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Organic oats popular for northern Alta. growers

by Mary MacArthur of The Western Producer

FORT VERMILION, Alta. — Alberta’s organic farmers are scattered across the province, but a surprisingly large number of them are in Mackenzie County.

About 75 organic oat plots are grown at the research station in Fort Vermilion, Alta. | Mary MacArthur photo
About 75 organic oat plots are grown at the research station in Fort Vermilion, Alta. | Mary MacArthur photo

Twenty percent of the Alberta Organic Producers Association members are in the northern county.

“There is a huge growth rate in the area,” said Becky Lipton, executive director of Organic Alberta.

Long-time organic producers Al and Marilee Toews aren’t surprised to see so many organic producers in the region, but they each have their own theory.

Al believes it’s a combination of philosophy and economics.

The 2011 Agriculture Census showed the average farm size in Mackenzie County was 879 acres.

He said organic production is a way for these smaller producers to make a decent living without the financial risk required with conventional agriculture.

“To me, the risk is huge,” Al said about conventional farmers spending big money to buy inputs for larger and larger farms.

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Feature: Toronto’s commercial aquaponics farm showcases “farming of the future”

Xinhua News Agency
By Phoebe Ho, Yan Zhonghua

TORONTO, June 27 (Xinhua) — There’s lush green lettuce, plump tomatoes and fragrant basil all growing in a bed of water in a 2, 000-sq-ft (about 186 square meters) greenhouse in Toronto, the capital of Canada.

It’s all part of a pilot project an urban farmer is hoping will help showcase the benefits of a waste-free system which combines aquaculture and hydroponics. He’s hoping the large-scale commercial aquaponics farm he built nearly two months ago will help persuade others into making the switch from conventional farming.

“We’re hoping to get connected with more farming groups in Ontario and help them access aquaponics and sort of get involved and start looking at it as another solution to food security,” project manager Evan Bell explained.

Bell, who works for Waterfarmers, a professional aquaponic consulting group, said this new city gardening movement can help farmers grow lots of food in a small space by creating a perfect ecologically balanced system.

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Nano From The Forest

Tiny cellulosic particles are poised to make big impact on materials technology
By Mitch Jacoby of Chemical and Engineering News

COMPOSITE An electrospinning process blends cellulose nanocrystals and poly(methyl methacrylate) to form strong, lightweight transparent materials. Credit: Hong Dong/Army Research Laboratory
COMPOSITE An electrospinning process blends cellulose nanocrystals and poly(methyl methacrylate) to form strong, lightweight transparent materials. Credit: Hong Dong/Army Research Laboratory

Tucked inside the fibrous cellulose matrices that provide mechanical strength to wood and plants are nanostructured cellulose materials that are jockeying for scientists’ attention. Collectively referred to as nanocellulose, these naturally occurring substances—nanocrystals and nanofibrils—are highly abundant. These materials are being touted for their ability to take various forms, such as gels and films, and for the breadth of their potential applications, including electronics and tissue engineering.

That potential has triggered a wave of recent activity—most of it related to fundamental research, but some aimed at turning nanocellulose into commercial products. Last week, for example, scientists from several countries gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia, at a conference of the Technical Association of the Pulp & Paper Industry (TAPPI) to update attendees on their latest findings. They discussed methods for extracting, processing, and chemically modifying nanocellulose, as well as using it to make a variety of materials.

And last month, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service together with the National Nanotechnology Initiative convened a workshop on nanocellulose commercialization. That meeting brought together top government and industry executives to identify information gaps and technical barriers impeding commercialization of cellulose nanomaterials (C&EN, June 9, page 26).
Some scientific ideas incubate slowly, and nanocellulose is one of them. Studies on nanostructured cellulose materials debuted in scholarly journals 65 years ago. But only recently have market forces driven the forest products industry to search for new high-value products. Nanocellulose looks promising. Market forecasters covering nanotechnology and nanomaterials predict that by 2020 the nanocellulose market in North America alone will be worth $250 million.

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Value-added products boost margins at Margie Loo and Dave Blum’s Elderflower Organic Farm in Valley

by Mary MacKay of The Gaurdian

© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY Fresh produce is just one thing on the organic menu at Margie Loo and Dave Blum’s Elderflower Organic Farm on the Selkirk Road in Valley.
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY Fresh produce is just one thing on the organic menu at Margie Loo and Dave Blum’s Elderflower Organic Farm on the Selkirk Road in Valley.

Tiny beetle saunters lazily along the shoulder of Margie Loo, who has just come into her cozy kitchen from a full morning of greenhouse work.

When she’s informed of her scuttling passenger, with nary a shiver down her spine, she scoops the wayward insect in hand for a quick return to the great outdoors.

Such is the life on Elderflower Organic Farm in on the Selkirk Road in Valley, where for Loo and her partner, Dave Blum, sustainability and good land stewardship are paramount.

“I grew up thinking that I belonged to the land. There was a really strong identity of being from there and being from a farm,” says Loo, who grew up on a multigenerational farmed homestead in Springfield that dates back to the 1820s.

“That was really important growing up, but then I decided that farming was really way too much work and not secure enough. So I decided I was going to go off to university and get a job in an office and have my weekends off.”

It turns out that fate had a bonne fête surprise in mind for her in that career regard.

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Organic standards go global

In the past, international trade of organic products between the U.S. and other countries has been difficult because of the wide variations in international organic standards and certification requirements. However, according to a June 22nd panel discussion at the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo® in New Orleans, tremendous strides have been made in the development of organic trade agreements with other countries.

Currently, the U.S. has “equivalency agreements” with Canada, the European Union, and Japan. The agreement establishes that the countries involved agree that the objective of each other’s organic regulations and control systems are equal. This means that products can be sold as “organic” in either market, without further certification or documentation; products may carry the organic seal of both countries; and accredited certifiers are mutually recognized. Such agreements are important in light of President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which projects a doubling of U.S. agriculture exports by 2015. Negotiations can sometimes take a decade or more, but according to Laura Batcha, Executive Director & CEO of the Organic Trade Association, three international organic trade arrangements have been developed in the last five years alone.

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EVENT LOCATION: 50 Stone Rd. East, Guelph University Centre, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1