Like food foresting, this no-nonsense approach offers a part of the answer to a different model of sustainable agriculture.
Over the last two weeks, I have explored the sustainability of our industrialised, chemical-based food supply systems and found it to be lacking.

Industrial Ag is broken and fixing it is a puzzle

Industrial Ag is broken and fixing it is a puzzle

So how do we go about building a more sustainable food system to feed the world?

As some wag once said, the answer lies in the soil.

Growing systems like hydroponics and aquaponics are possibilities but they too are little more than soil-less chemical-based industrial systems.

Soil, when treated right, is the foundation for sustainable biological growing systems. Mimicking natural approaches, meaning those based on organic, permaculture, or biological growing principles, is that way forward. After all, nature has successful grown food since time began without resorting to mono-culture or soil-less cropping.

I went to an urban farming workshop last week to see how Canadian urban farmer Curtis Stone does it. He is farming in a way that gives us safe, secure food, that sequesters atmospheric carbon, retains water in the soil and, most importantly, returns him a good income.

He earns around $75,000 from one third of an acre and if all of our food were sourced using Curtis’ methods, world wide unemployment would be cut.

His approach does not directly address the need for growing biofuel crops but it puts food production where it needs to be – close to markets – and so releases broadacre farms for growing our grain staples and biofuel crops.

It also addresses one of the major barriers to new farmers – the cost of land. The capital needed for machinery and overhead costs is minimal, as is the risk of failure.

Like the workshop, his book, The Urban Farmer, is a practical, hands-on manual that is based on his own urban farming experiences.

Profitable from his second year, his Green City Acres organic farm is based around multiple urban properties that he categorises as being either ‘Hi-rotation’ (3 – 6 crop rotations per season) or ‘Bi-rotation’ (2 crops per season). Like permaculture zoning principles, Bi-rotation sites require a lot of intervention and so are closer to his home base.

Similarly, his crops are categorised as being either ‘Quick’ (ready to pick in under 60 days), or ‘Steady’ (continual picking over a period).

The secret to the high earnings is his focus on growing only the most profitable crops as determined by his crop rating system.

Curtis Stone is focused on growing high value, short rotation crops like leafy green vegetables. These he sells direct to restaurants or at local Farmers Markets. So it’s not a method that everyone can follow, after all, how many lettuce leaves can anyone eat?

But Curtis’ approach is a part of our sustainable food system.