Friday, October 9, 2009

Farmers use vending machines to sell produce

8 Oct 2009, Mother Nature Network

In today's world of complex supply chains, international supermarkets and big agribusiness, it has become more and more difficult for small farms to sell their produce directly to local consumers at a reasonable price. But one farm in Germany, Peter-und-Paul-Hof, thinks they may have found a solution: set up vending machines which distribute produce instead of junk food.

The idea is unconventional, to be sure, but it isn't unprecedented. Back in 2007, a Spanish company based in Barcelona-- Lof-- also used vending machines to distribute healthy food such as nuts, prepared fruit, ready meals and even gazpacho soup. But the application of vending machines by Peter-und-Paul-Hof is the first time they have been used to deliver local produce.

The effort is part of a collaboration between the farm and vending manufacturer Stuewer, and currently the specialty machines (labeled Regiomats) are set up to dispense fresh milk, eggs, butter, cheese, potatoes and sausage. What more could a hungry German ask for?

Perhaps even more unusual, the company has chosen to place several of these upstart Regiomats alongside popular hiking trails in Switzerland.

Peter-und-Paul-Hof spawned the idea as a solution to a problem which faces many local farmers worldwide. After efforts to deliver milk directly to customers became too time-consuming and costly, they first tried to encourage customers to collect the milk from fridges on their farm, but of course that only shifted the burden onto the customers. Vending machines simply offered them the smartest middle ground solution to the problem.

And the machines offer more than just convenience to local-loving consumers, they also offer a 24/7 farmers market available to them 365 days a year. Moreover, since the system cuts out the retailer, consumers get to pocket money that would otherwise end up in the hands of middlemen.

At the very least, vending machines like these could offer a healthy alternative for people who need a quick snack while on the go, at the workplace, or in school. Despite today's fast-paced world, Peter-und-Paul-Hof may have stumbled upon a great way to deliver fast food that's still good for you.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Govt to set up two funds to improve food security in S'pore

By Desmond Wong, Channel NewsAsia
31 July 2009 2038 hrs

SINGAPORE: The government plans to set up two funds which will help improve Singapore's food supply resilience.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan announced this at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore Food Safety Awards Night on Friday.

Last year's rice supply crunch might be a thing of the past, but with Singapore importing 90 per cent of its food, the government isn't taking any chances.

The two funds will help ensure Singapore has a stable food supply.

The Food Diversification Fund will secure diverse sources of food through food production, or food zones overseas.

Mr Mah said: "Such food zones will provide safe, quality food to both the population of the host country as well as Singapore. However, these have to be commercially-viable to be sustainable and we encourage the private sector to seriously explore and spearhead investments into food zones."

The fund will also explore the possibility of seeking out partners for food production on a contract basis, while the Food Capability Development Fund will help support local farms and research.

Mr Mah said: "To give confidence for our farmers to invest in farms for maximum food production, the government will support local agriculture by setting aside land for these types of farms for the next 20 years.”

The government has set a target of being self-sufficient for 30 per cent of Singapore's eggs, 15 per cent of its fish and 10 per cent of its leafy vegetables.

The minister also said that consumers have a part to play in food security, such as understanding the benefits of substitutes such as frozen meat, liquid or powdered eggs. Knowing this will help the public react better to future shocks in the food supply.

The two funds are expected to be up and running within a year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Informal Presentation

I will be making an informal presentation of my paper for the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Las Vegas. It is a 15 minutes presentation in adherence to the conference presentation limits. My supervisor and some grad students in the department are coming. If you would like to come, drop me a note.

Date: 16 March 2009, Monday
Time: 11am
Venue: Dept Meeting Room

Currently, the working title of my paper is:

The Carrot or the Stick*:
Motivations for “Ethical” Vegetable Production in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

* The more boring version is "Regulations or Market Incentives: Motivations for “Ethical” Vegetable Production in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia"

It's still a work in progress but when the slides are ready, I will put it on the blog as usual. This paper is just a small section in the bigger topic of my thesis on the singapore-malaysia vegetable agro-food network.

The title still bugs me. Any comments about that is most welcome. Should I go with the serious version or the kooky fun one? I might add that they do grow carrot in Cameron Highlands. *grin* But somebody has actually already used this title in their paper "The Carrot or the Stick: Rewards, Punishments, and Cooperation".

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Resident Writer for new humanities magazine

Today I met with the MC editor and it appears that monkey will be a resident writer for a new humanities magazine targeted at upper secondary school students. Looking forward to the opportunity to reach out to more young people, hon my writing, supplement my resume and earn some pocket money at the same time. This is also a good way to translate some academic articles to layman terms and expose young people to some of the academic works being done out there. So far, issue 0 is planned for mid 2009 and first issue won't be out till 2010. It's also a job that promises to continue even if I'm not in Singapore so what a sustainable way to go.

Ganbatte monkey! Work hard, write hard!

United Nations University Courses

The UN University offer international courses for "postgraduate students and professionals in various occupations (with a college or university degree) in Japan and abroad who wish to pursue careers in international fields in public-service or private organizations, including the United Nations, multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations, as well as national foreign service organizations."

3 courses cost $2000USD and have to pay for accommodation and living expenses as well. I wonder if it's worth considering for 2010.

The 2009 courses are held in May-June which is field studies / thesis writing time.

But I wonder if it'll really get me a job in UN.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New cash crop for farmers could be carbon trade

Published January 5, 2009 08:43 AM (ENN)

Carbon emissions are increasingly at the forefront of policy issues, and experts say agricultural practices could play a role in decreasing emissions while providing farmers with a new cash crop.

"You can't go to a newsstand today without seeing major publications with sustainability, climate change or energy on the cover," said Jim Mulhern, a founding partner of Watson/Mulhern and veteran policy strategist and communicator with 20 years experience in Washington public policy issues.

Mulhern addressed the role of agriculture in sustainability, climate change and energy at a joint meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and Pennsylvania Dairy Promotion Program.

Sustainability is both an environmental issue and an energy issue. Farmers must be able to provide consumers with the nutritious food they want in a way that makes the industry, people and the earth better off economically, environmentally and socially now and for future generations, Mulhern said.

Productivity will also remain important due to increasing population. Growing populations in China and India have a growing appetite for a Western diet.

In addition to remaining sustainable while meeting productivity challenges, agriculture will also have a growing role in decreasing carbon emissions.

There are several approaches to decreasing companies' carbon emissions, Mulhern said. Companies could be simply required to decrease them, or a tax mechanism put in place to discourage carbon emissions. These options may lead to costs being passed to consumers.

The last option, called cap and trade, is to implement a cap while at the same time giving companies flexibility on how to decrease emissions.

"We're going to see cap and trade," Mulhern said, but probably not in the near future. He estimates cap and trade will be in place by 2010.

This option allows companies to take steps themselves or purchase credits from another party. Agriculture could be in a good position to sell carbon credits.

Both presidential candidates supported cap and trade, which is a green job creator.

President-elect Barack Obama's choice for agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, wrote in an op-ed column that carbon credits can be sold by farmers in the same way they sell soybeans or hogs, Mulhern said.

According to Vilsack, carbon trading will allow diversification of family farms and generate a revenue stream and new cash crop that will save farms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently formed an Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets to promote ecosystem markets.

According to USDA, agriculture producers provide many ecosystem services historically viewed as free benefits to society, including clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage and scenic landscapes. Lacking a formal structure to market these services, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are not generally compensated for providing these benefits.

Agriculture can offer several practices for offsetting carbon emissions, Mulhern said, including the following:

n No- or low-till planting;

n Cover crops, tree plantings and conservation practices; and

n Methane capture from dairy manure.

"Dairy is the low-hanging fruit," Mulhern said. "We're sitting on a valuable product."

The dairy industry has already taken steps to decrease carbon emissions at each stage in the production chain from grass to glass, he added.

The industry held a sustainability summit last year. Participants identified quick changes that can be done now as well as changes that can be made to systems, such as whether cold pasteurization of milk, which would decrease energy needs, is possible.

Cities May Sprout Vertical Farms

By Gregory M. Lamb
Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 2008
Straight to the Source

From: Organic Consumers Association
Published January 5, 2009 09:27 AM (ENN)

Cities may sprout vertical farms Proposed high-rise greenhouses could help solve a looming food crisis, professor says.

Farming would seem to be a horizontal occupation. Iowa corn or Kansas wheat pokes up from flat fields that stretch to the horizon.

That's why the idea of "vertical farms" seems ripe for humor. When its biggest advocate appeared on the faux news show "The Colbert Report" earlier this year, comedian Stephen Colbert prefaced the interview by guessing it would have something to do with corn that grows sideways or perhaps "Chia blimps" that float overhead.

Such teasing hasn't deterred Dickson Despommier, the Col umbia University professor of public health. He sees putting crops into skyscrapers as a better way to feed a hungry world. Professor Despommier's website,, features architectural concepts of high-rise buildings that could grow fresh produce in urban areas while at the same time being much more environmentally sustainable than conventional agriculture. [Editor's note: The original story misspelled Dr. Despommier's first name.]

The trouble is, he concedes, none of the beautiful drawings would work exactly as shown. "They all look pretty," he says. "[A]t least it means they're thinking in the right direction."

What's needed before millions of dollars are spent to construct or renovate an existing 30-story building into a vertical farm, Despommier says, are prototypes just a few stories high. They should be built at leading agricultural universities and tinkered with until the concept is proved. "Once it does, drive it out of the showroom and take it home," he says.

While Despommier has won admirers around the world for his innovative thinking, skeptics still wonder how he's going to handle the problem of solar energy - bringing necessary light to the interior and lower floors of his agri-towers. "As soon as you go vertical, you compound that problem of getting that [solar] energy to the plant," says Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Dr. Giacomelli likes the audacity of vertical farms, but says a lot of problems must be solved first. Despommier, he says, "is a forward thinker. He's challen ging all of us to try to make it happen."

The challenges also include finding and training indoor "farmers" who can operate what is likely to be a complex system. "There's nobody at the moment," Giacomelli says. The technical problems aren't insurmountable - crops are being grown indoors at the South Pole, albeit at great expense, he says. But, he adds, "There are many more ways to fail [at indoor agriculture] than to grow a crop correctly and succeed."

The world is going to need vertical farms because conventional agriculture can’t handle what’s to come, Despommier says. By mid­­century, the world is expected to add another 3 billion people, pushing its population close to 10 billion. Feeding all those extra mouths will require finding an area of agricultural land larger than Brazil – without cutting rain forests needed to stabilize the world’s climate.

Heading skyward, under the controlled conditions of an indoor greenhouse, has many advantages, Despommier says. “You can control nothing outdoors, and you can control everything indoors,” he says. That means no floods, wildfires, hailstorms, tornadoes, or droughts. Plant diseases and pests are more easily controlled, too, meaning less need for herbicides and pesticides.

And indoor agriculture is more efficient. One indoor acre of strawberries can produce as much as 30 outdoor acres can. In general, indoor acreage is four to six times more productive, in part because of the year-round growing season. “Outdoors, you might get one crop [per year]; indoors, you might get four or five crops per year,” Despommier says.

By bringing high-rise agriculture to urban areas, transportation costs are eliminated, and the produce is fresher.

The problem of bringing light to the plants could be solved through artificial lighting, powered by solar, wind, or other methods, Despommier says. All cities have a huge source of unused energy: human sewage. It could be burned to create a significant energy source.

“It’s not a perpetual [motion] machine because you’ll have to supplement from the outside,” he says. But the energy requirements would still be lower than those of conventional farming, with its use of heavy machinery, fertilizers, and long-haul transportation.

Critics remain far from convinced. “The notion of filling a building [with plants] and artificially supplying the light for the plants … from any kind of energy system is one of the weirdest ideas I’ve ever heard of,” says Richard Register, author of “EcoCities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature.” “It’s not serious agriculture. It’s just not…. It’s an intellectual plaything.”

A better answer is to develop, over time, more compact, energy-efficient cities along the European model, he says. That would free up land near urban areas for conventional agriculture with “100-percent-free solar energy” falling on it. Urban community gardens and high-intensity conventional commercial gardens could also supply part of the need.

Despommier’s students, in fact, first looked at using rooftop gardens to feed Manhattan. They found that farming on flat rooftops could supply only about 2 percent of the island’s food needs. That’s when Despommier hit upon using some of the city’s abandoned buildings to create vertical greenhouses.

He received further inspiration from a children’s book his wife gave him. “Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House,” by Judi Barrett, tells the story of an apartment building supervisor who fills his building with vegetable plants and farm animals as tenants. While Despommier doesn’t see cows or pigs moving into vertical farms anytime soon, he thinks aquaculture could be part of the mix.

“You can start with mollusks – mussels and clams,” he says. Shrimp, striped bass, catfish, and flounder are other possibilities – or chickens, ducks, and geese. “This will have to be done in a way that’s agreeable to consumers, so consumers will set the standard,” he says.

The first working vertical farms are likely to be built outside the United States, Despommier says, where the need is greatest. He’s received interest from Shanghai, China, and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and is currently on a trip to India to address the Indian Institute for Architecture in Bangalore.

Next spring, a class at the Massa­chu­setts Institute of Technology will look into the idea. Some 15 to 20 seniors majoring in civil and environmental engineering will form teams and create design projects to see just how vertical farming might be accomplished.

“The potential for doing something is great, but frankly I don’t know yet what’s going to happen,” says Herbert Einstein, the engineering professor who will conduct the class at MIT. “If there’s something viable, hopefully we’ll know more by the end of the spring term.”