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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on livestock water freeze protection?


I am pleased to provide you with information on livestock water freeze protection. Appropriate technologies do exist for keeping livestock water tanks open during cold weather. These include passive systems of storing solar energy or geothermal heat and using it to keep water above freezing. ATTRA suggests the following ideas:

1. Pump water into a large enclosed storage tank at a higher elevation. You should insulate the tank in some way, bury it, or mound dirt up around it. If the tank is exposed, paint it black to absorb the sun’s heat during the day. From the storage tank, run a buried line to supply the watering tanks by gravity and control this flow with a float valve. You may want to use a thermostatically controlled float valve that opens when temperatures drop below a certain point. You can position some of these valves so that they direct water around the outside of the watering tank to keep water open for stock. You can also pump water into the storage tank during the day, so that it will continuously trickle into the watering tank at night and on cloudy days. The watering tank will need an overflow drain-field.

2. If a storage tank is not an option, you can use a solar pumping system to fill the watering tank directly during the day. Make a small hole that allows the tank to drain slowly at night to keep water moving.

3. You can use large heavy-equipment tires as watering tanks. These help keep water open since they are black and absorb heat from the sun. They are also flexible enough not to crack if freezing occurs. These tires are often free for the taking and they are very tough and can take abuse from animals.

4. Much of the heat loss from a watering tank occurs at the surface of the water. You can reduce this heat loss considerably by placing an insulated cover over a large part of the surface area of the tank. Provide openings around the edge where animals can drink. You can also insulate the sides of watering tanks with insulation material, sawdust, or wood chips. Partially burying a watering tank, or berming it with earth, takes advantage of the ground’s warmth to prevent freezing.

5. Another way to make use of underground warmth is to install a culvert with a sealed bottom under the tank. You can circulate water from the culvert into the tank with a separate small-wattage solar-powered pump. This system requires a battery bank to allow for night use. You’ll need to put the batteries in a non-freezing area, perhaps on a platform above the water level in the culvert.

6. You can use a special in-tank propane heater to keep water from freezing.

7. Another way to use propane is to run a ¼ inch copper tube from the regulator into the water tank and crack the propane valve open slightly, just enough to elicit small bubbles from the tube. The bubbling action will keep water open at the spot it emerges from the water. A propane tank will last over a month if used in this manner.

Energy-Free Livestock Waterers

A variation on item 5 above is to use an insulated livestock waterer in the manner suggested by Alberta Agriculture. They have tested low-input energy-free livestock water delivery and heating technology that relies on geothermal heat to keep water open during cold weather, as low as -15° F. For a report on the construction, use, and maintenance of the energy-free system, see:
Energy Free Water Fountains, Alberta Agriculture and Food (PDF/273 KB)

Energy-free waters can be purchased from MiraFount.



Permalink What can you tell me about food banks that contract with farmers?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on food banks around the U.S. that contract with farmers to grow fresh produce. You mentioned a multi-county food bank in your area that you would like to contract with.

It would be worthwhile to try to see what you can negotiate with the local food bank. Following is some background information you may find useful. You may need to explore partnering with the food bank to secure a CSREES grant to pay farmers. The Low Country Food Bank (LCFB) of Charleston, SC (see below) has a CSREES grant to contract with farmers. You may need to contact LCFB for further details on how their contracts work, as their Web site (last updated 2005) did not contain any information on this program.

Within the last decade, USDA’s Cooperative States Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) ( began offering grants to public agencies and non-profits to promote local food security. The program was reauthorized in 2002. Progress reports on CSREES grants to food banks offer some information on contractual links between food banks and farmers.

According to information in these reports, the practice of food banks contracting one-on-one with existing local farms to produce vegetables and fruits is uncommon. While food banks strive to insure availability of high-quality local produce to patrons, they have preferred to obtain free food, if at all possible, by diverting leftovers from the waste stream or enlisting paying customers to cover operating expenses of farming operations. In obtaining fresh produce, CSREES grantees almost invariably specified donations of leftovers from CSAs and farmers’ markets, community gardens, youth employment gardening, and backyard gardeners. Community gardeners, youth, and homeless were generally compensated for their labor in produce.

In several cases, a food bank used grant funds to set up some kind of vegetable-growing program on food-bank-owned land—usually combined with a CSA with paid subscribers, sponsorship of a farmers’ market, and/or a youth or homeless gardening program to provide labor. Especially where grant money is involved, food banks try to promote multiple community objectives—such as nutrition education and youth employment—in connection with food procurement, as some of the following examples show.

Western Massachusetts Food Bank, Hatfield, MA
Food Bank owns 60 a. and contracts with a group of farmers to run the operation as a CSA. Shareholder fees cover 100% of the operating costs. Fifty percent of the produce is donated to the Food Bank’s distribution stream.

South Carolina
Low Country Food Bank
1635 Cosgrove Avenue Ext
Charleston, SC 29405
Phone: (843) 747-8146
In 2005 Low Country Food Bank received a CSREES grant of $250,000. The project will sustain 10 farming systems by guaranteeing the purchase of over 60 percent of their farm crops for distribution to 25 faith-based, non-profit feeding programs, in addition to integrating local education programs, offering culinary job training, and creating niche branding and direct marketing programs to link farmers with retail food outlets.

South Plains Food Bank, Inc.
Lubbock, TX
Growing Recruits for Urban Business (GRUB)—FY2000 CSREES grantee
Established a 5-acre Youth Farm on 5.5 a. land owned by local food bank. At-risk youth farmed vegetables, fruits, and herbs for CSA. Year 2—105,000 lbs. distributed through CSA and to project participants (labor); 55,000 lbs. donated to food bank.

Vermont Foodbank Farm
VFF, operated by Joseph Kiefer’s Food Works non-profit, grows 20 tons of produce per year for the Foodbank Distribution System.


Community Food Connections
Food to Bank On project

Works with five food banks and 16 small-scale beginning farmers. Main focus is teaching beginning farmers and providing a market for their produce. Funded by Community Food Co-op’s Farm Fund (Bellingham, WA) and administered by Sustainable Connections’ Food & Farming program since 2003.

The new farmers receive technical assistance, a mentor…, and are paid market rates to deliver their produce according to a set crop schedule, thus bringing high quality food to the hungry and also preparing them to deliver to other clients such as restaurants and grocery stores.

Emergency Food Assistance in Washington
Rotary First Harvest (391 KB)
Lists 9 food banks with various relationships with farmers. See food banks’ Web sites for details. P. 2 of report discusses food procurement from local farmers.

Additional Information Resources:

Community Food Security Coalition
P.O. Box 209
Ventura, CA 90294
Funded by CSREES grant. Publishes a newsletter.



Permalink What information can you give me on seed exchange groups?


Answer: Thank you for requesting information from ATTRA on seed exchange groups and organizations.

There are several long-established national groups that publish materials and facilitate trades among member seed savers. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) (1), founded about 1979, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. This organization publishes an annual Yearbook; yearly membership is about $30. This year it is instituting a seed forum on its Web site.

Southern Seed Legacy (SSL) (2) grew out of a 1996 project funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. Its objective is to keep southern agrobiodiversity alive, not in gene banks, but in the fields and gardens of people. Any registered member of the SSL can receive free seed under the program “Pass Along Southern Seeds.” (See Web site for links to membership and the seed program.)

The nonprofit Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) maintains an extensive seedbank of tropical and subtropical seeds (especially suited to the Caribbean). I often consult their Web site in search of rare and unusual varieties while researching ATTRA inquiries. ECHO charges a nominal fee per packet requested, so it is not a true “seed exchange.” Native Seeds/SEARCH is a similar, non-profit organization. For a list of other organizations that specialize in heirloom seeds, see the Seed Suppliers Database on the ATTRA Web site (

SSE and ECHO are good ways to access the biodiversity of tomatoes.

Some commercial companies that specialize in heirloom seeds will exchange seeds for credit. One company that advertises this is J.L. Hudson, Seedsman ( A number of specialty horticulture magazines also offer seed exchanges for members.

On-line Seed Swapping

In doing an AltaVista search on the terms seed exchange, I was surprised at the number of pages of new, on-line seed exchanges that came up. (You might want to do a search on these terms, as I stopped with page 12.) Some “Seed Swap Links” have been compiled at

GardenWeb ( is a well-established on-line exchange. Also see
Backyard Gardener Seed Exchange (,, and Yahoo’s SeedExchange group.

I found Web sites for in-state seed trading organizations in Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Massachusetts. You may have some interest in The Ozark Seed Exchange (, since the Ozarks cover parts of eastern Oklahoma. Unfortunately, its Web site had not been updated since 2005. A North Carolina group—Carolina Seed Traders (—may be of special interest to you, as they specialize in on-line exchanges of heirloom tomatoes and chile peppers.

Seed Swap Meets

Several of the above organizations hold annual seed swap meetings, as do GrowSeed ( and a California group (


1) Seed Savers Exchange
3094 North Winn Road
Decorah, Iowa 52101
Ph: (563) 382-5990
Fax: (563) 382-5872

2) Southern Seed Legacy
Department of Anthropology, 250A Baldwin Hall
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
Ph.: (706) 542-1430



Permalink Can you give me information on ordering the video, "Life in the Soil"?


Answer: Thank you for your question on how to find the “Life in the Soil” video tape filmed by the Mokochi Okada Association. In my research I found that there is a bit of confusion about where to obtain this video and what the title is. In short, I have found the source of the video through the Mokochi Okada Association . It is available for $250, which may be a budget breaker. The contact information for the person you need to contact regarding the video, as well as other publications, is listed below.

One of our former agriculture specialists, Steve Diver, has done extensive research on the topic of nature farming and had quite of bit of information to contribute. Below are some excerpts from Mr. Diver’s correspondence on the SANET and Permaculture listserves.

“As a background, there are two Japan-based organizations advocating Nature Farming, each with counterpart efforts in the United States.

MOA Nature Farming is tied to the Mokochi Okada Association in Japan, which in turn, is a sponsor of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association in various locations. MOA/WSAA have a video titled "Life in the Soil" which sells for $250.

The "Life in the Soil" video uses root mycorrhizotron photography to capture underground images of microbial life in the soil, the root rhizosphere, and organic matter decay. These are compared to above-ground farming practices which are beneficial to soil life, such as green manuring, crop rotations, composting, proper tillage, etc. These are tractor-based farming practices used by MOA and Kyusei nature farmers.”

The video is available through the National Agriculture Library. I am not sure, what, if any, fee is required for checking it out. You will most likely need to go through your university library on how to obtain it. The web page on NAL services is as follows:

Contacts for MOA Nature Farming and to obtain “Life in the Soil”:
Mokichi Okada Association (MOA)
3510 Nuuanu Pali Dr.
Honolulu, HI 96817
Contact: Jody
Tel: 808-595-6344 ext. 22
Fax: 808-595-8014
They currently do not have a web site.

National Agriculture Library
For temporary loan:
By phone: 301-504-5755 (NAL) / 202-720-3434 (DCRC)

Diver, Steve, NCAT Agriculture Specialist. Nature Farming Correspondence. Permaculture Listserve archive.

Diver, Steve, NCAT Agriculture Specialist. Nature Farming Correspondence. SANET Listserve archive.



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