As international industry plows forward with an agenda of progress, natural habitats, world cultures and precious resources fall victim to its consumption. In less than 100 years, big agriculture has all but emaciated the rich topsoil that once nourished the small-scale farms of our grandparents' generation.
Pesticides have degraded bee and natural insect populations, while heirloom varieties of produce have dwindled to a small fraction of their former numbers. The premium for fertile land and fresh water has skyrocketed, making the scramble for arable real estate ever more imminent.
Although politicians and the media do their best to mask the urgency of the global predicament, many forward-thinking groups and individuals see the reality of the situation and are taking action towards promoting self-reliance.
With fertile land and clean water becoming less accessible, urban dwellers will most directly feel the brunt of economic impact as the cost of living continues to climb.
It will cost farmers more than ever to grow food people have become accustomed to, and the price of fuel to transport food from countryside to city will steadily rise. Municipalities that control energy production and watershed management dictate the prices of utilities, while creating a system that citizens are confined to. In response, many have chosen to take the resources they have available to cultivate a more sustainable approach to conventional methods of development.
Although the future of industrialized agriculture remains uncertain as it continues along its gluttonous trajectory, there are optimistic options for a sustainable future. Urban farming and appropriate technology are emerging as alternatives to commercial farming and conventional practices.
By embracing these self-empowering methodologies, individuals hold more influence over what they produce and ultimately consume. This modern-day counterculture of self-sustaining farmers are using practices such as permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, rainwater catchment systems, soil remediation and companion planting to produce food in ways that preserve the integrity of the land so it can be used for generations to come.
The future of agriculture is making a gradual, and hopefully positive, shift. People are becoming enlightened to the possibility that they can take food production back into their own hands. The trend of urban farming is on the rise and could be a revolutionary way for the populace to regain some of the control they feel they have lost.
With the continuous research and development of horticulture and understanding of plant nutrients, people are coming up with innovative techniques to make the most efficient use of available space. Let's look at a few of them.
Permaculture is a branch of ecological and environmental design that melds the words permanent and agriculture, figuratively and conceptually. It was founded in the 1970s by naturalist Bill Mollison and is flourishing today with institutes and certification programs worldwide that teach its principles.
According to Graham Bell, author of The Permaculture Way, "It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other non-material needs in a sustainable way." In the most basic sense, permaculture educates people how to design edible landscapes that are self-sustaining on many levels.
It incorporates practices derived from organic farming, agroforestry and sustainable development, while simultaneously caring for the earth and bolstering community. The permaculture mindset is all about educating people how to grow nutritious produce using compost teas, vermiculture, microbiology and other local biologically available nutrients in a way that replenishes natural resources in a synergistic loop. Permaculture practices can be applied on any plot, from a small-scale farm to a suburban backyard, to an inner city rooftop garden.
Agroforestry is an integrative approach to combining agriculture (crops and livestock) with forestry (shrubs and trees), in an effort to maximize benefits to both sectors. Agroforestry provides many environmental solutions such as preventing soil erosion, increasing the fertility of depleted soil, intercropping to increase the yield potential of the land, and, on a larger scale, the ability to decrease global climatic shift.
Agro forests can help protect livestock from hot summers and cold winters and they create a habitat for wild animals indigenous to the area. They also offer an economic advantage to farmers by maximizing potential profits through various crops and harvests.
Food forests emerging in metropolitan areas like Seattle, Washington, are a perfect example of agroforestry at its finest. They are proof that a plentitude of food can be produced on a common plot of land even in dense metropolitan areas.
Hydroponics and aquaponics
Hydroponics and aquaponics are emerging as popular and efficient methods of food production where soil is unavailable or impractical, or if space is an issue. Growers using hydroponics have gotten creative with the systems they apply to maximize crop production. From undercurrent bucket systems and ebb and flow tables to vertical nutrient film technique systems, hydro set-ups can be custom tailored to fit just about any space.
Indoor gardening as a whole—controlling the environment with technology to recreate the conditions that Mother Nature has mastered—has come a long way as well. Indoor gardening makes food production available where natural conditions are unfavorable. Environmental controllers and highly efficient lighting systems allow growers to dial in and perfect their gardens using cutting-edge technology.
Container gardening has given determined city dwelling growers an option for cultivating veggies on rooftops, balconies, patios and windowsills. Container gardening dates back to ancient civilization and has come a long way throughout the centuries. Modern-day container gardeners have achieved unprecedented results using fabric aeration containers as a way to stimulate root growth and aerate the root zone to maximize crop yields. These containers are growing in popularity within the horticultural community as an alternative to traditional rigid containers such as plastic or clay pots and wooden planter boxes.
With water becoming a highly coveted commodity, conservation becomes crucial. Rainwater catchment systems can be implemented to harvest the gift that the cloudy heavens have to offer. Gray water systems can be installed to recycle water after it has served its purpose for household use.
Gray water diverts water from the kitchen sink, faucets and the shower and then runs it through specialized filters to remove phosphates and particulate matter so it is safe for use on food crops. Reverse osmosis filters can then be used to remove dissolved solids if parts per million levels are high, while adding additional nutrients to the water.
Small-scale farming is on the rise and has adopted a chic air of social responsibility. Growing your own food is one way citizens can provide for themselves and introduce more nutritious ingredients into their diets, replacing the processed foodstuff our fast food nation has become addicted to.
Beyond that, small-scale farming cultivates community, uniting friends, family, neighbors and strangers in ways only a garden can. Farmers' markets and the barter system allow produce to be passed from the farm directly to the table, eliminating polluting transportation and preserving the integrity of the food.
A Final Note
There are so many different ways to garden it is virtually impossible for people to claim they can't. As the trend continues to snowball, more techniques, ideas and improvements will come to fruition.
Growing their own will help people understand what goes into their bodies, raising awareness around issues such as genetically modified food, the organic movement, FDA regulations, preserving heirloom varieties, sustainable fair trade, health and wellness and protecting the Earth's natural resources and delicate environment.
So be a part of the solution—no excuses! Dig in. Get your nails dirty and your garden growing!