Friday 25 May 2012
Farmland is Any Land
It takes an enterprising eye to see what the land has to offer.
It is simple enough to picture livestock grazing open fields.
But what about swamp land?
Normally, swamp is considered a poor choice for farming.
It is too wet for animals.
It is too soggy for crops.
Nothing but frogs, bugs, and plants.
The truth is that swamp land is incredibly fertile and normally healthy and well diversified.
It seems perfectly suited for producing food.
But what should be grown?
Keeping in mind the rich habitat that wetlands are, it is so important to keep intrusion to a minimum.
The most efficient way to produce food sustainably, is to take advantage of the existing ecological structure; because it is perfect.
Imposing incompatible practices would defeat the purpose.
Cranberries, for example, are grown in wetlands, however, the harvesting methods suit the growers yet disturb the natural balance of water levels.
Certainly, some changes will be necessary, but carefully planned to minimize disruption, we may find our niche.
Today there was a tour of a wetland farm.
In this case, it is aquaculture.
The fish farm has been here for nearly thirty years.
There are Rainbow, Brown, and Brook trout.
Also raised are Bass, Bluegill, and Bullheads.
This farm is a picturesque series of dug ponds with few above ground tanks.
Infrastructure is minimal because of good use of naturally existing functions.
Aquaculture is not usually known for being a low impact form of protein production.
There are many issues that plague the industry.
High density farming contributes to dramatic water use and waste products.
Most often, eco-systems surrounding fish farms are at risk of being badly damaged by the resulting by-products of the farmed fish.
These may be adjacent to streams and rivers, or actually in lakes and seas.
Wild fish are often threatened by poisonous water, disease, habitat destruction, and the introduction of domestic species into the native systems.
Much like terrestrial farming, the situation varies, depending on the location and the management style.
This farm is less intrusive.
The owner was ridiculed for having bought swampland.
After a decade of work, the benefits became clear, and the rabble was quieted.
Ponds were dug to accommodate growing fish and the dense vegetation provides a perfect filter to mitigate the intensity of the farming.
Fish are unlike land animals in that their environment envelopes them more completely. It might be similar to keeping a feed lot in a dome.
If the natural system is too far out of balance, the fish would not survive.
Carrying capacity limitations are immediately evident.
As farmers, part of our goal is to maximize production yields.
Without having asked, I expect that there have been failures here by asking too much of the system.
Hard lessons would be learned quickly, and a balance struck in a relatively short time frame.
This isn't an example of how to set up an aquaculture facility.
This is an example of how make good use of land by considering what it has to offer naturally.
On the drained portions of the property, the topsoil is thin and the substrate is of little use for farming.
But there is no need for conventional farming when the conditions present themselves for an ideal aquaculture arrangement.
This lesson is critical in the development of sustainable food production.
There is a remarkable amount of underutilized land is some places and in others, the land has been exhausted and the natural systems stripped away.
The trouble begins when we impose upon the land instead of embracing what it may offer us.
Before long, we have forgotten how to look for opportunities.
We want flat for mechanization.
We want water for irrigation.
We want close access to the largest markets.
We want soil depth to accommodate our greed.
And though the modern agriculture model has been touted as being a huge yield producer, the big question remains.
How much longer will this be?
Nature is the best producer; there is considerable precedence for that.
Our arrogance has threatened to undermine the fecundity of the biosphere.
Changing our relationship with natural systems may mitigate our demise.
By listening, we may discover that all land can sustain us.