The FarmBot Genesis is an open-source robot gardener for home food production. You design your mini-farm with their app and then the Raspberry Pi-powered robot handles the rest, from planting to watering, weeding to harvesting. The FarmBot Genesis sounds like the evolutionary descendant of Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana's groundbreaking 1994 telerobotic artwork, the TeleGarden:
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The New York State Department of Health is selecting companies that may be given license to grow weed on farmland in Bethel, New York adjacent to the site of the legendary Woodstock Music Festival of 1969. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Read the rest
Joe sez, "There's a new FDA rule that will make it nearly make it financially impossible for small craft brewers to give their grain away to farmers for animal feed. I work for a small brewery and all of us there are very upset about this and the general disregard for sustainability. At the end if the article linked there's direct FDA links that cover their proposal."
Leftover brewing grains have been fed to livestock since the dawn of agriculture, so this is a pretty radical shift. The proposed new requirements for animal feed handling stipulate that the feed has to be dried, analyzed and packaged before being donated to farmers (the spent grains are generally given away at the end of the brewing process), at substantial expense.
It's clear that food safety is important, but I'm not convinced that the stringency of this rule is commensurate with the risk.
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Underground the city of London are eight massive bomb shelters like the one pictured above that have been empty or used as document storage for more than 50 years. Now, one of them is being transformed into a subterranean farm. The farming group, called Zero Carbon Food, based their system on hydroponics and LED light powered by wind-generated electricity.
"When I first met these guys I thought they were absolutely crazy, but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away," says two Michelin star chef Michel Roux Jr.
"Would You Eat a Salad Grown in a Bomb Shelter?" (Smithsonian) Read the rest
A still from the video shot undercover at an Idaho dairy by animal rights group Mercy For Animals. Under a proposed law, filming scenes like this would become a crime.
In Idaho, the dairy industry has successfully lobbied lawmakers to propose a new law that would make it a crime for animal rights advocates or journalists to lie about their backgrounds to applications at dairy farms, for the purpose of documenting criminal activity or animal abuse.
Striking back at this proposed legislation that would curb free speech, Los Angeles-based nonprofit Mercy for Animals today released video of a dairy worker sexually abusing a cow at Dry Creek Dairy (owned by Bettencourt Dairies) in Idaho. Read the rest
A maple tree sapling with its crown cut off is "like a sugar-filled straw stuck in the ground." That's what researchers at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center discovered when they applied vacuum pressure to the stump of a sugar-maple sapling. They were able to draw out an astonishing amount of sap from the trunk this way.
Typically, a traditional sugarbush produces about 40 gallons of maple syrup per acre of forest by tapping, perhaps, 80 mature trees. With this new method, the UVM researchers estimate that producers could get more than 400 gallons of syrup per acre drawing from about 6,000 saplings.
Above Photo: "UVM professors Abby van den Berg and Tim Perkins have revealed an invention that can yield vastly more syrup per acre than what producers currently get from the forest. It starts by cutting the top off a maple sapling. (Photo: Sally McCay)"
Remaking Maple (Via TYWKIWDBI) Read the rest
The bad news: Massive piles of pig manure are foaming up and then exploding
and nobody is really sure why. The worse news: The only solution (other than, you know, not raising so many pigs all together) is to feed the pigs more antibiotics — a practice that contributes to antibiotic resistance. Read the rest
A lovely entry in Smithsonian's ongoing 2013 Photo Contest, Emma Stephenson's "Perfect Tree in a Farmer's Field" photographed in the North Yorkshire countryside, England.
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We've talked before here at BoingBoing about how "Colony Collapse Disorder" is probably more than one thing, with more than one cause
. Another important detail to keep in mind as you read media reports on bee deaths — the collection of symptoms that we call Colony Collapse Disorder is also probably a lot older than you think
. In a guest post at Bug Girl's blog, bee expert Doug Yanega explains that CCD didn't start in 2006. In fact, periods of mass bee die-offs with the same collection of symptoms have been recorded at least 18 times, dating back to 1869. Read the rest
There's no reliable evidence that GM crops are dangerous to eat. On the other hand, they aren't the best way to reduce world hunger, and you can basically roll your eyes at anybody claiming GM crops are environmentally sustainable. Greg Jaffe cuts through the myths of GM food at The Atlantic
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This happened in my friend's henhouse this morning.
My friend Kate Hastings, who took this photo, thinks this egg froze because the hen cracked it slightly. But it also looks like the kind of expansion cracking that you can get when eggs freeze and burst their own shells. When the water in the egg white and yolk freezes, it forms a crystalline structure — and that structure isn't very tightly packed. There's lots of space between the molecules, which means that solid ice takes up more space than the liquid it replaced. If the egg freezes solid enough, it's got nowhere left to expand except outside the shell.
Eggshells, as it turns out, are not a great insulator from the cold. Chicken butts are, but chickens also don't always sit on their eggs consistently enough to keep those eggs from freezing.
One side note: You can actually thaw and eat frozen eggs. But you shouldn't thaw and eat an egg like this. That's because the shell is actually a pretty good barrier against bacteria. If a fresh egg — the kind sitting under a hen — has cracked, there's a higher likelihood of bacterial infiltration.
Thanks to Kate and Grampaw! Read the rest
Short version: There is LOTS the FDA doesn't want to tell you about livestock antibiotic use. And that matters. As I reminded you yesterday, the antibiotics we use to keep ourselves alive and healthy are rapidly losing their effectiveness against a whole host of diseases
. Antibiotic resistance to disease is driven by overuse of antibiotics — both in humans and in animals. And there are lots of antibiotics being used on animals. The trouble is, public health researcher know very little about that use. Because the FDA refuses to release more than the bare minimum of data.
For added fun, last year, they stopped even trying to regulate antibiotic use on livestock — opting instead for voluntary self-control systems. Read the rest
Ever since researching Before the Lights Go Out, my book on energy in the United States, I've been a little skeptical of the locavore movement. Sure, farmer's markets are a nice way to spend a weekend morning, and a good way to connect with other people from my neighborhood. There are arguments to be made about creating local jobs and contributions to local economies. But I see some holes in the idea, as well—particularly if you expect eating local to go beyond a niche market or a special-occasion thing.
Think about economies of scale—the cost benefits you get for making and moving things in bulk. That works not only for cost (making non-local food often cheaper food), but it also works for energy use. It takes less energy for a factory to can green beans for half the country than it would take for us all to buy green beans and lovingly can them at home. When our energy comes from limited, polluting sources—that discrepancy matters. Plus, you have to think about places like Minnesota, where I live. In winter, local food here would require hothouse farming—something that is extremely unsustainable, as far as energy use is concerned.
Basically, I think there are benefits to local food. And I don't think the problems with local food mean we shouldn't change anything about our food system. But we have to acknowledge that the locavore thing isn't perfect, and maybe isn't as sustainable as we'd like it to be. That's why I like this Grist interview with Pierre Desrochers, a University of Toronto geography professor and author of The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet. Read the rest
Participants in a rocket competition cheer after their rocket was successfully launched during the rocket festival known as "Bun Bangfai" in Yasothon, northeast of Bangkok, May 13, 2012. The festival marks the start of the rainy season when farmers are about to plant rice.
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We grow a lot of corn in the United States, much of which never sees the inside of a human stomach. In fact, in 2010, something like a quarter of all the corn grown in this country went to ethanol production. That's a massive amount of corn grown for gas tanks. And it's a problem.
The process of growing corn is tremendously energy intensive, and it has some far-reaching drawbacks that threaten the future of vital farmlands in the Midwest. Corn crops provide steady, reliable income for farmers. But the risks likely outweigh those benefits, at least at the quantities in which we now grow corn.
In the spring of 2009, I experienced some of those risks first hand. At Smithsonian.com, you can read a excerpt from Before the Lights Go Out, my book about the future of energy. The excerpt is about Madelia, Minnesota, a small town where local farming advocates are trying to promote a more sustainable cropping system, and a better way to grow biofuels—one that provides incentives for farmers to grow less corn, not more. Read the rest
The manure pits on pig farms across the United States have been invaded by a mysterious foam—at Ars Technica
, Brandon Keim describes it as "a gelatinous goop that resembles melted brown Nerf". It's probably the byproduct of some kind of biological process, though nobody knows exactly what. The larger problem, though, is that the foam is rather explosive
. Read the rest