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These Farms Are Living a Double Life

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 6:00pm in

The organic farm community of Heggelbach in the rural alpine upland of Germany’s Baden-Wuerttemberg state is like something out of a fairy tale. Hens cluck in front of the quaint yellow farmhouse, majestic Braunvieh cattle graze among spring daisies in the meadows, and wheels of Camembert ripen in the recently built cheesery. But 20 feet above the crops is something altogether more modern: Steel columns holding 720 gleaming panels comprising 27,000 square feet of state-of-the-art solar technology.

Heggelbach, which adheres to the strict biodynamic rules of the Demeter Federation, is engaged in a radical experiment. Under the guidance of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) and the University Hohenheim, the farming community built Germany’s biggest solar installation under which crops can grow, a method known as agrophotovoltaics (APV). In winter, the panels ward off the snow; in the summer heat, they afford much-needed shade. And they are high enough for farmer Florian Reyer to navigate his tractor through the rows of potatoes, celery, trefoil grass and wheat seedlings underneath. The researchers chose these four varieties for a reason. “They wanted to test a vegetable, a grain, grass, and potatoes as a typical German staple food,” Reyer explains. 

farmerCan crops and solar panels coexist? Credit: Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach

In the summer of 2016, the researchers installed the pilot panels at a cost of 660,000 euros ($700,000 USD). They then spent three years analyzing temperatures, harvest and water saturation to answer a question for struggling farmers worldwide: Could the pairing of innovative solar technology and regenerative farming allow farmers to harvest an abundance of vegetables and electricity?

Farming food and sun

Squeezed by rising energy prices and declining crop returns, farmers from Asia to the United States are looking for ways to reap multiple streams of revenue from their land. At the same time, many countries are looking for more places to install renewable energy projects. In places where electricity brings in more money than crops, they’re eyeing vast tracts of farmland. Researchers at Oregon State University calculated that if nearly one percent of agricultural areas worldwide could be converted into solar farms, global energy needs could be satisfied. 

But “only” one percent is actually a lot. In most countries, every acre of farmland is badly needed. Worldwide, the ratio of farmland to person sank by 50 percent in the last 50 years. Meanwhile, the world will need to grow 50 percent more food by 2050 to keep pace with population growth, even as food crops are cleared to make space for more roads, buildings and biofuel crops. In Germany, for instance, 250 million acres of farmland have been planted with monocultures such as corn and grains that are not grown for consumption, but for conversion into so-called biodiesel. Our hunger for energy leads to actual hunger. 

solar farmThe agrovoltaics model that could provide a path forward for both struggling farmers and energy-hungry societies. Credit: Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach

This is why passionate farmers like Reyer demand that farms not be given over to solar arrays. “Solar parks are not sustainable and not ethical,” he says with a surprising sharpness. “I view the trend to build solar parks on agricultural grounds very skeptically.”

Yet Reyer’s fears are being realized. Solar farms currently cover more than 25,000 acres of agricultural areas in Germany, funneling up to 5,000 euros per hectare in leasing fees to the farmers who own the land. “I could lounge on my couch, sit back and earn more by giving my acres to a solar park investor than by using my manpower to grow wheat or potatoes,” Reyer says, shaking his head. “No way!”

But what if it wasn’t a choice between one or the other? Can crops and solar panels coexist? Some farmers let livestock graze beneath solar panels, but livestock require far more arable land than crops. “Sure, I could install solar panels and let some sheep graze underneath,” Reyer says. “But this is not sustainable long-term. We won’t be able to feed the population this way.” What he and his fellow farmers at Heggelbach are attempting is far more complex. If they can pull it off, it’s a model that could provide a path forward for both struggling farmers and energy-hungry societies.

solar farmSolar farms currently cover more than 25,000 acres of agricultural areas in Germany. Credit: Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach

Pioneering a solar-powered community

The Fraunhofer Institute recently published findings that detailed the advantages of Heggelbach’s novel system of perching solar panels high above its crops. The study found that the panels produced significantly more electricity than predicted, and maintenance was easier than farmer Reyer had feared. “We thought we would have to clean the panels much more frequently,” he says. “Even in winter, the snow simply glides or melts off.”

The farming community rents the panels from Fraunhofer and uses the electricity produced to run the farm, the cheesery and the milking machines. The panels are bifacial, meaning both the front and the back transform sunlight into electricity, making them extremely efficient. Any surplus is fed back into the grid, especially in the summer, when it exceeds the community’s needs. 

The Heggelbach community was an early adopter of innovative energy generation. In 2006, the pioneering farmers installed solar panels on their roofs. In 2008, they built the first wood gasifier, which heats their homes, the cheesery and the hay dryer. The next year, they received the German Solar Award for their sustainable energy production. 

Like most in the community, Reyer is deeply passionate about sustainable farming. “I’m a farmer with an affinity for technology, not a technician,” he says. His parents co-founded this community and raised him here. Now he lives here with his wife, their three kids and four other families. Not to be mistaken for a country bumpkin, he follows developments in agrophotovoltaic technology closely. The governments of South Korea, Japan and China, for instance, are subsidizing hundreds of thousands of AVPs, and testing new modules with flexible panels that follow the sun or filter radiation harmful to plants. “South Korea deliberately invests in AVPs because they don’t have enough farmers, similar to us,” says Reyer. “The AVPs finance pension funds, and the young farmers can work underneath the panels without making giant investments.” 

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In Lower Saxony, a company called Agrosolar Europe will soon build a giant new AVP with state subsidies. Its goal is to harvest 30 tons of chives and herbs per year. Then-state secretary Jochen Flasbarth lauded the project at its groundbreaking in June 2021 as “a win-win for the climate, agriculture and food production.

It’s not as easy as some make it sound. “The solar panels reduce our harvest by 10 to 15 percent,” Reyer says. And Reyer needs more time and manpower to maneuver his tractor around the panels’ steel scaffolding. “Financially, we make up the loss of harvest with the gain in electricity,” he says. Some farmers have tried vertical AVPs, an option the Heggelbach community briefly considered but found too expensive and cumbersome.

The weather can also be make or break. “We had severe drought in 2018 and extreme rain and cold in 2019,” Reyer remembers. “During a drought, the plants benefit from the panels’ shade, but when it rains a lot, the main issue is that the water gets distributed very unevenly because of the panels.” Some plants don’t get enough water, while others drown. 

On the other side of the planet, in Colorado, farmer Byron Kominek has had similar experiences. “I plant the squash in the dry spots and the green leaves where it’s wet,” he says. Near Boulder, Colorado, Kominek has built the largest commercially active agrovoltaics system in the U.S. A former diplomat with USAID, he moved back to Colorado in 2019 and installed a multimillion-dollar AVP with 3,200 solar panels to create a 1.2-megawatt community solar garden on his late grandfather’s farm. Now he is experimenting with 40 different crops, from squash to raspberries, to find the best AVP-harvest that can secure the future of the 24-acre farm, which barely makes enough hay to cover its costs. An engineer by training, Kominek primarily works as a solar power consultant for companies and other farms, using his farm as an experimental test plot. He also partners with the Colorado Agrivoltaic Learning Center to demonstrate to graduate students from Colorado State University, as well as the public, the possibilities of AVP.

Similar to Reyer, he struggles with unpredictable weather events. Drought dust sometimes covers the panels, and a storm blows trash cans past his window while we speak on Zoom. But he is producing enough energy to sell it to about 300 nearby homes, a cannabis farm, a bank, and the City and County of Boulder. “They all pay a premium to support us,” he says.

Because our climate is warming, Kominek, Reyer, and experts such as Max Trommsdorff, head of the agrovoltaics group at the Fraunhofer Institutes, see AVPs are a solution for the future, especially in hot, arid regions such as Arizona, where the harvest of chili and tomatoes improved under the panels. 

solar farmsA solar farm planted in the organic farm community of Heggelbach. Credit: Hofgemeinschaft Heggelbach

But as a regenerative farmer in Germany, Reyer has to balance multiple factors and goals such as soil quality, biodiversity, crop rotation, harvest and manpower. He pleads for more research — for instance, about how the problematic water distribution issue could be solved. As a pioneer, he answers calls nearly every day from other farmers who are keen to try AVPs. “In reality, we need another four or five years of detailed research to meaningfully investigate how different crops respond to different weather events under the panels long term,” he says. “However, the grant money for the research has run out. It’s extremely difficult.”

His vision is to make the community farm entirely independent by generating enough energy and heat to harvest in harmony with the principles of regenerative farming. “But in terms of money, our society is willing to pay more for electricity than for agricultural products,” he says. “I see this as the biggest discrepancy: We value electricity more because our plates are full.”

To sum up, the solar farmers can solve one problem. But to solve the bigger issue — namely, that our society is more eager to grow watts than wheat — is too big for them to solve alone.

The post These Farms Are Living a Double Life appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

California’s environmental achievements are something to behold. The state ranks first in the U.S. for growth in solar power generation and battery storage. It’s the national leader in cumulative electric vehicle sales and public EV charging stations. And it’s one of a growing number of states that aim to run entirely on carbon-free energy in the coming decades – a goal it briefly met, for about 15 minutes, on April 30.

Now, California is once again setting the pace on a critically important (if somewhat less glamorous) climate imperative: urban composting.

compostA composting exhibit in San Francisco. Credit: Aaron Anderer / Flickr

On January 1, a law went into effect making it mandatory for every city and county in California to provide residents a means to separate and recycle their organic waste. The impacts could be enormous – according to climate experts, composting is one of the simplest low-tech measures humans can take to reverse climate change. Allowing food waste to decompose in landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. And landfills are the third-largest source of methane in the U.S. Composting has other benefits as well, from sequestering carbon and helping farmers create drought-resistant crops to creating long-term revenue streams for city governments.  

Yet few big American cities have successful city-wide composting programs, particularly on the East Coast. How does a city fully integrate composting into its sanitation stream? Perhaps nowhere offers as clear a path forward as San Francisco, the first big U.S. city to offer composting to all of its residents. Twenty-six years later, its system remains the gold standard.

Building a system scrap by scrap

In 1990, when curbside recycling was still new to many communities, San Francisco was already recycling over 25 percent of its trash. Nevertheless, the city’s Department of the Environment was concerned about all the garbage still being sent to faraway landfills, so it authorized a “waste characterization” study in 1996 in which engineers looked at exactly what was being sent to the dump. What they found was shocking: 33 percent of it was organic material that could have been composted.

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“It was a combination of food scraps, sticks and leaves,” says Robert Reed, public relations manager at Recology, a resource recovery company that partners with the city. “We have 5,000 restaurants here, so we’re generating a lot of food scraps.”

All those scraps add up to a heap of emissions, plus the associated costs of disposal. “When you put materials in a landfill, you eventually fill that landfill and you have to build another landfill. And now you have to ship to greater distances,” says Reed.

So, at the city’s request, Recology, which has collected San Francisco’s refuse since 1921, launched a compost pilot program. It started at the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market and on residential routes in the Richmond District. Soon after, it expanded to include some large convention hotels. By 2000, it had gone citywide. 

Nine years later, when cities like Seattle were just beginning their voluntary residential composting programs, San Francisco made composting and recycling mandatory for all residents and businesses. 

compostComposting in San Francisco. Credit: Hayes Valley Farm

Mandatory participation scaled things up dramatically. Recology began offering free composting pails, bin labels, signs, multilingual trainings and toolkits for commercial buildings. It also meant occasional fines from the city for non-compliance. All of it was part of the city’s ambitious plan to be “Zero Waste” by 2020.

Today, San Francisco’s pioneering program is world renowned. Over 135 countries have sent delegations to study the city’s compost and recycling systems first hand. The city collects more than 500 tons of compostable materials from its ubiquitous green bins every day, according to Reed, helping to divert some 80 percent of the city’s waste from landfills. All these organic scraps are turned into high-quality compost in just 60 days at a Blossom Valley Organics facility east of the city, and then sold to local farms, vineyards and orchards.

compostThe curbside composting and recycling bins used in San Francisco. Credit: Recology

The revenue from these sales helps offset the cost of the program. “If something goes into the landfill, there’s no sale!” laughs Reed. The system also creates jobs. According to a study by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, composting sustains four times the number of jobs as landfill or incineration disposal operations. In Maryland, a 2013 study found that composting operations provided more total jobs than the state’s three trash incinerators combined. 

And of course, all that compost enriches the region’s soil with nutrients, minerals and microbes, helping farmers grow healthy crops with fewer commercial fertilizers. Compost also acts as a natural sponge – Pennsylvania’s Rodale Institute found that farms can grow up to 40 percent more food in times of drought when they use compost and follow other organic practices. In the West, where drought is common, this is a boon to both commercial farmers and backyard gardeners. Compost can even mitigate the threat of wildfire by retaining moisture from rain and irrigation. 

All of which begs the question: With the many obvious benefits and few apparent downsides, why, 26 years after San Francisco started composting, haven’t other major cities like New York, Boston, or Chicago followed suit?

New York’s composting conundrum

Not long ago, New York City briefly had its own in-home composting program. In 2015, then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a Zero Waste initiative similar to San Francisco’s. Composting was its cornerstone. Pandemic-related budget cuts forced the city to suspend the service in May 2020. But even before that, the program was anemic, only diverting 43,000 tons of food scraps in 2017 – just five percent of the city’s total food waste. 

compostA New York City curbside composting bin in 2017 before the program was discontinued. Credit: Wikipedia

Theories abound as to what went wrong. One big one has to do with a lack of public outreach. Even the chairman of the city council’s sanitation committee admitted that no one in his own building knew how the system worked. “In my building, we received the brown bins, and some fliers,” he told the New York Times. “I guarantee I’m the only person in my building who knows how to use them.” 

Simply convincing residents to change their long-standing garbage habits was another hurdle. Former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told the Times, “The biggest challenge is asking New Yorkers to do something different.” She related a story about how, when the department was handing out brown bins one man didn’t want one. “But we were handing out compost at the same time, and he definitely wanted the compost. We said, ‘We really need your banana peels in order to make this in the future.’” The man took one of the bins, illustrating the importance of education and outreach.

New York re-launched its composting program in August 2021 in neighborhoods where interest was most concentrated, according to Vincent Gragnani, press secretary at the city’s Department of Sanitation. Soon, there will be 100 bins at schools across the city that can be accessed with a smartphone app or a key card. “Within the next two years, every public school in the city will be separating their organic waste for collection,” Gragnani told RTBC. New Sanitation Commissioner Jessica S. Tisch is in the process of reviewing what has and has not worked with the city’s program in the past, but is not ready to share this publicly.

Can California strike ‘black gold’?

Now, inspired by San Francisco’s trailblazing composting success, California is set to enact statewide composting for all. (Only a small handful of states mandate statewide composting). The goal of the law is to reduce the landfilling of compostable materials by 75 percent by 2025, thereby reducing methane emissions on a massive scale. CalRecycle, the department that oversees the state’s recycling and waste reduction programs, estimates about half of the state’s communities had food and yard waste collection programs at the start of 2022.

compost“We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” says Reed. Credit: Sacramento State

There are several things the remaining cities and counties around California can do to emulate San Francisco’s success. One is to stay on message. In 2000, when Recology made green bins available to every resident in San Francisco, the response was mixed. “Some people said, ‘Come and take it back.’ Other people embraced it right away,” recalls Reed. “We were doing a lot of outreach and education in promoting the program and why we think it’s important for people to participate.” 

For instance, San Franciscans speak over 100 different languages, so Recology opted to put photographs on the green bins (in addition to a few words in English, Spanish, and Chinese), showing what can and can’t be composted. The company also produces a customer newsletter that comes with its bills, filled with articles about the benefits of composting and recycling. In addition, Reed, a former reporter, worked closely with journalists to get stories published early on about restaurants embracing composting and vineyards relying on compost from the city. 

 But according to Reed, the key to composting success is getting kids on board. “The best way to get adults to compost is to get composting programs running in schools,” he says. Recology donates compost to school gardens, which makes a big impression on children. “Those kids go home and say, ‘Why don’t we compost at home?’ The very next day the dad has a pail on the kitchen counter, and they’re rolling.” 

Prior to the pandemic, classrooms would visit the Recology Environmental Learning Center and even take tours of the composting and recycling plants. During Covid, Recology’s programming for students has shifted online. The company leads virtual field trips via Zoom and has produced educational videos and games about composting and recycling for kids from pre-K to high school. There’s even a “Better at the Bin” coloring book.

Finally, Reed says regular and frequent communication with the city is key to the composting program’s success. Every week, Recology staff members meet with a team from the Department of the Environment. “We all have the same goal: to send as little as possible to the landfill,” Reed says. At these meetings, they compare the tonnage that the city is sending to compost versus sending to the landfill, brainstorm ways of getting more residents to compost, and discuss messaging. 

One conundrum recently tackled in these meetings was how to encourage more participation in apartment buildings, which have lower rates of composting and recycling, and where 65 percent of San Franciscans live. Their solution: recruit volunteers at these buildings to distribute Recology’s monthly newsletter, as well as encourage composting in neighborly ways, like with composting contests or quizzes. “These are very creative people!” says Reed. “They keep composting part of the conversation.” There are now advocates in 100 buildings around the city.  

One of these is Madeleine Trembley, who lives at the Gateway Complex in the city’s Financial District. A year ago, Trembley, who refers to compost reverently as Black Gold, started a newsletter for her 1,255-unit building called Trash Talk. “The newsletter immediately got a lot of peoples’ attention,” Trembley says. “It was educational, practical. We give tips that people can implement easily, understand easily.” As a result of her newsletter and the topics it covered, more young residents have gotten involved in the Board — and one of them is even making video tutorials about composting to share with residents. “It just makes no sense to create more methane gas to stow it away in the landfill. And I think a lot of people realize that.” 

The post How San Francisco Cracked the Urban Composting Code appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Welcome Back, Condor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 2:28am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Return flight

The last time California condors soared over the state’s far-north redwood forests, Ellis Island was receiving its first immigrants and Sherlock Holmes was closing his first case. This week, they took to the skies there again — a major milestone in their comeback from virtual extinction.

North America’s largest native bird had nearly vanished by the 1970s due to habitat loss and lead poisoning from ingesting hunters’ buckshot. In the 1980s, the remaining 22 birds were captured and bred in captivity, and in 1992, biologists began rereleasing them in Southern California. This week’s release, however, was the furthest north the condors have been since 1892. “They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the region’s Yurok tribe.

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The Yurok tribe, which considers the condor sacred, is leading the reintroduction, working in tandem with federal and local fish and wildlife agencies. This is just the latest expansion of the birds’ range — they now number more than 500, and have spread across the central California coast, as well as parts of Mexico, Utah and Arizona. 

Read more at NPR

City of noise

Ahh, Paris. The romance, the mystique, the unmuffled motorbike roaring by at 3 a.m. The storied French capital is one of Europe’s most cacophonous cities. More than 5.5 million residents in and around Paris are exposed to road noise above 55 decibels, defined by the World Health Organization as the threshold for certain health implications.

parisCredit: drburtoni / Flickr

Now Paris is attempting to reign in the noise, as detailed in Bloomberg CityLab by RTBC contributing editor Peter Yeung. Among the most notable of these efforts are the installation of sound radars on certain streets. Equipped with microphones and cameras, the devices can photograph the license plates of loud vehicles, which will soon face fines of 135 euros ($142 USD).

The devices are but one part of a larger plan to reduce the din in a city that formally defined noise as a pollutant in 2019. Other efforts include the installation of sound-baffling barriers, roadside noise checks, housing designs that face residents away from noise, and even cutting-edge low-noise asphalt. Even the police have been asked to turn down their sirens at night. “For a long time, noise was seen more as a quality of life issue, but not a health risk,” said one advocate. “But the reality is that there are massive health consequences, and more and more research is proving this.” 

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Cash crop

A proposed California law could tailor the concept of universal basic income to help farm workers hurt by drought in an era of climate change.

The bill, introduced in the state senate, would provide unconditional monthly cash payments of $1,000 for three years to farmworkers whose jobs have been affected by drought. It was prompted by the loss of about 8,000 jobs from the state’s agriculture industry due to drought last year, when farmers were forced to leave nearly 400,000 acres of farmland fallow.

If approved, the pilot project would run from 2023 through 2026. “Farmworkers have been long neglected and continue to be neglected,” said State Senator Melissa Hurtado, who introduced the bill. They need “the right policies for them to be successful.”

Read more at CalMatters

The post Welcome Back, Condor appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

What Is the Future of America’s Greenest Town?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

On the night of May 4, 2007, when an EF5 tornado 1.7 miles wide swallowed their town whole, Gary and his daughter Alanna Goodman were watching Wedding Crashers in their upstairs living room. Gary had just called his wife Erica, away in Garden City, Kansas, on business, to comment on the massive hail that had interrupted the movie. Then the sirens started blaring.

It was common practice in Greensburg, Kansas, to run the aging siren system for only about three minutes during warnings. Residents would retreat to their basements, wait for silence, then go about their business. But according to Erica (and town lore, told and retold as part of the collective narrative of the event), on that Friday the county’s emergency management coordinator was storm chasing. Erica says he was in neighboring Comanche County when he witnessed three tornadoes drop and combine to make an almost two-mile-wide wedge and head straight north toward Greensburg.

“He called dispatch and he said, ‘Turn the sirens on,’ And she said, ‘How long should I run them?’” recalls Erica. “And he said, ‘Don’t you dare turn them off unless you hear from me.’”

Dispatch sounded the sirens until the wind razed the power station.

The post What Is the Future of America’s Greenest Town? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Shifting Winds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/04/2022 - 6:00pm in

It was one of Iowa’s longest droughts in recent years, and it arrived just as the 2020 pandemic was surging across the American Midwest. 

Gerald Leng, a stocky corn and soy grower in his eighties, watched as friends and acquaintances around his town of Primghar succumbed to the virus. Then June — usually the wettest month — came and went with barely a drop of rain. The drought continued into the fall, wilting crops and cracking the ground. Like others, Leng upped his federal crop insurance from 70 to 85 percent. Lake Big Spirit, one of his getaway spots up north, dropped a resounding two feet.

But Leng, a generally positive man with a grandfatherly wit, did not flinch. Like hundreds of other farmers around O’Brien County, his land contains not just corn and soybeans, but an array of massive wind turbines, which, besides delivering power to homes as far south as Houston, provides Leng and his brother Arnie with tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of leasing dollars per year.

Credit: Mark Oprea

These turbine leases are the lynchpins in a multipronged, mutually beneficial arrangement that makes Iowa one of America’s most prolific producers of renewable energy. The system brings together farmers, energy companies and the federal government to capitalize on two of Iowa’s most prominent resources: strong winds and vast expanses of land. The result is thousands of megawatts of green energy, reliable income streams to offset bad harvests, and substantial private sector profits aided by generous federal tax credits. 

“It’s just like another crop,” Leng says of his turbines from behind his desk at the Primghar Savings Bank, which he’s owned since 1994. “It’s diversification. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and we don’t have enough corn and soybeans, we might have enough wind.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2021 Wind Energy report, some 57 percent of the power generated in Iowa last year came from wind — the highest share in the nation. And Iowa is second only to Texas – which produces more wind power than most countries — in the total amount of wind power it is capable of producing. A politically conservative state that voted for Donald Trump twice over, Iowa is a trailblazer in the clean energy sector. And the bulk of all this wind power was captured in what Iowa is known best for: corn fields.  

Since 2005, when federal tax breaks incentivized energy companies to invest heavily in wind, agents from these companies have fanned out across the Hawkeye State, visiting Iowa’s rural farms and ranches to convince the owners to install turbines, many of which soar well over 200 feet in height, among the rows of their crops. 

The post Shifting Winds appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Where Hunger Fell When Covid Hit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/03/2022 - 7:00pm in


farms, Food, medicine

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

The way we were

The pandemic has changed the way we live — in some cases, by reverting it back to how it once was. Hakai reports on how some Pacific Islands, faced with market closures, have re-embraced traditional systems in which food is grown locally and used for sustenance rather than sale. These shifts have had an unexpected effect: hunger has fallen as communities have gone back to growing and sharing their own food, making sure there is plenty to go around.

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A new study found that islands that remained reliant on imported food were nearly twice as likely to report food insecurity as islands that produced most of their own, such as Fiji and Micronesia. Bartering increased as well, with some communities giving the traditional practice a modern twist with digital tools. “The point is not to change too much,” said one of the co-authors of the study. “There’s a lot of management for resilience that’s been going on in villages for generations. So when the government comes in, it’s important to remember that things are already working in a certain way — and working pretty well.”

Read more at Hakai

Time’s up, doc

How will the medical community respond to the effects of climate change? A growing number of med schools are incorporating climate-related health impacts into their curriculums.

Grist takes a look at one of the latest schools to jump on board: Emory Medical School in Atlanta, which is revising parts of its curriculum to take into account the changing climate’s effect on human health. The revisions have broad reach, accounting for changes such as increases in strokes, asthma, mosquito-borne diseases, dehydration and preterm births caused by extreme heat. The curriculum revisions were pushed for by students themselves: the young generation of doctors and nurses who will confront the worst of climate change in the coming decades.

heatFirst responders treat a cyclist for possible heat stroke in New York. Credit: Brecht Bug / Flickr

In 2019, the American Medical Association endorsed the teaching of climate change’s health impacts in “undergraduate, graduate and continuing medical education.” Schools seem to be taking note. As of today, some 47 medical schools in the U.S. have incorporated best practices and educational trainings for teaching climate change developed by Columbia University. “Progress has previously felt a little slow and ad hoc,” said the faculty advisor for Emory’s new climate effort. “Now, there is momentum that seems to reflect a shared recognition that climate change matters for the health of our patients, for clinical care delivery, now.”

Read more at Grist

Wild at heartland

The concept of rewilding, in which land altered by humans is allowed to return to its natural state, is growing in popularity. But can it work in Iowa, one of America’s most altered landscapes, where 85 percent of the land is actively farmed and 97 percent privately owned?

iowaAn Iowa corn field. Credit: Rich Herrmann / Flickr

A group called BeWild ReWild believes it can. The organization’s ultimate goal is a wilderness corridor that follows the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. To achieve this, BeWild ReWild uses a mix of town hall events, workshops and op-eds in local papers to convince private landowners to voluntarily rewild parts of their land, creating a natural patchwork that can eventually connect as a whole. “Forty-six acres at a time is a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done,” said organizer Leland Searles, but “restoration in strategic locations can advance what we’d like to see as far as rewilding.”

The group’s ultimate goal is to reintroduce native species like wolves and bison to a state that was once 80 percent wild prairie. There’s a long way to go, but in a place like Iowa, where farming is life, even getting the conversation started is seen as a victory. “The solutions exist,” said Searles. “It’s a matter of allowing the solutions to happen.” 

Read more at Civil Eats

The post Where Hunger Fell When Covid Hit appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 3:56am in


farms, Food, work

Growing together

These days, Costa Rica is renowned for its lush landscapes and stunning biodiversity. But the country’s future looked very different in the 1970s, when industrial agriculture saddled Costa Rica with one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. By the end of that decade, forest cover had plummeted to 25 percent of the country’s land.

A forest restoration project in northern Costa Rica. Credit: WRI

How did Costa Rica turn things around? Much of the credit goes to a landmark 1996 law that banned deforestation and introduced an innovative payment system for farmers. The payment system encourages “agroforestry,” the integration of trees and shrubs into productive crop and livestock farming systems. Now, farmers grow crops like cacao and vanilla among towering trees, which provide healthy shade to the crops and attract the bugs that pollinate the plants. The farmers get better crop yields, the increase in tree cover benefits the ecosystem, and the abundant tropical vegetation helps Costa Rica maintain its perch as a destination for eco-tourism. 

Today, the country’s forest cover has rebounded to 52 percent as Costa Rica regenerates seven trees for every one it cuts down. Meanwhile, farmers are earning more than they did when they clear-cut the land. “We need the interaction of the species,” said one of the farmers of the agroforestry model. “It’s magic.”

Read more at the Financial Times


We’ve all seen empty urban lots that sit unused while the local government works through the often drawn-out process to figure out what (or whether) someone can build there. Britain has a dandy little solution for this problem — it allows small businesses to build temporary structures on these empty lots, which they call “meanwhile spaces,” until permanent construction can get started.

The foldable, packable, moving building. Credit: Mike Massaro / IF_DO

Now, a London architecture firm has come up with a clever construction prototype for this type of space: a building you can disassemble, flat-pack and relocate when it needs to be moved. It has already erected one such building on a meanwhile space — a 3,000 square foot workplace with 12 individual units encircling a central common area. Tenants include small businesses like a skincare company and a sewing school. It’s made of timber and steel connectors, and when it’s time to move, the whole building can be taken apart, folded up and reassembled elsewhere. In a city like London, where real estate is among the world’s most expensive, the design gives groups and businesses without a lot of cash on hand a place to operate.

It’s also much lighter on the environment. Building construction is responsible for 11 percent of carbon emissions, so anything that can prevent starting from scratch is a win for the environment. “It’s about touching lightly on the ground,” said the director of the design firm. “To send that [building] to landfill after 11 years would’ve been horrific.”

Read more at Fast Company

Making it work

A massive new survey appears to make one thing clear: the pandemic-propelled shift in attitudes about work isn’t going away.

Microsoft surveyed 31,000 workers in 31 countries. The results show that “employee expectations are higher than ever,” and that people are “making career changes that prioritize personal goals and well-being.” Some 52 percent of respondents said they now prioritized health and well-being over work, and that flexibility, respect and appreciation was more important than crushing it in their careers. There were also red flags. For instance, while remote employees are glad they can now work off site, only about half felt they had maintained a thriving relationship with their coworkers. 

“There’s no going back to the way it once was,” concluded the study. “The people who went home to work in 2020 are not the same people returning to the office in 2022.”

Read more at Forbes

The post The Unlikely Allies Who Saved Costa Rica’s Forests appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

In Holland People With Dementia Can Work on a Farm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/03/2022 - 7:00pm in

Four days a week, Kees Oranje’s 81-year-old mother Paula gets up and goes off to work on a farm in the neighboring village of Brielle, just west of Rotterdam. 

Depending on the day, Paula might feed the chickens, assist with chores, or help prepare hot lunches. The farm raises pigs for meat, and grows pumpkins, beans, kale and more in a large vegetable garden. In many ways, Boerderij Op Aarde — “Farm On Earth” — resembles a typical Dutch working farm, but with one key difference: Paula and most of her fellow farm workers have dementia.

Boerderij Op Aarde is one of hundreds of Dutch “care farms” operated by people facing an array of illnesses or challenges, either physical or mental. They provide meaningful work in agricultural settings with a simple philosophy: rather than design care around what people are no longer able to do, design it to leverage and emphasize what they can accomplish.

care farmCare farm participants a responsible for an array of daily tasks. “They’re focused on what needs to get done that day, which is what takes them out of their current disease process.” Credit: Boerderij Op Aarde

It’s an approach that research has shown holds many benefits. For people with dementia, who are often less physically active and more isolated, farm settings promote movement and social interaction. And care farms can have emotional benefits, too, giving participants a sense of purpose and of making a meaningful contribution. 

“We don’t focus on what’s missing, but what is still left,” says Arjan Monteny, cofounder of Boerderij Op Aarde, “what is still possible to develop in everybody.”

Care farming started growing in popularity in the Netherlands in the late 1990s. According to Wageningen University researcher Jan Hassink, farms, squeezed financially as agricultural costs increased and food prices fell, were looking for ways to become more multifunctional. At the same time, a movement was emerging in the Netherlands to reduce the use of institutions, part of a growing recognition that people with disabilities had a right to be active in society.

A few decades on, care farming is well established in the Netherlands, and interest in the model for people with all kinds of disabilities is growing across Europe, in the U.S., and in many other countries, Hassink says. As an option for dementia care, it is a solution that grows more relevant with each passing year. Rates of dementia are projected to more than double worldwide by 2050. Yet how to best care for those people remains a question many countries are still grappling with.

Credit: Boerderij Op Aarde

“We don't focus on what's missing, but what is still left –– what is still possible to develop in everybody.”

In traditional dementia care settings, says Hassink, the focus tends to be on preventing risk. There’s often a fixed schedule of simple activities, like games or movies, and the only choice attendees are given is whether to participate or not. In the course of his research, Hassink has spoken to countless people with dementia. Common to many of them is a desire to not only participate in society, but contribute to it.

At Boerderij Op Aarde, participants start every weekday morning discussing the day’s work. There’s no shortage of tasks: goats and pigs need feeding, gardens need tending, hot lunches need to be prepared. A weathered bench in the workshop might need to be repainted. The workers get to choose which duties they’ll take on — that’s important, Monteny says, because people with dementia don’t have many opportunities to make decisions in their lives.

“It’s a small question,” he says, “but it has a great meaning for the people.”

Common to many people with dementia is a desire to not only participate in society, but contribute to it.

Even bigger, more consequential decisions are made with everyone’s input. Recently, participants were involved in discussions about how last year’s bad pumpkin crop should impact plans for what to plant in 2022. Almost everything the farm produces is used on the farm; lunches include vegetables from the farm’s gardens and sausage and ham from the pigs.

Among the benefits of care farms, according to Hassink, is that participants work alongside the farmers, which creates a more equitable power dynamic than found in many institutions. “They have a joint responsibility for taking care of the activities on the farm, so this makes it like one equal relationship,” he says.

Monteny co-founded the 16-hectare farm with his partner Ronald van de Vliet in 2012. Each day, they work with two staff members from a local care institution, which the farm partners with, plus four volunteers. Almost all of their 40 participants — 18 come per day — have dementia, and all are of advanced age. They chose to focus on this group, Monteny says, because at the time most dementia care they came across tended to be “one size fits all,” without much physical and mental stimulation. 

This is changing quickly. Today, there are roughly 1,350 care farms in the Netherlands, serving a diverse range of people, according to Maarten Fischer, director of the Federation of Agriculture and Care. About 400 of these farms offer care for older people with dementia, he said, many in settings that also include participants with other needs. 

care farmInterest in the care farming model is growing across Europe, in the U.S., and in many other countries. Credit: Boerderij Op Aarde

“They’re focused on what needs to get done that day, which is what takes them out of their current disease process,” Fischer says. 

The model is borne out by research. Studies in Norway and the Netherlands found that people with dementia at care farms tended to move more and participate in higher-intensity activities than those in traditional care, which can help with mobility in daily life and have a positive impact on cognition. Dementia is often linked to social isolation, and care farms were found to boost social involvement, especially among those who wouldn’t opt for traditional assistance options. Spending time outdoors in nature, often part of a day on a care farm, can also improve well-being among people with dementia. Farms are not only good for individuals, their families also benefit: studies find caregivers experience less guilt when their loved ones are supported by services they consider to be nurturing and fulfilling.

“What the person needs is not only care. A person needs emotions, too.”

Hassink says that even institutional care facilities could replicate some of these benefits by incorporating elements common to care farms into their programs. Instead of a fitness class, for instance, they could offer more productive activities that build in movement. Institutions could also empower their attendees with more opportunities to decide which activities they’d like to do. 

“I think the realization that people still like to do useful things, useful work, and to be valued and contribute is really important,” he says.

Before Kees Oranje’s mother started coming to Boerderij Op Aarde in 2018, she was largely isolated, he says, living alone in the family’s farmhouse a few kilometers from the nearest village. Oranje noticed she seemed to “bounce back” after she started at the farm when she was 77. He believes part of what makes her days fulfilling is that, just like in life, they involve activities that inspire a range of emotional responses: frustration, joy, surprise, even anger.

“What the person needs is not only care,” Oranje says. “A person needs emotions, too.” 

At other farms, people with dementia are grouped with people of other ages who have different conditions. That’s the case at the nonprofit care farm launched by Ronald de Vré in Badhoeve, near Amsterdam. Six days a week, the farm hosts groups that mix children and adults of all ages with a range of different conditions, including some dealing with substance abuse issues, and others with conditions like Parkinson’s Disease or dementia. They look after gardens and animals, including ponies, donkeys, swans, sheep and some 60 chickens. With conditions like dementia, he says, “Your world is getting smaller, but here, you feel that your life’s still in the real world.”

Credit: Boerderij Op Aarde

“I think the realization that people still like to do useful things, useful work, and to be valued and contribute is really important.”

The model has its challenges, and it isn’t for everyone. Care farms generally aren’t a good fit for people with advanced dementia, whose condition makes it difficult to participate. As a small organization, Monteny said, keeping up with health regulations designed for larger institutions can be difficult, and funding, which the farm gets from the municipality and a regional care institute, is tight. Farm environments also have the potential for injuries. Monteny acknowledges that accidents happen, though they’ve only ever had minor incidents, like a hammer dropped on a toe. 

“We make it as safe as possible,” he says, “but risk is part of life. That’s one of our mottos.” 

Oranje says he doesn’t worry about such risks at Boerderij Op Aarde. As his mother’s dementia has progressed, she has lost the ability to tell him at the end of the day what she did at the farm. But she continues to live independently in her own house, which Oranje believes is possible because her work at the farm keeps her active. 

“She has to be alert all day long, and it’s the best environment. She can maintain the best mental condition as possible in her situation now,” he says. “And that’s very, very, very, very important because that gives her a reason to live.”

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