A Changing Agriculture

An adaptation of an old phrase states that it’s best to be a jack of many trades and a master of one. If this comes to pass for me, then renewed agriculture will likely be that select one. It seems to get much of my attention, and I don’t see myself wearing out the relationship anytime soon.

The damages to our global ecosystem, from modern farming, are becoming quite evident. These take the form of decreased soil fertility, complete loss of top soils, nitrification of waterways, chemical build-up in downstream ecosystems, mortality of crucial wildlife, deforestation, atmospheric smog buildup, depletion of mined phosphates, and quite a few others. There are many reasons for this, and accordingly, many potential solutions. I’ll point out two that I think are most important to look at.

The first culprit I’ll point out is our well developed dependence on annual crops. Heavily feeding by nature, these plants require high inputs of water and nutrients. Also important, is the necessity of their termination and replanting each season. This seasonal replanting is usually accomplished with the aid of tilling, which causes much loss of soil life and organic matter. This loss of soil health has the eventual result of depleted land and a resulting increased dependence on mined fertilizers and chemical pest management. Very little is gained over time in these systems and is more akin to mining of the soils than cultivation.

There are a few solutions to this. One is the use of improved methods. These are ways of growing our current annual crops in a less destructive, or even beneficial (though admittedly only mildly so), manner. I talk about some of these methods on the site and utilize some on the CSA farm I work with. Another solution is an increased shift to the use of perennial crops. Perennials generally require much lower lifetime inputs,have higher soil building potential, increased carbon sequestration, decreased pest issues, increased resilience, reduced tilling, decreased irrigation needs, and often offer erosion control. Many perennial crops are already commercially cultivated globally, others are commercially grown in certain regions, and still others are yet to be commercially cultivated. For more in depth argument and applications of this solution I recommend Eric Toensmeier’s book, “The Carbon Farming Solution.”

The other area of interest I’ll point out is scale of production. Large scale mechanization is a major limitation to sustainable practices. Many of the human sized solutions to weed control, pest management, compost applications, and insect scouting are not available to 10,000, or even 20 acre farms. The first general solution I focus on for this front is a decreased dependence on commercial farming, of any scale, through home and community gardens. These gardens can have the greatest potential for diversity, resilience, and production per area. For beginners of small-scale perennial gardening I recommend Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden”. For an introduction to home-scale annual gardening I recommend the seemingly basic, but surpisingly informative, book “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholemew. The second solution I focus on is an adoption of small scale farms, of five acres or less, and their resulting means of local distribution. This reduces transportation, minimizes packaging, decreases mechanization, and creates cultural resilience among other things. For an introduction ti small scale farming practices I recommend reading Jean Martin Fortier’s book, “The Market Gardener”. He shares many tools and techniques on small scale applications.

You’ll find that most of the information on my blog revolves loosely around these few subjects. Browse through the dropdown menus on the left to get more of my experience on these topics.

*The above picture is of Mark Shepard’s farm, author of “Restoration Agriculture”

 

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