Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture

For my internship during the summer of 2014, I worked at the Garman Organic Farm on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, Rhode Island. Garman Farm is a family-owned and operated business specializing in heirloom vegetables and small fruits. Owned solely by Jim and Michelle Garman, the farm supplies many local restaurants and markets with fresh organic produce. In addition to that, Jim and Michelle operate a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA program.  With over 60 members, this CSA provides an excellent way for members of the local community to support a small, local business in exchange for access to fresh organic food on a weekly basis. The Garmans grow their product on farmland leased from Sustainable Aquidneck and the Aquidneck Land Trust. Jim and Michelle practice organic production techniques, and their methods include building organic matter (with amendments of compost, seaweed, and manure), seasonal crop rotation, keeping soils covered with organic mulches, growing winter cover crops and planting a diverse array of crops.

Over the course of the summer, I spent many days working beside Jim and Michelle planting various crops and learning how to cultivate them. We tilled the soil, manually seeded row after row of assorted organic seeds, spent many hours weeding and watering, and organized community pickup days for the CSA program. It was fascinating to learn how to be an organic grower firsthand. It was an honor and a pleasure to work side by side with Jim and Michelle as the crops grew and we began to harvest them.

The most interesting and pleasurable part of this internship experience for me was learning about and participating within the farm’s CSA program. Every Monday between 2pm and 6pm, the Garmans opened the proverbial “gates” of their farm to members of the community. With the choice of any freshly picked produce available at their fingertips, I watched as these supporters thoroughly enjoyed their weekly visit to the farm. An alternative economic model to the conventional marketplace, CSA’s are an excellent way for community members to actively engage in the growing process and provide much needed direct support to local smaller growing operations.

Through this internship, I have received a plethora of new knowledge surrounding organic growing procedures, CSA practices and how to run a successful small business. I learned the differences between conventional industrial commercial farming practices and those of a small-scale organic commercial farm. I learned how small growers set prices and remain competitive in a tumultuous marketplace. The direct economic experience of participating in the farm’s business model and practices has proven invaluable to my career as an ENRE student. It was a great summer and I had an amazing experience on the farm. Perhaps one day, I too will shed my academic role and join the ranks of an organic farmer, trade my laptop for a wheelbarrow, and spend my days baking in the sun and digging the earth.

 

By Matthew Reinhardt,

December 10th, 2015

 

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in New Jersey

Throughout the summer of 2015, I worked an internship in sustainable agriculture in my home state of New Jersey. For those who have never truly visited New Jersey, you may have a negative image of my home involving MTV shows, heavy pollution, and concrete. As you will learn through this post, New Jersey is actually a lush, beautiful state over ten thousand farms of all kinds. You will also read about how I learned to apply practical sustainable methods to organic farming by using alternative methods other than pesticides, and how to farm organically. I also learned more about the importance of organic food itself.

Flocktown Farm is a small-scale, organic farm located in Long Valley, NJ. The farm’s scenery is rather stunning, as it sits upon the top of the beautiful Schooleys Mountain surrounded by forest. Flocktown Farm is organized as a CSA (community shared agriculture), which means the farm’s consumers would buy shares of the farm and receive weekly “shares” of the farm’s produce and products. This is a similar concept to how a corporation works with investors who buy “stock” in the company. The CSA model has helped many farms survive and prosper in that the farms would get all their capital at the start of the growing season. This is important to the farm’s survival because the farm would be able to recover from what would usually cripple a farm’s production, such as financial disaster, low quantities of rain, essential equipment getting damaged, storms, pests, etc.

Flocktown farm has no livestock, but solely focuses on growing vegetables along with some fruit and herbs. The different sub-seasons of the summer dictated what we could grow at what time. In the first half of the summer I worked (from June to mid-July), the farm grew kale, baby kale, chard, bok choy, arugula, lettuce heads, peas, micro-greens, scallions, radishes, basil, oregano, leeks, mustard greens, cilantro, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and more. From mid-July through early-September, you could find potatoes, string beans, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, beets, dill, eggplant, bell or sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, and more in the farm’s CSA shares or farmers market stand. The farm also prepared its own pickles with cucumbers and herbs they grew on the farm. Flocktown also sells meat and eggs for another local in exchange for the stand selling Flocktown’s produce.

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My essential duties while working this internship involved working as a farmhand. Over the summer I seeded, planted, trans-planted, weeded, harvested, and washed/prepared produce. I would also pack shares for the farm’s CSA members. Every Thursday, we could go to sell the produce at the local town’s farmer’s market where I would help sell the produce directly to consumers. I would also inform customers on the farm itself, along with organic food in general.

In doing all of this, I learned how to apply sustainable and environmental practices in a practical, direct manner, while getting plenty of exercise! I learned about the harmful effects of pesticides and how over the time the populations of the pests will adapt to resist the pesticides genetically. For instance, a pesticide may eliminate 99% of a population of beetles the first year it is used, but the next year the offspring of the surviving 1% of those beetles will resist the pesticide rendering it useless in the second year of its use. Meanwhile, more sustainable practices such as, “trap-cropping”, crop rotation, etc. are far more effective methods to protect the produce. These methods are far more sustainable too, considering how the chemicals from the pesticides affect the soil and runoff into the local rivers and streams. This should not happen on an organic farm since they don’t allow those substances.  Working at the farm also taught me many organic methods regarding the health of the soil, efficient land use, the use of organic fertilizer, harvesting crops with minimal damage to the ecosystem, and more.

There were a lot of important learning outcomes from working in organic agriculture. One very important notion I’ve observed is that organic farms survive and prosper because there is demand for them! This goes to show how people have a huge demand for food not produced by our current, industrialized food industry. The support and enthusiasm from Flocktown’s shareholders are what makes the farm successful. The community in CSAs, organic farms, or farmers markets is golden, and it is inspiring to see how many people were excited by simply seeing a healthy- looking batch of kale, or a pile of potatoes pulled out of the ground that day. Our customers were happy to know where their food came from. That is why it is extremely important to support our local food growers. Organic produce has better quality and contains far more nutrients because of how it is grown, and we would have far less access to this food without our local farmers. I encourage all readers to support their local farmers to help keep this movement alive.

By John Patrick A. Govan ‘17

Summer of 2015

Finding Pollution Hot Spots in Local Watersheds

During the past summer, I had the awesome opportunity to work with Simona Trandafir, Emi Uchida, and Todd Guilfoos of URI’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (ENRE) for the North East Water Resources Network (NEWRnet ) EPSCoR research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Other universities involved in NEWRnet are Salve Regina University, University of Vermont, and University of Delaware. The research focused total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of freshwater watersheds. Researchers chose three types of watersheds – urban, agricultural, and forest – to figure out what kind of land use affected the water quality. ENRE’s part of the research was split into two parts: one to develop a computer simulation experiment of stakeholder’s decision-making related to water quality, and then to actually go out in the field to find hot spots of pollution and talk to stakeholders.

Interns

Before I could even start my internship at the university, I was on a train with fellow interns from URI and Salve Regina to Delaware for a convention where we met thirteen other interns, each with his or her own project. Some were going to take water samples by hand while others were going to set up sensors in the steams and a few were going to create the computer simulation experiments. My project for the summer was to go out in the field and find hot spots of water pollution within the watersheds. While in Delaware I was able to make friends while learning about TMDLs and the NEWRnet mission. We were given tours of water treatment facilities in Wilmington, Delaware and brought to Delaware’s urban and forest watersheds. Our days were 8am-5pm, but once we were done we were able to explore the restaurants around the university and get to know the people we would be working with for the summer. On our last full day we even went to a rope and zip-lining course!

Drinking water

Once I got back to Rhode Island, the rest of the URI and Salve Regina team and I were given a tour of Bailey’s Brook and Maidford River Watersheds on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, Rhode Island. Bailey’s Brook is the urban watershed and Maidford River is the agricultural watershed. Since Aquidneck Island does not have much forest, the pristine forest watershed for Rhode Island is the Scituate Reservoir Watershed. Once I had an idea of where the watersheds were located, I began researching through secondary sources policies in place to protect the water, what types of pollutants the town of Middletown was most concerned with, and potential hot spots of water pollution. I met with Simona once a week to discuss my findings and figure out where I needed to go from there. Once I had a better understanding of TMDLs, I contacted the Town Planner of Middletown, various people from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Aquidneck Land Trust to try to find out what their future plans were, if any.

Before my internship I was not fully aware that there is still pollution in our drinking water. On top of this new knowledge, I also gained valuable skills such as interviewing and researching and developing further questions to continue a research project that extends beyond classroom deadlines. Walking into this internship I had no idea what to expect, but I encourage all ENRE majors to have one under their belts before graduation. Internships are great opportunities to learn something new, gain valuable skills, and meet new people along the way.

By: Kellie Brown

December 11th, 2014

Exploring Wisconsin Farms and Water Quality

I spent this past summer conducting National Science Foundation (NSF) research at the University of Wisconsin-Stout alongside a team of 10 students from across the country. Each student came from a different academic discipline (both natural and social sciences), making it one of the first interdisciplinary Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) ever funded by NSF. I worked most closely with another economics student and a research mentor to evaluate the economic impacts of phosphorus pollution and mitigation within a watershed in Wisconsin. This project is part of a larger, long-term, interdisciplinary research project looking at the issue of toxic blue-green algae blooms in a Wisconsin lake, a watershed-wide issue involving many stakeholders, including farmers, citizens, and policymakers. I am passionate about the environmental impacts of agricultural systems, so this internship opportunity was a perfect fit for my interests, as well as my academic and professional goals.

I designed and disseminated surveys to Wisconsin farmers to attempt to better understand trends in Best Management Practice (BMP) adoption by capturing the economic landscape of Wisconsin farms. BMPs are ecologically sensitive alternatives to conventional farming practices. Soil loss and declining soil health are of heightening concern to Wisconsin farmers, policymakers, and citizens as these issues can be detrimental to profits and yields and can damage water quality through sedimentation and nutrient loading. In this watershed, excessive phosphorus loading from soil loss causes blue-green algae blooms that are toxic, unsightly, and a sign of an unhealthy ecosystem. BMPs can mitigate soil loss, but their effectiveness is still debated.

As I met with stakeholders, excavated through the massive piles of returned surveys, and journeyed through the world of statistical software, I found answers to important questions:

1) Which incentives do farmers find to be effective in easing their transitions to BMPs?

I found that farmers find technical help and education programs to be helpful incentives, along with the farmer-led councils that often provide these two incentives. The value placed on education and technical help is true for all farm types and sizes. On average, these incentives are more helpful than easement programs, tax breaks, and subsidies.

2) How interested are farmers in participating in education programs?

I determined that 23% of respondents have high interest in education, having mostly attended a variety of education programs. Likewise, 28% of respondents have medium interest in education, expressing interest in relevant education programs of all types as well as having participated in some education programs. Finally, 49% expressed low interest, being only interested in some or no education programs.

3) To what extent are farmers currently using BMPs?

This survey asked farmers about their use of conservation easements, crop rotation/cover crops, conservation tillage, waterway buffer zones, manure management, and fencing off livestock from waterways. I found that 45% of respondents are high adopters of BMPs, whereas only 33% are medium-level adopters and 22% are low adopters. This revealed that a large portion of farmers use a combination of various BMP options available.

4) Which variables and factors influence adoption of BMPs?

I found that various factors have significant impact on a farmer’s level of BMP adoption. For each additional incentive a farmer uses, their BMP adoption increases by 3.2% and for each unit increase in the frequency of soil testing, BMP adoption increases by 7.2%.

Those farmers in younger age groups increase their BMP adoption by 6.1%. This means that younger farmers are more readily adopting BMPs. Also, farmers that have children have a BMP adoption rate that is 9.5% higher than that of farmers without children. This could be due to an investment and interest in future generations.

On average, the prospect of increased profits and yield in the long-run encourages farmers of all farm types to adopt BMPs, whereas current policies and capital costs are generally perceived to have a more negative than positive impact, often hindering adoption.

Presentation

Overall, I learned an immense amount about farmer BMP adoption and water quality, but most importantly, I learned about the importance of connecting with others. The connections made between citizens, policymakers, and farmers via our research are making a profound difference in this community. Also, I have had many networking opportunities in the field of environmental economics and have been guided towards greater opportunities for further academic research and graduate studies, as well as career opportunities.

By: Lauren L’Esperance ’14

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics Major

Sustainability and International Development Minors

December 8th, 2014

Estimating the Effect of Climate Change on Rhode Island Agriculture (the $97 million question)

Pretty much everyone knows about climate change and many have some idea what the changes will be. But it’s unclear what the costs of climate change will be to Rhode Island. During the spring 2014 semester, I studied the economics of climate change in Dr. Corey Lang’s EEC 355 class. A major component of this course was a semester-long project working to monetize the impacts of climate change in Rhode Island. My group examined RI agriculture, while other groups studied topics such as fisheries and maritime transportation.

The first of four parts of the project involved researching the background of the sector. For agriculture, this entailed its worth to the state in terms of number of jobs, percentage of annual revenue along with the appropriate figures, and the prevalence of the industry in the state including its market base and variety of cultivated goods. Research into past data from the Rhode Island Census Bureau and the USDA agricultural cash receipts revealed that agriculture in Rhode Island makes up 0.5% of Rhode Island’s industry ($17.6 million), and 2,396 people rely on agriculture in Rhode Island to make a living.

The second task was to research the basic science of climate change in order to examine which impacts would most affect the state and sector in question. We found that the biggest threats to Rhode Island’s agriculture were not in simple temperature change alone, but in that and the changing weather patterns that could potentially change the state’s growing season averages.

The third part of the project was the most involved. The impacts were examined and monetized to determine the overall impacts to the state caused by climate change. We chose a number of impacts that form the majority of the sector’s worth: greenhouses, nurseries and turf (64.5% of Rhode Island’s agricultural revenue), corn (5.8%), dairy products (2.7-3%), and apples (2.6%). Depending on the impact chosen, different methods were used to assess their monetary value. Once the initial value was determined, it was discounted to the present day and totaled to find an all-encompassing total value with a present-day discount value. After research and projection, we estimated that climate change by the end of the century would cause an estimated revenue loss of $227,458,890.00. This translates to a total present value of $96,664,001.71 at a 1% social discount rate.

Lastly, we explored how adaptation could cushion or eliminate the negative effects of climate change on agriculture. We looked specifically at the use of genetically modified crops (GMOs), irrigation, increased use of greenhouses and the use of crop insurance. The increased use of GMOs was determined to be more detrimental than helpful and was dismissed as a likely tactic for use. The other options underwent cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not the plan was an appropriate solution. We came to the conclusion that all of the remaining adaption plans would provide some benefit if they were all used moderately.

Though I took the course as an elective, I found this course and project essential to my education as an ENRE student. The project encouraged me to learn core competencies needed in the field of Environment and Natural Resource Economics and in my future career. Students involved in this project hone important skills from writing to cost/benefit analysis to excel. I personally learned a valuable lesson in group work and developed skills that will remain with me as an asset in my search for a career and in my daily work to follow.

 

by: Ellen Richer ’16

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics & General Business Double Major

Sustainability Minor

August 5th, 2014