November 30, 2010

Food and Fiber Fun at Mann

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On Nov. 18, Mann Library, the Cornell Small Farms Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and the Cornell Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs sponsored the second annual Food and Fiber Fair in Mann lobby.  Agriculture, sustainability and nutrition stations attracted the Cornell community.

With local produce, jams and cheeses abound, tables taught about the different organizations present.

One farm, Hilker Haven Farm, produces their vegetables and fruit exclusively with hydroponics – the technique of growing plants in nutrient solutions of water.  Their stand sold jams and honey.

The fair also presented multiple fiber farmers.

“I’m trying to build a business on an agricultural lifestyle. Every time I get the opportunity to get out, to show people how beautiful this fiber from goats is, I take it,” said Lisa Ferguson of Laughing Goat Fiber Farm.

A local grain farmer, Thor Oechsner alum, collaborates with anthropologist, Stefan Senders, to create a local bakery.  Oechsner came to Cornell for agriculture, and after dairy farming in Lyons, N.Y. he moved back to the Ithaca area and began Oechsner Farms in 1993.  In 2006, he purchased a mill and by 2008, began grinding his own flour.

When Senders moved back to Ithaca, he baked many types of bread using Oechsner’s flour.  During dinner with friends one evening, conversation arose about Senders’ bread and talk began about sharing the delicacy through a bakery.  Senders aims to open Wide Awake Bakery in Mecklenburg, N.Y. this January.

Senders hopes the bakery will boost collaboration between food producers and bakers in the area.

Some event stands represented relevant issues, like Martha Goodsell’s table about the impacts of natural gas drilling on agriculture, specifically in the Marcellus Shale.  Goodsell is compiling studies from other areas — like Arkansas, California, and Alaska — where drilling impacted critical resources: water quantity and quality, soil erosion and ozone impacts on plants.

“I was surprised to find out about all Cornell Dining is doing with local foods.  It’s important for one of the nation’s leading agriculture schools to set an example in sourcing food locally,” said Casey Knapp ’12.

The day’s events also included the documentary, Peak Oil: A Farm for the Future, followed by a panel discussion.  Narrated and co-produced by Rebecca Hosking, the film explores the economic importance of oil and the potential alternatives to its use in the agricultural industry.  The story focuses on the challenges facing Rebecca’s small family farm in southwest England as it tries to turn away from fossil fuels and seeks alternative, energy-efficient forms of farming.

These issues concern every farm throughout Britain; present farming methods may be insufficient in feeding the British population because the country is highly dependent on fossil fuels.

“The inconvenient truth is that this farm is no more sustainable than any other,” Rebecca narrated, “and unfortunately, it seems that for both my farm and the farms across Britain, their dependencies on fossil fuels are the biggest challenges in keeping them going into the future.”

Even a sandwich, she said, is dripping of oil due the fuel used to cultivate the wheat, to turn grains into bread, to process the meat and to turn milk into cheese.  Plus, energy is used in transporting all of these goods.

Since the over-use of fossil fuels may lead to climate changes and fuel shortage, the film emphasizes the need for nations to find new methods to feed their people — methods devoid of fossil fuels.  These include permaculture, forest gardens, biofuels, industrial farming and no-till farming.

A panelist of farmers and activists discussed the problems facing future farmers.  TCLocal editor Jon Bosak talked about the certainty of an upcoming energy descent — a radical reduction in energy use – in our own nation’s near future.  TCLocal is a local organization in Tompkins County, developing efforts to manage this decreasing energy availability.  He advocated conversion towards a low energy future without gas-guzzling farming equipment.

“The overall differences that we hope to see is that farming will become a lot more manual.  The fewer machines we have, the more physical the work is going to be.”

Along with the removal of agricultural machines, panelists also suggested the movement from large farms to personal gardens as a means of addressing the energy crisis.

“The future of fuel efficient farming should be one in which everybody is going to be doing some gardening and everybody is going to be producing some of their own food,” said Bosak.

Original Author: Katerina Athanasiou