Category Archives: Intensive agriculture

Silent Spring

For many years I have wanted to read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” but have not got round to it mainly because I thought it would be a bit too full on. Well it is and it is not! First impressions are that considering it was published in 1962 it feels like it was written yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What has changed in 58 years? Everything and nothing. We are now more deeply committed to high input agrochemical farming and even more reliant on pesticides and other chemicals that have invaded every part of our daily lives.

I was asked recently what is the best thing we can do to increase biodiversity in gardens. My answer is simple, stop using insecticides. There is no excuse for blasting everything with a spray just so it looks nice and kills all those supposedly nasty insects and then wonder why there are so few birds around.

This year Spring in our garden was better, the number of birds seemed to have increased and the dawn chorus returned. Then lock down ended and the birds stopped singing and spring became silent again.

I am left with the feeling that the only thing we have done since 1962 is to speed up trashing everything we depend on. It feels like we are on an increasingly steep downward spiral that will lead to the total destruction of the planet that gives us all we need unless we do something.

So, what can we do?  We can find the courage to be different and not be part of consumerist society where status is determined by ownership of the latest toys. We can find an alternative to factory farmed food soaked in chemicals and wrapped in plastic. That might mean spending a bit more on what we eat and less on holidays, mobile phones, or other non-essential goodies we are coerced into accepting as the norm. Or we do nothing and take it on the chin and leave the next generation with little but a dying planet.

The choice to downsize, consume less and eat organic food is no where near the hair shirt mentality touted by those who want to retain the status quo. It can be liberating, joyful even, like a release from always having to follow the crowd, to keep up, to gain status by being seen to buy the right stuff.

It took a brush with death for me to make new choices 30 years ago and yes, I did see my whole life flash in front of me like a failed B movie. You don’t need to go through that to realise there are better alternatives. Learn from others who have done it be proud to be different. Relax and enjoy what we have right in front of us. Now is the time to change and live differently, seize the moment.

Soil, carbon, gardening and global heating

At first glance the BBC report last year “Climate change being fuelled by soil damage” might appear to be all about big agriculture and nothing else. While is is abundantly clear that the way land is farmed must change gardeners and allotment holders also have a part to play.

The report states that:

“There’s three times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere – but that carbon’s being released by deforestation and poor farming.”

“Problems include soils being eroded, compacted by machinery, built over, or harmed by over-watering.”

The Fen Blow is composed of peaty particles lifted into the air on windy days (From the BBC article)

The way we treat soil is crucial for good yields and to preserve that vital top 4 inches (100mm) that feeds us. Every bit of soil left bare to the elements contributes to global heating and soil degradation. By using other ways of growing you not only achieve higher yields without adding commercial fertiliser, but carbon dioxide is locked up.

The move to more sustainable growing is not difficult, it does not require big investments in tools or machinery it just means doing things differently. That might be hard for dedicated allotment growers but the benefits are huge.

It is important to remember that allotments and gardens make up a large area of land in the UK. Allotment holders and gardeners can make a difference, we need to act now and show that we care about the environment that we leave for the future generations.

The way we live?

Suddenly the penny drops, it is the way we live that is causing pandemics. The massive increase in international air travel and foreign holidays in exotic locations have become a consumer product. The acceptance that it is meat with every meal coupled with all the expectation that we should be able to buy any food from anywhere any time we want. The complete and utter disregard for wildlife and the habitats that sustain endangered species e.g. palm oil in Indonesia and Soya for animal feed in the amazon.

And what now? After a couple of months of worldwide lockdown there is the frantic clamour to get back to ‘normal’. But the normal has become dangerously abnormal. Normal is killing us. Normal is destroying the very thing that keeps us alive – plant Earth.

Just another gloom and doom story? It need not be that. Now we have the chance, a very slim window in which to do something differently. It looks like governments will not help us, but we can act alone or as part of groups or small communities.

There is another way that is not the ‘hair shirt’ option. Living a simpler life is possible within the over consuming, selfish mad scramble to have everything at any cost. We don’t need the latest fashions to be who we are. Do your own thing, step away from the crowd, resist being a lemming!

The best way to start is at your own front door, by asking what you allow though it. Start with food, question every decision you make when you stock up each week. Ask yourself why do I buy that? Is the cheapest always the best? Where does it come from? How much do we throw out each week? Think about everything you do regularly and ask yourself is there another way of doing that.

French roof top farms to supply 1000kg a week

Paris roof top gardens could soon supply 1000 kg a day of fresh food. Think of the food miles saved. Think of the air miles saved! Think of the taste of really fresh food that you can normally only get by growing your own.

The downside is that it is aeroponic growing. There is no soil or other growing medium. The nutrients are in water which is sprayed on the roots of the plant and continually recirculated. It works well and can produce high yields. The downside is that aeroponics uses chemical fertilisers which are made using fossil fuels resulting in a big carbon footprint.

Some vertical growing systems use a synthetic growing medium like rockwool or vermiculite. The production of both is extremely energy intensive. There are also issues around disposing of used rockwool. Again, far from sustainable food production.

No quick fixes are ever as easy as they appear.

Early protected cropping – growing plants in large open ended glass jars. It worked!

It can only be a half-way house the ideal being getting back to the market gardens that used to surround Paris.

The usual shop bought lettuce

Ever wondered where those bags of bright green lettuce come from? The answer is from massive fields harvested by big machines.

Notice how perfect they are. How is that done? The answer is simple by repeated application of pesticides including insecticides and fungicides plus lots of artificial fertiliser to make then look very green.

Modern pesticides are systemic which means they get into every cell of the plant. They are designed to poison any insect that bites the plant. Systemic pesticides cannot be removed, no amount of washing will get them out.

The government sets the maximum amount of residual pesticide for each pesticide in common use. But there will a cocktail of different pesticides in every plant. There is no limit to the number pesticides used. There is little research as to of effects on human health of regularly consuming  pesticide cocktails, even if the residues for each individual chemical stays within the limits. Nobody knows how they might react with each other. Things are changing as concern grows about the food we eat, see this report.

Lettuce are fed a lot of artificial fertiliser to ensure that they grow quickly and look very green. That produces more problems. First, not all the fertiliser is used, the surplus is washed into ditches, then rivers and then the sea. Excess nitrogen in water is a big problem yet is virtually ignored.

The other concern is that the soil used on farms has become depleted. It does not hold together well so get washed off in heavy rain or blows about when it is dry because it contains very little organic matter. Soil loss from erosion is a massive issue for the UK and the world with a prediction that we only have about 40 years of topsoil left. What then?

When the lettuce will be ready to harvest they are picked by hand and packed into plastic bags ready to be shipped to the retailer. Supermarkets will control the whole process from telling the farmer what variety to grow, how to manage the crop and how many bagged lettuce they want on a certain date. The field becomes an extension of the shop floor, part of a mass production process geared to make the maximum profit for the retailer.

All this because consumers have been led to believe that the cheapest, mass produced factory food is best. Bur cheap food comes with hidden costs –  read about mineral deficiencies in modern food.

People often ask why bother to pay the extra for organic produce. The answer is simple, choose food that is grown in rich fertile soils without the use of pesticides that produces more nutrient dense food that is much more sustainable or stick with factory farming. It’s you choice!

Our first lettuce of the season, grown in soil with absolutely no chemical pesticides!

This is a link to a lettuce table we made a few years back where you can grow your own even without a garden. We are about to make another so stay tuned – video to follow.

Land use and CO2 needed for 1gm of protein

There is lots of discussion about eating meat and climate change. Obviously livestock farmers are reacting strongly to the call to reduce or eliminating meat from our diets. These two graphics show how meat compares to other food types in terms of the amount of land needed to produce 1gm of protein and the amount of CO2 produced per square metre of land.

(Click on the charts to go to the site)

True cost of cheap food is health and climate crises, says commission

From the Guardian article:
“The true cost of cheap, unhealthy food is a spiralling public health crisis and environmental destruction, according to a high-level commission. It said the UK’s food and farming system must be radically transformed and become sustainable within 10 years.”
Read more

From the report:
“Our own health and the health of the land are inextricably intertwined [but] in the last 70 years, this relationship has been broken,”
The full report

Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes!

Do you want the cheapest food possible? If so this is what you get: “Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10 and 100 percent.”

This is not anything new, it is well documented and we have mentioned it before – “A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.” see the PDF is here.

There is a stark choice: you either go for the cheapest food and kid yourself that it is good value for money or you buy decent food that is not produced using high inputs of chemical fertiliser and chemical pesticides  –  organic food!

See this piece in Scientific American

IPCC report on climate change and land

Finally we get to the very basic problem – we ALL depend on the land for survival. It is the top 15 inches (38cm) of soil is that feeds us. Forget that, mess up the land, ignore it or take it for granted and we are dead, It is as simple as that.

The full report can be found here

Extracts about food security:

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

The report records that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,” she said.