Fred Kirschenmann: The direction that I want to see us moving in the future is also very much science based but it’s a different kind of use and there are different schools of science. The school of science that has pretty much predominated our culture going back to the 1700s or the 17th century I should say people like René Descartes said that we had to become the masters and possessors of nature. Francis Bacon said we had to bend nature to our will and then this is not to say that they were wrong or that they were stupid their view of things was entirely appropriate in terms of their culture and where they were at that time. And so all of our science since then coming right through the industrial period the industrial revolution has been how can we develop the technologies and really thinking about nature as kind of a collection of objects mechanistic kind of model and we could manipulate that at will in order to make it produce what we wanted to produce. Well that worked pretty well again as long as we had all these resources available to make that happen. Now as we’re moving into this next era of our future we now know that nature isn’t a collection of mechanistic parts, its very dynamic, very interdependent. We as the human species are simply a part of that and although Leopold understood that, one of his famous statements was that we have to recognize that we are not the conquerors of the biotic community we’re simply plain members and citizens. So we have to now create this new culture and then what’s the science that really informs us in terms of this new way of thinking about nature. If we were to really create an agricultural food system based on nature’s model what would that look like that’s a very laudable task I think.
Welcome to the Dream Green Series with co-host Stuart Tanner and James Moore on Solar-powered KRUU FM. Iowans creating a greener tomorrow. Today a journey of discovery across the state featuring innovators, cutting edge projects and communities leading the way to an energy independent and sustainable future. Visit our website at greeniowa.org.
James Moore: And now we’re on our way to the Leopold Center in Ames, Iowa. The Leopold Center, we’ll be speaking with Fred Kirschenmann, a farmer, philosopher and much more senior fellow there at the Leopold Center a place where a lot of great research is done in agriculture as we’ve learned from some of our other guests, a place that might be envied by other places around the country really to have a center like this so we’re looking forward to learn more about it. I have to say very fertile ground for sustainability and certainly all kinds of agricultural issues right here with ISU and that is Iowa State University doing a lot of great work in that area. Stuart, thoughts as we approach the Leopold Center.
Stuart Tanner: Very much looking forward to going to the Leopold Center and getting a good overview of agriculture and sustainability clearly being an agricultural state this is a very big part of the picture when you're looking at energy efficiency and renewables and particularly sustainability then agricultural sector is clearly going to be a huge factor. So to hear about what the Leopold Center is doing the various kinds of research projects that are going on, the progress that is being made in this area is going to be really interesting. So very much looking forward to that.
JM: This is James Moore. You're listening to the Dream Green Series here broadcasting on Solar-Powered KRUU FM part of the 20 part series, radio series, taking us all across the great state of Iowa. We are sitting at a beautiful table with Fred Kirschenmann, Stuart Tanner, my co-host also here. We’re going to talk with Fred about the Leopold Center, his role here and some thoughts about sustainability and much, much more and as often the case I will throw the first question over to my co-host Stuart Tanner.
ST: We've very much being looking forward to speaking to you today Fred so it's great to be here and have this opportunity. First question for me really I just like to ask you about the Leopold Center if you could describe to us its role and its importance really?
Fred Kirschenmann: Yeah, well one of the unique things about the Leopold Center which distinguishes it from many of the other sustainable agriculture centers around the country is that it was actually created by the Iowa State legislature and our mission was essentially twofold. One was to promote research which would provide information for farmers to better manage their current systems of agriculture so if you have a typical corn-soybean farmer which is of course traditional in Iowa what kind of tools could we give them to better manage their systems to reduce the amount of nitrates in the groundwater. And the second part of the mission was to promote research, which would enable farmers to redesign their systems, which they’ve referred to as a more sustainable agriculture. The funding for that came from a small tax on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide sales, which we then use and then we are required to make that funding available on a competitive grants basis. So once a year we send out a request for proposals and anyone connected with an educational institution or a nonprofit organization can qualify for funding provided they meet -- can demonstrate how they're going to meet one of those two missions for us. But what has amazed me is the extent to which researchers can use those small grants to then leverage significant amounts of additional monies from the Federal Government and other sources so we've been able to make an impact I think.
ST: The essential issues that’s actually quite a good place to start in a way because what's wrong anyway we have agricultural system, it has its model, its lasted for quite a while it's been very successful in terms of food production and feeding into the whole economy. So what are the key issues with that?
FK: It's a great question because I think the lot of people who aren't involved in our agriculture and foods --well we’re all involved on our agriculture and food systems if we eat of course as we all know . Being actually involved in production agriculture, It's so easy to just blame the farmers to say well you know the farmers ought to be doing this differently. The point is that farmers aren’t just individual actors they're part of a system that we've created and part of an infrastructure that we've created. I always say that we have to appreciate what in fact farmers have done because they have been enormously successful in doing exactly what we all told them to do. We have this culture of wanting our food fast, convenient and cheap and that the way that farmers can accomplish-- help accomplish that goal in terms of their role in that is to concentrate on maximum efficient production for short-term economic returns. And then of course we all bought into the notion that the way to accomplish that goal was through specialization, simplification of management in economies of scale. So that’s what we told farmers they had to do if they were going to survive and that's exactly what they've done. So the agriculture that you see on the landscape now is exactly as a result of that. So now 30% of our farmers are over age 65 we want to go to them and say Gee you know we don't like some of the unintended consequences of this and we want you to change. This is not how you can solve a problem like that. So we really have to address the system of the problem. I don't have a quick easy answer as to how that transition can take place. I do think that all of us interested in sustainability now need to take the longer term view we need to anticipate the kind of changes that we’re going to see not the changes that we’re going to create but the changes that are going to take place. We know for example that energy costs are going to continue to go up because the easy sources of fossil fuels are gone now and so whatever fossil fuels are still in reserve are going to take a lot more energy to extract and make available so its going to make them more expensive and then eventually the fossil fuel resource is not going be there anymore. So there are some people in the oil business like T. Boone Pickens and the former CEO of Shell Oil Company who have now said that we should expect that crude oil will get to 2 or $300 a barrel within the next decade. And I'm a farmer and so I look at my farm and I say could my farm still operate at $300 a barrel of oil and the answer is no. There got to be some fairly significant major transition changes have to take place in order for us to be able to continue to produce food to be sustainable in other words. And some people still don't think that climate change is real but I think farmers are going to be among the first who are going to recognize its real and again if you look at our current system of agriculture which is highly specialized, simplified system needs stable climates so we're not likely to have that. And then we got a lot of other challenges we’re drawing down our rock phosphate and potassium resources, they are not going to be there in the future we're drawing down -.
ST: Fertilizer part of the equation.
FK: That’s right that in addition to nitrogen are the three major sources of fertilizer. We’re drawing down our freshwater resources all across the planet so we really have to start thinking about redesigning our agriculture system but we can't just expect farmers to do that by themselves we need our researchers, we need our input suppliers, we need everybody in the food system to really think about this because in redesigning the system we have to give farmers the opportunity for much more diversity because it's the specialization that makes the system so vulnerable. Well if we’re going to have a more diversified production system we have to have a more diversified food system. And today 90% of our food in a typical supermarket is made from just four commodities corn, wheat, soybeans and rice that's it. If I'm a farmer and I want to diversify my system or to make it more productive I got to have markets for those diverse crops. We all have to become engaged in this if we want a change the system.
ST: Trying to turn around the whole system obviously is like trying to turnaround a juggernaut timing is everything and as we see this also pressures that you are describing in this regards to fuel price, running out of fertilizers and so on. Is there enough preparation are we moving fast enough?
FK: I think one of things that history teaches us is that the human species has a great proclivity to denial -- to deny unpleasant things we try to deny them as long as possible. As long as we can continue to make things work we don’t want to have to face all these bad things that we’re thinking about coming at us. So the real question is when the system starts to no longer work, will we have the capacity to then really make change and respond to this very rapidly. And I think we do the one area that to me is the most problematic is the climate issue. It seems to me that what the consensus is that we can very rapidly now reach a point where there is no return anymore because the kind of changes that are going to be implemented are not going to be reversible and that could mean that planet will transition into a kind of future that its going to make it very difficult for the human species to survive. One of things we often forget is that 99.9% of the all of the species that ever existed on this planet are extinct now because they did not adjust, adapt to the changes that took place. And there is probably no good reason to believe that we’re exempt from that. So this is the most troubling part of it. There is a lot of good news in all of this and we should always pay attention to that and one of those is that there are a lot of individual farmers all across the planet that have already made the transition to the kind of future that we’re talking about. They have very low energy input, very productive there are permaculture models out there where farmers have created this kind of diverse systems, which use very little energy because there is this energy exchange that goes on among the many species that they have on their farm. The Land Institute has been working now for 30 years on varieties of perennial crops and their scientists are now saying that if we do the right amount of research within 30 years we could have 60% of our annual crops in perennials on the landscape. And now we just think about that let me just use my own farmers of example. Right now in North Dakota we’ve had this incredible amount of rain this year, which you can't point to it and say, ah ah that’s a proof that climate change is happening. But it is consistent with the models that climatologists have been telling us. We have had so much rain on our farm this spring that we have not been able to plant all of our crop. As a matter fact some of the reports coming out now are that some farmers have been prevented from planting as much as 80% of their acreage only 6% of the intended acreage of durum wheat has been planted this year. When I just think if we had perennial durum wheat it wouldn’t have to replant it, it would still be doing okay out there. So it's it just one of those examples of the kind of built in resilience so we already are developing the technology. We’re not putting the kind of resources and make it available as rapidly as we could things I've been saying is that I think if we could simply devote 30% of our public research dollars and putting our research into exploring these options looking at the examples of individual farmers and most of these are small farms. How do we scale those up? How do we adapt them to different regions because the problems that we’re going to be facing are not going to be uniform across the planet they are going to be very different in terms of different ecologies, different locations, different communities. So we need to have the seed varieties, the breed varieties that are going to be well adapted to those areas and systems that are going to be able to be resilient and functional in each area. But if we were to spend 30% of our research that would make an incredible difference but that's not something that we’re interested we’re still in the state of denial around that one. The other thing is that this is not quite as evident here in the heartland as it is in the coastal regions of the United States. But we have this incredible new generation of young people now that want to farm and they're not particularly interested in producing commodities they want to raise food for people, they want to have that relationship with the people they are going to buy their food and I don’t want to over romanticize this but I'm meeting these young people all across the country. They are mostly in that late teens to early 30s age group. They are just amazing, they are not afraid of hard work, they understand all the challenges we’re talking about, they’re ready to address them and what they need is access to land, access to affordable capital and access to the kind of markets that they can pay off their investment and have a decent life. Those are issues we could address to some extent at least simply with public policy. So there is some good news too. It's small beginnings but there are possibilities.
ST: Well indeed there is and part of that is we’re highlighting some of the good news and the good things being done and then exciting research of projects and so on. It's interesting that you mentioned the evolutionary biology of course what we have done in a way is simplified the system and reduced genetic diversity, species diversity and making monocultures. Now that actually that monoculture also ties into monoculture in a business sense as well and conglomerate kind of gathering together of not exactly monopolies but very large businesses and if you put those two together that means that model has an enormous amount of power and control over a great deal of space and land. And in terms of changing that model if you want greater diversity you can see that you need to grow it from the grass roots up that means breaking that down into smaller pieces and allowing the diversity to emerge again. So how do you see that is happening?
FK: Well again you always come up with a really hard questions and there aren’t any easy answers to these things but again one of the big questions is how does change happen? There are a lot of theories about that. There in the Lone Ranger theory and all you need to have somebody come in who has this either superior intellect or superior power that comes in and changes the world and then rides off into the sunset. And there is not a lot of evidence for that except on television that change happens that way. One of the theories of change that's intriguing to me in terms of what we’re talking about is one that’s suggested by a business design specialist actor. His name is Richard Ogle, he wrote a book called Smart World. He says that we often think that the way change happens is through this linear cause effect relationship where you have some kind of major kind of sort of the Lone Ranger model sort of a major cause that's good and creates a series of effects and changes the world. An example, which he uses, is cubism in art said we often attribute that to Picasso as he was the one who first put cubism on canvas right and so he was Lone Ranger the genius who did this. But he says when you look at it historically that’s really not the way it happened. The way it happened you had a lot of dissatisfaction taking place in the world of art and many artists were ready dissatisfied with the traditional forms. Some innovative models were already beginning to be explored so he created what happened was the creation of what he calls a new idea space and then Picasso came into that new idea space and it was prepared for the innovation that he brought to bear and change the world of art forever. And when I read that I thought that's exactly what's happening in the food system. You could not have imagined an author like Michael Pollan writing a book about food 10 years ago and have it be on the New York Times bestseller list for years. In fact I’ve talked to Michael about this, he said, you’re right is it never would've happened then. So we have a lot of people now not just farmers but consumers and people in the food business and the food industry who are realizing that there are a lot of things that aren't working anymore and consumers are looking for different things and so there is all these different ideas that are floating around about our future food system then its creating this new idea space. Creating the environment in which major changes could happen we’ll have to see how it all plays out but I think it's from that perspective of change it makes sense. Another theory of change is the one that Milton Friedman who as you probably know is not my favorite economist but he said that change rarely happens without a crisis. But when the crisis comes you need ideas floating around to direct the change. Well from what we've talked about already now we know that we’re not going to short of crises as we move into the future so there’ll be a lot of opportunity for change to take place. Paul Roberts in his book The End of Oil also mentions in his introduction, it’s a great introduction where he kind of lays out some of the kinds of changes kind of issues which he feels will materialize as a result of the increasing oil prices then he has a short paragraph which really was instructive for me because I always thought that my mission was to change the world and it hasn't worked out that well but that's what I thought my mission was. And as introduction he said so it's not a question of whether or not change will come, change will come. The question is whether it will come in an orderly and peaceful way or a violent and chaotic way because we waited too long to begin planning for it. And I thought oh! I don’t have to worry about changing the world that’s planning for the changes that are going to come that's what I would hope that particularly those of us who were part of our universities have a responsibility to provide some of the intellectual leadership that we would begin planning for the kinds of changes so that some models are out there so that when the system doesn't work anymore because of the changes we’re going to be facing farmers and others will have some ideas, some models out there that they can then go to.
JM: We know that 92% of the crops grown in Iowa are corn and soybeans. One question we were talking about on the way up is there a percentage of outside ownership of those farms or large corporations I know you’d probably know that I'm just wondering do you want to put that into perspective.
FK: Yeah and the numbers keep changing but what you’re talking about is land ownership and but little over 40% of the land is owned the rest is now rented land. There is not been a lot of incentive either for the retiring generation to encourage their children to take over the farm and there is not a lot of encouragement for the next generation to take over the farm because since there hasn't been much net income farmers have not set for the most part do not set aside money for their retirement they are expecting the farm assets to fund their retirement. And the farm can't afford to pay for the retirement of the retiring generation and the start up costs for the new generation and so there is not a lot of incentive and that's the reason now that 30% of our farmers are over age 65 and only 5% are under age 35. And you can't push that very far into the future without having a real human capital problem here so it's another one of those big concerns we need to address. Richard Heinberg who has written extensively about some of the changes that will take place as a result of our energy situation and he claims that by the year if I remember right I think by the year 2040 we’re going to have 40 to 50 million people engaged in producing our food. He is not saying 40 or 50 million full time farmers he is saying 40 to 50 million people engaged in one way or another producing our food. He anticipates that what that will generate is what he calls a reruralification of America. We could begin to imagine people moving into rural communities where they would have access to land to grow some of their own food etcetera and do their work electronically. And I think to a little bit of an extent we're starting to see that now some of my friends who live in Western Iowa telling me that there are young couples moving back into Iowa now who left at one point partly because they want to raise their children here, partly because they want to be able to raise their own food etcetera. So we’ll have to see but again we should not ignore the potential for some positive things coming out of this for us and be prepared for it.
ST: We talked about the idea space opening up so I just wanted to move on to what you thought were the new models research or sustainability projects that offer hope, what are the things that you really like that are out there?
FK: I’m very impressed with what the Land Institute is doing in terms of perennializing. They now have wheat and sorghum are two crops that I would guess 6 to 7 years to commercialization. You have to decide because the plant is either going to invest in the roots or its going invest in the seeds and if you’re going to go for perennial its going to invest in the roots and you’re never going to get the yields. Well, Weiss is a plant geneticist and he said, I don't think that's right I think biology is more complex than that and he felt that you could develop through natural selection these processes that could invest in the roots but also produce seeds. And of course he is now after 30 years he has demonstrated that that in fact is true, this is changing around, the public perception is changing. In fact interestingly enough here just a couple of months ago National Geographic did a two-page article about the perennial plants and they had the root system perennial plants have a root system that goes about 18 feet down in the ground has about a density of about 2 feet in diameter. An annual plant has a density of about 2 or 3 inches in diameter and about 10 inches long so he had these pictures of the contrast. And then the caption going into the article was so we’re feeding the world with annual plants but we’re causing perennial problems. When National Geographic picks it up this is an idea which is starting to have public acceptance but we now have researchers in several of our other like in the universities we’re doing research in perennialization. Washington State University, University of Minnesota and North Carolina State University are all doing research some researchers in China are doing work on perennial rice now. So it's starting to take off.
ST: You need to explain the advantages of that over an annual plant?
FK: Yeah one is that farmers don’t have to plant it every year. We probably going to have to replant every maybe I think Weiss figuring every 5 or 6 years but think of the savings on energy costs that’s how we need to do this. Second thing is that most of the researchers that are working on this aren't talking about monocultures they are talking about polycultures so you want to plant some leguminous plants in with your wheat for example and you have some of that diversity there. The second advantage is that instead of having green growth on a field two or three months out of the year depending on where you are it can either be 12 months out of the year or it can be 7 or 8 months out of the year so in terms of carbon sequestration its much more efficient operation. Probably for me the most important thing is that the impact which will have in restoring the biological health of our soil because all the challenges that we’re talking about ultimately the fundamental thing that we have to do is restore the biological health of our soil. We know for example now from research that if your soil has 1% organic matter it has the capacity to absorb and retain about 33 pounds of water per cubic yard. If you have 5% organic matter it's 195 pounds so we could potentially reduce our irrigation requirement by a factor of 6 by restoring the biological health of the soil that would have a major impact not only in terms of reducing the amount of water that we’re using and help to solve that problem but also it would make a contribution to our flooding problems because you have now much more the water being absorbed in the soil and going back into the aquifers instead of surface running off into the rivers and streams and flooding things downstream. And it would appear based on the at least the early work that's being done with wheat at the Land Institute that the nutrient quality is much higher. A variety of wheat that they have now is called Carenza and the flour from the Carenza is much, much higher in nutrient value and the chefs that I've talked to that have used it love it in terms of the taste quality etcetera. I don't know what all the factors are that are contributing to that but it is a perennial variety that has all of those qualifications all of those qualities. And nature doesn't have many annuals and nature operates on the basis of perennials, nature operates on the basis of complexity. Nature doesn't bring synthetics in from outside it has those recycling systems in place it gets all of its energy from the sun. So if we were to really create an agriculture food system based on nature's model what would that look like? That’s a very laudable task I think.
ST: Its not so long back that if you have espoused views like that it would be seem to be not exactly in your age but certainly a kind of romantic view. We've had 100, 200 years of the triumph with science, which is in a sense overriding quite a lot of natural processes and especially in terms of reduction of disease. We seem to be moving on from that it seems to be broadening out and that's not such a factor anymore.
FK: The direction that I want to see us moving in the future is also very much science-based but it's a different kind of views there are different schools of science. The school of science that has pretty much predominated our culture going back to the 1700s or to the 17th century I should say people like René Descartes said that we had to become the masters and possessors of nature. Francis Bacon said we had to bend nature to our will and this is not to say that they were wrong or that they were stupid. Their view of things was entirely appropriate in terms of their culture and where they were at that time. And so all of our science since then coming right through the industrial period in the industrial revolution has been how can we develop the technologies and really thinking about nature as kind of a collection of objects a mechanistic kind of model and we could manipulate that it will in order to make it produce what we wanted to produce. Well that worked pretty well again as long as we had all these resources available to make that happen. Now as we’re moving into this next era of our future we now know that nature isn’t a collection of mechanistic parts. It's very dynamic, very interdependent. We as the human species are simply a part of that and although Leopold understood that. One of his famous statements was that we have to recognize that we are not the conquerors of the biotic community we’re simply plain members and citizens. So we have to now create this new culture and then what’s the science that really informs us in terms of this new way of thinking about nature.
ST: What’s your view on genetic engineering then?
FK: The major problem I think with genetic engineering is that it is a part of that good model. So there is this notion that if you just insert a single gene into an organism to achieve the goals that you want then you've solved the problem. Of course many people, many scientists have understood from the beginning that this was a problematic approach and have predicted that we’re going to see and again in a living biologically active nature that’s not the way it's going to play out. And we’re now seeing and we have some of our weed scientists here at Iowa State University that are now predicting that if farmers don't change their weed control strategy from constant use of roundup and give it another two years and roundup the seeds are not going to be viable anymore because the resistance is going to be developed to that point where its not going to work. Instead of looking at weed control in terms of how we’re going to insert one gene to solve the problem we have to look at how do we manage natural systems.
ST: I just want to follow that up because there is a very important thing that comes out of that I think which is this one of the things about the mechanistic view where you know it's a machine and if you want to stand enough about it you take out that cog and this the predictable consequence so that's the whole thing with replacing genes and thinking well, we understand that genes switch it on, switch it off these are the consequences whereas in fact obviously there is a great body of knowledge which establishes there is a much more fluid system and much more self referral much more complex. It doesn't work like that it's not Newtonian and that quite that same way as a cog in the machine with delineated sort of edges that are entirely predictable in terms of looking down the line. Clearly that's the case but the great advantage of that is that from the company's point of view from a profit point of view if you can pull that cog out put it in and you’re the guy that has the patent on that -- you can get a lot of money for that. Now how do you get the money when it's so very fluid and it's a knowledge-based and its interdependent and so on, is that a problem and therefore you need in some sense a bridge of the state or federal support or something that's going to encourage that transition.
FK: In my experience we’re seeing some of these changes take place in the healthcare profession more quickly than we are in agriculture. And they are referring to this new approach to genetics is epigenetics. And what they mean by that is that we now know that the genome is not fixed so you don't like you say you don't just come in with a single gene and change it and it's going to stay that way. But genes turn on and off based on the organism based on the environment etcetera so there is very little conversation anymore in the health care institutions about well if they just find the gene that causes heart disease and then modify that will have solved the problems, you don't hear that very often anymore. We need to get up to speed in agriculture and recognize this transition is taking place in the field of genetics and then how do we use this new concept of genetics because understanding the role of genetics in agriculture I think is going to be even more important in the future than it is now and then how do we manage systems so that the right genes get turned on and off in terms of managing the system in the direction that we want to take it for a resilient food production system that's a great opportunity in the future.
ST: It’s interesting in your view of making ethanol from corn and how that is playing into the agricultural scene?
FK: I think that in our energy situation the major transition that we haven't yet begun at least in any kind of cultural way we haven't really begun to take seriously at is that the real transition we have to make is from stored concentrated energy to current dispersed energy. Stored concentrated energy being all of that energy that accumulated within the planet through a series of biological events over millions of years and so it's: coal, its oil, its natural gas ,old growth forests to some extent are also a form of stored energy. And we’re burning through that in a very, very short period of time. So that resource is simply not going to be there so now we have to begin to learn to live with current dispersed energy, which is sunlight and the energy that the rest of nature operates under. And that energy -- the current dispersed energy is never going to be as efficient in terms of an energy profit ratio and energy get out for energy in, its never going to be as efficient as the stored concentrated energy because it was already there and you simply had it extracted and process it make it available. The current dispersed energy you first have to concentrate and then get into usable form and make it available and there is a lot of statistics on this. But this is something in our culture we haven’t acknowledged yet. Every time I hear somebody say well, all we got to do is ween ourselves from Mideast oil and then go to and select whatever your favorite alternative energy is whether its wind or solar or corn ethanol or whatever and then the assumption behind is and everything can continue as they have in the past that's the myth the myth of fiction that we have to overcome. And again I fully understand the attractiveness of corn ethanol because we had all of the surplus corn so finding all of this use for the corn by producing ethanol and the energy seemed like such a great solution to the problem. When you look at from the point of view of the of an energy profit ratio and there are different statistics. David Pimentel thinks it's actually a negative you get less energy out then you put in to produce it. I asked him once how he could come to that conclusion and he said, well when others had different views and he said well, he said, I figure that when a farmer has to buy lunch for his combine driver to combine the corn that's an energy input and I include that. Well as a farmer if I'm buying the lunch yeah that's probably the way I want to think about it but other people think well that's a little crazy. I think the most positive figure I've seen is like 1.5 units of energy out for each unit of energy and well, in petroleum the standard we got used to in the 1930s was 100 units of energy out for each unit of energy in so lets think about the difference in that. We’re at the very early stages here of trying to figure out how we're going to be able to produce our liquid fuel in the most ecologically responsible way. Because it has to be ecological responsive its going to be sustainable into the future and we’re in the early stages here and we’ll learn along the way. Hopefully again we won't get ideologically locked into a particular way of doing it when it becomes clear that that's not a sustainable solution so we'll have to continue to see that evolve.
ST: Yeah I just wanted to say it's been a fantastic talking to you and indeed--
FK: Pleasure great questions.
ST: As James says we could go on for a great deal longer I feel and we might be back for second installment. But I just wanted to give you the opportunity of painting a picture for us of the future that you see.
FK: There is an interesting body of literature that’s starting to emerge now and the kind of vision that people are creating as I see it which I think has real some possibilities is instead of having this uniform global food system where everybody is the same and does things the same which in terms the biology of the planet we know is nonsense what they're envisioning now is a series of networks. One of the terms, which is being used is the food shed which is a metaphor borrowed from watersheds and as we know watersheds are not all the same size they are vary in size, they are adapted to their appropriate to their place. So people are thinking about a food system where you have these kinds of hubs where people are actually working together as food citizens so as people working together and deciding within their hub what is the most resilient food secure food system that they can develop. And the basic idea behind it is to produce as much of the food as possible by people in that food hub for people in that food hub and in your exports and your imports become the second priority. And in each of these sheds each of these hubs are connected in various ways to all the other hubs so you have this network system across the planet rather than the sort of uniform concept. And I think that's a very creative model both from a production point of view because it's a much less vulnerable system than the system we currently have much more resilient much more adaptable and people are much more engaged and I've seen this happen when people who didn't know anything about growing food start to grow some of their own food in the garden, they get involved with their neighbors. They start talking to farmers and there is such dynamic energy that emerges out of that that there is great hope for the future in that model I think and so I think we should all encourage that as much as possible.
JM: That's beautiful. What else grows from that is respect. Respect for what it takes to get that food to your mouth and if you've ever I remember the first time I did gardening that way and pulled off one of those cherry tomatoes sun ripened right to the mouth from right off the little-- and I just kept saying but it just grew right out of the dirt. You just did this thing and it came right out of the dirt it’s a magical things but anyway speaking of magic thank you so much Fred Kirschenmann we really appreciate your insight and your input and we may very well be back toward the wrap up to get some more thoughts. You keep up the good work here at the Leopold Center. Thank you, this is the Dream Green Series from Solar-Powered KRUU FM and we’ll be back in just a moment. [Music] And we are back with you here. We're approaching a farm, we are with Malcolm Robertson who is a leading educator here at the Leopold Center, an instructor. We’re going to learn about well the class that he is teaching, we’ll talk about food and other good things right here. You're listening to the Dream Green Series on Solar-Powered KRUU FM and we’re traveling en route as we speak with Laura Miller also part of the Leopold Center, Stuart Tanner and James Moore here. So Malcolm bring us in we’re driving towards this farm give us a little bit of an explanation on where we’re headed?
Malcolm Robertson: This is a Iowa State Horticultural farm and it’s situated northeast of Ames about 6 or 7 miles and basically its where a lot the research is done on horticultural crops for the state. I'll show you what we’ve been growing and what we’ve been being doing teaching the young guys to take what they’re learning from the university and applying it into putting it into practice.
JM: What’s your name again?
Joe Jacobs: Joe Jacobs.
JM: So you’re working here, tell me a little bit about what you’ve been studying?
JJ: I’m majoring in horticulture, I’m a junior right now and my options in environmental studies. So this course I’m just taking out of the hort farm we’re dealing with local foods and marketing them and just kind of more of a practical experience in horticulture.
JM: It’s the kind of a new course if I understand correctly for ISU, is that right?
JM: Are you finding that this is a trend or something that obviously its an area you’re interested in?
JJ: Yeah I feel like as far as the local foods are growing it's trending pretty hard right now so I think that's what ISU is really trying to get into, try to follow that trend.
JM: We’re walking now with Malcolm towards some areas that he is going to explain to us?
MR: So yeah it's very unique course and that we are trying to – we want to make it like a capstone course where the students can apply all their knowledge into a growing situation. The idea here is that they look at running this enterprise as a business, they'll have their own checking account eventually and they’ll basically run it at a profit or a loss so its giving them a proper hands-on real life situation.
Male Speaker 4: If they go bankrupt what happens to them, do they get a D or --?
MR: No, well this will be an ongoing thing so hopefully you have a time that will accumulate funds into our reserves and look at expanding. Some of the goals we got is putting up a permanent tunnel.
JM: Fantastic so now we’re getting back to some hoop structures here.
JJ: So in this tunnel we looked at putting in tomatoes so we could come into the season earlier. Once we finished with these the students are developing a business plan and possibly doing another crop, which we thinking as probably be something like spinach.
JM: What's the principal aim of the project? Can you give us an overview of the whole drive for sourcing food locally?
MR: The idea with this course is to develop our young growers. One of the things as I've been working in fruit and vegetables in Iowa for the last 6 years for the Leopold Center and I ran a working group. One of the big things was that its very hard for youth to get into the agricultural game and what we’re doing with the horticulture side is giving them the tools that can get into the game pretty quickly and relatively cheap compared to big ag.
ST: Where is the sustainability angle, can you talk to us about that in terms I know from the figures Iowa imports a lot of food from California some comes from abroad, very little is grown locally if you’re talking about vegetables and so on.
MR: Well there is always a stimulation of economy when you drive it from internally and we've had a lot of research through the economics department of stuff we funded from the Leopold Center and the multiplying effect of the internal dollars that it creates from this course itself the idea is that these students will be able to go and most of them come from a farming background we’re able to go and develop it on their farms. Some of them are the more convenitional ag but they can look at changing and simulating and focus on stimulating economy that way and rural enterprises.
ST: What are the possibilities like is it really you can set up a bunch of greenhouses and grow quite a lot of different types of vegetables through most of the year and therefore that’s something they’ll go back to and develop or is it kind of a little bit difficult or more limited?
MR: With the tunnel structure and the hoop houses you extend your markets you can see start getting more favorable prices. There is a big local drive and a lot of the supermarkets in town are very interested in local. And so there is a very big movement on the go.
JM: Is it really kind of a specialty market or is it moving beyond that?
MR: Few years that I’ve been in Iowa I’ve seen huge changes. For the interest in fruit and vegetables and demand for local I’ve seen that just increase, increase every year. People getting really motivated and interested by what they’re eating. They want to eat better, they want to eat healthier and they also want to know their farmer. I see a lot of pieces of the puzzle coming together now forming that picture. So its definitely growing we still cannot meet the demand that’s out there.
JM: Also we have Nick, the manager of the farm here, give me your name Nick and tell me a little bit about your role here?
Nick Howell: Well my name is Nick Howell and my official title is superintendent. My role is to facilitate the research and teaching projects that occur here on the farm.
JM: Give me just the scope of what goes on here?
NH: Well this year we have over 90 research projects and they are fruit and vegetable projects and ornamental projects as well. And then we do have a certain number of wildlife projects, ecology type projects going on. Most of the work that occurs here is applied research so it's very practical and very useful to the grower. We spend a great deal of effort disseminating the information that we find in our research projects here as well.
ST: What are we looking at in these greenhouses, what’s going on here?
NH: This particular house is the classes project. This is an early crop of tomatoes and they’re learning how to grow things in the tunnel structure. The other houses that you see behind me is a day-neutral strawberry project and the goal there is to see how late in the season we can produce a good crop of fresh strawberries and you think about the value of strawberries on your Thanksgiving Day table. Now whenever crop we’re going to get them to last that long but we did have berries up until the end of October last year.
JM: Well, thank you Nick for filling us in on that, good speaking with you. We have a student here, we started to speak with before. We’re standing hereby I guess this is some of your work right?
JM: Explain what's going on right now and we can walk around the sides if you want just to see, we see some pretty decent looking tomatoes getting ready to go, tell me a little bit about your project here?
JJ: We’re going to try to find a local market or going to sell to ISU dining here. And we've got a couple different varieties here. We’ve got a shorter variety on the sides because it’s all harder to pick and manage those. We’re using the training system the plastic the irrigation it's really just kind of an opportunity to extend our season. We’re going to get these tomatoes in a little bit earlier then after these are done producing for the most part we’ll come in with either a another crop of tomatoes or we’ll plant some more in that are little more cold hardy, we’ll cover them up and then we’ll try to get some tomatoes around September something like that.
ST: What I wanted to ask you is what about your future, where do you see your future, is it in this area?
JJ: Somewhere in horticulture, I’d really like to go back home on the farm I feel like we’ve got a lot of land it's not being used as efficiently as it could have and we’ve got 91 acre. My parents live there and we got a farm I'd really like to go back there and maybe set something up.
ST: You’re going to be a pioneer and perhaps have a few of your own tunnels, greenhouses?
JJ: Yeah I definitely see myself getting into the tunnels, I've got some projects back home right now I'm working with some hardy kiwi and some other things.
ST: I think we found out a little secret there maybe that’s great stuff. So what do your parents think about this, do they think when you come home, when you discuss this over dinner pumpkin pies we have here in America and they say, these ideas are a bit funky some or they say actually no, this makes a lot of sense we really like the direction of your thinking is going.
JJ: It’s pretty funny because I get home and I don’t know I'm really excited about it and I’m always talking to my parents about it. My dad will say something like well just think one more year and you’d be doing all that here at the farm. So I take it to him a little bit at a time. Right now I've got I don’t know I feel like it is a lot for him to digest because I'm going to school for and it's a lot for me. So I come back with a little bit of time like right now our garden is now set up with we’ve laid the plastic mulch like we've got here and I’ve gotten irrigation piping. And also I’m trying to set it up so I can make it as easy as on Dad as possible so all he's got to do is turn the hydrant on. I just really want him to see how easy it can be if we’re using the right system so it's kind of a test for him at the same time.
JM: I love what you’re saying. You’re learning here to figure out the best way to apply to your land to go forward from there. I love what I'm hearing. Thank you so much for spending a couple of minutes with us. Anything else you want to add and any thoughts on the Leopold Center?
JJ: It's really an exciting area right now for me its just I love studying this. I think personally maybe sometime that we might be growing a little too much corn and beans. There is a lot of other options.
JM: I guess 92% of Iowa is growing corn and soybeans I might tend to agree with you there that there could be few other options but Stuart?
ST: Obviously it has to work, it has to be economic, it has to be doing good on a number of different levels to work but is a part of your thinking Is CO2 rather than flowers a part of your thinking?
JJ: I really don't think about that much. I'm thinking about the more to just the local healthier foods just having better foods more quality food. I don't know I feel like the corn and beans are food substitute and I think it’d be really nice if we could grow some real food in Iowa.
JM: By the way it's just about lunchtime and I'm about ready to eat green tomatoes I'm getting so hungry talking about real foods.
ST: Well, me too. I’ll tell you, I’ll be eating the flowers unless we get out of here.
JM: Anyway thank you so much for your comments and good luck with everything going forward man, thank you very much.
JJ: You too, thanks. [Music]
JM: And that was the Jefferson County Green Band Steve McLain and the Jefferson County Green Band a group out of well Jefferson County I bet you could have figured that out. A great song and that'll be cool, I love those guys a great sound. I thought the whole vibe went with the agricultural thrust that we had for today's program hope you enjoyed it. What a great visit up to the Leopold Center and Iowa State University, Ames a beautiful, beautiful unbelievably beautiful campus up there and we really appreciate being able to speak with all the different folks that we did. We will also eventually put up all our full interviews on the website so stay tuned for that we’re getting everything going at greeniowa.org as we speak. Just a quick word next week we’re going to Dubuque to talk with Mayor Roy Buol and sustainability coordinator Cori Burbach. They have an amazing amount of things going on there. Don't miss next week’s show right here on Dream Green with greeniowa.org on Solar-Powered KRUU FM. For Stuart Tanner and James Moore we’ll see you next week.
Produced by Stuart Tanner James Moore at Solar-Powered KRUU 100.1 FM in the Fairfield, Iowa. Online at kruufm.com This series is funded and part by a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and nearly 70 individuals, companies and organizations. For our list of sponsors visit our website at greeniowa.org. Achieves available for download under Creative Commons license. Music from Zelda and Steve McLain and the Jefferson County Green Band.