This Week on the Farm: Organic Agriculture in the City of Toronto, featuring Fresh City Farms
A few weeks back, Fresh City’s General Manager, Abra Snider, was interviewed by a group of students (Team Awesome) from McMaster University. Below is a transcript of Abra’s answers to their awesome questions about the socio-economic impacts and sustainability of local, organic agriculture. Since Abra is never short of words on the subjects of food, fields, and farming, we’ve made this a two-part series, so check out next week’s Q&A, which focuses more on resource management and environmental impacts of local, organic agriculture.
Watch their video, in which Abra elaborates on how Fresh City actions these ideas. You get a sneak peak at the greenhouse too – full of sprouts for your boxes and seedlings for the upcoming season! Watch here .
How does organic agriculture contribute to meaningful socio-economic and ecologically sustainable development?
First, a clarification: while organic agriculture is a huge step in the right directly (as opposed to conventional/industrial agriculture), "organic" alone is not the answer. Local organic agriculture is practiced at a scale that allows for meaningful socio-economic and ecologically sustainable development.
Local organic agriculture brings food makers and eaters together - at farmers markets, via newsletters or blogs, and simply by the eater thinking about where their food comes from; a connection is made. The transaction between a farmer and an eater is therefore imbued with meaning: the eater asks how its is grown, what variety it is, for a sample taste, how to use it, and the farmer engages in conversation and story telling, sharing their experiences which informs the consumer as to what went into their produce, besides sun, earth, and labour. When this transaction occurs close to where the produce was grown, say at a farm gate, a farmers market, or a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, then the economics of the transaction are captured within the local economy. Rather than the money going first to the Big Five grocery store chains, then to the distributor, then to the farmer (resulting the in the farmer earning about 10 cents on every dollar), the money is handed from the eater directly to the farmer. The farmer is then able to sustain a living and pay for their infrastructure and production costs, rather than relying on government subsidies and loans (which is commonly what conventional farmers must do, especially those of corn, soy, etc.).
Local organic farms create employment opportunities for on-farm labour, farmers’ market sellers, delivery persons, and often marketing and value-added (ie. jams) production.
Local organic agriculture is founded in sustainability. Organic agriculture attempts to work with nature, coaxing the land and seeds by natural means - manure, water and rainfall, integrated pest management (IPM), and inter-cropping. Of course, Big Organic (that is, industrial organic), while being a step-above industrial conventional farming, also employs organic fertilizers and sprays, increased mechanization, and of course a larger scale of production than local organic agriculture. Local organic farms contribute to sustainable development in that they keep more land occupied for sustainable farming, meaning less land is going to housing developments, strip malls, and roadways.
How is organic farming more sustainable?
More so than local organic agriculture, permaculture or ecological agriculture are specific methods of farming that are often a part of local organic farming systems. Within permaculture and ecological farming, farmers consider themselves stewards of the earth: they work to improve the health of the soil, water, crops, livestock, and diversity of the environment they farm. They do this by working with the soil, feeding back nutrients by cover cropping or adding compost and manure; by eliminating chemical fertilizers and using limited amounts of natural nitrogen-based fertilizers; by caring for their livestock on a more humane level and having the animals participate in the farming process so that they too are living out their natural instincts (Joel Salatin explains and lives this out very well, see this Atlantic article .); and to increase biodiversity, these farmers use heirloom seed varieties, not genetically modified seeds, and plant beneficial plants alongside their crops to entice and create a habitat for pollinators. In this way, the farmer is working with the local natural ecosystem, ensuring that its long-term health is prioritized so that in return it can support the farmer; in this way both the earth and the farmer are sustained.