Many in the world of agriculture agree that sustainable farming is the way of the future.
The expansive ideal puts a focus on the world of tomorrow, maintaining that it’s not just important for this generation to feed ourselves, but for there to be enough food and resources to feed generations to come.
The idea may seem like common sense, but putting it into practice is quite an extensive project, requiring a multi-faceted approach that touches on everything from the set-up of society to the breakdown of economic policies.
And then, of course, there’s the plots of land run by the farmers themselves.
To that end, there are a few particular practices that food growers everywhere are striving to adapt to create a more sustainable path forward.
Some of the top practices utilized by sustainable farmers include:
If permaculture could be summed up in one word, it might be: Balance.
The plant-growing system intends to create as close to a closed loop as possible, integrating any number of different fruits, vegetables, herbs and succulents into a plot of land to work together in a way that would be considered more like a true ecosystem than garden or farm.
The design is derived from the blueprints of the ultimate architect herself, Mother Nature, with the philosophy behind permaculture being to mimic her natural pairings and the best ideas of evolution to create a whole system that both reduces waste of resources and increases efficiency of plant production. One plant, for example, may draw more pollinators to a plot while another has thirstier roots that soak up excess water and reduce widespread rot.
In fact, the land management concept is called “whole system thinking,” and it really takes every detail and interrelationship of a garden into account.
These fancy-sounding words actually describe a pretty fancy way to go about growing plants – by essentially getting rid of all of the soil.
Hydroponics is the more “well-established” of the two, having long been an alternative option for growing crops of all kinds. The system uses water to carry all the necessary minerals and nutrients to a plant’s roots, with the plants, meanwhile, plotted not in soil but a more energetically passive medium, such as gravel or perlite. (This not only helps reduce the use of pesticides, but increases the sustainability of the system.)
Aquaponics also discards the use of soil – but replaces it with something a little fishier. And we mean literally.
In an aquaponic system, plants are fed their nutrients and vitamins through what they absorb out of fish waste! That’s right – fish are fed, they expel what they don’t need, and the plants are able to eat up some of the freshest fertilizer around.
The philosophies of truly sustainable farming extend deeper than just the way plants are grown. It touches on all the—usually heavy-duty—equipment that’s used to keep a farm running.
Indeed, fossil fuels are a leading cause of climate change, which is in direct opposition to the concept of sustainable farming, among many other obvious concerns. That’s why many purveyors of sustainable farming strive to use equipment that runs on the cleanest types of energy possible, including hydroelectric power, solar power and wind power.
The idea of reducing the use of fossil fuels also extends to how food is shipped off of a sustainable farm, with many farmers partnering together to take larger shipments on shorter journeys, preferring to sell their food at local farmer’s markets or other nearby establishments in order to reduce the waste it takes to get the goods there.
Another time-tested concept, crop rotation has actually been used for thousands of years – though the idea plays an especially important role when it comes to maintaining a sustainable farm.
The general idea comes from the fact that every type of plant has a different type of relationship with soil: Some are more “givers,” leaving deposits of precious nutrients and minerals behind, while others are takers, leeching out lots of energy from the soil and water they’re given.
At its simplest, crop rotation is an attempt to balance that out, growing different crops in different seasons in an order that helps keep the soil at a more naturally neutral level. Fine-tuned, the concept can go on to add even more benefits to the process, like keeping the soil naturally cleaner, and allowing farmers to reduce or flat-out stop their use of pesticides, herbicides and other synthetic fertilizers.
A bit of an offshoot (pun intended) of permaculture, using trees to increase crop yields belongs to a sustainable agriculture practice called agroforestry.
The idea centers around growing trees, shrubs, mushrooms and other forest-based plants amongst fruits and vegetables, with the idea, again, being to increase biodiversity and rely on the myriad natural mechanics established by Mother Nature to reduce waste and generate more efficient yields.
At its most established, a well-curated agroforest ecosystem can produce much more than a regular farm while also allowing farmers to ease off or completely get rid of pesticides and herbicides by letting Mother Nature do all the clean-up work.
Still, as scientists continue to dig into the concept of sustainable farming, even more ideas, land management systems and biodiverse philosophies are continuing to emerge – all intended to get us just a little bit closer to nature.