Episode #165: Tobacco Transitions

Frank is joined by James Robinson of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) to discuss the ongoing transition from tobacco to diversified agriculture as price supports through acreage quotas have slowly been phased out in the Southeastern United States. Also discussed is RAFI’s efforts to assist farmers on the brink of bankruptcy.

Visit RAFI’s website at www.rafiusa.org.

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Episode #164: Food Hubs

Frank welcomes writer and photojournalist Erik Hoffner to talk about his writings and observations of the local food movement.  Erik shares the exciting development of food hubs as they spring up across the country, and describes the opportunities of scale and collaboration these interesting innovations are providing for local food entrepreneurs.  Also discussed are energy cooperatives, Fair Trade, and the prospects for sustainable agriculture to replace the industrial model.

Erik sent along a bunch of articles and links, including a free trial offer for Orion Magazine.  See links below:

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Episode #163: Food Tank

Frank welcomes two guests who share some of the highlights of the upcoming Food Tank event.  First up is Danielle Nierenberg, director of Food Tank and organizer of the Food Tank conference.  Danielle explains the mission and history of Food Tank, and shares the format of the conference and some of the speakers and topics people can expect.  The Food Tank event is sold out, but there will be a live stream available from foodtank.com.  Next up is food journalist and photographer Erik Hoffner who shares his perspective on the upcoming Food Tank conference.  Frank concludes with some previews of upcoming podcast themes, and also shares his plans to travel to Bolivia in the coming weeks.

Useful Links:

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Episode #162: Agduino 2015

Frank summarizes many of the interesting ongoing projects in the arduino for agriculture space, and expands the horizons of the topic to include other hardware/software suites with the potential to improve our ability to monitor the natural world.  These include Google’s modular smartphone Project Ara, Apitronics, Ninja Blocks, ManyLabs, and SODAQ.  Also included is a breakdown of Public Lab projects Infragram, Spectral Workbench, and Mapknitter.

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Episode #161: The Wood Biomass Industry

Update: Guess Marcus had already sent me the iPad app referenced in the interview but I didn’t realize it!  See useful links below.  And actually the application has a web-interface that you could use on any device.  Please report back if you do start using this. 

Frank is joined by forester Marcus Kaufmann from the Oregon Department of Forestry.  Marcus breaks-down the current state of forest ecology in the Western United States, including the interruption of natural fire cycles by human suppression efforts, the role of climate change and drought in fire intensity, and the growing pressure insects are placing on our forests as the climate warms.  He discusses the social complexities of catastrophic wildfire, touching on the problem of wildland-urban interface and the institutional inertia of organizations like the Forest Service that are largely designed to fight large wildlfires.  Then Marcus tells us of ongoing efforts to create a market for small diameter wood products as an energy source, from small co-generation projects to large industrial projects like liquid fuels.

Useful links:

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Episode #160: The Failure of Permaculture Redux

Frank once again dives into the morass of Agroinnovations Episode #145 addressing a listener’s comment through a series of clips from recent podcast episodes featuring Simon Huntley, Narendra Varma, David Holmgren, Darren Doherty, and Tom Giessel.  Frank reiterates his argument that permaculture isn’t failing as an agroecological design science, nor are permaculturalists failures.  As my guests explain, permaculture’s shortcomings have much more to do with our cultural worldview and our socioeconomic circumstances.  They also offer numerous examples and case studies that point us in the direction of a new, cooperative model where common land use rights are interwoven into the social and ecological landscape, and different people with different skill sets can collaborate and innovate together on a shared landscape.
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Episode #159: Gotham Unbound

Frank concludes his interview with Dr. Ted Steinberg, ecological historian and author of the book Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. In this second part of a two-part conversation, Dr. Steinberg explains the origins of the book title, and challenges the notion that New York City can grow without limits in an age of rising sea levels. Climate models predict an 11 to 24 inch rise in sea levels in the coming decades, which spells big trouble for the Big Apple as flooding and other natural catastrophes become a certainty in one of the most built environments on the planet. He breaks down the different plans that have been put forth for mitigating these problems, most of which are costly and unrealistic, while monyed interests continue to push for an ever-expanding growth horizon for New York City.

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Episode #158: The Ecological History of Greater New York

Frank welcomes Dr. Ted Steinberg, author of the book Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. Dr. Steinberg begins by explaining the origins of the book, and then describes the ecological condition of New York City before European colonization. He explains the biological diversity once found in this rich estuary, and breaks down the reason why this particular location became such a magnet for human commerce and engineering. The historical process of industrial development led to the division of underwater parcels and subsequently massive increases to the size of the island of Manhattan. Also, the growth of New York City was made possible via massive infrastructure projects in transportation and other infrastructure, most notably infrastructure to move water vast distances to feed the insatiable appetite of an ever-growing population. Finally, Dr. Steinberg discusses the good and bad of New York’s open space, concluding with a brief discussion of species extinctions caused by water pollution.

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Episode #157: Trends in Community Supported Agriculture

Frank is joined by Simon Huntley of smallfarmcentral.com. Simon shares his motivations for creating a CSA member management software platform, and the features of that platform. He then discusses the newly emerging business model of venture capital funded local food delivery services like Farmigo and Good Eggs, and offers some analysis as to what these businesses mean for CSA farmers. Simon also discusses his recent Trends in CSA Farming report that shows rapid growth for CSA’s while mean gross incomes are extremely low. The interview concludes with some suggestions as to how CSA’s can be more competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

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Episode #156: The Future of Food and Farming

In Part II of this two-part series, Frank Aragona concludes his interview with Tom Giessel, who is the honorary historian of the National Farmer’s Union. Tom begins with a brief foray into the history and status of farmer cooperatives, and argues that small operations unifying under a cooperative structure is the future of food and agriculture. He also advises listeners to beware of threats to uniform cooperative law, and the further danger of wholesale privatization of cooperative assets. The discussion concludes with a look at the role of commodity groups in the political landscape, and the dwindling role of cooperative extension in the face of persistent budget cuts.

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