September 25, 2011
The United States has one of the most effective and efficient food production and food distribution systems ever created by man. That system makes the quality of life that we experience in the 21st century possible. However, that system can be rather fragile. The average unit of food consumed travels nearly 1500 miles from its place of origin before it arrives on one's plate. That we can transport goods like this is incredible, but citizens can easily lose access to this incredible system in one of four ways. It is not alarmist to imagine that one of the following scenarios will likely occur within the next 15 years.
First, access to food could be hampered by food safety concerns. E coli and Salmonella outbreaks have compromised portions of that distribution system over the past few years, and such an outbreak – in the right locale – could possibly eliminate much larger components of that system.
Second, the system itself can be compromised by natural disasters. Illinois residents have seen the very real breakdown in food supply following hurricanes and flooding in other parts of our country. Similar problems can arise in the state of Illinois. The most likely events include severe blizzards, flooding, and tornados – all of which can, given the right combination of events, collapse access to the food distribution system for a period of time. A more extreme - yet very possible – example is a solar storm. A severe solar storm could destroy the electrical grid and could destroy food distribution overnight. It would take weeks or months to recover from such an event (some say even longer). Combine this with the fact that most Illinois grocery stores have a few to several day supply of food, and one finds that a single natural disaster could quickly cascade into a much larger disaster.
Third, the food distribution system could be compromised by a terrorist attack. The type of attack capable of doing this would dwarf that of September 11, 2001. We have all heard the possible scenarios (scenarios that span from nuclear attacks to the use of biological agents). The attacks of ten years ago actually provide an example of this because they did have an impact on that system. Coffee distribution was briefly disrupted as aircraft were grounded. It takes little skill/imagination to extrapolate that food distribution impact to one of the scenarios mentioned earlier.
Fourth, economic instability can compromise access to the food distribution system. An example of this can be found in southern Illinois where economic stress has resulted in some areas with marginal access to groceries. The United States is in the third year of what is now being called "The Great Recession." Should our economic woes continue the situation in southern Illinois could be transferred to other regions and multiplied.
How can we address this fragility? The solution to this problem is two-fold. First, we must guide Illinois toward more resiliency in our current food production/food distribution system. We should find ways to build more fail safes into the system and we should build contingencies into the system that better weather natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Second, we must institute mechanisms that reduce the impact should the food production/food distribution system be compromised. We must develop mechanisms that provide some marginal level of support when our efforts toward resiliency fail. We will detail the local Extension office's approach to this two-fold strategy in the second part of this column.
Source: Matt Montgomery, Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms, firstname.lastname@example.org
September 21, 2011
Students discovered that the University of Illinois Sustainable Student Farm (SSF) provides more than locally grown produce at the second annual open house last Thursday, said Bruce Branham, a professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.
"We want to raise awareness of the student farm in addition to issues regarding our food systems and supplies," Branham said. "The farm is also a tool to show students where their food comes from."
Branham said more than 300 students, faculty, staff and community members attended this year's open house, a 100 percent improvement from last year's attendance.
"In addition to the horticulture and crop sciences students one would expect to see, we have had a lot interest from students in engineering, liberal arts and sciences, and other areas of study," Branham said.
Tours of the three-acre sustainable farm informed attendees about the day-to-day operations that provide the campus community with sustainable, locally grown food. Visitors also had the opportunity to taste this farm-fresh produce at a sampling provided by the U of I Dining Services. The menu included poblano corn tartlets, gazpacho shooters, pesto pasta salad, and pork loin with an apple chutney and sausage.
SSF produce is sold to U of I dining services for the residence halls and campus catering services. Produce is also sold at the SSF farm stand from June through November on the Quad directly behind the Illini Union every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Despite these outlets, the farm is struggling to turn a profit due to the nature of running a sustainable farm. "Pesticides are a labor-saving tool," Branham said. "It takes a lot of labor to produce food sustainably, especially when we don't have the equipment we need to be more efficient."
Marlon Mueller-Soppart, a freshman in the College of Business, said the university should be a marker of sustainability.
"I believe sustainability is one of the only ways we can continue living on this planet," he said. "I wanted to find out how to be more sustainable, because frankly I don't have much of an idea about what it actually takes." Mueller-Soppart said he wants to get involved and see how farming "actually works."
"Agriculture is the foundation of everything' and I respect farmers a lot," he said. "I am from the city so I don't know anything about farming. It is good to see the other side of things."
Students can volunteer at the farm from February through November.
News writer: Claire Benjamin
phone: ; email: email@example.com
September 18, 2011
Cool, crisp weather has finally arrived after a very hot, humid and wet summer. Planting bulbs is probably the number one garden activity that takes place in the fall, but there are a number of other gardening and fall related activities to do.
Fall is a good time to have your soil tested because labs are not as busy as they are in the spring. A soil test will give you the pH and potassium, phosphorus and organic levels in your soil. PH measures the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most plants will grow well at pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Fall is the best time to have your soil tested because the weather is more settled than in the spring and soil labs are not as busy. To prepare a soil sample, take a trowel and collect four to six soil samples from different locations in your garden or lawn in a bucket. Spread the sample on newspaper and allow it to dry. Place about a one half pint dried soil sample in a sealed plastic bag and send it to the lab. For a listing of local soil testing labs, go to http://urbanext.illinois.edu/soiltest/. Contact the lab before sending in the sample for any special instructions.
Get Ready for Frost
Get ready for frost. On average our first fall frost occurs around October 15, but we have had frost in September. First frosts usually occur when cool weather arrives with clear nights with light winds. Open grassy areas are most likely to have frost versus areas under trees that are protected because the trees keep heat from escaping. Plantings close to the foundation of your home often survive a first frost because of the heat given off from house. To protect plants cover them with blankets, newspaper, straw, sheets, tarps, boxes, or plastic sheeting. Apply the covers later in the afternoon and remove them in the morning. Floating row covers can also protect plants. This spun polyester material will raise the temperature 2 to 5 degrees F around the plants.
Plant a Green Manure crop
Green manure crops include clover, annual ryegrass, winter wheat, winter rye and buckwheat. Green manure crops turned into the soil in the spring will improve soil structure and will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Sow the seed thickly. Keep moist until germination occurs. Cut back plants that flower to prevent self-seeding. In early spring turn the green manure into the soil.
Transplant and divide perennials now. If you are planning to transplant established plants, cut them back by half and move to a prepared spot. Keep watered until the plant is established. Divide perennials when flowers get smaller, when the center of the plant dies out or when the plant just gets too big. All transplanting and dividing should be completed by October 1 to allow good root development before cold weather sets in.
Plant trees, shrubs and evergreens through September. Planting during this time period will allow the plant to become established before winter sets in. Water plants every 7 to 10 days during dry weather until the ground freezes.
Start a Compost Pile
Fall is a good time to start thinking about starting a compost pile. As we go later into the fall, dying plant material is more readily available for composting, plus you have all the fallen leaves. For more information on composting, check out the University of Illinois Extension website: Composting Central http://web.extension.illinois.edu/compostingcentral/
Remove dead plants from the vegetable garden after frost. If plants were not diseased, they can be turned into the soil or placed in a compost pile. Leaving dead plants in the garden will provide a home for over wintering insects. Spread a 2 to 3 inch layer of organic matter over the garden and dig in. The garden will be ready for planting in the spring.
Prepare Amaryllis for Flowering
Stop watering amaryllis in late summer to revive the bulb for flowering. Let the leaves die. Cut the dead leaves off to within 2-3 inches of the bulb. Place the potted bulb in a cool, dark place like the basement for 6 to 8 weeks. Bring the amaryllis into a bright, warm area and start watering. Keep the soil moist. It should bloom in 4 to 8 weeks after the start of watering.
Autumn is the best time to repair lawns. Seeding bare spots in the lawn from early to mid-September will allow the new growth to have enough time to germinate, grow and harden off before cold temperatures arrive. There is less competition from weeds in the fall because a lot of the annual weeds are dying out. Plus we are usually blessed with cool temperatures in the fall which is great for growing grass. Ideally dig the soil to at least 6-8 inches deep, spread grass seed over the area and tamp down. Keep the soil moist until germination. Cover with weed free straw to conserve moisture. If you are laying down sod, water the new sod several times a day for 1-2 weeks until it begins to knit or take hold. Be sure that water goes down through the thick sod and moistens the soil underneath for good root development. Do not let sod dry out.
Dig Up Cannas and Caladiums
Dig up cannas, elephant ears and caladiums after a frost. Cut the stems back to about 4-6 inches and dig the plant up. Wash the soil off the bulbs and let them dry in the sun. Place the bulbs in a container and cover with peat moss or sawdust. Place the container in a cool room like your basement. Check the bulbs every 3 or 4 weeks for any signs of rotting. Throw the rotten bulbs away. If you notice any shriveled bulbs, mist them with a little water. Pot the bulbs up in March and place in the garden after the last spring frost.
Bring in Houseplants
Start to bring houseplants indoors before cool weather arrives. Spray the plants with a stream of water to wash off insects. Remove any dead leaves. Isolate the plants from your houseplant collection for two weeks to be sure they have no insect and disease problems.
Visit an Apple Orchard
Plan a visit to a local apple orchard. There are over 2500 apple varieties grown in the United States. Apple harvest can go from August through November. Find a local apple orchard at the University of Illinois Extension website Apples and More at www.urbanext.illinois.edu/apples.
Visit a Pumpkin Farm
Take the family to a local pumpkin farm. Choose a pumpkin with a stem and never carry it by the stem. Pumpkins without a stem will not last long. Select a pumpkin with a flat bottom, so it will stand upright. Avoid pumpkins with holes, cuts or soft spots. These areas will rot. Light colored pumpkins are easier to carve because the skin is not as hard as darker orange colored ones, but they will not keep as well. Wash the pumpkin with warm water and let it dry before carving. For a listing of pumpkin farms, check out the University of Illinois Extension website Pumpkins and More at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/pumpkins/.
For more gardening information, check out the University of Illinois Extension website: Hort Corner at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/hort/.