4 Farming Methods That Go Beyond Organic
Image: Jenn Pentland
With the recent hubub around the shortfalls of organic and local agriculture we think it's good to point out some of the "beyond organic" methods that farmers have adopted. It's no secret that organic agriculture has drifted from the original intent of the farmers that originally rejected the chemical-industrial system. The methods of growing described below would fit squarely within the ethic of organic production as it was conceived, and before certification turned a holistic agriculture system into a set of rules.
Read on to eat beyond organic.
With permission by Marie Richie via Flickr
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
IPM is a method of crop management that uses a variety of complimentary strategies to control pests. It is an intensive practice that relies on pest prevention, observation and finally intervention. The most celebrated aspect of IPM is the use of biological controls where "good" bugs to eliminate "bad" bugs. Picture an army of lady bugs swooping down and devouring, and thus destroying, a cloud of leafy green hungry aphids.
Other mechanical controls include good ol' hand-picking of bugs and vacuuming pests off of infested plants. I've also seen farmers sweep home-made blowtorches across greens laden with flea beetles eating their fill. The poor little buggers didn't know what hit them.
What is good about IPM?
IPM relies on close observation of crop health. This keeps the farmer in tune with their land and facilitates a quick response to any problems. The practice is based on acceptable pest levels, allowing them to coexist in the ecosystem until there is a problem.
What is bad about IPM?
The final stage allows for a chemical dousing if that's what will save the crop. Perhaps saving the farmer his livelihood, but harming the land and distilling farming down to a purely economic activity.
No-till farming has been making waves of late. It works just like it sounds. Farmers don't break the soil, opting instead to seed directly on top of the soil. When John reported on the zero-till revolution in Brazil he mentioned the important detail that may farmers that practice this method apply herbicides to control weeds that grow along with the plants.
Luckily for us, the good folks at the Rodale Institute have developed an organic system of no-till farming. Instead of using herbicides the institute has developed a piece of equipment called a "roller-crimper" that rolls down an over-wintering cover crop and leaves the land ready for planting. The Christian Science Monitor recently published the following claim from Rodale Research Director Paul Hepperly:
If organic no-till agriculture were used successfully on all of the earth's 3.5 billion tillable acres, it would absorb and sequester more than half of all present-day CO2 emissions every year.
What is good about No-Till?
It sequesters carbon and prevents soil erosion.
What is bad about No-Till
If not practiced with organic methods, farmers use chemicals to keep weeds in check.
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1924, biodynamic agriculture is an holistic system that treats the farm as an organism. The goal is a closed loop, where no inputs are brought on to the farm. Soil fertility is built through cover crops and on farm animal manure.
To be certified biodynamic a farm must also be organically certified. Farmers using his method also use nine homeopathic preparations to treat compost, soil, and plants. They also follow the rhythms of nature and the cosmos for tasks like seeding, and other on-farm rituals. Throw into the mix the fact that biodynamic farmers think in terms of processes and forces, as opposed to substances, and you have a whole new way of looking at agriculture.
What is good about Biodynamic?
Closed loop system doesn't allow for chemical inputs. Thinking holistically only helps with long-term sustainability.
What is bad about Biodynamic?
While the carrots from my local biodynamic farm are out of this world, so maybe are some of the cosmic cycle watching associated with biodynamics.
Way back in '06 Warren schooled us all on what permaculture is all about.
"Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems." Now if that sounds a little too New Agey for you, think of it as William McDonough's Cradle-to-Cradle concept, but applied to food. In nature there is no waste, the end life of one entity provides the the beginning for another. Think of it as Biomimicry for food.
It was developed in the 1970's by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren on the southern Australian island state of Tasmania.
Their design sets out to create different agricultural 'zones', so that many productive edges are formed. But permaculture in imitating the complexity of natural systems, right down to how night air moves, defies simple explanation.
What is good about Permaculture?
It mimics nature, and works with what ya got. And once you get going it's almost all maintenance. When the shit hits the fan, I'm reaching for my back issues of Permaculture Activist. (I hope it's not too late.)
What is bad about Permaculture?
It's a heck of a lot of work to start, and it doesn't fit into our current social paradigm.