Author: Henrietta Poirier • Date: June 6, 2014 • Appears in:
Sustainably Small is the New Big Thing
As we are bombarded with bad news about the planet, we may feel a certain desperation, what can we do to make the world a better place? Sometimes it seems like everything is getting worse and nothing is getting better.
The problems seem too big, how do you stop deforestation, how do you stop slavery, how do you stop mass malpractice manufacturing?
We might decide to bring our worldview closer to home. We can’t save the world, but we can look after our own families and we can support our local communities, and usually that journey begins with food.
Supporting small farmers is a sustainable step forward in maintaining a healthy food supply and that’s good new for us, our families, the planet and all the people on it.
Recent studies have shown that Industrial farms are just too big to succeed.
The global industrial food system is so dependent on expensive commercial agriculture inputs of hybrid seeds, chemical based pesticides, fossil fuel based fertilizers, and a global distribution system, that a slight shift in supply of these products can have disastrous results for the farm giants.
Mono crop farms deplete the soils fertility making these large operations especially vulnerable to storms, floods and droughts. With an increase in hostile climate conditions combined with rising oil prices, large industrial farms may soon become unworkable.
The danger to the industrial global food supply is real, but the good news is that small farm holders are working hard to provide fresh produce for local communities.
It is estimated that the one billion small farmers in developing countries will maintain food production in the face of adverse climate conditions and the aftermath of peak oil.
The agricultural group, Food Tank, released a report on family farms that recognizes small-scale farmers as having sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis through sustainable agricultural practices.
Small hold farmers who have been sold on industrial farming methods are returning to traditional and indigenous methods. They are removing their dependency on agricultural inputs such as buying seeds and fertilizers reducing their output costs and the benefits are not just financial; they find that many of the old ways are better for dealing with the ill effects of climate change.
While agri business may yield bumper crops of corn, rice and wheat, small hold farmers are growing indigenous plants like millet and quinoa that are better adapted to the natural environment and subsequently use less water and are more disease resistant.
Agroforestry integrates trees and shrubs into crops and livestock fields - this helps retain soil and protects crops from harsh weather conditions.
Intercropping and companion planting involves planting two or more crops near each other to maximize the use of light, water, and nutrients and to offer a means of natural pest control.
In the beginning of large agriculture, Big A led the way on providing bumper crops, that was before the land was stripped of nutrients. Now the tables have turned and family farmers who plant a variety of indigenous crops are obtaining 20 to 60 percent higher yields than farmers who cultivate only one crop.
In Nicaragua, 880 small farms with diverse crops and without the commercial agricultural inputs managed to survive the catastrophic battering of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
On average they retained 40 percent more topsoil after the storm and lost 18 percent less arable land in landslides.
Large agricultural practices have destroyed 30 percent of arable land. Soil erosion, loss of organic matter, hardening of soil, chemical penetration, nutrient depletion, excess salinity and water waste are all the result of Big A. How can this guarantee food production in the face of climate change?
It can’t and we know it.
In the U.S. small farms have increased by 2 percent. In Italy, Greece, Spain, and France, students understanding the critical nature of food security are returning to their rural roots. All across North America community farms and urban gardens are springing up, as people understand the value of locally grown produce.
Supporting small farms is a big deal and a good deal better for all of us.
And for all of us who may want to support a sustainable revolution, here are some how-to tips.