Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems

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Evolution or gentrification: Do urban farms lead to higher rents?

We just watched “Urban Roots” in in class yesterday, a film that profiles Patrick’s work, so this is great food for thought.

Thanks again to Mary Poole and her Psychology of Race students for joining my Security, Equality and Ecology of Global Food Production students for this screening.


I moved to Detroit almost 10 years ago, largely because I was interested in learning more about the city’s burgeoning community gardens. At the time, little media interest was being paid to Detroit or its urban agriculture movement, and it certainly was not a place folks were looking to for the future of city gardening.

Not long after my arrival, my sister hit me with a sucker punch of a question: “Don’t you ever worry that your work in community gardening is contributing to gentrification?”

I vehemently denied her charges, but in the back of my mind I had already been turning over the question, and feared that she might be right. Over the years, her question has stuck with me, and it seems especially pressing now, as development in Detroit is ramping up. Proposals for a light rail system, construction of a high-end grocery store, and the rehabbing of…

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Quick Note on Development, sovereignty, and the Millennium Villages Project

We just read an article (Patel, et al. 2009) critiquing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s development work in Africa, along with the follow up exchange of letters to the editor in my course “Security, Equality and Ecology of the Global Food System”. Working with first year college students, how do we begin to make sense of the internal battles within global food and agriculture-related development? Who assesses the “success” of a development project? My friend and colleague M. Jahi Chapell weighs in…

Beginning to End Hunger

Just spent the afternoon scratching an itch I had to look at the research on the Millennium Villages Project, which aims to end extreme poverty, with a focus on Africa. It is headed by noted economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University (with whom I had a mild disagreement years ago at a conference about whether Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen‘s research on hunger and food supply were generally applicable*). Long** and the short** of it is that results are iffy; it’s not clear that the Millennium Villages (MVs) are doing much better than other villages or national averages in those countries on most or all of the (18-22) measured variables (regarding education, health, infant mortality, etc.), and country-wide progress in improving quality of life in many of the studied areas may account for much, if not all, positive effects in the few variables where MVs do

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SAEA 2012 plenary: “The Campus Food System: A Learning Laboratory”

As a college student, if you want to learn how to be an effective agent of positive change in the global food system, a good place to start is in your own backyard. Campus food systems are microcosms of the national and global food system and offer amazing formal and informal educational opportunities to students.

The video below is from the plenary session at the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association’s 2012 conference in Corvallis, OR.

I learned a lot about the Real Food Challenge at this conference and was impressed with the campus food related projects students all over the country were engaged in, especially the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive, or CoFED.

I had a great experience during my two years of AmeriCorps*VISTA service in Portland, OR. So I would encourage seniors and recent graduates to check out the new food-related AmeriCorps program, FoodCorps.

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Prescott College Edible Campus Garden work day

We had a great turn out for the first work party of the fall semester and ended up getting a lot done:

Turned the compost
Sifted finished compost
Applied finished compost to winter plots (garlic)
Removed finished crops (corn)
Harvested tomatillos and dried beans
Put some beds to sleep for the winter

Thanks to everyone who showed up! I’m looking forward to our next work party.

Removing Hopi blue corn after harvesting

Sifting finished compost made from pre-consumer cafeteria kitchen scraps, horse manure and garden waste

Harvesting tomatillos to make room for chard seedlings

Applying finished compost and fresh alfalfa to a new bed that will be planted in garlic

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River Road Gardens, Tucson, AZ

River Road Gardens was one of a few fascinating stops on the 2012 Border Food Summit urban agriculture – local foods tour. This small CSA urban farm is located on the campus of a Waldorf School, which in turn is located on the site of a former horse stables. Co-owner, Jon McNamara, is fighting a valiant battle against Bermuda grass, who’s seed bank may be extensive due to the previous presence of horses on the site. Bermuda grass is a popular feed for horses in Arizona, but the seeds are still viable after passing through the horse’s digestive tract and the established plants have rhizomes that are almost impossible to get rid of.

Even with high weed pressure, River Road Gardens produced a wide variety of vegetables this season and is an important component of Tucson’s urban agriculture scene. I had never seen vegetables under shade cloth before. Apparently the solar intensity is so high in this area that many crops, even peppers and tomatoes, actually need to be under shade cloth or they will roast in the sun. I certainly roasted under the Tucson sun!

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The New Activitsts: Students in the Community

My doctoral mentor in Education, Scott Peters, and his colleague Timothy Eaton from Imagining America have written an inspiring piece on students making positive impacts in their communities.

From the Huffington Post blog:

“Many students across the country from a variety of backgrounds are finding new opportunities and ways to interweave their personal career and public-good ambitions; they are passionate about linking university knowledge and resources with community knowledge and resources to enhance learning and build vital communities.”

Video profile of Danielle Priess’ work with immigrant gardeners in a Rochester community garden:


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Food Conspiracy Co-op, Tucson, AZ

At the Border Food Summit in Rio Rico, AZ I got a chance to tour Food Conspiracy Co-op. Kelley Kriner walked us through their remodeling project and their brand new (shiny and organized!) certified kitchen. I was so impressed, I bought a T-shirt. I miss my co-ops in Portland, OR (People’s) and Ithaca, NY (GreenStar) and I’m sad there isn’t one in Prescott.

Food Conspiracy Co-op T-shirts (photo from their website)