Guide to Alternatives to Industrial Agriculture

From Observatory


Mélanie Bernier & Jimmy Videle run the veganic farm La Ferme de l'Aube in the province of Québec, Canada.

Industrial agriculture, with its heavy reliance on chemical inputs, monoculture cropping, and intensive farming practices, poses a significant threat to the environment and wildlife. The negative impacts of industrial agriculture include wildlife habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, soil degradation, water pollution, antibiotic resistance, major greenhouse gas emissions, and animal cruelty on a massive scale. Sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture, such as organic farming, small-scale farming, regenerative farming, and veganic farming—offer a better way forward. These sustainable farming practices not only offer a way to produce food while minimizing harm, ensuring a more resilient and sustainable food system for future generations, but can also solve existential problems like climate change.

Editor: Reynard Loki

Is it possible to grow food without exploiting animals in gardening/homesteading and farming systems? Even if we do not keep domesticated animals, isn’t it necessary to at least use animal manure? The veganic way of growing shows us that not only is it possible to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs without manure but it is also productive, ecologically sustainable, and regenerative for our rapidly depleting agricultural soils.
The better future is a small farm future. It’s our best shot at creating future societies that are tolerably sustainable in ecological terms and fulfilling in nutritional and psychosocial terms. Now is a critical moment in global politics where we might start delivering that future but also where more troubling outcomes threaten us. The small farm isn’t a panacea, but what a politics geared around it can offer—what, perhaps, at least some of the visitors who come to our farm can glimpse in outline—is the possibility of personal autonomy, spiritual fulfillment, community connectedness, purposeful work, and ecological conviviality. Relatively few farmers, past or present, have enjoyed these fine things.
Several Hollywood action films center around an impending apocalypse in the form of an asteroid on a collision course with Earth—a glaring metaphor for the real-world implications of a rapidly accelerating climate crisis. As this crisis unfolds before our very eyes, however, rather than look up to the atmosphere to see what can and should be done to curtail some of the worst effects of a rapidly warming world, maybe our gazes should also be trained downward at the soil beneath our feet, while pondering this question: If aggressive commercial agriculture is exacerbating the climate crisis, are there key lessons to be learned from Indigenous land management practices that can help to restore environmental balance?
What if there were a way to safely pull billions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere to substantially reduce or even eliminate global warming? What if this approach costs relatively little and could be used around the world? What if it also put billions of dollars in cash into the hands of countless working Americans and people worldwide What if it even slashed fossil fuel consumption and made the world more resilient to climate stress? Well, it turns out there is a system that can do all that. It’s called carbon farming, and it just might be key to restabilizing the climate. In the process, it can revitalize rural economies while also producing healthier, more nutritious crops. And amazingly, it’s also low-cost, low-tech, and low-risk. The carbon farmer works with simple inputs: land, seed, compost, moisture, sometimes animals and manure, and sometimes specially selected microorganisms that speed a depleted soil’s return to health.
Access to solar power is increasing in rural parts of the U.S., partly with the support of farmers who lease out their land for utility-scale solar arrays. This farm-to-solar trend known as “agrivoltaics”—defined by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as “the co-location of agricultural production and solar energy generation on the same land”—is intertwined with regenerative farming, a trend that has centuries-old roots within Indigenous cultures. This mindful cooperation between farming and energy poses a threat to the status quo fueling climate change and is facing a surge of opposition, but the emerging field of agrivoltaics could help neutralize the critics and break down barriers to solar development.
Farmer Seth Watkins has shepherded in a number of major changes—such as prairie strips, cover crops and rotational grazing—that prevent soil erosion, curb toxic nitrate and phosphorus runoff into nearby waterways, stimulate the biodiversity of the local ecosystems, and improve soil moisture and nutrient content, all the while increasing profits, he said. These regenerative farming practices also achieve one other key outcome—they improve the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. This is something that brings practical impacts at the local economic level. But soil carbon sequestration also has the potential to tackle one of the single greatest threats to humanity: anthropogenic climate change.
Wine is an agricultural product, dependent on several, ever-changing factors that impact the taste, look, and longevity of each bottle. The temperature, the weather, and the ground (collectively known as the terroir) in which the grapes are grown are factors that every single bottle of wine. And like any product that relies on uncontrollable environmental factors, wine is in trouble due to human-caused climate change. Rising temperatures, droughts, forest fires, natural disasters, and other unfortunate, once rare, now increasingly more common, climate-related catastrophes are endangering small and large wineries alike. Sustainability isn’t absolute: Wine and its agricultural counterparts can be sustainable in some ways, and not so much in others. While winemaking may be hyper-eco-conscious, bottling and shipping may harm the planet beyond what less sustainable vineyard habits could ever lay claim to. Sustainability is rosé; neither white nor red, not necessarily organic or inorganic, but somewhere in between. And that limbo of sustainability can be, like a nicely chilled pink wine, complex and delicious, though nowhere near as easy to sip.

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