Agri Kultuur September / September 2016 - Page 19

even intensive organic agriculture – is generally a pretty environmentally destructive practice. But if you go beyond the grocery store, you can find food from growers that are trying to manage their farmland as ecosystems. There are plenty of small, alternative farms striving to create sustainable food production systems. Farms that focus on restoring and maintaining soil health are less dependent on chemical inputs, because plants grown in healthy soil can better access their natural defenses to ward off pests and disease. Farmers that think ecologically also tend to let their animals do a lot of the work for them. By allowing animals to perform their natural behaviors, farmers can use livestock to enhance the farmland ecosystem. For instance, chickens can be moved from field to field to clean up vegetable patches before a new crop is planted. In addition to clearing out old vegetation, chickens eat insect pests, aerate the soil as they scratch for food, and leave each patch with an ample dose of fertilizer. Pigs that are allowed to express their inherent piggyness – namely, rooting and wallowing – can be used to till a field or turn manure into compost. Rotating different species of farm animals across pastures can reduce disease-risk in livestock while keeping pastures rich in nutrients and diverse in forage. To find produce, dairy, or meat from this type of ecoagricultural farm, your best bet is to start talking to local farmers – visit your farmers market or join a CSA. Can conventional farms be agroecological? It’s not just small, alternative farms that are thinking ecologically. Conventional, industrial farms can practice agroecology as well. Some use synthetic chemicals only as a last resort, instead relying on biological management strategies – such as beneficial insect predators, crop rotation, and monitoring of fields for pests – to increase yield. Understanding ecolabels is the best way to determine whether conventional produce is grown agroecologically. Conventional and organic farms alike can also practice agroecology by setting aside a portion of their farmland for conservation. Restoring farmland to natural habitat increases the number of native plant and animal species on farms, and can also repair important ecosystem functions. Restored land can store atmospheric carbon dioxide, control erosion, detoxify soil, purify water, provide habitat for insect predators that keep pests at bay, and much more. In a way, agroecology represents a different way of farming. It’s not necessarily organic, and it’s not necessarily conventional. Given how much land use is agricultural and how environmentally destructive agriculture can be, agroecology seems like the best solution to ensure the sustainability of food production and crucial ecosystem services. Acknowledgement: Agroecological Farming vs. Organic Farming: What’s the difference? by Rachel Schulman. in sustainable-farming-organic-vs-agroecology/ used under CC BY-SA 3.0/ Desaturated from original