February 12, 2014
On the surface, the aquaponics system appears to be a replica of a natural ecosystem where the word “waste” is an artificial concept. The fish don’t excrete waste, they excrete nutrients, and the plants take up these nutrients, filtering the water for the fish. However, in our earlier post “When the Fish and Plants Don’t Get Along,” we discussed how solid accumulation on the bottom of the plant beds can lead to poor water quality. To prevent this, we employ clarifiers after the fish tanks and before our plant beds; these tanks are designed to slow the water enough to allow solids to settle. Every day we drain the sediment from the bottom of the clarifiers to remove a total of 12 gallons of muddy, solid-filled water from the system. Just because we don’t want these solids sitting beneath our plant rafts, doesn’t mean they are a waste product. In fact, the solids are loaded with valuable Read More >
February 11, 2014
Since moving to Baltimore seven years ago, I’ve become enamored with the idea of growing food in urban spaces.
Turns out there are good reasons to get behind the idea. Studies have found associations between urban community gardening and increased access to healthy food, opportunities for exercise, stronger social cohesion in neighborhoods, and even higher property values. And like any green space, urban farms and gardens offer essential ecosystem services like moderating temperatures Read More >
February 10, 2014
Last week, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future began its second session of our Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). If you missed the course last year, it’s not too late to sign up for this session!
In the summer of 2012, the Johns Hopkins University partnered with Coursera, an organization that Read More >
February 7, 2014
Worst drought in years. According to this New York Times story, California may be experiencing its worst drought in 500 years, and it’s taking a toll on the state’s drinking supply and farming practices. There are a lot of balls in the air here—a lot of causes, a lot of effects, and perhaps a few solutions. There’s no doubt that livestock production is water-intensive, so reducing meat consumption could be one of the solutions. The Meatless Monday campaign is one way to be part of the solution. The mega dairies of the Central Valley are the source of much of the ice cream sold throughout the U.S. Read More >
February 5, 2014
The old adage “all good things come to those who wait” likely won’t apply to the recent House and Senate Conference Committee that is passing the Agriculture Act of 2014. For months, work on this farm bill has dragged on, past the expiration of the law it replaces. It has been necessary to use extensions of the expiring law in order to keep programs running and to prevent the underlying agriculture law from 1949 from going into effect, along with the dire consequences predicted if that were to happen.
The five-year, 959-page bill cuts approximately $23 billion in farm programs (although the Congressional Budget Office puts the figure slightly lower at $16.6 billion) through three cuts to three types of programs. The first cut is $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Read More >
February 4, 2014
Southeast Minnesota is a windy place. Never has this been more apparent to me than the last two weeks, when I’ve been driving through farm country, watching as the wind lifts snow off the flat, barren corn and soy fields and blows it across roads and up into the sky. The snow circling around in air currents is actually quite pretty to watch and aside from the danger that it can cause to motorists, does little harm to anything. But what happens when that snow melts and water rushes over the soil? Or when the soil dries out after the spring rains have come and gone, but the wind still blows strongly?  Read More >
January 31, 2014
Almost there on the farm bill. On Wednesday, the House passed a farm bill after spending weeks in negotiation with the Senate working out their differences. The Senate may pass it by the end of this week or early next. There is not much to like about this bill, which will provide generous crop insurance to large-scale farmers while weakening the safety net for the poor among us. Eighty-nine Democrats, including Steny Hoyer, Maryland’s 5th congressional district, and John Delaney, Maryland’s 6th congressional district, voted to cut the food stamp program by $8 billion. That means that approximately 850,000 households will lose about $90 in monthly benefits under the change—but the bill allocates an extra $200 million at food banks. I was pleased, however Read More >
January 28, 2014
All plants start out from seeds on the farm. We raise seedlings in coconut coir media and after 2-4 weeks we plant them in net pots in hydroponic beds. The healthy establishment of our seedlings is vital to the aquaponics system. High germination rates and vigorous seedlings growth rates help conserve valuable farm resources, like space, time, and money. This fall, I studied methods to improve germination rates and seedling growth of lettuce by testing whether watering with natural fertilizers and probiotics affected seedlings differently than watering with a control of aquaponics system water.
To test this hypothesis we set up a study that we informally dubbed the “Seedling Trials.” We used three different nutrient solutions: Rock Phosphate Fertilizer (Dr. Earth, Winters, CA), EM-1 Microbial Inoculant (EMRO, city) Read More >
January 27, 2014
For those of you who love seafood and have a soft spot for marine animals (for example, sea lions), there are a few major issues to keep in mind as the U.S. aquaculture industry is poised to expand.
First, most seafood consumed in the U.S. (91 percent!) is imported from other countries, many of which have much less stringent standards for environmental protection. Second, there is a limited supply of wild-caught seafood, as wild fisheries are at capacity or in decline, and they cannot keep up with the growing demand for seafood. And finally, as a result of this trouble with fisheries, Read More >
January 24, 2014
Carcinogens and soda. Yesterday Consumer Reports published a story about the health risks of the caramel coloring found in some sodas, most notably Pepsi One. The CLF worked in collaboration on this study as the behind-the-scenes scientists. The chemical known as 4-MEI (4-methylimidazole) is a possible carcinogen and is present in some sodas in alarmingly high amounts. Read the story or our blogpost, penned by Tyler Smith, to find out about the debate about warning labels and more. Join the online conversation with hashtag #CaramelColor. Read More >