We all know that the current industrial style of food production is destroying the planet. But what are the alternatives? Here is a list of some of the most interesting and innovative examples from around the world.
Urban and high tech agriculture
Growing Power is an urban farm in Wisconsin growing 1 million pounds (over 450,000 kg) of produce on 3 acres using an aquaponic system, a version of hydroponics where the nutrient is supplied by breeding fish in the greenhouses. The plants feed on the nutrient rich water from the fish tanks and return it clean, working out well for the plants and the fish and giving him a yield 10,000 fish per year on top of the vegetables. He also worm composts on a massive scale and uses warmth from the compost to heat the greenhouses and grows vertically, using every bit of available space.
Here is the short introduction to his operation.
Cuba has been the world leader in urban organic agriculture since they lost access to fossil fuel imports with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were forced to change their agricultural systems or face the virtual collapse, but they succeeded and have much to teach the rest of us. The documentary about their ‘peak oil’ is called The Power of Community and is well worth watching.
The poster child for high tech food growing is Sundrop farms in Australia. They are using desalinated sea water and solar power to grow huge amounts of produce year-round.
The Netherlands is probably the world leader in agricultural technology and are the second biggest food exporter in the world. This article from National Geographic is well worth a read. High tech agriculture is usually associated with high use of chemical inputs, large environmental footprints and corporate control, but The Netherlands are achieving astonishing yields while also reducing chemical use and generating much of their own power.
Here is a good digest of 16 initiatives from around the world, varying from indoor vertical farms in the USA, aquaponics in London, rent-a-farm schemes in India, and stackable container farms in Nigeria.
Organic and bio-intensive micro-farming
Small scale organic farming does produce the yields. The world record harvests have been achieved by a farmer in Bihar, India, without sophisticated technology, GM seeds, or herbicides; read about him here.
And rice farmers in South East Asia have been experimenting with a technique of rice growing that increases yields by 20-200%, halves the amount of water they use and increases the resilience to drought. This technique is being rolled out to farmers across South East Asia and India with hopes of increasing yields and incomes while reducing methane emissions by 50% over 5 years. That story here.
Singing Frogs Farm in California is an organic micro-farm that achieves revenues five times higher per acre than the conventional average while increasing the depth of topsoil. Is this one of many case studies that prove that organic farming can bring high yields plus profits without degrading the environment. Here is a brief introduction to their farm plus the full podcast.
This has been gaining popularity among previously conventional farmers as a way to graze animals while increasing soil carbon, improving drought resistance and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. While some remain sceptical that animal agriculture can be good for the climate, there appears to be grounds to take it seriously.
Here is a good introduction
Here is a really good story from Australia: Pasture cropping: a regenerative example from down under
There are a number of farmers in New Zealand who have taken it up, there is a short film about them here:
One of the many interesting things about regenerative agriculture is the role that grasslands or rangelands have as carbon sinks, “Looking ahead, our model simulations show that grasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires. This doesn’t even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands.” Pawlok Dass, a postdoctoral scholar, UC Davis.
It makes ecological sense too, given the co-evolutionary relationship between herbivores and the ecosystems where they grazed: “The re-introduction of wild and semi-wild herbivores is an integral part of ecological restoration, or rewilding, to use a term that is becoming more and more popular.” Rewilding Europe
It must be stressed that regenerative agriculture isn’t just ‘grass-fed beef.’ There is evidence to suggest that grass-fed beef contributes more to climate change than feedlot beef. See the FCRN report.
For a thoughtful look at beef farming from a climate perspective, here is climate scientist Jonathon Foley’s take on it.