Friday, May 5, 2017

New Southeastern project to enhance organic farming funded by $2M grant from USDA/NIFA

The College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences at Tuskegee University has been awarded a competitive USDA/NIFA grant of $2,000,000 to strengthen organic farming infrastructure in the Southeast. This multi-state, multi-disciplinary project includes the priorities of stakeholders for facilitating an organic agriculture initiative in the Southeast. The U.S. market for organic produce is estimated at $31.5 billion dollars. 

With the exception of North Carolina and Florida, the Southeast remains behind in organic production and imports most of its organic produce from California, the Midwest, the Northeast, or Mexico. With high consumer demands, organic growers have the potential to grow organic foods and sell them at competitive prices in local farmers markets and to retailers, provided that they are backed up by strong research and extension support programs. 

Dr. Kokoasse Kpomblekou, the project director, and colleagues said that there are urgent needs to help residents of the Southeast improve their diets and health. The Southeast has among the highest incidences of diet-related diseases in the nation. Major contributing factors are low consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, and a high percentage of residents with low income. Other contributing factors include a tradition of support for conventional farming techniques and lack of support for organic farming techniques in some of the land grant institutions and cooperative extension systems. 

For consumers who demand organic foods, there are now a few grocery store chains that specialize in organic products. However those stores in the Southeast do not stock many locally grown organic products because they have not been able to source them. Consequently, there is a gap between demand and supply. For example, Alabama lacks statistics regarding the demand for organic foods because almost no research has been conducted regarding the amount of money Alabama consumers spend on organic produce at these grocery stores. This is a vital research need that will be accomplished with this grant.

A consortium of agricultural institutions in the Southeast, led by Tuskegee University, has come together with the aim of facilitating the development of a strong and vibrant organic farming industry in the Southeast through consumer education, market development, and effective educational support for farmers and extension personnel. Through the project, these partnering institutions (Auburn University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Alabama Sustainable Agricultural Network and Oregon State University) will provide research and extension support needed to strengthen organic farming infrastructure in the Southeast, create economic opportunities for limited-resource organic producers, and contribute to long-term profitability and sustainability of organic agriculture. 
Dr. Jeanine Davis in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University will lead the extension efforts for the project.
(this is a slightly edited version of a press release from Tuskegee University)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Life of a Forest Farmer-in the Spring

By Margaret Bloomquist

The ups and down of the thermometer had us out in February, every week, checking beds for reemergence, germination, invasive sprouts ~ anything? Fast forward to March and we’re creating new beds for this seasons planting and propagating, but all too careful not to disturb the growth just beneath the surface for existing beds. There is much below the surface, must be… I planted seeds and transplanted rescued natives there for the past 5 years. There must be something poking their heads up soon… Right?!

Oh, the anticipation. The worry. The excitement. 

Then….. Mid-March walks at 2,500 ft in Southern Appalachia, a couple bloodroot! Just a few with their brilliant white ephemeral flowers, the palm shaped leave wraps its lobes snug around the blossom bud, and stem at emergence. 
Nettles! Trillium!
Ramps! They’ve reseeded and bulbil led their way to spread the plots out even further. They smell – and taste - wonderful. When harvesting, take one leaf from each mature plant. 
Satisfaction. Happiness. Conservation. New growth and a beautiful season ahead.

Fast forward to mid-April. There must be more bloodroot than the select few.
April early bloomers meet late spring bloomers… and seedlings!! This is the gold right here, ramp seeds planted 2 ½ years ago (fall), bloodroot seeded last year, May 2016 ~ germination. I think this will be a great bloodroot year after-all.
Goldenseal transplanted out of season (July 2016 rescue), and ginseng unfolding beautifully (below). 
My heart, and forest plots are full. 

Now for the dirty work.

Keep a look out for our next Life as a Forest Farmer entry ~ Invasive Plants & Organizing Beautiful Chaos.

Please be in touch via for upcoming Woodland Stewards gatherings and opportunities for Beginning Forest Farmers in Western North Carolina.

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