This Week on the Farm: Organic Agriculture in the City of Toronto, featuring Fresh City Farms, Part 2
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. In this week's Q&A, we focus 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 farming allow for efficient management of local resources, and therefore cost effectiveness?
Local organic agriculture often employs the age-old technique of seed saving, meaning at the end of the growing season, the farmer saves a portion of the crops for seeds for the following year. This is one way in which a farmer is able to manage resources. While conventional industrial agriculture relies on genetically modified seeds (which are bred to not be able to save seeds), local organic farming is able to save seeds from the best of the current years crops, curating the seed selection to grow plants that are best suited to the local environment. This requires skill and knowledge transfer from farmer-to-farmer, something conventional industrial agriculture often negates.
Other local resources fall under the domain of the farmer, but depending on the location of the farm, municipal bylaws can make resource management tricky. In a traditional rural organic farm, ideally, the farm is a closed loop system. The livestock produce manure and humans produce food waste, and together these are decomposed to create compost. Compost is applied to the fields and feeds the crops. The crops are harvested and sold (some seed is saved), and the farmer might cover-crop to help return nutrients into the ground (the cover crop, such as alfalfa, is grown then turned under, folding the nutrients extracted by the roots and from the sun back into the soil). The fields also produce hay and grasses, which feed the livestock, which creates manure and the whole process starts again.
In a city, such as Toronto, this is more challenging, since neighbourhood-level composting and food waste collection is not yet an option. As well, municipal waste collection permits more types of waste than a farmer would allow in their compost, making the end product less useable for food production. Since residents can "compost" almost anything the resulting waste is just that, waste. It looses the opportunity to be claimed as a resource. Other cities have better green bin programs, resulting in a useable resource (see Durham Region leaf compost). If municipalities could restructure to make neighbourhood-level composting possible, area residents would be able to use this in allotment and community gardens, or in commercial city farms.
Both seed-saving and on-site composting are cost-effective in that they re-use rather than re-purchasing seeds and chemical fertilizers.
How does organic farming use less energy and produce fewer greenhouse gasses than conventional farming?
If a farmer uses manure and compost on-site, then they are reducing their energy use. Their energy use is reduced by capitalizing on the animals energy to process food into manure, rather than a lab manufacturing the chemical version. The farmer doesn’t have to drive to a store or have a delivery of fertilizer.
A local organic farmer transports food less distance than industrial conventional food travels. Thurs, less energy is used to bring the food from farm to plate.
Similarly to above, reducing the amount of chemical fertilizer (in addition to actually using livestock waste, a practice not common in industrial livestock farming, which creates toxic manure that must be shipped off and disposed of off site) and the distance food travels, results in fewer greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere. Fewer petroleum-based products – whether gasoline for a machine or transport, or for the creation of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides – are used on a local organic farm.