Amidst the many celebrations with messages about all things eco-friendly from recycling to eating local and discussions on how we humans interact with our natural environment – our creative side emerged – so from us to you, we here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition wish you a happy, healthy, thoughtful Earth Day:
Blue water, clean air
Earth – live, cherish, nurture, use
Humans, be kind – THINK!
It’s that time of year again – when good food advocates from all around the country gather in New York City for TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat. We come together to acknowledge that conversations about food are changing. Rising obesity rates, frequent scares about contaminated food and environmental degradation have made it abundantly clear that our reliance on industrial agriculture is unsustainable. The system is broken – and we know it.
We also know ways to fix this. Current concerns with our food culture are driving researchers, entrepreneurs and farmers alike to explore new ways to produce more food using less resources, be environmentally friendly and more versatile. Recirculating farms are making significant contributions to changing the way we eat, and are now being regularly recognized as a way to grow healthy fresh food more sustainably.
These farms reuse waste, constantly filter and recycle water and can run on alternative energy like solar, wind and geothermal power. They are entirely closed-loop and can be located almost anywhere, because they are versatile in shape and size and can be designed for indoors or outside, in hot or cold climates. The ability to grow vertically, or in almost any shape and their closed-loop, soil-less nature make them especially ideal for urban environments– where growing space may be small, oddly shaped, or paved over – or where soil is too contaminated for growing food.
It’s been an amazing year here at Recirculating Farms Coalition – with the beginning of our training programs for farmers, and planning for our new education, training and research center in New Orleans, LA. We get to talk about all our progress again at TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat.
Marianne Cufone, our Executive Director, was a speaker at the event last year, and is invited back this year to give an update on our work, and also introduce Dr. AnneMarie Colbin, the CEO and Founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts – where Marianne went to culinary school!
Watch Marianne talk about recirculating farms, our Coalition and more – Check out the free live webcast of TEDx Manhattan: Changing the Way We Eat online today from 10:30am est to 5:45pm est. http://bit.ly/WJEFYg
We here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition wish you a very happy and healthy 2013! In light of the start of the new year, we thought that we’d share some of our great successes from 2012, and our plans for 2013.
First, in September, we celebrated our one-year anniversary. Thanks to all of you – we had an unbelievable 1st year as a formal organization. We now work with thousands of farms, farmers, fishermen, foodies and many others from across the U.S. and around the world, and stay in contact with everyone via Facebook and Twitter. We hope to grow our network of cooperative partners and supporters even more in 2013.
We expanded our team, welcoming Amber Griffith, Christina Lizzi, Alexander “Sascha” Bollag and Katharine Davis Reich – and our Board too, with new member (and now Board President) – Sanjay Kharod.
Growling Local – Our new food and farm center located in New Orleans, Louisiana is on the move – we announced our plans to build a 2.5 acres research, training and demonstration center on National Food Day, in cooperation with our wonderful partners. We will be hosting a groundbreaking event in early 2013 with full construction following soon after – and a grand opening and program launch expected in the spring.
New and Beginning Farmer Workshops – in partnership with the New Orleans Food & Farm Network – we began our intensive market farmer trainings that include in-classroom presentations and on-the-farm hands-on learning – from sustainable growing practices to business planning. We look forward in 2013 to adding new intermediate and advanced classes, and growing an active mentorship program with our participating farmers to support more new and beginning farmers.
Mapping the Movement – on Earth Day we debuted the national database that we created with an interactive map that displays locations of commercial recirculating farms all around the country. Color coding shows if the farms are hydroponic (plants), aquaculture (fish) or aquaponic (fish and plants) and clicking on the points displays basic data for consumers – location, contact information, what products are sold and where to buy them. In 2013 we hope to add many more farms – so please get in touch if you know of a farm near you not yet on our map!
TEDx Manhattan – last year we were invited to give a presentation on recirculating farming at the TEDx Manhattan – Changing the Way We Eat event. This year, we’ve been invited back, to provide an update on our projects and introduce one of the new speakers.
We’d love to hear from you about your favorite food-related experiences from last year and any ideas, hopes and plans for 2013.
Thanks for all you do – Marianne Cufone, Executive Director
In September, we announced that we’d be hosting a training program for new and beginning urban farmers in partnership with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN). Together with NOFFN, we held our first workshop in NOLA last month – and it was a fabulous weekend!
We learned there are a lot of folks out there who want to start farms. We originally planned for 25 participants, but thanks to an enthusiastic response, we maxed out our space and had 36 people join in over the 2 days. Our focus was on farming methods that work in cities, including recirculating hydroponics (growing plants in continually recycled water in place of soil), aquaponics (growing fish and plants together in one water-based system), and traditional soil-based farming in raised beds and in the ground. In addition to teaching the farming methods themselves, we spent a lot of time discussing the business of farming, too — legal requirements, effective marketing techniques, and whole farm planning etc. Our hope was to give participants the knowledge they need not only to grow sustainable food but a sustainable business too.
Each morning of the two-day workshop began with breakfast, followed by classroom-style presentations with question-and-answer sessions. After a lunch break, we spent the afternoons “on the farm” with demonstrations, hands-on activities, and tours. At the close of the weekend, our wrap up was a group discussion with experienced local farmers, who will act as mentors to workshop participants as they put their new skills into practice.
This workshop, the first in hopefully a series of many, happened because many people had been requesting a farmer training program for some time. Urban farming can help address various food- related problems we see in the U.S. today: Food deserts — neighborhoods that may have plenty of fast-food chains but do not have grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables. Diet related illnesses – like obesity and diabetes. Urban farms can provide more healthy, fresh fruits, vegetables, and even fish right where food is most needed.
Urban farms can also create economic opportunities in neighborhoods that currently lack them. With the help of recirculating agriculture and other city-friendly growing techniques, anyone can turn a backyard, balcony, rooftop, alley, basement, or practically any other outdoor or indoor space into a place that produces fresh food. That food can feed farmers and their families, and it can be the basis of a successful business. As more people join the urban farming movement, they will create a vibrant local food economy in our cities. The result will be greater access to local, fresh foods and more food dollars staying within local communities!
We thank all the people who made the workshop a success: our participants, all the instructors and mentor farmers, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA, whose Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is a key funder of the program (Grant #2012-49400-19676).
If you missed the November workshop, we will be running another one in the spring — join our mailing list if you haven’t already, and stay tuned!
Here at the Recirculating Farms Coalition – we are very thankful for many things, in particular all the amazing people and organizations we have met over this past year. (See some of our feature farms and people here). There are so many partnerships, colleagues and friends all working for a better food culture in the U.S. and beyond. And let’s not forget about all the recirculating farms and farmers out there! (Check out our map of commercial recirculating farms).
Our small organization began in a meeting room in Washington DC, as a group of excited people from all over the country interested in recirculating farms. Since that time in January 2009, we have grown into a new formalized non-profit organization (in September 2011) and now just over a year later, are thousands strong! Our Facebook and Twitter followers are constantly interacting and increasing in number – and we are working with so many individuals and groups to help promote healthy, fresh, sustainable, affordable food in every community nationwide. So this week when people all around the nation are remembering what they are thankful for – we THANK YOU for all that you do and look forward to more fantastic collaborative work in the months to come and next year!
Marianne Cufone, Executive Director Recirculating Farms Coalition
New Orleans will be home to a new urban farming and food center! The Recirculating Farms Coalition and New Orleans Food & Farm Network announced today that they have received major grants for this innovative project from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and the Claneil Foundation, as well as various other donations. When completed, the Center will be a hub for research, education, and training on growing, marketing, and preparing healthy food in the city and beyond.
The core of the Center will be a farm that employs cutting-edge growing techniques for urban settings, including recirculating hydroponics and aquaponics. Recirculating hydroponics uses continuously recycled water in place of soil to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Recirculating aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants) with aquaculture (raising fish). Both systems are ideal for cities because they can be built indoors, on rooftops, or on oddly shaped and even paved lots. Additionally, the Center will host a community garden, with raised soil beds and fruit trees.
New Orleans was chosen as home for the new Center because while the city is famous for its unique cuisine, fresh healthy food is not always accessible and affordable for everyone there. In fact, in 2011, New Orleans was named both the best place in America for Foodies and the worst food desert in the U.S. simultaneously, highlighting the vastly different food experiences people may have in the same city. The Center has plans to help change this. Its farm will source fresh food to local distributors, restaurants and grocers, as well as direct to consumers through an on-site farmers’ market. It will also serve as an education and training facility, with a wide range of gardening, farming, and farm-to-table cooking classes, community service programs for youth and seniors, demonstrations, lectures, and presentations.
New Orleans is a popular tourist destination, and the hope is that visitors from all over the world will participate in Center programs or stop by just to check it out and bring back the information and innovative approaches demonstrated there to their own home cities and towns. Read more here.
U.S. Congress has been discussing and debating the reauthorization of the national FARM Bill, the law that regulates all things farm related and much more – like public assistance food programs. This year the FARM bill update is oh-so-cleverly called the “FARRM” Bill: the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. Unfortunately, the content is about as scintillating as the title; the provisions of the bill have been increasingly getting worse. The Recirculating Farms Coalition issued a statement (see the full statement here), calling on Congress to get their Act together – literally – and craft a meaningful and useful FARRM bill. Maybe they just need a few more R’s?
The most recent agricultural census figures show that U.S. farmers are aging, with the 65 or older segment rapidly expanding. To ensure long-term food security and economic growth, it is critical to encourage more people, and also young people, to farm. That means enacting policies that make it less risky to run small farms, and more rewarding to grow fresh, local, affordable food that U.S. consumers need. Some provisions of FARRM — such as the development of a whole-farm crop insurance product for diversified farms, renewed funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and an innovative proposal to make microloans available to beginning farmers — are wins for small farmers. However, the bill also slashes other programs designed to benefit small farms and beginning farmers and to help them with the cost of organic certification.
In addition, FARRM makes deep cuts to food stamp funding in a time of need and guts conservation programs that protect our land, air, and water. It also expands handouts to large, corporate farming operations, increasing their advantages over smaller farms that operate in more environmentally friendly ways. These are all poor policies.
The result is a bill that misses important opportunities to improve our food system. Among these is the failure to recognize the expanding popularity of recirculating agriculture, an eco-efficient farming method that includes hydroponics (growing plants), recirculating aquaculture (raising fish) and aquaponics (growing plants and fish in one combined system). These farms are closed-loop, soil-free, and recycle water. Recirculating farms are ideal operations for new and young farmers, because they can be inexpensive to build and run in virtually any setting, including indoors, on paved urban lots, and even otherwise unused space, like rooftops. They are an innovative, fun way for new farmers to join in the burgeoning local food movement and provide fresh, healthy foods for themselves and their communities. (see a video of our ED talking about recirculating farms at TEDx Manhattan in January)
Let’s hope Congress puts aside their bipartisan nonsense and takes the time to really consider what is important to the U.S. right now and how crafting a solid update to the Farm bill could promote growth of sustainable agriculture and support a healthy economy and healthy country.
Today marks the end of the New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. True to its name – at times eating only foods from within 200 miles of our city was difficult (read about week one and week two). Still, the experience was filled with fun and inspired endless creativity. I learned new recipes, and perhaps most notably, discovered a slew of local products that I might not have but for the Challenge (did you know we have figs and sugar available locally?).
A ton of time went to thinking about and discussing our food culture here and beyond – in particular when shopping for, picking and preparing local food. What is really sustainable? How do we encourage a more “locavore” mentality, especially in a city where, despite rich food traditions, is also so much about tourism and haute cuisine? What about packing materials, processing of products, shipping and refrigeration costs (to us and our planet)? Many questions are still unanswered, and I with others continue to ponder how to help build a healthy, green, accessible food culture.
Exciting things are on the horizon. A number of new farms are literally sprouting on rooftops, formerly abandoned lots, and in community gardens. Recirculating Farms Coalition is joining with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network to build an urban food and farm center – where we can highlight various farming methods, host classes, workshops, and special events, all related to healthy, fresh local food.
Congrats to all the Eat Local participants – thanks to the Locavores for another successful event – and we look forward to helping our local food system continue to grow.
Half way through the month and the Challenge – and frankly, this week was much more difficult than last, with time being short to prepare meals and several celebratory and social events. The first few days, we did really well and stuck to a yummy routine of variations on grits (thanks Hollygrove!) and eggs with cheese and veggies (shout out to Hollygrove and Crescent City Farmer’s Market) for breakfast, and salads (Rouses Supermarket and home grown) with homemade soup for lunch and salad with local fish (Rouses and several fishermen pals) for dinner. When we went out with friends, we did persuade them to go to places supporting the Challenge – these restaurants had at least one menu item that met the Challenge criteria – but vegetarian/pescetarian options weren’t so plentiful and notably, the ½ price (otherwise fairly pricey) happy hour wines pushed us to cave and cheat. We also went to a Zephyrs game (for those of you non-New Orleanians – this is our minor league baseball team) – local peanuts came with us and the concessions had catfish from Louisiana and Mississippi and Abita Amber – but we know those soft pretzels came from somewhere else far away. Sigh.
One group of folks here have labeled themselves the “Supernaturals” and are tracking the Eat Local experience on their Facebook page. The’ve made all sorts of fun foods too – from pizza to stuffed peppers. Check it out if you get a chance.
Our highlights this week included a fantastic fresh Creole tomato salad with homegrown herbs and locally-made goat cheese, sautéed spicy shrimp and veggie lettuce wraps (still haven’t been successful with making bread, but we are having fun with flat breads and lettuce replacements) a fresh tuna tarragon pasta salad (Rouses was featuring a locally-caught whole yellowfin tuna in the case this week and we made more of our own pasta) and perhaps my favorite – a cajun crab cake over fresh grilled corn in an herbed cream sauce.
The home and local gardens have been a huge contributor – from herbs to greens and other veggies. It would be very difficult to purchase all these items just from the supermarkets (though many are boosting their local inventory – including Rouses with their Roots on the Rooftop recirculating farm!). Hopefully New Orleans and other cities will pass new regulations and contribute to the push for nationwide changes to promote growth of urban farms of all kinds, so we can have more fresh, locally-grown foods available in every community. This is something the Recirculating Farms Coalition is working on in partnership with a variety of other organizations and individuals. Events like the Locavore Challenge help to highlight how important accessibility and affordability of fresh local food is – so, many thanks to them for organizing the Challenge and to everyone participating.
Check in next Thursday as we wind down week 3!
Last week, I wrote about a fantastic visit to recirculating farms in NY. Part II of that trip took me to Chicago, IL. There, I visited several new farms: The Plant, 312 Aquaponics and Growing Power.
The Plant is an old 93,500 sq. ft meat packing building that has been cleaned and is slowly being converted, piece-by-piece, into a multi-use commercial building. The vision is to have a large-scale aquaponic farm and variety of other sustainable businesses under one roof. The plant intends to be entirely off the power grid – self-sustaining and maybe even sell back some of its generated energy to the city. We embarked on an impressive and detailed tour on the history of the building, the area and the future for the Plant.
After about an hour, we paused our general Plant tour to visit one of the sustainable businesses already in residence at Plant building – 312 Aquaponics. (For those of you that don’t recognize it – 312 is the area code for most of Chicago). Mario Spatafora showed us all of his innovative set up and explained the details of his farm. The lights he had were particularly interesting – they slowly moved along the beds of greens. This saves on electric while providing enough light for plants to grow. 312 Aquaponics currently sells microgreens and herbs. Hopefully, they will be able to sell their fish soon too. Many local regulations aren’t designed to support recirculating farming and so it can be difficult for farmers to acquire necessary permits to sell their products. The Coalition is working on this nationally, so hopefully Mario and other growers like him will be able to grow and sell as much as they are physically able and not be limited by a lack of appropriate regulations.
We resumed our tour, catching up with the group and Professor Blake Davis, our tour guide, in the basement. There, the Plant houses a teaching aquaponics facility that grows mainly basil and lettuces, along with tilapia. Students from the Illinois Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Professor Blake Davis, are working on the aquaponics system to develop it into a larger commercial enterprise. It was an amazing set-up. The students were clearly excited about having such a great hands-on facility to work with.
Next we stopped in at the new Chicago Growing Power – on Iron Street right on the river. We toured the entire facility, (with one of their super cute resident cats joining us) learning about existing projects and future plans. They are primarily focused on training local youth, and have a wide array of programs – creating fresh soil, making value-added products (like lip balm) from their on-site bee hives, growing mushrooms and more. They are just setting up their aquaponic systems, and are planning to raise perch and tilapia, among other fish. Already, they have a number of other farms that they helped incubate and expand. We look forward to seeing the various ideas they shared with us grow and develop there.
The final leg of the trip was our visit to Milwaukee and nearby Racine, WI – to be covered in our next blog post!