Each year, Environmental Initiative hosts an awards ceremony to honor Minnesota’s most innovative environmental projects. After projects from across the state are nominated, 18 finalists are chosen, and one winner in each of six categories is announced at the awards ceremony. Projects based on partnership and collaboration are highly valued. We’re excited to report that this year a project initiated by IATP and the Jefferson Center, “Morris Engaged: Planning and Action for Climate Resilience,” won the Community Action category.
“Morris Engaged” started in June 2014 when IATP co-hosted the Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, MN. The Dialogue convened 15 Morris area residents—randomly selected and stratified to reflect the demographic, political and ideological diversity of the region – to study the local impacts of climate change and create a community response to changing climate conditions and extreme weather events. IATP, the Jefferson Center and other project partners—including the University of Minnesota, Morris – worked for months prior to and after the Dialogue to collaboratively identify issues for Dialogue participants to consider, and to secure support to implement the community’s recommendations.
The Dialogue helped spur a larger movement around climate change in the Morris community. New organizations are joining the program and partners are working to implement community recommendations. Recent efforts include:
Institutions purchasing and serving regionally produced food has gained momentum in recent years, largely driven by the exponentially successful farm to school movement. But this practice has reached a critical transition point in the growth process: how to move from a good idea that is supported by end users to an economically sustainable one with wide appeal for those at the beginning of the supply chain—particularly the farmer that provide the fruits, vegetables and other products for the cafeteria tray.
In the newly released report “Building Minnesota’s Farm to Institution Markets: A Producer Survey,” the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy— along with project partners the Sustainable Farming Association and Renewing the Countryside—summarize the findings of a recently completed survey that identifies some of the key “next steps” that farmers feel are needed to ensure the state’s emerging farm to institution markets work for them. With over 75 percent of survey respondents interested in selling to these markets in the future, it make sense to develop a deeper understanding of how to make them as accessible and successful as possible.
High tunnels—also known as hoop houses or passive solar greenhouses—are an increasingly common feature on farms through the Upper Midwest, where their use provides valuable extension to the region’s short growing season. Local food markets—including farm to school—stand to benefit from the increased availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year produced by the increased use of high tunnels. IATP’s new report, Extending the Growing Season: High Tunnels Use and Farm to School in the Upper Midwest, explores this relationship further. By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively. Such innovative ideas drive recommendations for more comprehensive support for increased on-farm implementation of high tunnels and for farm to school activities throughout the Upper Midwest.
Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.
Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)
The last few years have not been good for the factory farm industry. High prices for corn and other crops (in part driven by the growth of ethanol) made feed costs incredibly high, while at the same time, environmental and animal welfare advocates have been winning ballot and marketplace battles to shift more meat production out of intensive confinement and industrial systems. Hog and cattle producers have been hit by disease, drought and weather related disasters, resulting in losses in both sectors.
The controversial Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) was officially launched yesterday at the U.N. Climate Summit. The announcement came in the wake of rising criticism from civil society, including IATP, about the intentionally vague term “climate smart” versus the more established science of agroecology, as well as the corporate-led participation of GACSA.
The agriculture session of the summit, where GACSA was announced, took place late in the day, after countries had made their declarations and commitments. Earlier, President Obama began by naming climate change the defining issue of today—above terrorism, instability, inequality and disease. “Deepening science says this once-distant threat has moved firmly into the present,” he said, adding that “we need to work together as a global community to attack this global threat before it’s too late.”
Unfortunately, the president’s support of “Climate Smart Agriculture”—the latest corporate spin on false solutions—only contradicted his urgency as he, like GACSA, failed to bring agroecology into the fold. He said that the U.S. has helped farmers around the world practice Climate Smart Agriculture by planting “more resilient crops”—referring to seeds genetically modified to be drought resistant.
On Monday, the Carbon Underground, Rodale Institute and Organic Consumers Association held a press conference featuring leading scientists to explain why cutting emissions alone won’t solve climate change, and how nurturing healthier soil is an essential part of the climate solution. Speakers included “Coach” Mark Smallwood, the Executive Director of the Rodale Institute; Dr. Kristine Nichols, Chief Scientist at the Rodale Institute; Dr. Richard Teague, Professor at Texas A&M; Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM); Vandana Shiva, Founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy; Dena Hoff of La Via Campesina; and Tom Newmark, Co-Founder of the Carbon Underground.
The speakers had a powerful message to convey: we already have the tools to slow climate change. The metaphor used throughout the press conference was of a 400-pound man who visits a doctor hoping for advice on how to restore his health and the best solution the doctor offers is a diet plan that can slow the rate of weight gain. In this scenario, it’s obvious that the solution is not to slow the rate of weight gain, but to lose excess weight. The same applies to CO2 emissions: we not only need to slow the rate of emissions, but take CO2 out of the atmosphere. This is a task that regenerative organic agriculture (also called agroecology by many groups, including IATP) can achieve by building healthy soils to sequester carbon underground.
Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.
In a new paper led by collaborators at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany) and just released in print in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, my colleagues and I question one of the buzzwords in international conversations about hunger and conserving the environment: sustainable intensification (SI). Explained briefly, sustainable intensification seeks to produce the most food, on the least land, with the lowest environmental impact.
SI has been the subject of a recent European Union report, proposals by prominent scholars, and is a major theme area of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. SI is often seen by some experts as “key” to agriculture’s future, particularly in Africa, and has been the subject of a number of high-profile publications in some of the world’s top scientific journals. It is, in short, an idea on the rise.
Extreme weather brought on by climate change will affect each community differently. Rural communities face particular challenges, as they often have higher transportation and energy costs, and their economy is frequently linked to agriculture—a sector directly impacted by a changing climate. But as we learned at the first Rural Climate Dialogue held in Morris, Minn., last week there are effective community-level options to respond to these climate concerns—as well as important opportunities for rural communities to be part of the climate solution.
The small town of Morris lies in west-central Minnesota along the Pomme de Terre River. This town of 5,000 is surrounded by farms, and is also home to the University of Minnesota-Morris. Last week, 15 Morris-area citizens came together for a remarkable conversation about climate change, how it is affecting their community and what can be done for the future. The citizens were part of a Citizens Jury process perfected and run by the Jefferson Center. The Citizens Jury is a randomly selected, but demographically representative group, who, over the course of three days, had access to independent resources and experts to produce their own recommendations that respond to the Morris-area community’s needs, priorities, concerns and values. As we reported earlier, Morris High School students played a critical role in assembling data for the meeting through a series of local energy surveys.