Agrihood? It’s a real thing, but make safety a priority

When we moved into our new townhome in the concrete jungle of inner Brisbane, I suggested fruit trees and berries instead of pretty plants that do nothing.

I was shot down.

At least my strip of concrete balcony has lemon and lime trees, a variety of berries, and agrihoodveggies. We would starve if we had to depend on my plants for sustenance.

Because farming is hard.

But I like the concept of an agrihood which, according to the N.Y. Times, is a residential development where a working farm is the central feature, in the same way that other communities may cluster around a golf course, pool or fitness center.

At least a dozen projects across the country are thriving, enlisting thousands of home buyers who crave access to open space, verdant fields and fresh food.

“I hear from developers all the time about this,” said Ed McMahon, a senior fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit real estate research group in Washington, D. C. “They’ve figured out that unlike a golf course, which costs millions to build and millions to maintain, they can provide green space that actually earns a profit.” Not to mention a potential tax break for preserving agricultural land.

In Agritopia, near Phoenix, fences gripped by grapevines and blackberry bushes separate the farm from the community’s 452 single-family homes, each with a wide front porch and sidewalks close enough to encourage conversation. A 117-unit assisted- and independent-living center is set to open this summer.

The hub of neighborhood life is a small square overlooking the farm, with a coffeehouse, farm-to-table restaurant and honor-system farm stand. The square is also where residents line up on Wednesday evenings to claim their bulging boxes of just-harvested produce, eggs and honey, which come with a $100-a-month membership in the community-supported agriculture, or C.S.A., program. Neighbors trade recipes and gossip, and on the way home can pick up dinner from one of a few food trucks stocked by the farm.

The Times story glosses over the realities of farming and the safety aspects, but the idea of an agrihood – even if apparently appropriated by white folks — has merit.

Can diapers really control Salmonella in lap chickens?

With 271 sick in 37 states from urban poultry, a Denver woman named Mary has launched a business selling chicken diapers to somehow contain the Salmonella.

Faith-based safety

They’re just really, really tame, and they want to be near humans,” said Mary, petting her two chickens, Henny and Penny. “I wouldn’t have them borat.chickenin the house all the time, but once in a while it’s nice to let them in.”

According to Centers for Disease Control investigators, some of those sick people were reportedly “kissing or cuddling with” the birds, and poultry that appears healthy and clean can still be shedding germs that make people sick, and chickens should not be allowed inside people’s homes.

Candice Burns Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases with the CDC, said an email to 7NEWS: “Just like you wouldn’t walk around your house and touch surfaces with raw, uncooked chicken, you also shouldn’t allow your live poultry to have contact with surfaces in your home.”

In 2012 alone, public health officials uncovered eight outbreaks in which people got sick with germs spread from contact with poultry in backyard flocks.  These outbreaks caused at least 517 illnesses, 93 hospitalizations and fours deaths, according to the CDC. 

Health officials said that for every case of Salmonella illness reported to the CDC, there are about 30 more that don’t get reported. 

“I never had a problem, and I don’t think most people would,” said Mary. 

Environmental sources of E. coli are not always what they seem

Up to 24 per cent of E. coli in soil sediment is from urban, not farm runoff, in areas of California.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have identified sources of E. coli bacteria that could help restore the reputation of local livestock. Studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Mark Ibekwe suggest that in some parts of California, pathogens in local waterways are more often carried there via runoff from urban areas, not from animal production facilities.

Even though most strains of E. coli are non-pathogenic, the bacterium is monitored by public health officials as an indicator of water quality. Cows are often seen as the culprits when E. coli is found in local lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.

Ibekwe, who works at the ARS U.S. Salinity Laboratory in Riverside, Calif., and his colleagues collected 450 water and sediment samples from 20 sites throughout California’s middle Santa Ana River Watershed. The collection sites included urban areas, livestock feeding areas, parks, National Forest lands, and three wastewater treatment plants.

Then the scientists extracted E. coli bacteria from each sample and identified 600 different isolates of E. coli in their samples, many of which could be placed into six clonal populations. They found the greatest variety of different types of E. coli in runoff discharged from areas dominated by urban development or human activities.

Ibekwe also tested all the E. coli isolates for resistance to various antibiotics. He found that from 88 to 95 percent of the isolates were resistant to rifampicin, and that around 75 percent were resistant to tetracycline. Tetracycline resistance was by far the most common type of resistance observed in E. coli isolates collected near wastewater treatment plants.

The scientists also found that 24 percent of E. coli collected in sediment samples associated with urban runoff—a total of 144 isolates—showed resistance to as many as seven antibiotics. Results from this work were published in PLOS ONE.