Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Truffle Fest in Asheville Starts Thursday

Perhaps you are a farmer considering a new crop, a landowner wanting to try to grow something unusual, an investor looking for a unique enterprise, a foodie, or just someone who is looking for a fun way to spend the weekend.  The 2nd Annual National Truffle Fest might just be the thing for you!

I am interested in this festival because of the growers' forum.  I attended last year and learned so much in a few hours from experts from around the world.  It was an incredibly valuable experience for me and has helped me considerably over the past year as I have advised people who are interested in growing truffles.  This year, Franklin Garland, who has made truffles his life work, will kick off the grower forum on Friday morning.  Yours truly will give a presentation on the resources that state agencies and various non-profits can offer to truffle producers.  That will be followed by a presentation by Dr. Gregory Bonito from Duke on North American truffle diversity.   Then Pat and John Martin of Virginia Truffle Growers will give a talk on truffling.  Lisa Kennell, a dog detection specialist, will explain how to train a truffle dog.  Thierry and Amy Farges of Transatlantic Foods will provide a global view on the growing, consuming, and cooking of truffles.  And finally, Chef Bob Pasarelli will give a demo on the care and use of truffles.  Should be very interesting.  There will also be some wine related presentations.  And you don't want to miss the reception on Thursday evening and the Winemaker dinners on Friday night held at local participating restaurants.  Saturday will be a chef's truffle risotto competition and a fabulous Chef and Vinter Gala in the evening.  All of this is a fundraiser for the Frankie Lemmon Foundation and will be held at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville.

For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Urge You to Read and Respond to Negative Article on Organics in Major Vegetable Magazine

I encourage you to read this op-ed page from the February issue of Amercian Vegetable Grower Magazine and send in your opinion as requested:

This is a prominent magazine for the vegetable industry and has been increasingly covering organic agriculture. But this article makes the argument that organic agriculture is actually worse for the planet than conventional. In particular, it talks about the very low yields obtained with organics. I'm sure many of you have an opinion on that!

I recently gave a presentation where we examined this issue. Here are just a few of the university studies that I cited that show that organic farming can be at least as productive at conventional:

University of California:

University of Michigan:

NC State University:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

NCSU Western NC Organic Research Program Coordinator Position Announcement

WORKING JOB TITLE:  Organic Research Program Coordinator

POSITION: Research Assistant
(Listed as Position #61900 at the NC State University Human Resources, Employment Opportunities website
Position is in the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University

POSITION LOCATION:  Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, 455 Research Drive, Mills River, North Carolina 28759

SALARY: $30,000 with full benefits, including health insurance (this is an EPA position*)

JOB OPEN DATE: February 17, 2010

DEADLINE FOR RECEIVING APPLICATIONS: March 18, 2010 or until a suitable candidate is identified.

PROPOSED HIRE DATE: March 25, 2010

POSITION DESCRIPTION/RESPONSIBILITIES: This is a full-time, 12 month position for one year with possibility of renewal contingent upon available funding and satisfactory performance. It will be the responsibility of this employee to help design, develop, and implement an organic research program at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC. The position will be housed at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River, NC. The initial phase of this program will be focused on production of organic horticultural crops. Responsibilities of this position will include surveying interested researchers, organic farmers, extension agents, state agronomists, and non-profits to determine how this program can best meet their needs. Survey results will be compiled and analyzed to determine the initial focus areas of the program. Visits will be made to several organic research farms across the country to study their programs, layouts, and impacts on local agriculture. Guidelines for the operation, use, and growth of the research unit will be created. The employee will help establish and maintain several small field studies and demonstrations for the 2010 growing season. The program will be promoted through media releases, websites, various social media venues, a field day, and displays and presentations at conferences and workshops. Assistance with grant writing to continue the program will be provided. An end of year project survey will be conducted and report written.

QUALIFICATIONS: The applicant must have a bachelor’s degree, although a master’s degree is preferred. Experience with agricultural field research, horticulture, and commercial scale organic agriculture is necessary. Experience with starting a similar type program would be highly desirable. Excellent organizational, interpersonal, computer, and writing skills are required. Applicant should enjoy and be comfortable with communicating with a diverse group of people on the phone, one on one, and in front of groups. The applicant should be capable of producing and giving professional reports and presentations. The applicant must be willing to travel across the country and drive across the state. Travel will sometimes include evenings and on weekends. The applicant must be capable of doing all the described activities with a minimum of supervision.

APPLICATIONS: Applicants should submit their applications through the university online application system at  Along with the profile that will be filled out online, a CV (resume), cover letter, and contact information for three references will need to be uploaded.

Submit transcripts to:
Dr. Jeanine M. Davis
Department of Horticultural Science
Mountain Horticultural Crops Res. and Ext. Ctr. Phone: 828-684-3562
North Carolina State University
Mills River, NC 28759
*Exempt from State Personnel Act

NC State University is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Employer. NC State welcomes all persons without regard to sexual orientation. Individuals with disabilities desiring accommodations in the application process should contact the above listed individual.  Final candidates for employment will be subject to criminal and sex offender background checks.  Some vacancies will also require credit or motor vehicle checks.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Asking for Your Input on Organic Research Needs in Western North Carolina

People visiting organic tomato research plots at the research station last year
This year we are establishing a new organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. I need your help in determining the most important research needs relevant to organic farming in the Western NC region.

Please send me a list of what kind of research you would like to see done on this new unit. This is a preliminary survey. Once I have our organic research unit coordinator hired (should be advertising this week), a much more in depth survey will be conducted. But I would really like to have at least one study in place for this summer, and if that is going to happen, we need to get going on it now!

So, please take a few minutes and send me your list! Please indicate if you are an organic farmer, a farmer considering organic, a gardener, or a supporter. Ideas for long-term funding are also welcome.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Responses Received to Post on Caged Hens for Egg Production

On January 30, 2010, I posted a link to the website on a local listserv asking people to view the video by Mike Rowe about caged poultry production and discuss it.  The objective of the video was to educate the public about egg production and explain why caged production is better for the chickens, human health, and the environment.  As someone who raises a few of her own chickens using a pastured poultry system, I found the images of the caged system disturbing.  So I asked for others' input.  You can find that video at

Here are the responses I received to that post:
  • I am astounded that these people have the gall to be interviewed and to say that this is a good thing. There are a million birds in there living unhappy lives totally contrary to their nature as beings. Thank you for sending this out. This guy has not even thought of questioning the welfare of the animals -- though he mentions the word a couple of times.  Once again, it's just about humans making money. I will email Mike Rowe as well.  Thank you!!
  • So to my mind, this was mostly the usual bad/biased science used by commercial agriculture all the time. It's wrong, but to be expected (I will concede that we have an animal welfare issue in truly free-range systems in that our loss to predators is much higher. Is quick death by natural predator in a natural environment somehow "better" than a poor-quality confined life filled with antibiotics and un-natural challenges? I think so, but I'm willing to admit that it's not an easy, black and white question). I would love to challenge Mike to, as he says, "tell the whole story", since that's "never a bad thing", but I don't expect him to.  HOWEVER (ya'll were waiting for that, right?) the one part that did shock me was seeing a director of Animal Welfare Institute, Joy Mench, defending caged production as humane! I'm unable to find Ms. Mench's name listed on the AWI website as present staff - I hope this means she is no longer part of the organization and that AWI does not support such. If not, this is extremely troubling.
  • It has been brought to my attention that the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) was incorrectly linked with a video promoting caged production. As an organization with a 59-year track record of advocating for humane treatment of all animals, AWI would never endorse caged production of any kind. We are strong proponents of pasture- and range-based farming, and are proud of our work in this area.   Ms. Mench is the director for the UC Davis Center for Animal Welfare and has never been employed by AWI.
  • Don't all species evolve over time to adapt to their enviro, etc. Maybe too far out there but could our chickens in these situations never be able to live anyother way. The video seems comprehensive, the narrators well spoken, the facilities sterile!. . . .but diversity seems to be the protection we may need ultimately. I love my pasture hens and broilers and am of course concerned about disease but my resiliant birds might be stronger than 10,000 sterile hens against a super chicken bug!  Carry on with the good work!
  • Thanks for sending this link. I still struggle with this decision. It seems to me that a chicken that runs around in fresh air with a variety of things under its feet would be happier than one that spends its life on a wire grid in a small cage with other birds close by, but I don't know how a chicken's mind works, and I concede that I am applying my personal preferences for my own lifestyle to a chicken's. This video taught me that there are some people, among them those who set the standards for commercial egg production, who have a greater sensitivity to these issues than I would have expected. I also learned that there are downsides to free range egg production that I had not considered, such as chicken mortality due to the weather and parasites, not to mention predators (which I HAD considered). But my heart still broke to see chicken heads popping out of cages to eat, and the problem of removing waste still concerns me, though I will say that the farm that was visited was much cleaner than I expected. It was mentioned that waste is removed daily, but the procedure was not shown. It seems like since they already have conveyors to transport the eggs, the same motors could be moving waste, and belts could pass through a cleaner to keep things sanitary.  All in all, I am still content to pay more for free range eggs, what I call "happy" eggs from "happy" chickens," especially when I know the farmer who raises them. But maybe, after seeing this video, I won't have so much regret on the rare occasions when I am unable to get happy eggs and have to buy them from a grocery store. I will still hope for the best possible solutions to the problems described by the experts in the video, and keeping the cost of eggs in a range everyone can afford. Best yet, I hope to have my own chickens someday soon...
  • That is the cleanest chicken factory that I have ever seen.....and those birds had beaks! There is probably nothing that looks that good in north Georgia. As crammed as those birds where, they seem to have enough space that they did not kill the bird next to them. I have seen dark, nasty factories where the birds were so packed in that the humans burned their beaks off so they could not kill each other. Let's get Mr. Rowe and all those experts in one of those houses!!  Is there any truth to their claims about higher disease rates in cage free birds? And how much penicillin is in the feed in the chicken factory?  The claims about the cost of cage free eggs being higher is probably true, at this time. The highest quality, best fed, happiest eggs at market can cost $5 a dozen. Since eggs are a major source of animal protein in my diet, those are the eggs I against chicken farms with my dollars.
  • The video is pretty outrageous, especially with the comments about free-range chickens and their eggs. I'd love to know how long these chickens live, how much square footage (or inches) each chicken receives and how they are handled at the end of their "productive" life. Also, wouldn't it be fun to compare the anemic "omelet" egg yolk they show with a bright orange free-range chicken egg yolk--oh, but us small farm people don't have the money or time to hire a video crew, well-known and paid actor, and seek out "academics" who will dovetail with our free-range style, do we?  Thanks for sharing the video!
  • I am so dumbfounded with this video I had to take notes. Obviously this is a paid endorsement from someone who knows little about the subject matter. When you look for the true meaning of this video it is all about supply and money. At the end of the video you see several people talking about not being able to meet the demand and how much more expensive it is to produce free range eggs. The major issue I have with these claims is that caged is better. The experts on the video even said chickens in cages are not allowed to do what chickens do naturally, scratch, trim claws, fly, peck, forage, roost, have access to fresh air and sunshine or even spread their wings. Many of the issues they mention about free range chickens are due to overcrowding. I am dumbfounded that they mention caged birds have less cannibalism, I guess that is true as they burn their beaks off when they are hatched, they couldn't peck if they wanted to. If you look at the UEP guidelines, you will see they recommend 60-80 inches of cage per bird, can you imagine? The statement below comes from the UEP website. (Don't tell my chickens but I have never medicated them and I do not plan on starting.) Myth: Cage-free and free-range hens are healthier and require little or no drugs or medicines. Fact: Cage-free and free-range hens require continuous medicated feed for some diseases and often require more drugs than cage hens, because of their constant exposure and contact with litter and waste on barn floors. Hens in cage systems seldom require drugs and only receive medicines or drugs for therapeutic reasons. In fact, hens kept in cage-free, organic, or free-range systems have higher rates of mortality than those kept in cage production systems.  I have raised chickens for 15 years free range and on the ground and have lost few birds. If you drink the Kool-Aid as Mike Rowe did, you can find people in the industry who will tell you it is impossible to raise beef on grass, or to raise pigs on pasture and that raw milk will kill you. From all I can gather from their website, UEP is a group of farmers. That is like letting the fox guard the hen house. When you question these individuals and/or methods, you will usually find that profit, large industry interest or food born pathogen scare tactics drive the discussion. Never once was the nutrition comparison of an egg raised on wire versus grass mentioned. I will invite Mike Rowe to my farm to see my healthy uncaged and unmedicated hens and for him to see how hens in nature do what they were created to do, and I bet for enough money he would say whatever I wanted him to regarding the free range system.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Collaborative Research Project on Medicinal Herbs in North Carolina

Photo by Nadja Cech
Recently, Dr. Nadja Cech of UNC-Greensboro, and Dr. Scott Laster and I from NC State University completed a multi-disciplinary research project on Echinacea.  Today, the Charolotte Observer did a nice article on it!  Follow the link:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Winter Vegetable Conference in Asheville, NC, Feb. 17 & 18, 2010

The Winter Vegetable Conference
& 42nd Annual Meeting of the NC Tomato Growers Association
February 17 & 18, 2010
Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville, NC

Topics this year include:
  • Insect Control in Sweet Corn - Mark Abney
  • Understanding TMV and other tomato viruses- Kelly Ivors
  • Importance of Pollinators - David Tarpy
  • Grafting of tomatoes and other crops - Frank Louws
  • Fresh Produce Safety Traceback and Recall - Grower Panel and Ben Chapman
  • Weed Control in Tomatoes - Katie Jennings
  • High Tunnel Fertility and Soil Management - Ron Gehl
  • Pepper production and management - Chris Gunter
  • Economics of High Tunnels, Does it really pay? - Ed Estes
  • Marketing, Meeting the needs of customers and what produce managers are looking for - Shaiyu Chandarama
  • High Tunnel Production and Management (grower panel discussion group) - Phillip Sanders, Andy Meyers and Rick Harty
  • Chinese and Korean Ethnic Vegetables- Art Bridgeman
  • Insect Management on Fruiting Vegetables, with a Focus on Thrips- Jim Walgenbach
  • Labor Issues and H2A situation - Richard Blaylock
  • Combating late blight and other serious foliar diseases of tomato - Kelly Ivors
  • Critical Issues with Assessments - Bill Yarborough
  • Methyl Bromide Alternatives and EPA Regulation Changes- Rob Welker and Frank Louws
  • Tomato Breeding Program Update - Dilip Panthee
There will be a tradeshow throughout the conference, social hour on Wednesday, and luncheon on Thursday.

Registration and the trade show open at 9:30 am on Wednesday with sessions starting at 12:30.

Sessions resume at 8:45 am on Thursday.

Preregistration is $20 per person before February 5th and $25 after that or at the door.

Everyone is encouraged to stay at the Crowne Plaza Resort where the N.C. Tomato Growers Association has reserved a block of rooms. The room rates are priced at $69.00 plus applicable taxes and the room rates are valid through January 26th (call, they might honor the rate after the cutoff date), so please make your reservations directly with the Crowne Plaza Resort at 1-800-733-3211, or (828) 254-3211. Check in time is 4:00 p.m. on the day of arrival, and check out time is 11:00 a.m. on the day of departure.

For more information, including how to be an exhibitor or sponsor, and a registration form, visit

If you have any questions, please contact Ellen Sprague at (828) 685-3989 or

This conference is presented to you by the NC Tomato Growers Association with assistance from the NC Cooperative Extension Service and the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.