By Jessica Brogna
We all eat, but we may not all think about the processes leading to the food being on our plate. There are a lot of issues with the way the United State’s food systems are run, including deteriorating soil health, increased pollution, and overall unsustainable practices. The goal of this article is to provide some insight into agriculture in America and provide some thinking points for future grocery store trips!
Here in the United States, our main method of farming is factory farming. This is problematic for a variety of reasons. In addition to the overall inhumane conditions that animals are living in, there are a lot of negative environmental impacts. “Globally, animal agriculture represents 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Other forms of pollution include contamination of waterways from animal waste, as well as fertilizers from produce, which runoff and eventually make their way to the ocean. This causes something called eutrophication, which is the sharp increase in nutrients that causes algal blooms. Eventually, bacteria move in to eat all of the algae and simultaneously use up the oxygen in the surrounding area. This decrease in oxygen causes major die offs and creates what are known as dead zones. One dead zone in the U.S. is in the Gulf of Mexico.
A more sustainable approach to agriculture is regenerative farming. This method of agriculture prioritizes the relationships between the different parts of the food system, recognizing that there are interactions from animals all the way down to microorganisms that are living in the soil. This is a more holistic approach to agriculture that aims to replicate the natural interactions that would occur without human interference. There are a variety of components to regenerative farming. The first is something known as cover cropping. Cover cropping is when a “non-cash crop” is grown in addition to a “cash crop.” According to the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program run by UC Davis, cover cropping can “slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water infiltration, smother weeds, control pests and diseases, and increase biodiversity.” Another component is no till agriculture. The purpose of this is to reduce disturbance to the soil. When soil experiences frequent disturbance, the microbiome of the soil breaks down. This has a direct effect on the nutritional values of the produce grown. Tilling can also cause an increase in erosion, which can be especially harmful during rainy seasons. In addition, regenerative agriculture implements a rotating crop system that gives the soil an opportunity to replenish itself. This is an Indigenous practice that has been used for thousands of years.
There are many other ways to make food systems more sustainable as well that can be done on a smaller scale. Aquaponics is something that can be done on small farms, or even at home and in schools! Aquaponics is a closed system where plants and fish grow in the same tank, and help each other. The fish fertilize the plants, and the plants purify the water. This provides two food sources since both the fish and plants grown can be eaten! Community gardens are also a great way to get fresh produce. In Long Beach, CA, there is an urban farm that is doing its part in making agriculture more sustainable. They utilize aquaponics systems, compost, and also give their food to the community. A farm that is successfully using regenerative farming practices is Apricot Lane Farms, also known as “The Biggest Little Farm.” This farm sells their products in farmer’s markets across Los Angeles and they also have a documentary where you can learn more about them and their story!
Growing our own food would be the best answer to the problem. But unfortunately, most people do not have the space to do that. So instead, we should try to be more mindful of where we are getting our food from and the agricultural practices of the source of our products. In keeping with the principles of regenerative agriculture, see if you can find produce that was grown organically and without tilling. Here in Orange County, there are a few urban farms! One is called Orange Home Grown. They are based in the city of Orange and aim to not only provide healthy food, but also educate people. They sell their produce at their farmer’s market at Chapman University. In San Clemente, another urban farm uses vertical farming to provide produce to food banks and families in their community. Another one to mention is Renewable Farms, which has two locations in OC, one in Aliso Viejo, and another in Anaheim. Their goal is to “educate, empower, and employ communities through responsible agricultural methods.” Check out if there are any community gardens or urban farms in your area! Fixing our food systems starts with each of us individually!
Orange Home Grown: https://orangehomegrown.org/
Apricot Lane Farms: https://www.apricotlanefarms.com/ and their documentary: https://www.apricotlanefarms.com/biggest-little-farm/
San Clemente Urban Farms: https://sanclementeurbanfarms.com/
Renewable Farms: http://www.renewablefarms.com/