In my little neck of the sa world, sustainable agriculture goes beyond
organic, which has its own issues with soil erosion, nutrient pollution and
constant outside inputs. To me, sus ag is agricultural technology works in
complete harmony (symbiosis?) with nature and/or mirrors natural systems. It
is ag. technology that regenerates and revitalizes soils, literally grows new
topsoil faster than nature can, full of minerals and natural soil biota that
fight disease, assist in and improve nutrient uptake by the plants, and
provide organic matter and soil aeration.
The sus ag I know strives to be 99% efficient economically (calculating ALL
costs such as petroleum used in making fertilizers or transporting food, soil
erosion, health care due to ag pollution, clean up of streams, etc.),
environmentally (zero pollution, waste stream reduction, zero erosion,
composting, etc.), and geographically (many small-scale farms, locally
grown/sold produce, community involvement, cooperative decision making, etc.).
At our Urban Oasis farm and greenhouse in DC we are using the Biointensive
method of growing coupled with permaculture engineering of the land. Using
these methods we have zero soil erosion and excellent natural soil fertility.
We make all of our own fertilizer and seedling soil, save our seeds, grow some
crops specifically to make compost with (e.g. vetch, wheat, corn) and add soil
mass via root systems (cereal rye, alfalfa), and use intensive IPM and
biodynamic pest/weed management in the greenhouse and in the field. We even
will soon irrigate the field using swales and water catchement off the
greenhouse roof. Our labor comes cooperatively from the very community who
takes home the food. We further reduce the waste stream by involving the
community in composting, by using cardboard boxes from stores as sheet mulch,
and by collecting food waste for compost from local supermarkets and restaurants.
Using all of these technologies (most of which were resurrected from ancient
cultures), in the next 2-3 years, we expect to reach 2 to 10 times (crop
depending) the productivity of both conventional and organic row culture using
one fourth the space, and one tenth the water and fertilizer, with no soil
erosion. We also expect by that time to have grown about an inch of topsoil,
to no longer need gas-powered machinery and to be down to zero purchased
inputs. We are already very close to these expectations now. In fact, once
plans are complete, the place promises to almost run itself for free;)
This to me is the beginning of sustainable.
I guess my little corner of the sa world must be pretty small because I have
been surprised to find such a wide interpretation of what exactly constitutes
sustainable agriculture on this list. I am curious about the spectrum of
belief about sus ag here and look forward to observing the discussion around
food for thought,
garden resources of washington (GROW)
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