Agriculture Based on Stewardship

Each of the historical developments in agriculture that traced has resulted in an explosion in productivity, with resul' surpluses. With each major innovation the wild landscape has creasingly domesticated. Although this continues to be the trend, the beginnings of a very different form of agriculture are ble—one that is restorative, ecologically inspired, and applicable! sign of future settlements. It is an agriculture based on the stewardship and involves both ancient and modern knowlec than exploding outward as the other innovations have, with bi; model it will implode, turning inward and moving in the miniaturization. This type of agriculture will break with the past " culture of food will be more closely interwoven with the fabric ments. As our designs indicate, the division between agriculti ture will heal as towns, cities, and villages become more agric utter separation between rural and city life, and the polarizat: makes each an unsustainable form. The transformation of which started as a primarily urban experiment, will soon move reoccupy and care for the land.

The concept of stewardship in agriculture is steeped in ues than the present business perspective. Throughout history have worked the land have been serf, peasant, migrant farm man, pioneer, homesteader, tenant farmer, family farmer, nessman. In each role, social position and self-image affects and attitude towards the land. Currently migrant farm wo ploited class, struggling to earn wages in a market economy, trolled by economic contingencies, the agribusinessman must, see labor, land and crops as commodities, and machines and primary strategies for maximizing profits. Both for him and 1

r the land has become objectified. Seen through the eyes of the agri-\il steward the land and the countryside are living, vital entities held red trust, to be nurtured and protected for the good of all things. He lives in the harsh economic realities of the day, but struggles for the balance between ecological necessity and economic prudence. To . e such a balance such a steward starts on a small scale, applying the Dts that underlie biological design. The steward applies a unique it principle to agriculture, realizing that the sub-elements of a system r. be enlarged independently and that in order to grow, the system duplicate itself so that the internal integrity remains intact and func-An agricultural steward strives to be a healer of the land. The wounds . machines, poisons and bad land practices then become the raw ma-of re-creation. The work is to restore waste places. The social forms of farming can change from very large, isolated to smaller holdings. Stewardship in agriculture will require a range :s and new forms of cooperation. In the past, in this country, most i s have worked alone with their families usually on their own land. Alii this will no doubt continue, other social modes may emerge as well, •logical farm will be comprised of diverse interacting components de-tn >m horticulture, orchardry, livestock husbandry, entomology, aqua-c. bioshelters, and field crops all linked to create exquisitie three-di-• >nal landscapes. It is conceivable that such a farm could be owned < n ked cooperatively by a team of specialized farmers each of whom i subcomponent of the whole. It could have its own economic infra-u re and be set up as a small profit-sharing company. Such an arrange--n ould allow for a creative balance between individual and collective vts with the advantage of access to shared tools as well as skills. In Chapter Three we sketched some of the attributes of natural sys--.nd the patterns in which ecosystems organize themselves over time process of ecological succession.

Peter Raven in The Biology of Plants gives the following description of ¿ical succession as

In ecology, the slow, orderly progression of changes in community imposition during the development of vegetation in any area from in-:sal colonization to the attainment of a climax typical of a particular geo-Taphic area.'1

In the Fundamentals of Ecology Eugene Odum extends the meaning of

1. NEWLY MOWED MEADOW

2. PLANT DIVERSIFICATION

Succession in a Meadow, Sequence Measured in Decades succession to include the implications for human activity and agriculture. He states:

In a word the 'strategy' of succession as a short term process is basically the same as the 'strategy' of long term evolutionary development of the biosphere, namely increased control of, or homeostasis with, the physical environment in the sense of achieving maximum protection from its perturbations. The development of ecosystems has many parallels in the developmental biology of organisms and also in the development of human society.7

Studies of ecosystem strategies like those of Dr. Odum create design blueprints for stewardship agriculture. Such blueprints permit agriculture to move toward becoming intensified, miniaturized, and diversified, fostering a dimension of self repair and sustainability. Market gardening, aqua-culture, tree crops, and livestock are important components. Each of these supports and enhances the production of the whole. Like the farm on Java we described, multi-story diversification, close planting, and mutually re-

rorcing intercropping are integral elements. Light, nutrients, wastes, moisture, and beneficial organisms like bees, are shared by many of the mponents.

Successional or ecological agriculture differs from ordinary farming . ;hat it adapts to changes over time. In early phases, annual crops and fish >">nds might dominate the landscape, but as the landscape grows and ma-ares, a third dimension develops as tree crops and livestock come into :ieir own. The key is to mirror the natural tendency of succession which, er time, creates ecosystems that are effective and stable utilizers of space, energy, and biotic elements.

A successional farm is most likely to be a small acreage farm inten-¡vely worked. The opposite of monoculture, it uses a number of diverse lements to establish the symbiotic relationships which lead to overall sys-iin productivity, health, and integrity. Components will include market-ble fish, vegetables, herbs, forage crops, bees, poultry, livestock, fruit, nuts, nd other economic trees. They will be assembled so that as the farm evolves hrough each state, it will become an increasingly viable and cost effective vstem. Each year fewer and fewer inputs will need to be imported for main-enance and self-regulation. Systems dynamics has given the agricultural teward the ability to model time, space, economic pathways, and ecological leeds. At New Alchemy we studied computer models derived from wild ecosystems, then introduced domestic elements. This approach makes it possible for the landscape to retain a deep ecological integrity even as it becomes increasingly agricultural.

Reflecting the natural world, ecological agriculture is complex-the building blocks or subcomponents are comprehensible. To begin requires gardening skills, a basic understanding of home fish aquarium techniques, some knowledge of orchardry and small animal husbandry, and an elementary ability to identify insects. It is, in some aspects, far more accessible than its Green Revolution counterpart. The secret is biological information supported by an ecologically derived infrastructure that gradually replaces machinery, capital, space, and large energy and control inputs. The new-agriculture is made up of the following seven elements:

1. Bio-intensive Soil Management. One of the most successful methods of soil cultivation appropriate to new forms of agriculture was developed by the biodynamic gardener Alan Chadwick. He brought to North America the raised-bed techniques used in the late 1800s in gardens around Paris and combined them with composting and the somewhat esoteric biodynamic methods developed by Rudolph Steiner and his associates in the 1930s. Chadwick was a teacher. His work has been extended and made accessible to large numbers of people by former systems analyst John Jeavons, whose studies at Ecology Action in Palo Alto, California, are little short of revolutionary. In his book How to Crow More Vegetables, Mr. Jeavons advocates cultivating the soil to a depth of twenty-four inches by double digging with either a shovel, or the the deep soil cultivator which he invented, The surface soil is not turned under but set aside while the lower soil is being dug. The surface soil is then replaced and thus remains on top, untrammelled, which allows it to breathe and lets the rain, with its gases and nutrients, percolate down slowly rather than wash surface particles away.

2. Intensive Planting Techniques. Bio-intensive gardening employs a close planting pattern of crops, and often, crops grown in combination. It incorporates abundant use of natural compost, light daily waterings, and avoidance of soil compaction. Under this regime, aerobic microbiotic life predominates in the soil and, by feeding the soil in the right combinations, nutrients are made available for the crops by the microbes. With these soil management and planting techniques, Jeavons has proved that, in California, a complete, nutritionally balanced diet can be grown in a four-month growing season on as small an area as 2,800 square feet per person. Intensive Japanese farming demands twice as much space, American mecha-

The Surrounding Landscape ed agriculture requires five times the land area, and low input Indian .culture fifteen. Jeavons' research has shown that in a six-month grow--eason a backyard gardener can grow a year's supply of vegetables and : fruits (three-hundred twenty-two pounds) on one-hundred square : working on an average of five to ten minutes a day.

Jeavons' studies have given micro-farming an economic dimension

* ell. A tenth-of-an-acre farm in California conceivably could net ten- to ruv-thousand dollars annually with the farmer working forty hours a :k for eight months of the year. One of the reasons for such economic biiitv is the lack of machinery and non-biological inputs. Design and ;dwork are substituted for hardware. Jeavons hopes to prove that as ;h food can be grown on a per hour basis by hand cultivation as is now ■duced by mechanized commercial agriculture.

The research of Robert Rodale and associates who publish Organic

■ :'t n and Farming and New Farm magazines, make a compelling case for

■ "logical agriculture. For many years Mr. Rodale and his father, J. I. Rodale e among the few advocates of agricultural alternatives in North Amer-Guided by Robert Rodale's vision of a regenerative agriculture, the Ro-

e Research Center has experimented with composting, soil building, i water conservation on both garden and farm scales. They have docu-nted their work and chronicled the economic potential of ecological .cepts in agriculture.

3. Aquaculture. The solar aquaculture based on the translucent cylin-al solar-algae ponds, which we developed at New Alchemy, is the aquatic ■do j of bio-intensive agriculture. The three-dimensional, above ground "ids receive light from all sides and the top. The results of the experi-:.ts with these tanks have been one of the most productive forms of low -rgv aquaculture in the world. Fish, like tilapia, obtain a good part of ir diet bv feeding upon the algae. A five-foot high by five-foot in diam-r tank produces up to sixty pounds of fish a year and we expect to almost :ble this figure one day by integrating new species of fish. In the summer i-grown, the tank-raised fish are transferred to shallow outdoor ponds fattening to market size. The fish can be rotated among ponds and the id bottoms, having been enriched by the fish, can be used occasionally as rd-tree vegetable gardens. The water from both solar-algae and out-

• r ponds is used to irrigate and fertilize agricultural crops. When solar are placed in sunny locations inside bioshelters they serve double b\ trapping and storing solar heat to function as low temperature "fur naces." They are effective enough to provide the heating for New Alch: bioshelters when the sun is not shining. Aquaculture can provide paif the early economic base for a farmstead while it is being planted to slow turing crops like fruits and nuts. Although fish farming has been long glected in the Western world, it has been a great ecological stabilizer in, of the Orient and has enormous potential for ecological agriculture 1

When there are ponds or lakes on the land, cage culture aquacul: is worth considering and is easy to integrate with the agricultural scape. The fish are kept in small floating cages in the pond or lake, beauty of cage culture lies in the fact that while it scarcely impinges u; the environment, it is productive and it does not demand a high degree expertise. The pond does much of the caring for the fish, providing hab and some food. The body of water can still be used for recreation incluc fishing for non-caged fish and for the irrigation of agricultural crops.

At New Alchemy Bill McLarney and Jeffrey Parkin experiment with cage design in a small pond that borders the Institute and successfu raised good harvests of bullhead catfish and sunfishes in floating ca$i They summarize their experiences, as well as those of other researchers,' The New Alchemy Backyard Fish Farm Book.9

4. Bioshelters. New Alchemy's bioshelters and the bioshelters illus-; trated in Chapter Four are the solar age equivalent of the nineteenth century barn. Then the barn allowed the farm to continue to function after the first hard frost in fall until the last frost of spring by storing the biological material that sustained the farm. Grains, hay, and silage were kept to feed animals, and livestock were sheltered. In this way the period between growing seasons was weathered by overwintering. The bioshelter does the same thing, only more dynamically. The growing season continues inside the structure. Vegetables and fruit are grown and harvested, fish hatched and maintained, and trees propagated. The bioshelter is the epicenter of an ecological farm. Seedlings, fish, beneficial insets, and young trees can be grown for subsequent outdoor culture. A short growing season is less of a handicap to raising food. Although many people, on first viewing a bioshelter, see it as a technological implant, set apart from the agricultural landscape, we envision it being used increasingly as a source of biological material for the whole farm as well as the most efficient means of bridging the gap between growing seasons.

5. Small Plot Grains. It is popularly held that grain culture belongs only in the vast fields of the midwest and west. At the Rodale Research Cen-

Robert Rodale and Richard Harwood have been promoting backyard k erain raising for years, and in the process have started to change this John Jeavons, by growing wheat and rye in one-hundred square :c plots using bio-intensive methods, is drawing even more attention to options in backyard farming. His first experiments have yielded twelve •ends of grain per one-hundred square feet. In California they expect able to obtain two, twenty-six pound crops over an eight-month sea-sec-which is equivalent to fifty-two loaves of bread from a ten foot by ten !§:«:: plot. Mr. Jeavons threshes the grain with small threshers are built in Jarvin.

At the Land Institute in Kansas,Wes and Dana Jackson and their as-»:>aates are experimenting with a more radical concept for grain, one » rich could transform the way in which the prairies are farmed. They are ~ mg to develop perennial grains which would yield crops like domesti-ci.ed annual wheat and rye. These long-lived perennial grasses would pro-je-:: and enhance the soil, as the wild prairie grasses do, but still produce an ir.nual crop of edible grains. One of their new plants is four plants in one. The chromosomes come from eastern gamma grass, a wild relative of corn, domestic corn, and a perennial wild corn. They have been combined to .-reaie one plant, in the language of genetics called a haplotriploid. The r^ksons are aiming for the hardiness of eastern gamma grass, the yielding ¿"ilitv of domestic corn, and the perennial nature of the wild Mexican corn ¿r.d eastern gamma grass combined.

The Jacksons have also developed a hybrid between sorghum, a perennial which they intend to make winter-hardy by breeding it with sugar ane. The high sugar content sorghum/sugar has an "anti-freeze"-like substance in its tissues, which increases its hardiness. They have been back .rossing it to the sorghum and breeding this plant in turn to Johnson grass, i tough plant with a deep penetrating rhizome. The result is a winter-r.ardy sorghum grain with a deep, penetrating root system. In another successful experiment the Jacksons searched through six species of high yielding perennials from the world's collection of 4,300 varieties and found a plant from the shores of the Soviet Union at about the latitude of Anchorage, Alaska. It was a wild perennial rye, known as the giant wild rye Elymus ¿iganteus. It is known to have been eaten by the Mongols. They crossed this ^iant rye with wheat. The cross has survived two Kansas summers, one of which brought the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the thirties.

Another of their projects involves changing the sex ratio of eastern gamma grass so that it becomes mostly female and therefore highly yi ing. The wild easten gamma grass, a perennial relative of corn, has ; which contain twenty-seven percent protein, three times that of corn. It almost twice the thiamine of corn. The drawback is that, like most pe nials, it is a low yielder. The reason for the low yield is the inflorescence flower cluster which is mainly made up of tiny males. An astute botanist < covered a mutant in the midwest that was mostly female. The Land In„ tute acquired a clone, which, in tests, has yielded fifteen to twenty-f times that of the normal gamma grass. This is equivalent to thirty bush an acre-which rivals the yielding capacity of wheat. With sufficient hi yielding perennial grains, a prairie agriculture could emerge which wo make the plough a thing of the past. Wildness and human interventi: would once again be more closely balanced.10

6. Livestock and Poultry. Animals are integral to any natural syster They are nourished by plant and microbial life and contribute to the cycl with their excretions and eventually with their decomposing bodies. Modern agriculture removes animals from large tracts of land to leave the fields free for monocrop soybeans, corn, peanuts, grains, or hay. Although there are still some animal pastures, increasingly livestock and poultry are confined to feedlots or chicken factories. Although many ecologically sensitive farmers are vegetarians and interested only in plants, animals are as much a part of the ecological fabrics as plants or microbes, and a healthy agricultural landscape depends upon them. Successional farming requires a balance between plants and animals, but the movement of animals must be carefully regulated. In early successional stages on an agricultural landscape chickens, ducks, and geese should predominate, as their feeding controls weeds and the manure fertilizes the soil. Whereas in urban areas, poultry may be the only animals it is possible to raise, on larger rural farms, when the trees mature, pigs, sheep, and cattle will be part of later successional stages. Particularly in cold climates where growing seasons are short, milk, eggs, and meat have long been the backbone of human diets. In a sustainable agriculture they may not be as predominant with more fish, vegetables, and fruits being produced, but they will retain their niche in the overall ecological integrity of the farm. One of the challenges of the future will be to breed animals adapted to agricultural ecosystems, while still retaining some of the improvements of animals breeding in this century.

7. Agricultural Forestry. In areas where it is appropriate to the bio-region, the climax state of stewardship agriculture is farming in the image

- :he forest. The prairie, desert, and savannah similarly each dictate their ~m of sustainable agriculture. Where a landscape is mostly wooded, the .^cultural element will include fish ponds, annual vegetables and herbs, :»rrennial grains and herbs, soft fruits, livestock and bioshelters as well as res. When the fruit, nut, and fodder trees are mature and become the : -edominant element, they will provide much of the economic base for ~ -- farm.

Over fifty years ago the American geographer J. Russell Smith studied the relationships between trees and human communities and found a : rect correlation between planting and caring for trees, and healthy di-r r>e communities. His research spanned several continents and many cul-res. He chronicled the negative effects of deforestation on human be-In his best known book, Tree Crops, he advocated an emphasis on trees - die foundation for a restorative agriculture."

More recently, Bill Mollison, an Australian who comes from Tasma-a. has been teaching and popularizing a system of farming based on tree -ops which he calls Permaculture. His books Permaculture One and Perma-.:ture Two go beyond the concepts of J. Russell Smith in that his perennial sericulture includes a broad ecological infrastructure set in a forested landscape. He stresses the importance of water, grasses, insects, wildlife, livestock, species relationships, and siting, in the overall planning of an agri-alatural landscape.

In Permaculture Two Mollison states:

I regard permanent agriculture as a valid, safe, and sustainable, complete energy system. Permaculture as defined here claims to be designed agriculture, so that the species composition, array and organization of plants and animals are the central factor.12

By insisting on dealing with complex biological systems as integrated wholes, Mollison flies in the face of those who would keep informaron in narrow specializations. He claims that there are enough agricultural elements to fill all the necessary roles in an ecosystem. At New Alchemy under John Quinney we have created a computer model for a theoretical farm in both economic and ecological terms. It is projected over a twenty to thirtv year time frame. We are trying to locate biological patterns that assist ecological cycles and optimize the overall health and productivity of the maturing farm model. The grafting of bio-intensive methodologies with orchard crops represents a new direction for tree farming. So far, even in these early experimental stages, we are seeing exceptional tree health productivity. Two dwarf apple trees on eight-foot centers, for exam have yielded two-hundred pounds of fruit. In statistical terms the avei person eats one-hundred-sixty-two pounds of tree fruit annually. Us: bio-intensive methods, a twenty-foot by twenty-foot plot could feed a f? ily the fruit that it needs.

In getting started with the process of restoration, ecological agri< ture will probably have to continue to use some fertilizers and hea machinery, particularly on worn-out land. Machinery for chiselling, ten ing, pond digging, mowing, and contour plowing may be necessary. In early phases land will be farmed less intensively, as it will need time to he On medium-sized farms, especially in hilly areas, oxen and horses could used extensively as draft animals. Ecological agriculture will need to turn to composted city and town wastes to build soil fertility. It will introduce atmospheric nitrogen into the soil by growing nitrogen-fixing legumes like beans, peas, and vetch. In some instances, the farmer may revive the use of fire to cold burn in early spring or at the beginning of a rainy season to recycle nutrients or clear overgrown areas. In some parts of the country, fire may be a substitute for plowing, with seeding following the fire. Wes Jackson has experimented successfully with this at the Land Institute. We burn our valley every spring.

Extensive research into beneficial plants and organisms is needed for integration into the larger ecological framework. Weeds must be studied, as they are reliable indicators of soil health and guides to crop planning. The technological hallmark of ecological agriculture will be the incorporation of renewable energies in which sun, wind, and biofuels will come to play a significant role. Gradually energy needs should drop to a point where renewable sources can readily meet all demands. Electricity use, for example, can be reduced from heavy demands, like deep well irrigation, to a more modest role in powering control devices, electric fencing, and lighting. The solar cell will continue to find application, as it is ideal for remote site day-time electricity production.

8. Wildness and Technology. Further ingenious innovations will continue to surface. Ocean Arks'Joe Seale has designed a highly efficient wind-powered refrigeration and ice-making machine. The machine, designed initially for fishing communities in the tropics, will produce ice, cold storage, and auxiliary heat. The development of machines like this are reassuring because, of all energy sources, only renewable forms are distrib-

-:cd equitably around the globe. People everywhere have access to some : mbination of sun, wind, or rain, and the technology using these is advanc-rapidly. There is easily enough energy to go around and to rebuild agri-ture in an equitable and humane way.

Working within this framework of an agricultural ethic that is re-s ived to do much with little, the study of weather near the ground, microcli-matology, looms large in importance. An ecologically-minded farmer sees r ach patch of ground as unique, mysterious, and capable of a full flowering ¿: the hand of the steward-designer. Light, shadow, moisture, drainage, ¿nd air flow must all be incorporated into agricultural design. At the same ■ me. wildness and wilderness must be revered and tentacles of wildness be a .lowed to permeate, like the threads of a tapestry, throughout the agricultural landscape extending even into the heart of cities. An ultimate goal might be that for every acre which is farmed another would be set free. If n e were to create wilderness belts winding like highways throughout the : :>untry in continuous bands, it would be possible to walk from Cape Cod to i alifornia, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay by following these oclts. Such areas would help to protect endangered species and reintroduce :ne wild side of nature into culture, recalling Gary Synder's image of "computer technicians who run the plant part of the year and walk along with the rlk in their migrations during the rest'."3By making the wilderness accessible n all parts of the country, the indigenous qualities of each bioregion will heroine increasingly apparent. As a start, New Alchemy bioshelter agriculturist Colleen Armstrong has experimented with what we call ecological "islands," clusters of plants and beneficial animals left untouched and unmanned inside bioshelters. Control agents for pests like lady beetles and little ¡zards take shelter in the "islands" where they are protected from regular •.lling and harvesting in adjacent agricultural zones. Such predators range >ut in search of crop pests but can return to the safety of the stable ecosystems of the island. A hedgerow serves a comparable function outdoors on a farm. On a larger scale, fenced ecological "islands" in patchwork patterns to orotect the wild grasses, flowers, birds, and beneficial insects characteristic >f more stable landscapes, and to provide a continuous supply of genetic material, are an important element in co-evolutionary restorative agricultural strategies.

The computer is a form of technology well suited to the ecological steward. Because natural processes often are not obvious but counter-intui-tive, modelling enables the designer to store and retrieve large amounts of information. Frequently in our work computer models have given us ac_ to the "memory" of the living system we have monitored and tended, can ask such questions as what is the optimal ratio of pond area to pasture to orchard trees. How many fish and what combinations of species are o~ mal for our summer climate? The evolving model becomes a book which agriculturalist can read and redefine. Although the real work is on the I with living things, there is a place for a small computer, loaded with the ecological and agricultural information in working with models. Such m: els are meaningful, however, only as they become ever closer to nature.

Evidence in support of the viability of ecological agriculture is ginning to accumulate. Paul Hawken in The Next Economy predicted a tre back to smaller farms and an agriculture based on information and hur skill as people grasp that there are forms more sound economically than large scale, capital and oil-dependent mechanized agriculture.14 A study by the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin found that a landscape made up of communities of around thirty-five thousand people surrounded by bands of intensively cultivated land is most suited to a society based on renewable energies.15 Such studies reinforce both the economic and ecological good sense of a return to an agriculture based on stewardship to accompany the redesign of urban and settled areas.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Boating Secrets Uncovered

Boating Secrets Uncovered

If you're wanting to learn about boating. Then this may be the most important letter you'll ever read! You Are Going To Get An In-Depth Look At One Of The Most Remarkable Boating Guides There Is Available On The Market Today. It doesn't matter if you are just for the first time looking into going boating, this boating guide will get you on the right track to a fun filled experience.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment