Agri Kultuur September / September 2016 - Page 18

Rachel Schulman Image courtesy of Cascadian Farm via a Creative Commons license. T he question of what separates agroecological farming from organic farming is a valid one and often asked. Although agroecological farming shares some of the same principles as organic farming, agroecology is not associated with a particular type of agriculture. Conventional and organic farms alike can take an agroecological approach to managing farmland. Agroecological farming strives to create stable food production systems that are resilient to environmental perturbations such as climate change and disease. The only way to achieve this goal is to go beyond thinking of farms as linear systems in which inputs (acreage, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.) influence output (food yield), and start treating farmland as complex webs of ecological interactions. What is agroecology? Is organic food agroecological? Agroecology views agriculture from an ecological perspective. Farmland, after all, is an ecosystem – a complex network in which every living and nonliving component of the system affects every other component, either directly or indirectly. This ecosystem view of agriculture considers all of the services provided by farmland to humans – soil health, water quality, air quality, pest control, disease control, biodiversity, and so forth – in addition to food production. Not necessarily. Most of the organic food you see in the grocery store is from industrial operations that do not think ecologically. Instead of managing their farmland as ecosystems, large-scale organic farms focus solely on producing as much food as possible. Sure, big organic farms don’t use synthetic chemicals, but they do little to manage the ecosystem services provided by farmland. They rely heavily on fossil fuels, erode soils, pollute water supplies, destroy native wildlife habitat, and so forth. Intensive agriculture –