale farmers across the country who are supporting resilient and regenerative local and regional food systems.</p>
By Lynn Freehill-Maye
When Jackie Augustine opens a chicken coop door one brisk spring morning in upstate New York, the hens bolt out like windup toys. Still, as their faint barnyard scent testifies, they aren't battery-powered but very much alive.
These are "solar chickens." At this local community egg cooperative, Geneva Peeps, the birds live with solar power all around them. Their hen house is built under photovoltaic panels, and even outside, they'll spend time underneath them, protected from sun, rain, and hawks.
Finding the Right Pairing<p>Agrivoltaics doesn't just include chickens. Other livestock also can roam around solar panels, and some researchers are experimenting with planting crops, too. </p><p>Animals that graze around solar fields offer several benefits, proponents of agrivoltaics say. Not only does their manure enrich the soil, their munching keeps plants from growing too tall and shading the panels. Another win: They lower vegetation maintenance costs, reducing the need for lawn mowers or landscapers.</p><p>Pilot agrivoltaic programs have tried many grazers – with varying success. The chickens at Geneva Peeps, for example, aren't grazing powerhouses. Founder Jeff Henderson admits that he still has to fire up the lawn mower sometimes.</p><p>When solar panels are elevated for them to roam beneath, cows do better, as shown in a <a href="https://ag.umass.edu/clean-energy/current-initiatives/solar-pv-agriculture" target="_blank">University of Massachusetts pilot</a>. But the higher materials cost of raising panels has kept "solar cattle" from taking hold yet. Goats have been tried, too, but they sometimes jump on panels and chew wires.</p><p>The winner among livestock so far has been calm, eat-anything-and-everything sheep. In fact, most of the members of the American Solar Grazing Association, founded in 2017, are shepherds. (Honeybees can be part of the mix with sheep, too.)</p>
Seeking Common Ground<p>Still, tensions remain between solar and agriculture. Farmers who lease the land they grow crops on often worry about their landlords renting it out to someone else, including solar farms. And rural residents may want to see their area hold onto its farming heritage. A California developer, Cypress Creek Renewables, riled up rural New York in 2016 when it mass-mailed farmers seeking leases on 20-plus acre fields.</p><p>Lewis Fox, co-founder of the American Solar Grazing Association, has found that involving animals helps solar skeptics lower their defenses. He'll bring lambs to a project open house and find locals open up a bit more. Often, he says, they find it reassuring that local land can stay in agriculture, even if solar is added.</p><p>"Solar in general is unfamiliar to people, and if you hear there's a large development coming to your town, people naturally get defensive, a little suspicious," Mr. Fox says. "There's support, but also a lot of concern. Once people come out to a site and see it being grazed, it kind of clicks. A well-managed grazing program on a site is very productive. It's not just throwing a few sheep out and letting them go wherever for a season. We can raise a lot of meat on an acre of raised panels. It's a serious form of agriculture."</p>
First Came the Chickens<p>Mr. Henderson didn't know about agrivoltaics when he founded Geneva Peeps in 2015. His goal was simply to help local families raise chickens. Backyard coops aren't allowed in the Finger Lakes town of Geneva, New York, but he found industrial-zoned land where they'd be permitted. </p><p>Forty families now share weekly chicken-care shifts of 10 to 15 minutes. Ms. Augustine pedals over for her shift, and with her bike helmet still on, checks the hens' food and water. In return, she and fellow members get a dozen or more eggs at a time. </p><p>The year after launching, Mr. Henderson installed 44 kilowatts' worth of solar panels, both powering the operation and producing excess for the grid through net metering. There wasn't enough room on the chicken coops to install rooftop panels, but he did have more than an acre of land – more than 180 egg-layers really needed. Mr. Henderson wasn't aware of any similar farms combining solar and chickens, but he figured the project could be a local sustainability model. </p><p>"We knew they could all coexist together because there's no reason you can't have solar panels and chickens," Mr. Henderson says. "One of the hopes is this will give people an idea of a way you could do it."</p>
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By Tim Radford
Forget about organic farming: get the best out of the best cropland, return the rest to nature and still feed the world. It could work, say researchers.
Nature under threat<p>At the same time, both <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/a-third-of-plants-and-animals-risk-mass-extinction/" target="_blank">climate change driven by global warming</a> and <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/humans-put-conservation-reserves-at-risk/" target="_blank">the expansion of the cities and the surrounding farmlands</a> continue to amplify the threat to natural habitats and the millions of species – many yet to be identified and named by science – that depend upon them.</p><p>And this in turn poses a threat to human economies and even human life: almost every resource – antibiotic medicines and drugs, food, waste disposal, <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/wild-plant-ancestors-need-more-protection/" target="_blank">fabrics</a>, building materials and even fresh air and water – evolved in undisturbed ecosystems long before <em>Homo sapiens</em> arrived, and the services each element provides <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/entire-wild-systems-at-risk-from-rising-global-heat/" target="_blank">depend ultimately on the survival of those ecosystems</a>.</p><p>So the challenge is to restore and return to nature <a href="https://www.half-earthproject.org/" target="_blank">around half the land humans already use</a>, while at the same time feeding what could be an additional 2bn people, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions but still <a href="https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300" target="_blank">sustaining development</a> in the poorest nations.</p><p>Dr Folberth and his colleagues from Slovakia, France, Belgium, Spain and the UK are <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/win-win-way-to-aid-food-security-and-climate/" target="_blank">not the first to argue that it can be done</a>, and not just by <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/climate-crisis-needs-radical-food-changes/" target="_blank">changing the planetary lunch menu</a>.</p><p>The scientists looked at the data for 16 major crop species around the world to calculate that at least in theory – with careful use of the right crops on the most suitable soils, and with high fertilizer use – about half of the present cropland now cultivated could still deliver the present output.</p><p>That is, the land humans occupy is not being managed efficiently. If it were, the other half could be returned to wilderness, and <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/conservation-pays-its-way-handsomely/" target="_blank">conserved as natural forest, grassland or wetland</a>.</p>
Climate benefits<p>If humans then thought about how best to slow biodiversity loss, they would do almost as well by abandoning farmland in those places where there was the greatest concentration of wild things – tropical rain forests, estuary floodplains and mangrove swamps, for instance. And just returning 20% of farmland to nature everywhere else would still reduce human farmland use by 40%.</p><p>In return, fertilizer use would remain about the same, but greenhouse gas emissions and water use would fall, while more land would become free to sequester atmospheric carbon.</p><p>There would be costs – nitrogen pollution would go up in some places, and many rural farmers would become even poorer – so more thinking needs to be done. The point the European researchers want to make is that, in principle, it should be possible to feed people, abandon farmland to the natural world and <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/european-union-helped-to-cool-2003-heatwave/" target="_blank">reduce emissions</a> all at the same time.</p><p>"It shows that cropland expansion is not inevitable and there is significant potential for improving present land use efficiency," said <a href="https://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/news/2019/0520-mobersteiner.html" target="_blank">Michael Obersteiner, another author, now at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford</a>.</p><p>"If the right policies are implemented, measures such as improved production technologies can be just as effective as demand-side measures like <a href="https://climatenewsnetwork.net/less-meat-for-rich-can-cut-heat-and-hunger/" target="_blank">dietary changes</a>. However, in all cases, such a process would need to be steered by policies to avoid unwanted outcomes."</p>
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By Tom Levitt
The future of food doesn't have to include animals. At least that's what Miyoko Schinner believes. "A lot of farmers see us as a threat," Schinner said of her Californian plant-based dairy company, Miyoko's Creamery.
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