"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living on a small piece of land." Abraham Lincoln
We view the many forms of modern agriculture on a continuum, from "green revolution" practices, with their emphasis on chemical inputs, genetic manipulation and mechanization at one end, to ecological systems on the other. We could say that on the one hand we have an agricultural perspective -- i.e., that biotic systems require disruption and manipulation in order to produce food, and that this is what a farmer's job entails -- and on the other an ecological perspective. If we were to draw out this continuum, agricultural practices like IPM (integrated pest management) and organic agriculture would fall somewhere to the middle, with organic agriculture approaching an ecological system more than IPM. While both these techniques are laudable improvements over conventional agriculture, in our view they are still short of ideal. Our background and training is not in agronomy but in ecology, education, and soil science, and while we do farm organically we constantly seek to push our practice toward ecologic stability. And we are not the only ones attempting to do so: Other local farmers are doing their best to mimic ecological systems, and perhaps in the the not so distant future the state of local agriculture talk will be farmers boasting stories of ecological transitions rather than the cleverest techniques for outwitting Mother Nature.
The basis of organic farming and its relation to healthy plants and healthy humans is summed up in the soil. The Earth's skin of soil-save for bits of mineral and countless tiny organisms that dwell within it—is comprised simply of things that have lived before us. This 'dead' material is transformed, solely through energy provided by the sun, to all the living things with plants providing the essential link for transferring the suns vital energy to organisms like us who don't photosynthesize. A living vibrant soil will be full of all the necessary mycorrhizae (fungi) and soil organisms, it will have a pH somewhere around 5.9 – 6.5, but only if there is a balanced calcium/magnesium ratio with adequate quantities of each and sulphur to match. This means that the right amount of carbon is in the soil and there must also be a good percentage of organic matter and then we have a starting point. The sun does all the hard work of farming: it provides heat and light that powers plants' metabolism, delivers moisture from distant oceans through the atmospheric circulations; its energy is even encoded into the DNA of seeds, telling them how to produce the roots, fruits, seeds and leaves that keep us alive. Though farmers tinker with the plants – to – people part of the process and midwife it as best we can, “food” is simply the outcome of the sun's energy interacting with the wafer-thin organic coating on the planet's rocky crust. Food is as fundamental a birthright as the sun, air soil, and water which comprise it. It's our job as farmers to pay attention to the signs Mother Nature gives us so that we can continue to provide you with high quality, nutritional foods required for your own sustainability.
"While science and technique are important to sustainable food production, you also need a bit of love and celebration to grow great food." Farmer Erin's philosophy on how you grow it is what you get...
Food does take considerable human labor to produce in quantity and thus do human 'economic' systems intervene to exclude so many from a decent standard of eating. Modern capitalism requires maximization of profit; mass-production and human hierarchy are most efficient at achieving this, but both have proved especially disastrous when applied to agriculture. (See blog posting on “how is it that We Eat” - link to this). The recent history of investor backed agribusiness, with its 'vertical integration', has narrowed the number of people working with the land, replacing their labor with larger and larger machines. Since capitalism subsidizes non-renewable energy by not requiring a full accounting of costs (e.g. $ trillions in global warming – and pollution – related remediation), modern agriculture has become dependent on heavy machinery which not only devours petroleum resources and contributes to atmospheric warming but destroys soils through compaction. Reliance upon GMO (genetically modified organisms), pesticides, herbicides and other toxins has become routine. Future generations may be deprived not only of vital energy resources but of genetic diversity and the knowledge of how to produce food in concert with the ecosystem.
Food that is both bountiful and cheap is therefore a sort of an illusions, temporarily enabled by subsidized energy. Awash with cheap food, Americans can be shocked by the honest cost of sustainable production.