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Southern Sustainable Farming

============Electronic Edition==============

                          SUMMER 1997 
        Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
                 P.O. Box 324, Elkins, AR 72727
      Phone (501) 587-0888; E-mail: ssfarm@juno.com
                     Keith Richards, Editor
voice of the Southern SAWG, 50 member organizations
working for more sustainable agriculture in 13 Southern
states.  Hard copy subscriptions via U. S. postal service: 
$15 per year or $25 for two years
*	*Ugly Farming* Reduces Runoff
*	Decreasing Nutrient Loss on Farmland Helps
		Everyone Downstream
*	VABF: A Southern SAWG Member Profile
*	Sustainable Ag Enters SC Schools
*	Campaign for Sust Ag Enters New Phase
*	Calendar of Events

by Keith Richards

   In eastern Arkansas, the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain
forms a watery web over the land as creeks, rivers, lakes
and sloughs snake their way toward the Gulf of Mexico.
This part of the state, known locally as "the Delta," is home
to wild turkeys, bald eagles, great blue herons, black bear,
numerous other mammals and birds, and more than 50
species of fish. 
   Because of its unique ecosystem, national and state
wildlife refuges have been established throughout the
region, and in 1986, the lower Arkansas River was listed in
the Registry of Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers.
Recognized internationally as a "Wetlands of Importance,"
the Delta also contains 1.2 million acres of bottomland
hardwood forests. 
   On the banks of these waterways are some of the most
productive farms in the nation. Here, between the Cache
and Bayou DeView Rivers, Aaron Chappell and his son
Michael, raise grain crops within a stones throw of the
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. Farming mostly
rented land in non-contiguous pieces, the Chappells are
working on ways to produce their crops in ecological
co-existence with the neighboring natural habitat.

No-till Forms the Foundation

   No-till forms the foundation for their conservation
practices. Aaron first experimented with conservation
tillage in the early 80s as a way to save labor and hold more
moisture in the soil. After seriously converting to no-till
practices in the past five years, he and Michael can list
several other benefits they have seen--less machinery
usage, lower fuel bills, increased organic matter in the soil, 
increased earthworm activity, reduced soil compaction, less 
erosion, greater yields, and more time for other activities. 
   Their practices have also had an impact on the nearby
wildlife and rivers. Aaron figures he has reduced his
sediment runoff by about 90 percent since he started no-till
practices. He says, "When I was a kid, we didn’t have to
push water off fields after a rain; it infiltrated through the
soil. What I hope to do is get the soil back to where water
will infiltrate again." 

Rotations & Equipment Make it Work

   The Chappells practice two basic rotations. One consists
of a crop of winter wheat harvested in June, followed by
soybeans in the same year, then corn the following year,
and back to wheat after the corn harvest. The other is a
two-year rotation of rice and soybeans. Grain sorghum
(milo) is used as a *fill-in* to replace rice or corn when
conditions or markets make it worthwhile.
   They use a stripper header on their combine to harvest
the wheat, followed by a chopper. By stripping the head off
instead of cutting the stalk, then chopping the straw, the
field is essentially mulched and ready for the next crop.
Soybeans are planted directly into the wheat straw (or rice
stubble) with a no-till drill. 
   When they have a wet harvest, like last year’s, Aaron
likes to level out the ruts before putting in corn. This is one
time he will go back to tillage. They use a field cultivator
with a harrow and crumbler attached to recondition their
fields without turning over much residue or compacting the
soil. Corn is planted using a no-till air planter. A set of
coulters on the machine clears a path about 6 inches wide for the
seed bed, allowing the soil to warm up and seeds to
germinate faster. This compensates for one of the
drawbacks of no-till--colder soil temperatures in spring
caused by the residue on the fields.
   Aaron and Michael have been subsoiling most of their
fields in the fall after the corn harvest. They run the
subsoiler parallel to the corn rows just deep enough to
break up the hardpan--about 10 inches--then drill wheat across
the field in the opposite direction.
   Although the Chappells use herbicides and pesticides
with as much efficiency and environmental compatibility
as possible, Aaron feels he couldn’t practice conservation
tillage without them. "As a rule of thumb, we always burn
down vegetation before or at planting," he says. "If we
don’t, the weeds will take moisture out of the soil--and
fertility, too." The only pest pressures he has seen from the
increased field residue are cinch bugs in milo and corn.
Start On a Small Piece First

   Aaron recommends that farmers shouldn’t try to change
to conservation tillage all at once. "A farmer should lease a
no-till drill, and try it on a small piece first." 
   Besides learning the technical aspects of the system, the
biggest barrier can be getting used to seeing fields full of
residue. It was hard for Aaron at first, but now field stubble
looks beautiful because he knows it is holding onto his soil.
"We call it ugly farming," he says with a grin.


   Less than half of the costly plant nutrients applied to
agricultural fields are taken up by crops. Much of the
remainder--especially highly soluble nutrients such as
nitrogen--dissolves in rainfall and irrigation water, leaves
fields, and flows into nearby waterways.
   With over 40 percent of the continental U.S. contained
within the watershed of the Mississippi River and its
tributaries, much of the agricultural runoff from this vast
region eventually ends up at the river’s mouth, in the Gulf
of Mexico.
   Since the 1970s, an area of low-oxygenated water--a
hypoxic zone--has been appearing in the Gulf every year
from February through October. This hypoxia is
devastating for the marine life that provides the basis for
commercial family fishing in the region. The "dead zone,"
as it is called, has become progressively bigger each year,
covering as much as 7,000 square miles recently. Its root
cause? High levels of dissolved nitrogen entering the Gulf
from the Mississippi River.
   Preliminary studies have indicated that more than half of
the nitrogen in the Mississippi River basin comes from
commercial fertilizers, while another 25 percent comes
from animal manures (with municipal and domestic wastes,
legumes, and atmospheric deposition contributing the rest). 
   Fishers, environmentalists and government agencies have
begun to address the "dead zone." This is an opportunity for
those of us in sustainable agriculture to use our
systems-thinking approach to help them create mutually
beneficial solutions. As we find ways to apply nutrients
more efficiently, cut the flow of runoff from fields, and
encourage widespread adoption of sustainable conservation
practices, we not only increase the sustainability of
individual farms, but also help everyone else downstream.

A Southern SAWG Member Profile

   The Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF)
is the primary grassroots voice for sustainable agriculture
in Virginia. Founded in 1977, this network of farmers,
home gardeners, consumers, merchants and educators work
together to strengthen biological agricultural practices in
their state through education, research, advocacy and
   Like many non-profit organizations, the work of VABF is
accomplished mostly by a core of dedicated volunteers
with the help of temporary, part-time sub-contractors.
Often finding themselves with little funding beyond dues
and donations, members have maximized their efforts by
organizing into seven regional chapters and nine
committees. Each chapter has the autonomy to organize
meetings, field days, and other events to promote local
sustainable agriculture. For example, the New River
chapter, one of VABF’s more active groups covering five
counties in southwest Virginia, hosts a one-day Grower to
Grower conference each year to provide producers with
information and advice on sustainable production practices.
   Committees are organized around each activity of the
organization. Under the guidance of the publications
committee, VABF has produced a newsletter, The Virginia
Biological Farmer, for several years. In 1992, the
marketing committee produced the first edition of Smart
Foods for a Sound Planet, a guide to organic and
biologically grown products, with listings for farms,
farmers’ markets, grocers, restaurants, brokers and
wholesalers. A second edition was published last year with
assistance from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services.
   Recently, the education committee launched the
Biological Production Pledge (BPP) Program, designed to
help VABF member growers learn about organic practices
from experienced farmers. For an annual fee of $25,
participants sign a pledge to adhere to the guidelines of
biological production outlined in program materials, and
are required to attend a workshop, conference, or training
program recognized by the Program. In return, they are
given a BPP Program certificate, which they can utilize in
their marketing efforts. 

Building a Sustainable Food Economy

   VABF’s newest project is also their most ambitious. They
were awarded a grant earlier this year from the W. Alton
Jones Foundation to implement a Consumer Education and
Market Development Program in partnership with Mothers
& Others for a Livable Planet. Over the next three years,
they will develop a "Virginia Green" label, a marketing
network for sustainable producers, and
producer/consumer/buyer networks throughout the state. In
addition, they will educate buyers and consumers about
locally grown, "green" products as part of the process for
creating a regional sustainable food economy.
   Equally important as their programs, members of VABF
have taken leadership roles within other agricultural
organizations and within their greater community. VABF
members serve on the Virginia Direct Marketing
Association Board, the Virginia Sustainable Agriculture
Leadership Council, the Southern region SARE/ACE
Administrative Council, and the SARE Professional
Development Leadership Committee. Members are also
active on planning committees, advisory councils, and
farmers' market boards in many of the communities where
they reside. 
   The organization’s greatest challenges for the future,
according to Archer Christian, VABF board member and
former executive director, will be developing sustainable
funding and increasing outreach to the conventional farm
community. If they can meet those challenges, VABF
should continue to provide leadership to the sustainable
agricultural community in Virginia for years to come.
   VABF’s contacts by program or publication:
Newsletter--Uriel Levi, 956 Fortunes Cove Ln, Lovingston,
   VA  22949-2222; 804-263-6884; 
Smart Foods--B.B. Hall, 6015 Howard Rd., Richmond, 
   VA  23226; 
BPP Program--Bo Holland, 988 Hill Hollow Rd., Faber, VA 
Consumer Education & Market Development Program--
   Jeanne Nye, POB 676, Christiansburg, VA 24073; 
General correspondence--POB 10721, Blacksburg, VA 24062.

by Savanah E. Williams & Keith Richards

   "It was fun to plant flowers and vegetables," writes Kerry
   "The best part of planting the seeds is putting the seeds in
the hole. Then we watered the seeds," writes Kymod
   "We planted some radishes, tomatoes and some carrots. It
was hard work to shovel," writes Juluis Jenkins. "My
friends and I had lots of fun."
   Water, soil, and tools have a new meaning to some
elementary students in Charleston, South Carolina, as these
letters from second-graders can attest. Last year, five
elementary schools--Fraser, Memminger, Mitchell,
Sanders-Clyde and Simons--were awarded an Eisenhower
Professional Development Program grant to develop
gardens as mathematics and science laboratories. Over
twenty teachers and five hundred children have been
involved in this project as vegetables, herbs, flowers,
aquatics and excitement were planted in windowsill
planters, raised beds and patio gardens. 
   Project coordinator Savanah E. Williams says, "If you
look at the curriculum of the elementary school, the most
natural learning environment for the teaching of all
subjects is a garden." Would you like to learn mathematics
by counting the number of beans in the package that
actually were planted and germinated? What was that
word? Germinated ("Where germs come from," according
to one student.), leads to a science lesson.
   The purposes of the program are:
*   To assist teachers in developing hands-on learning
experiences for students in mathematics and science by
utilizing basic knowledge on how food and fiber are
*   To demonstrate how professional teachers develop
activities which can benefit from family and community
resources, in this case the knowledge of family and
community members that have gardening or farming
*   To establish a laboratory model of how a program
developed in one area can be adapted to many different
   Williams says, "For the students who may become our
future stewards of the land, the program will also help them
to produce some of their own nutritional snacks and meals
at school, in the home, and in the community."

Many Groups Made It Happen

   The College of Charleston and the South Carolina Sea
Islands Small Farmers Cooperative laid the foundation for
the creation of this pilot program. Williams, who has
developed learning experiences for children on South of
the Ferry Farm in Surry, VA, was brought in by Dr. Wayne
Patterson, Vice President of Research and Community
Services at the College. After securing the Eisenhower
grant, matching funds were provided by the College of
Charleston and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture
Working Group. 
   A curriculum was developed around the gardens with
geography, history and writing components, as well as
mathematics and science. Farmers from the Sea Islands
Cooperative and experienced gardeners within Charleston
were enlisted as mentors to the teachers and children. Even
AmeriCorps volunteers participated during the construction
   On May 13, the community was invited to tour the
gardens, then attend a reception and presentation hosted by
the College of Charleston. According to visitors, the
students were knowledgeable and very happy with their
   Afterward, Shakeema Singletary wrote to Williams,
"Thank you for bringing the seeds and other stuff for us. I
really enjoyed working with your tools. Here is a list of
things we planted: radishes, carrots, flowers, tomatoes, and
stuff like that." For some of these young minds, a new
life-long relationship with plants, soil and good food may
have just begun.
   Principals (p) and lead teachers (lt) for the project
include: Lorraine Powers (p) and Gwendolyn Rogers (lt) at
Fraser; Ann Oplinger (p) and Therese Forbes (lt) at
Memminger; Jacquelyn Brown (p) and Melissa Black (lt) at
Mitchell; Vermelle Simmons (p) and Deborah Ford (lt) at
Sanders-Clyde; and Brenda Williams (p) and Christine Lee
(lt) at Simons.
   For further information on this project, contact Savanah
E. Williams, Roots and Shoots Project Coordinator,
Memminger Elementary School, 20 Beaufain Street,
Charleston, SC 29401.


   The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has
been formally organized as an umbrella organization for
continuing work around national agricultural policy. A
strong consensus emerged from the 500 organizations that
worked on the recent Farm Bill under the Campaign to
keep this movement going.
   Originally conceived as a vehicle for influencing federal
policy around the 1996 Farm Bill, the Campaign has taken
on a broader role in keeping the interests of sustainable
agriculture represented in Washington. It has created broad
participation in defining federal policies that encourage
strong family farms, revitalize rural communities, support
stewardship of the land, and maximize the benefits from
limited public funds.
   Michael Sligh, policy coordinator for Southern SAWG,
says, "Many farmers and consumers around the country
realize that federal policies can either help or hinder efforts
for family farmers to become more sustainable. The
Campaign is building on the long-time efforts of grassroots
organizations to work for farmer-friendly policies."  
   The new Campaign will continue to: 1) work for new
legislation that supports sustainable agriculture based upon
the priorities of its participants, 2) help implement new
sustainable agriculture programs, 3) insure that sustainable
agriculture programs receive adequate annual
appropriations, 4) work with the USDA on internal reforms
to increase their focus on sustainable agriculture all across
the agency, and 5) build bridges and outreach to new allies
in the creation of a more sustainable agriculture.
   At the first annual meeting of the new Campaign, held
March 14-15 in Virginia, 65 representatives from various
constituencies in the network developed an issue agenda
for the next year. Forty-two issues were agreed upon as
priorities, with the top issues in order of support:
* Reauthorization of the Research Title,
* Agricultural Bargaining Act,
* Implementation of the USDA Civil Rights
* Environmental Quality Incentive Program,
* Implementation of Community Food Security Projects,
* Beginning Farmer Programs.
   An 18-person steering committee was elected to guide
the group.
   Those of you who were on the mailing list for the
Campaign will continue to receive information and action
alerts. If you would like to be added to the list or further
involved and are in the Southern region, contact the new 
Southern regional organizer,
Alyx Perry at 919-542-2402 (T, W, F) or 919-932-3779;
919-542-7401 (fax); or email: cfsa@sunsite.unc.edu


June 26-27: A New Vision for Oklahoma Agriculture
and Rural Communities, a Rural Development in
Oklahoma conference, St. Gregory's College, Shawnee,
OK. State agriculture leaders, economic development
professionals and rural citizens will begin a dialogue on
creating a new vision for rural development and agriculture
in Oklahoma. Contact The Kerr Center at 918-647-9123;
e-mail: mailbox@kerrcenter.com.

July 11-13: Health of the River: Health of the People,
Mississippi River Basin Alliance Annual Conference,
University of Missouri at St. Louis. Field trips and
workshops (topics include agricultural impacts on the river
& the Gulf of Mexico). Contact MRBA at 314-822-4114;
e-mail: mrba@igc.apc.org

Aug 7-10: Carolina Farm Stewardship Assoc and
Southeastern Permaculture Gathering, CELO,
Burnsville, NC. Contact Tony Kleese at 919-968-4388.

Aug 22: Deadline for Research and Education Grant
Preproposals, Southern SARE Program. Contact Rick
Welsh at 770-412-4788; e-mail:

Aug 28-30: Eco-Ag/Southwest, a conference on
commercial scale eco-agriculture, Omni Hotel, San
Antonio, TX. Contact Acres, U.S.A. at 800-355-5313.

Sept 23-25: Sustainable Beef Management Workshop,
Univ of MO Forage Systems Research Center, Linneus,
MO. Partially funded through a Southern SARE grant. Will
include comprehensive farm planning to minimize the use
of harvested forages and grain while increasing the
dependence upon properly managed pastures. Also,
instruction in using sustainability indicators that can assist
farmers in assessment of their operations. Contact Ron
Morrow or Ann Wells at ATTRA, 800-346-9140.

Oct 7-9: Sustainable Beef Management Workshop, Univ
of TN Highland Rim Experiment Station, Springfield, TN.
(See description above.) Contact Ron Morrow or Ann
Wells at ATTRA, 800-346-9140.

Jan 15-18, 1998: Seventh Annual Southern SAWG
Conference & Trade Show, Memphis Cook Convention
Center, Memphis, TN. Contact Jean Mills at 205-333-8504
or email to: jeanmills@aol.com

                                  **    END   **