Published by the Bangor Daily News, Bangor, Maine — July 28, 2009
by Nancy Oden
Two seemingly unrelated problems — job losses with all that entails, and dead zones in large tracts of agricultural land from monoculture and over-use of chemicals — can be solved together.
The chief ingredients to healthy, sustainable agriculture are: (1) diversity of crops so that if one crop fails the farmer still has others, and (2) rotating crops each year so that the same crop isn't grown on the same land two years in a row.
Owners of worn-out agricultural land, e.g., blueberry barrens, large potato farms, could divide their land into blocks of perhaps 20-40 acres each and assign a worker to each block. The worker(s) would get a percentage of the crops as incentive to do a good job.
Extremely energy-efficient, multiple-unit housing could be built where the blocks join so the workers live right in the middle of the crops. Landowners can get grants and/or large tax breaks for supplying farmworker housing.
Each worker could use perhaps ½ acre on which to grow their own food. Rent and use of garden land would be considered part of their pay, as would the percentage of the crop.
This housing would have greenhouses all along the South side in which workers could grow seedlings for the cash crops and for their own gardens. Because the land is so worn out from monoculture, diverse crops will be needed to re-create healthy land.
Raised beds are an excellent way to grow many small crops. A good size is 2 feet high by 4-5 feet wide, built from scrap lumber (no pressure-treated) and filled with composted food and yard wastes. Food/yard waste compost is the best medium in which to grow food crops.
Raised beds are especially important because people can work standing up (stoop labor is not fun) with hand tools only, give crops some protection from high winds, drain quickly so that our frequent rains do not drown crops, and several crops can be planted together depending on their needs, for example, salad greens which need shade can be planted behind tomatoes, and beans will supply nitrogen to other crops nearby.
Raised beds are perfect for growing crops organically, since everything can be done easily by hand. Because workers and their families would be living right next to the crops, poison chemicals could not/should not be used. No pesticides means large cash savings.
Also, with people living on the land year around, crop thieves would be less attracted to the area, saving money on security.
These blocks of land could be further divided so that livestock can be rotated in and out of different fields. Chickens will eat garden/crop scraps and turn them into eggs, meat, and rich manure, and they will dig up land getting it ready for ground crops, grains, for example.
Sheep will eat grasses before anything else. Moving them around from day to day can keep the land free of unwanted grasses, as well as fertilizing the land for future crops. Sheep will also eat, if left on the land after the grass is gone, alder sprouts, hardhack, hardwood shoots, fallen apples, etc. My experience is that they don't really like blueberry plants.
Apiaries can be set up throughout the blocks. Keeping honeybees on the land year round would save growers a huge expense, and also would mean no pesticides could be used as bees are very sensitive. Large organic farms have not lost their honeybees.
Bringing honeybees and wild bees back in large numbers assures solid pollination and larger crops. Then there's the sweet reward of warm honey right out of the hive; makes you glad to be alive.
Each block of blocks could use solar and wind for energy, and be surrounded with trees for wind-breaks, food (fruits, nuts, seeds), wildlife habitat, lumber, beauty, cooling shade, sequestering carbon, and to provide a continuous wildlife corridor which could contain ponds for fire-fighting and fish (more food).
Food shortages are looming around the world. Growing a garden, like anything else, is easy once you know how. Go to www.mofga.org for help to assure your family's food security. I'll be glad to answer questions.
All three pieces on this theme of Sustainability & Self-Sufficiency can be accessed at www.cleanearth.net under FOOD & SHELTER FOR ALL.
Wall Street has brought us down; many will be homeless and destitute if we do not begin NOW to create provisions for our food and warm shelter.
Do not think you are immune to the worldwide collapse of money and food supplies. Consider organic farming; it's a wonderful way of life.
Nancy Oden lives in Jonesboro,Maine, USA. Her email is .^Top