I gave a well-attended talk at a local church a few days ago on future directions for agriculture. Some big themes included:
- The future will in all likelihood not look like the free-energy “prosperity” of late 20th century, because of peak oil and climate change in particular.
- Short-term views of land history create a “shifting baselines” situation where it’s hard to notice long-term declines in ecosystem health and missing partners (like keystone species or traditional human management practices) in a bioregion.
- There are lots of well-understood regenerative (and usually perennial) farming practices that increase resilience and ecological health across the board. Ex’s: rotational grazing; tree crops; silvopasture; keyline design; etc. These practices will become more and more important as food systems and economies relocalize.
- Currently, there are serious financial barriers for beginning farmers, and especially beginning farmers who want to use these regenerative practices. Land is priced super-high for housing, the younger generation is drowning in student loan debt, banks won’t give loans for business plans that include what they perceive as “risky” or untested farming practices, perennial agriculture needs even more long-term land security than annual agriculture to even begin to make sense financially, etc. Land access & tenure issues discussed previously on the blog here.
And hey, wouldn’t you know it – in the next few days, I saw two great new articles about some of those very topics! My friend Steve Gabriel reports on the Northeastern Silvopasture conference here. And my friends over at the National Young Farmers Coalition have completed a nation-wide survey of young and beginning farmers that got written up in the New York Times here. Both are short, quick, nutrient-dense reads.
Bottom line: it’s really, really great to have an ongoing public conversation about agriculture that’s not solely about the older paradigm of large chemical monoculture farms. And the people who are working toward a socially just, ecologically regenerative farming paradigm need and deserve a lot of support, encouragement, and resources so that they can be wildly successful and our communities can be healthier.