A Visit to Live Power Farm

And what an amazing visit it was …

Here’s a video that has a pretty good synopsis of Live Power Farm.  http://youtu.be/YBmMLGuiJcE

“Associative Economics” was the word of  the day.  Live Power runs a CSA where the members equally share the budget, risks, and rewards of the farm. If there’s extra harvest – it goes to the members!

















Joel Salatin Against GMO Labels

Here at Ecology Action headquarters, we happen to be living in the first US jurisdiction to ban GMOs, Mendocino County, California.  There’s A LOT of buzz about GMO labeling going around the country these days and California will soon decide to be the first state to ban GMOs.

To stir up some balanced conversation, I thought I’d post an interesting argument against requiring GMO labels from internationally acclaimed small farmer and food activist, Joel Salatin.  To be clear Salatin is vehemently against GMOs but he is also against increased government involvement in our food system.  

In typical Salatin fashion, he includes several provocative zingers …

  • “What a shame that so many well intentioned Americans view additional government intervention as their only hope. Labeling laws are one of the thorniest and costliest issues facing local food systems and small farmers.”
  • “The best food contains no label. Look at what cleverspeak has done to words like “organic” and “natural.” 
  • “Anyone who thinks government-required labels will protect them is naive.”
  • “Ultimately, food safety is a matter of faith. Who do I trust? To suggest that the only way to protect the American consumer from GMOs is to lobby for more overbearing, inept, capricious, untruthful government intervention in the food system and demonstrates a gross lack of self-empowerment and feverish faith in government.”
  • “Instead of requiring GMO labeling, how about eliminating GMO subsidies?”
  • “Empowering people—creating informed, concerned, participatory consumers—requires that we extricate government from food transactions.”

For the full article -> Rebel with a Cause: Why I Oppose Government GMO Labeling.  The real question is … What do you think?




Threshing and winnowing the grain

A great deal of energy goes into baking a loaf of bread. Added to all the measuring, kneading, and waiting for the bread to rise is the lengthy behind-the-scenes process of harvesting, threshing and winnowing out the grains. In the past two weeks, we’ve harvested the remaining beds of spring-sown grains and hung them up in the new grain storage house to dry. Each type of grain has its unique characteristics, whether it’s the long stalk of the rye plant, the spiky heads of barley, or the plump, golden wheat grains.


Yesterday was my first experience threshing and winnowing grain. A special threshing floor was constructed of wood with a mesh-wire placed over to serve as an abrasive for separating the grain from the chaff. We started by bundling handfuls of grain in sheaves, with the heads together.


Then we basically stomped on the heads, trying to get the hulls off the grain.


Once we finished threshing out the grain, we gathered the grains and hulls into a winnowing basket, and sort of threw the grain up in the air, letting the slight breeze carry off the chaff.


Lamine, who has been threshing and winnowing his entire life, explained that often there is no breeze, and I need to sort of create a breeze with the winnowing basket. Sort of forcefully push the basket away from me, while holding it tight, and let the force of the push send the chaff flying.

My father once told me that he remembers having to steer the family donkey back in his village in Lebanon while it threshed out the grain. Donkeys or horses were tied up to the center of a circular-shaped stone or cement threshing floor, and sent walking round and round for hours, until all the grain was threshed off the stalks.

A Real World Grow Biointensive Farm in New Zealand

Jodi Roebuck is here for a 5 day workshop and gave a presentation to ALL the interns and then some today. It was super inspiring to see how someone who was inspired by Grow Biointensive over a decade ago has persevered and progressed through the years.

Jodi has A LOT of design experience (outside of his farm) having an educational background and completing a good number of landscape jobs over the years. Jodi showed us this original sketch he used to design his farm. It’s pretty amazing that his farm still follows his design from 8 years ago:

Check out his facebook page for more photos and information.


Class Day 5: Site Design Considerations For Your Mini-Farm

Matt Drewno dropped some gems on the 2 month interns today from his garden design experience over the years and currently in Mendocino. The central theme that came through was that you really need to get to know YOUR site.  Climate, water, soil, etc. can all be generalized from local reports but there is absolutely no substitute for really intimating the specifics of how your site system behaves.

Matt lead us off with some key concepts to keep in mind with site design:
  • Start small and with the most important things.
  • Nature is a template that is already there so take care to understand it.
  • Focus not just on your different areas but the interaction between them as well
  • Understand the land use history and patterns is invaluable.
  • Know your hardiness zones but realize they may change in different parts of the site and that the hardiness zones themselves are changing.
  • Try to observe with an open mind – don’t force your predispositions/objectives on what’s happening on your site.
Then Matt went into resource analysis and began by simply defining a resource as “something we could use.”  Further, that a “wasted resource is waste and that pollution is wasted waste.”  He then gave us this comprehensive checklist of items to understand and consider in your design:
  1. Topography – slope, elevation, aspect orientation
  2. Soil tests – texture, structure, minerals, nutrients, geology
  3. Water –  larger rhythms, management (swales, etc.), quality, dependability, infrastructure needed, potential pollution sources
  4. Temperature – highs and lows, know your own micro-climate
  5. Wind – how it affects the weather, seed and pollen movement, micro-climates
  6. Sun – path, shade pattern, how to store and harness
  7. Sector & Zone analysis – from permaculture design
  8. Legal Issues – zoning, building permits, water laws, planting regulations

Save Almost $3000 Per Year: Vegetable Oil Instead of Diesel for Your Vehicle

So Big Matt here is saving a nice chunk of coin here (over $200/month) by using straight vegetable oil collected from restaurants.

Here’s how …

* ~$1.60 in propane per 15 gallons of fule (and an hour of his time to burn off excess water from the oil.)
* ~$11 per month in filter replacements. (He buys 2 $16 filters every few months)

So if Matt is using about 60 gallons of fuel per month – $240 total at $4/gallon diesel- he’s saving ~$228.40 per month or $2,740.80 per year.

***Note that Matt made an initial investment of ~$1000 – to convert his diesel truck to run on veggie oil.




Class Day 4 with Mr. Jeavons: Seed Saving and Insect Control

To start class John threw out this list of books as worthy reads:

  • — “Dirt”
  • –The Starch Solution
  • –Eat to Live
  • –How To Build Your Own Greenhouse
  • –Herbal Remedies
  • –101 Foods That Could Save Your Life
  • –Pure Vegan
Also you should check out the Growbiointensive.org Bibliography

Seed Saving

John’s short list of “wonderful” seed resources:

  • -The Vegetable Garden 1885
  • -Cornucopia II
  • -The Garden Seed Inventory

We spent a lot of time with Booklet #13 and the logistics of seed production but here’s a few other highlights/helpful tips I took down:

  • John LOVES a cantaloupe called the “Navajo banana cantaloupe” as he calls it exquisite.
  • Every 5 yrs for the last 25 yrs, 10% of total varieties go extinct …
  • The 3 places where agriculture is most vulnerable are 1) seeds 2) tools and 3) fertilizer
  • As little as 0.002 sq. ft. can grow all cabbage you need to plant a 100 sq. ft. bed
  • John recommends everyone save seed in the next year and that you start with the easy ones like Tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, wheat
  • Big Question: Are you going to coddle the plant your saving for seed or let it tough it out … John says let it tough it out … But a combination is probably the reality ..
  • Too much nitrogen or water inhibits seed production
  • 100RULE — You want to save the seed so that the humidity is 5-10% and temp is 55 degrees, if possible . You don’t want humidity and temperature added together to exceed 100.
  • TIP: Order your seed day after Christmas -sometimes you’ll get last years prices and you’ll get your seed faster .

Pest Control

John’s favorite book here is “Rodales Complete Garden Problem Solver, instant answers to the most common questions.” He went on to offer this acronym AWOMB of the most important aspects for a healthy and effective soil – like “a womb” in which to nurture your plants – if you do not provide well for these elements, you are to have pest and disease issues:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Organic Matter
  • Minerals
  • Biointensive

He mentioned several other details but summed it up by “know the life cycles of your pests, know that most insects are beneficial, 90% of attacks are on vulnerable/sick plants, and most pests can be controlled pretty easily.

John talks about the utility of planning all 52 weeks of your garden. Each crop is a row, each column is a week and in the cell is what happens.



A graph that shows how over the years, for the exact same yields, Fertilizer needs have increased 6 fold and pesticides 33 fold.


John tells the story of how a a gopher ate 25% of his beans and another insect kept ea ting all the leaves off the plant and the plant kept growing more leaves. Rather than fight the pest, he did nothing and got 3.9X the US average yield from 75% of the bed.