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Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

“The more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemed”*…

 

Colorado Rockies Grounds Crew

 

Surprisingly, the lawn is one of America’s leading “crops,” amounting to at least twice the acreage planted in cotton. In 2007, it was estimated that there were roughly twenty-five to forty million acres of turf in the United States. Put all that grass together in your mind and you have an area, at a minimum, about the size of the state of Kentucky, though perhaps as large as Florida. Included in this total were fifty-eight million home lawns plus over sixteen thousand golf-course facilities (with one or more courses each) and roughly seven hundred thousand athletic fields. Numbers like these add up to a major cultural preoccupation.

Not only is there already a lot of turf, but the amount appears to be growing significantly. A detailed study found that between 1982 and 1997, as suburban sprawl gobbled up the nation, the lawn colonized over 382,850 acres of land per year. Even the amount of land eligible for grass has increased, as builders have shifted from single-story homes to multi-story dwellings with smaller footprints. The lawn, in short, is taking the country by storm.

Lawn care is big business, with Americans spending an estimated $40 billion a year on it. That is more than the entire gross domestic product of the nation of Vietnam…

How did the plain green lawn become the central landscaping feature in America, and what are the financial, the medical, and perhaps most painfully, the ecological costs? “American Green.”

* Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

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As we go to seed, we might spare a thought for John Garnet Carter; he died on this date in 1954.  A hotelier who ran a lodge at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee/Rock City, Georgia, he built the first “Tom Thumb Golf” course to keep the children of his guests occupied– only to find that the attraction was a hit with adults.

Miniature golf dates back to the 19th century in the UK and the earlier 20th century in the U.S., when putting greens became attractions in their own right.  But Carter’s patented “Tom Thumb” approach– which incorporated tile, sewer pipe, hollow logs, and other obstacles, along with fairyland statuary– earned him the honorific “Father of Miniature Golf.”

garnett Carter

Carter, putting

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Written by LW

July 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth”*…

 

veg-seeds

For centuries, people in agrarian societies shared seeds to help each other subsist from year to year. Today, thanks to intellectual property rights and often well-intentioned laws, our ability to share seeds is restricted. Realizing this, food activists, garden enthusiasts, and community leaders are trying to make it easier by making seeds available through libraries. Surely there’s nothing controversial about that, right? Actually, there is…

The fascinating history and controversial– but critical– future of seed collection and sharing: “Despite Hurdles, the Seed Library Movement Is Growing.”

* Genesis 1:29 (King James Version)

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As we reap what we sow, we might send flowery birthday greetings to Dukinfield Henry Scott; he was born on this date in 1854.  A leading authority in his time on the structure of fossil plants, and the author of the classic Studies in Fossil Botany, which greatly popularized the subject, he laid the foundations of paleobotany.

200px-Dukinfield_Henry_Scott_1854-1934

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Written by LW

November 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

“First we eat, then we do everything else”*…

 

Imagine the ideal food. One that contains all the nutrients necessary to meet, but not exceed, our daily nutrient demands. If such a food existed, consuming it, without eating any other, would provide the optimal nutritional balance for our body.

Such a food does not exist. But we can do the next best thing.

The key is to eat a balance of highly nutritional foods, that when consumed together, do not contain too much of any one nutrient, to avoid exceeding daily recommended amounts.

Scientists studied more than 1,000 foods, assigning each a nutritional score. The higher the score, the more likely each food would meet, but not exceed your daily nutritional needs, when eaten in combination with others…

See the top 100, ranked at “The world’s most nutritious foods.”

* M. F. K. Fisher

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As we help ourselves, we might send bounteous birthday greetings to Cyrus Hall McCormick; he was born on this date in 1809.  Widely credited as the inventor of the first mechanical reaper, he was in fact just one of several contributing to its development.  His more singular achievement as a creator was his success in the development of a modern company, with manufacturing, marketing, and a sales force to market his products.  His McCormick Harvesting Machine Company became part of the International Harvester Company in 1902.

Interestingly, the grains that McCormick’s reapers helped harvest appear nowhere on the list…

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Written by LW

February 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Without the potato, the balance of European power might never have tilted north”*…

 

In his economic masterwork The Wealth of Nations, the great Scottish economist Adam Smith reveals himself to be a deep admirer of Irish poor folk. Or, more specifically, their preferred food, potatoes.

“The chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London, and those unfortunate women who live by prostitution, the strongest men and the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions, are said to be, the greater part of them, from the lowest rank of people in Ireland, who are generally fed with this root,” Smith wrote. “No food can afford a more decisive proof of its nourishing quality, or of its being peculiarly suitable to the health of the human constitution.”

Smith had struck on a connection little recognized even today: that improved labor productivity, surging population, and outmigration were thanks to the potato.

This phenomenon wasn’t confined to Ireland. As The Wealth of Nations went to press, across Europe, the potato was upending the continent’s deep demographic and societal decline. Over the next couple centuries, that reversal turned into a revival. As the late historian William H. McNeill argues, the surge in European population made possible by the potato “permitted a handful of European nations to assert domination over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.”…

More on “the secret to Europe’s success” at “The Global Dominance of White People is Thanks to the Potato.”

* Michael Pollan

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As we speculate on spuds, we might send fertile birthday greetings to Henry Allan Gleason; he was born on this date in 1882.  An ecologist, botanist, and taxonomist who spent most of his career at (and in the field, doing research for) the New York Botanical Garden, he is best remembered for his endorsement of the individualistic or open community concept of ecological succession, and his opposition to Frederic Clements‘ concept of the climax state of an ecosystem.  While his ideas were largely dismissed during his working life (which led him to move into plant taxonomy), his concepts have found favor since late in the twentieth century.

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Written by LW

January 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity”*…

 

According to Bioversity International, an international research and policy organization, just three crops — rice, wheat and maize — provide more than half of plant-derived calories consumed worldwide. This is a problem because our diets are heavy in calories, sugar and saturated fat and low in fruits and vegetables…

Generally, agrobiodiversity is significantly lower in wealthy nations, where the industrial food system pushes toward genetic uniformity. For example, federal agriculture policy in the United States tends to favor raising large crops of corn and soybeans, which are big business. Crop subsidiesfederal renewable fuel targets and many other factors reinforce this focus on a few commodity crops.

In turn, this system drives production and consumption of inexpensive, low-quality food based on a simplified diet. The lack of diversity of fruit and vegetables in the American diet has contributed to a national public health crisis that is concentrated among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Low agrobiodiversity also makes U.S. agriculture more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and climate change.

To connect these conditions to agrobiodiversity, consider potatoes. Although the United States has 10 times more people than Peru, only about 150 varieties of potato are sold here. Six varieties account for three-quarters of our national potato harvest. They dominate because they produce high yields under optimal conditions and are easy to store, transport and process — especially into french fries and potato chips. Federal policies have helped these varieties become established by reducing the cost of irrigation…

Global shifts of urbanization, migration, markets, and climate can be compatible with agrobiodiversity, but other powerful forces are undermining it: “Agrobiodiversity Is Disappearing at a Time When We Need It Most.”

To put all of this in (very) deep historical perspective, see also: “Why Did We Start Farming.”

* E. O. Wilson

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As we value variety, we might spare a thought for Benton MacKaye; he died on this date in 1975.  A forester, planner, professor, and conservationist, he wrote widely on land preservation and on the need to balance human needs and those of nature, and he co-founded The Wilderness Society.  But he is best known as the originator of the Appalachian Trail— a 2,000-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia– an idea he presented in his 1921 article titled An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning.  The Benton MacKaye Trail, some portions of which coincide with the Appalachian Trail, is named for him.

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“Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable”*…

 

By the end of last year, anyone who had been paying even passing attention to the news headlines was highly likely to conclude that everything was terrible, and that the only attitude that made sense was one of profound pessimism – tempered, perhaps, by cynical humour, on the principle that if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, one may as well try to enjoy the ride…  Yet one group of increasingly prominent commentators has seemed uniquely immune to the gloom…

The loose but growing collection of pundits, academics and thinktank operatives who endorse this stubbornly cheerful, handbasket-free account of our situation have occasionally been labelled “the New Optimists”, a name intended to evoke the rebellious scepticism of the New Atheists led by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. And from their perspective, our prevailing mood of despair is irrational, and frankly a bit self-indulgent. They argue that it says more about us than it does about how things really are – illustrating a certain tendency toward collective self-flagellation, and an unwillingness to believe in the power of human ingenuity. And that it is best explained as the result of various psychological biases that served a purpose on the prehistoric savannah – but now, in a media-saturated era, constantly mislead us…

Don’t worry, be happy? “Is the world really better than ever?

* Voltaire

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As we cultivate our gardens, we might send well-watered birthday greeting to Monkombu Sambisivan Swaminathan; he was born on this date in 1925.  A geneticist and international administrator, he is known as the “Indian Father of Green Revolution” for his leadership and success in introducing and further developing high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat in India.  Swaminathan, based these days at he MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, is an advocate of moving India to sustainable development, especially using environmentally-sustainable agriculture, sustainable food security, and the preservation of biodiversity– which he calls an “evergreen revolution.”

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Written by LW

August 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A tree is known by its fruit”*…

 

origin-species-world-map

zoomable version here

From the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), “Origins and Primary Regions of Diversity of Agricultural Crops.”

* St. Basil

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As we reap what we sow, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Congress recognized and established by law (24 Stat. L.103), the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture.  Created in 1881 by fiat of the then-Commissioner of Agriculture, it’s initial remit was to assess the quality and conditions of forests in the United States.  In 1891, its mandate was expanded to include authorization to withdraw land from the public domain as “forest reserves,” to be managed by the Department of the Interior– the precursor to America’s National Forest and National Park program.

forest source

 

Written by LW

June 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

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