Restoration Agriculture Review
Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers is a long overdue call to revolutionize farming as we know it. Mark Shephard shares a vision of renewed soils, diverse ecosystems and healthy watersheds – filled with an abundance of nutrient rich food crops. He begins with some background information on agriculture as we know it, and then progresses to the new reality of permaculture farming – restoration agriculture.
The Rise of Industrial Agriculture
Since WWII, our food crops have been increasingly bathed in a cocktail of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The industrial complex that won the war turned its' collective might to fighting the insects and diseases that damaged crops. Farmers were told to “get big or get out”. The “Green Revolution” promised to “feed the world” with crops that produced higher yields per acre and genetically modified crops promised pest free fields free of weeds. Industrial agriculture companies such as Monsanto, Cargill and Del Monte vowed to bend nature to the will of man.
The Fall of Industrial Agriculture
The thing is, Momma Nature had other ideas. The megalithic proportioned machines that allow the planting and harvesting of huge monoculture fields compact the soil, forming a dense hardpan under the topsoil that prevents crops from accessing deeper nutrients. The huge fields that stretch for miles and miles through the heartland are ripe for erosion. Indeed, there is very little topsoil left in most of our prime agricultural regions. What soil is left is often dead and lifeless, killed by the herbicides and pesticides. Crops survive only through the application of large amounts of chemical fertilizers, often watered by rapidly depleting aquifers.
The Green Revolution and genetically modified crops were found to only give higher yield with the application of the industrial chemicals, and the seeds from these crops could not be saved from year to year like the heirloom and open-pollinated crops farmers had grown before. Around the world, farmers who had formerly been self-sufficient were now deeply in debt. Suicide rates among farmers have skyrocketed. Read “Monsanto's GMO Seeds Contributing to Farmer Suicides Every 30 Minutes“.
A New Paradigm – Permaculture and Restoration Agriculture
The time has come to, as Mark put it, “stop trying to grow things that don't want to grow and killing things that do want to grow”. Permaculture focuses on working with nature instead of against it. There are many variations on this theme, but all work to restore ground cover, protect (and rebuild) topsoil, conserve and clean water, and create a healthy, balanced ecosystem. The majority of crops in the system are perennial, not annual, so they are planted once to produce for many years. The permaculture food production plot is not static. The amount of food and variety of food produced evolves as the plants grow and change.
Animals also have a place in the restoration agriculture system, to help manage diseases and control plant growth, as well as to produce a valuable crop in their own right. Honey and mushrooms represent yet another facet of this amazingly productive polyculture. Instead of growing one crop, such as corn or wheat, from a plot of soil, the farmer can now grow many.
When I first started reading Restoration Agriculture, my initial reaction was, “That is so cool!”, quickly followed by, “Can you really make it work?”. The short answer is, “Yes.” mark has written this book largely based on his own successful experience at New Forest Farm, a 106-acrea commercial scale perennial agriculture ecosystem that was converted from a row-crop grain farm.
The photos of New Forest Farm towards the end of the book are rich and verdant. There is a quiet beauty to the variety of colors (mostly shades of green) and textures. It is much more visually interesting than the unending rows of grains and legumes that cover so much of our countryside. The land speaks to me. It reminds me of my own backyard on a much grander, more productive scale. (For those who aren't familiar with my garden, you can view photos on the Gardening page.)
If you'd like to hear more in Mark's own words, you can watch his presentation to a group of organic farmers. It touches on many of the topics included in the book.
I hope you're as intrigued as I am about diversifying our food sources, healing the soil and providing everyone with healthy food.
Monsanto’s GMO Seeds Contributing to Farmer Suicides Every 30 Minutes
In what has been called the single largest wave of recorded suicides in human history, Indian farmers are now killing themselves in record numbers. It has been extensively reported, even in mainstream news, but nothing has been done about the issue. The cause? Monsanto’s cost-inflated and ineffective seeds have been driving farmers to suicide, and is considered to be one of the largest — if not the largest — cause of the quarter of a million farmer suicides over the past 16 years.
Biotech has tried to dismiss the accounts of farmer suicides in India due to the introduction of genetically modified crops, but the problem is pervasive. Once the farmer is gone, the debt falls on the remaining family members. Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and other suicide seed sellers have essentially created a generational slave economy based on their toxic chemical and seed monopolies.
While there are other contributing factors to farmer suicides in India, debt is the largest concern, and non-viable crops are part of what creates that debt. Biotech sells seeds that don’t grow or that create superbugs, urging farmers to purchase RoundUp and other herbicidal chemicals which the farmers can ill afford. Thus, the mind-numbing cycle begins.
According to reported figures (provided by the New York University School of Law), 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2009 — about one death every 30 minutes.
Due to failing harvests and inflated prices that bankrupt the poor farmers, struggling Indian farmers began to kill themselves. Oftentimes, they would commit the act by drinking the very same insecticide that Monsanto supplied them with — a gruesome testament to the extent in which Monsanto has wrecked the lives of independent and traditional farmers.
To further add backing to the tragedy, the rate of Indian farmer suicides massively increased since the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in 2002. It is no wonder that a large percentage of farmers who take their own lives are cotton farmers, the demographic that is thought to be among the most impacted.
Though the story of exploitation in India is an old one, there were no farmer suicides when foreigners were exploiting cheap Indian labor for cotton textiles during British rule. In come the banks and biotech. Between 1995 and 2013 there have been 296,466 farmer suicides, according to India’s Crime Records Bureau of Statistics.
Some farmers dug wells or learned to use other sustainable farming practices to increase yields over rain-poor years. Some farmers had to pay banks for loans in order to dig deep enough to find water. This also contributed to farmer debt, as the interest rates on the loans made it difficult for farmers to pay them back. Banks used this financial vulnerability of farmers to seize their land.
Families who had large plots or many acres would then be sold back only a few acres, limiting their ability to grow enough food for themselves, or to sell at market. This led to a dependence on biotech by farmers, looking for some ‘magic bullet’ to grow crops on their small plots of land.
Dr. Mercola reportedly saw the destruction of traditional Indian farmers first hand. Dr. Mercola found out about the notorious ‘suicide belt’ of India, where 4,238 farmer suicides took place in 2007 alone.
Many families are now ruined thanks to the mass suicides, and are left to economic ruin and must struggle to fight off starvation:
‘We are ruined now,’ said one dead man’s 38-year-old wife. ‘We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.’
You can hear straight from the farmers themselves about this ongoing problem in India surrounding GM crops.
One voice of dissent, Vijay Jawandhia, from a farmers union, comments:
“I believe that the loot of the land for monetary gain has been going on since the advent of industrialized agriculture. Ever since we were colonized by the British, they have systematically exploited the cotton farmer.”
In India, around 60% of the population (currently standing at 1.1 billion) are directly or indirectly reliant on agriculture. Monsanto’s intrusion into India’s traditional and sustainable farming community is not only concerning for health and wellness reasons, but it is now clear that the issue is much more serious.