Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Worry About Sustainability?

Sustainable agriculture is food production through practices that can be continued indefinitely. In conventional, industrial agriculture, natural resources, such as water and soil, are used faster than they can be replaced. The results may include famine, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture
Food security: More than a billion people worldwide don’t get enough to eat each day. Sustainable agriculture uses fewer resources and has a lower risk of famine resulting from droughts.
Less environmental impact: Sustainable agriculture does not include the use of harmful pesticides that can pollute the water and soil. It does include reducing soil erosion. Also, fewer nutrients are depleted from the soil, so there is less need to expand farmland. This means that farmers don’t need to continually cut down rainforests and invade other natural habitats because of over-farmed land.
Urban improvements: In inner cities, sustainable agriculture means community and balcony garden projects. These endeavors increase access to fresh, affordable foods, and can make communities more tight-knit.
Health: Sustainable agriculture usually means shifting to a greater emphasis on a plant-based diet. You can lower your risk for heart disease when you eat less fatty red meat and more healthful proteins such as beans.
Cost: Unsustainable agricultural practices will inevitably lead to the depletion of resources like nutrient-rich soil and water. Developing extensive schemes—including irrigation systems—to mitigate these losses is expensive.

Although air and sunlight are available everywhere on Earth, crops also depend on soil nutrients and the availability of water. When farmers grow and harvest crops, they remove some of these nutrients from the soil. Without replenishment, land suffers from nutrient depletion and becomes either unusable or suffers from reduced yields. Sustainable agriculture depends on replenishing the soil while minimizing the use of non-renewable resources, such as natural gas (used in converting atmospheric nitrogen into synthetic fertilizer), or mineral ores (e.g., phosphate). Possible sources of nitrogen that would, in principle, be available indefinitely, include:

  • recycling crop waste and livestock or treated human manure
  • growing legume crops and forages such as peanuts or alfalfa that form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia
More realistic, and often overlooked, options include long-term crop rotations, returning to natural cycles that annually flood cultivated lands (returning lost nutrients indefinitely) such as the Flooding of the Nile, the long-term use of biochar, and use of crop and livestock landraces that are adapted to less than ideal conditions such as pests, drought, or lack of nutrients.

Sustainable agriculture depends on  inputs being as local to each farm's location as possible. In our case, the manure that will help nourish the soil will come from our own chickens and manure from animals within our community. The other elements that manure cannot provide will come from green manure crops such as nettle, clover and ryegrass. We will be developing a water preservation and storage plan, as well as a crop rotation and companion planting plan also. The more one's gardening can rely on self-produced inputs, or at the very least local ones, the more sustainable each property, farm or homestead will be, and in turn this will ripple outward to the community at large.

We can change our planet one farm, one property, one community at a time. Therein lies our future as a race. That's the only reason we need to apply ourselves to sustainable agriculture.


1 comment:

Jacquelineand.... said...

Well written and a very well thought out plan of action. Look into growing comfrey as well; not only does it help with bruises and sprains when applied externally, it is a great compost material which supplies a number of micronutrients.

Wouldja consider doing a guest post Tankeboo?