Farming in Iowa

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At the end of May, I participated in a farming delegation organized by Siena Mann ’14 and sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. Six other students and I drove to Iowa and spent the week visiting student farms, local foods cooperatives, farmers markets, seed saving initiatives and urban and rural homesteads.

Although Iowa has some of the most fertile farm land in the country, it imports close to 90% percent of the food it consumes. Why? Because so much of its land is devoted to industrial monoculture corn and soy production. Seeing the extent to which this landscape has been manipulated to specialize in only two crops was a poignant example of what is happening to our food system world wide. We learned that many of these large scale farmers are often as poor as the small scale farmers, because there are so many costs associated with trying to grow food in a way that ignores most ecological principles in order to most efficiently meet human demand.  Each year farmers must replace expensive machinery, and buy patented seeds and chemicals just to keep their monoculture plantations alive.

It was inspiring to meet farmers and community organizers from all over the state who are devoting their lives to trying to develop new models, provide fresh local food and create spaces that not only provide nourishment for people but also preserve species diversity. They are demonstrating that less harmful farming practices can be economically viable in addition to being better for the environment and for human health. By growing a diversity of crops, farmers create more resilient systems. Once they are working with nature as opposed to against it, there is less need for expensive genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers and poison in order to ensure crop yield and disease resistance.

While the monoculture farming of certain crops may be a necessary part of our food system as it exists today, the most fertile farming states should not be local foods deserts. And they won’t be, if the community that we were privileged enough to spend the week with continues to grow.

New Raised Beds, Saving Seeds, and Potted Veggies.

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These dressers were found in the facilities dumpster. The one above will serve as a mini green house for lettuce and other low growing plants come winter.

 

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Experimenting with various potted vegetables including carrots, broccoli, and peppers.

 

 

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Letting lettuce go to seed.

 

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The arugula is also going to seed. And seeding mustard leaf is pictured below.

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I placed the female spinach plants in bags where the seeds will dry out and then fall into the bag.

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The Farm Behind 22

Free for the picking, this community garden will produce

tomatoes now till early august
cabbage in a couple weeks
peppers in august

and some corn, mustard leaves, herbs,

as well as squash and pumpkins come fall

 

 

The farm is largely maintained by Carousel Connections, a camp living in apartment 22 for most of the summer. This is their website: www.carouselconnections.com/

Organic Insecticide

I applied an insecticide made of hot pepper, natural soap, garlic, lemon peel, and water to a variety of plants that were being damaged by aphids and other pests. However, a week later, there is no difference between the control and treatment group. I think the problem is that the aphids need to be sprayed directly, and when I sprayed the plants, there may not have actually been any bugs on them at the time. Going forward, if I spot a colony of aphids, I will be sure to attack.

Philabundance

The other day, Stu Hean and I traveled to Philabundance, the region’s largest food bank. We dropped off about four pounds of broccoli and cauliflower leaves (a one-ounce serving provides 90 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement according to oprah.com). The remaining broccoli and cauliflower plants in the garden will be used for their vegetable rather than their leaf.

Philabundance collects food through individuals, grocery stores (who can give away food that is about to expire even though it is safe to eat), and gleaning (which is taking the leftover crops from farms after the farmer is done harvesting). In all, Philabundance feeds over 60,000 people per year!.