Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.-Einstein
Some dear friends are about to embark in earnest on their first larger farming project. They have several acres of open land that needs to be stewarded to the benefit of their family. While we were planting turnips over here, she asked if I had any advice or if there was something I’d recommend. This line of questioning isn’t just opening a can of worms. This is a grain silo of worms.
When my paradigm shift began and I started questioning the dogma, I was firmly and defiantly entrenched in the world of conventional agriculture. When I started to look at that world objectively, I felt alone. I had no idea where to go for information I could trust (thus the penchant for reading studies and peer reviewed journals) and I had no community. In fact, I lost a lot of my people. There is distrust intentionally cultivated in the agriculture community by certain lobbies toward anyone who questions anything. (A few people stuck with me because they either chalked it up to me getting eccentric or trusted me enough to wait and see if I was on to something. To them I owe returned undying love.) So I was suddenly on the outside. I had no mentors and I knew nothing. I didn’t even know my goals, only that everything about conventional agriculture had turned out to be a shell game and I had been a pawn. I knew what I didn’t want to do anymore.
I didn’t want to dump Sevin Dust on my food anymore.
I knew the synthetic NPK fertilizer was doing more harm than good.
I knew that that people grew food before the green revolution without spending so much money.
I knew conventional farming seemed like a losing battle where I watched people count on science beating nature and it rarely did.
I knew where my food was coming from and I knew most people didn’t.
I knew people were getting sicker and fatter.
I knew we were wasting a huge percentage of what was grown.
I knew specialization seemed efficient but cheap “food” had killed small farms.
I knew that food for humans was called “specialty crops” and we spent most of our space growing stuff you couldn’t eat.
I knew that if the system collapsed, even the farmers would starve.
The system is fragile.
I knew that what was happening in the CAFO buildings was wrong.
I knew that sometimes I said things to tow the line that deep down bothered me and I knew were wrong.
I knew all the inputs negated the profits.
I knew the bigger picture and it was ugly.
So what information would have helped in those first two years as I was groping for a clean path for both my food and my conscience?
Soil doesn’t naturally stay bare. You cover it, nature covers it, you poison it or you manually remove vegetation.
Everything has a consequence.
Nature isn’t an enemy to growing. Look around you.
If a bug won’t eat it, why would you? Even naturally occurring biocides are less than ideal.
Systems should be designed to mimic nature whenever possible.
Biodiversity is the best insurance. Never grow just one thing.
Monocropping and pesticides cause infestations.
Synthetics never improve soil. The quality of the soil determines the nutritional quality of the food.
Seek balance. Don’t mess with the bugs. Create an environment that is unattractive to the insects you don’t want and is hospitable to their predators. (Look into Integrated Pest Management or IPM)
Grow hardy crops. Grow perennial crops. Grow companion crops. Grow what thrives in your biome.
Don’t be afraid of failure.
Keep a garden journal or diary.
Design your system to manage its own water as much as possible.
It will take time to transition, for both you and your land.
Worms, mycorrhiza and deep roots are all good things.
You can buy beneficial insects.
There are lots of people out there who, like you, are experiencing the paradigm shift.
There are lots of people out there who have already made this transition.
You should still be able to grow food if the structure of society fails.
The hardest thing to learn is when to do nothing and then to do it.
I’ll write more about each of these issues in the future but, for now, just keep in mind that the nagging in your mind that it shouldn’t be this hard, means you’ve complicated the process, usually by fighting against a system that will beat you. I know because I have done exactly that more times than I can count.
Chew on this
We grow enough calories for everyone on earth. People are not hungry because there is no food. They are hungry for economic and political reasons.
Food Forward is a PBS show that I like to let this play while I am cooking. It is exactly as it sounds. http://www.pbs.org/show/food-forward/
Happy eating, Katy