Thursday, October 21, 2010

Agriculture and a new mind

What would agriculture look like if was governed by the same fundamental rules that govern the rest of the living things on this planet?
• The process of growing food would build topsoil.
• Everything needed to produce food would come from that place – nutrients, water, energy, etc.
• Everything would be returned to that place – all the “waste” from producing the food, and all the “waste” from consuming the food would be returned in a way that it continued the soil building/life building process.
It seems pretty simple, until you test current agriculture/food production/waste management systems against these rules. Then it’s not so simple.

My neighbor farms. I farm. When I look out the window I can see bits of both as well as the wooded hillside on the other side of the neighbor’s field. For my part of the world this pretty much sums up the current agricultural practices.

Neighbor farms about 1000 acres. He grows corn and soy beans in rotation. He produces about 150 tons of corn per acre (that’s 150000 tons of corn) or about 47 tons of soybeans per acre (47000 tons of soy). Right now his farm looks like this…

acres of desolation

My farm is 5 acres. We have about 3 ½ acres in production. Each year we produce about 6400 lbs of milk, 1000 dozen eggs, 825 lbs of meat, and 780 lbs of salad greens, and enough fruit and vegetables for our family and to give away to our friends. We produce no grain. Right now our farm looks like this…



                                       Our Farm %    Neighbor Farm %
Build topsoil                        90 %                        2%
Own Nutrients                    80%                          0
Own Water                        70%                         100%
Own Energy                       20%                          0
Production Waste               90%                         90%
Utilization Waste                50%                           0

So, my farm's sustainable and the neighbor’s farm is not? Could be, but 10% of the things I do don’t build topsoil (that means they destroy topsoil…) and 20% of our nutrients are imported from somewhere else, and 30% of our water and 80% of our energy are also imported, and 60% of the resources tied up in waste walk away every year. We are MORE sustainable than a conventional farm, but still losing ground.
There are things I know I can do to improve what I am doing, especially in the water, energy, and waste areas. (Exploring those will take more than one post…) What I'm doing kind of works here.  I'll be exploring why and how addaptable some of these ideas might be.  Also, there are a bunch of things I haven't got figured out for my little farm.  I'll be exploring them too.
Here’s another thing…

Right now the American diet is more than 70% grain based. We produce no grain, ZERO. That means that we are not touching 70% of what we currently eat. You’d get a bit hungry if I cut your diet by 70%.

I can’t find a way to make annual grain production fit any kind of naturally sustainable model. That means we need to change what we eat. Radically!

Next post - Farming that builds soil.
Another post- Diet for a dying planet.
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