My asscociate asked me to write something for a local blog posting she is doing, about the future of agriculture as I see it. I only had 500 words, i’m pretty certain I could have gone on longer, but here it is.
Sustainability is all the rage, but when we challenge ourselves to come up with creative solutions, why stop at sustainability? Why not have a goal of regeneration, for our planet and our people.
Food is one of our most basic needs, and our current system causes huge amounts of destruction to our society and our environment in the process of food production. I question if something so important as food should even be allowed to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market. I’m of the opinion that we should treat safe food as a right of all people, just the same as access to air, fresh water, and shelter.
What would a regenerative agricultural system look like? I’ll lay it out as best I can with these points.
1. Respect for all. That means people, plants, animals, soils are not seen as commodities. This means no poisoning and exploiting workers, this means giving animals the chance to act as animals not confined protein generators as they are now.
2. Diverse. Both in the forms of crops and the people growing them. We need more woman, and minorities farming. A multitude of crops and animals grown, both to reduce chances of crop loss, but also to better integrate systems.
3. Efficient. Currently one farmer feeds 144 people. You might say that’s efficient, but I think we need to view efficiency in a different light. That sounds like a lot of unemployed people. Human, animal and plant power are more efficient than almost any device we can design. Try powering a tractor on hay, maybe if you turn it into ethanol, but it’s waste can’t be used to fertilizer the soil, like a horse’s.
4. Decentralized. Currently food travels and average of 1400 miles from seed to plate, that’s hugely wasteful as well as very dangerous. Our current food scares are related to these huge centralized processing systems where small problems turn into big ones, plus local food systems are more stable, and better able to serve the people that live in the area.
5. Small. Large farms have only come into existence as a result of mechanization. As we move to a more regenerative agriculture we have to rely less and less on the brute force and more on thoughtful thinking and finesse. This means we need to shrink down so we can manage these more complex systems.
6. Perennial based. Annual crop farming is hugely wasteful on so many levels by comparison to perennial crops. As we more forward perennial crops with be more and more our focus. Perennial crops conserve top soils, sequester carbon, and increase soil fertility.
7. Community minded. Farmers must stop calling the people that eat the food they produce consumers and start calling them what they should be, friends and neighbors. Agriculture should build community rather than devastate it. Smaller farms can support more people farming, as well as more folks supplying the needs of the farmers.
For further inspiration of what regenerative agriculture could look like, I recommend looking at the writings of folks like Bill Mollison and John Todd, but I also recommend a walk in the woods. Though 3.5 billion years of trial and error nature has worked out the most efficient systems in the world, we would be smart to take our cues from her.