The questions surrounding the safety and healthfulness of our food continue to pile up – GMOs, foodborne illness, pesticides, animal welfare, antibiotics, arsenic, the list goes on. It’s enough to make a person want to take a time machine back to a simpler time, when farms looked like they do on food packaging (though we know the pictures on the packages don’t often represent reality). What does a healthy farm look like in the 21st century, anyway?
Recently, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) put together a policy brief, The Healthy Farm: A Vision for US Agriculture, in which they outline a vision of a healthful alternative to the unsustainable practices that are involved in industrial agriculture. The brief – accompanied by a bright interactive web feature illustrating the components of a healthy farm and farm environment – spells out the principles, practices and benefits that come along with a shift toward farming based on ecological principles, or agroecology.
The UCS believes such a shift is necessary, and that US agriculture is at a crossroads – we can either continue down our current destructive path or apply our scientific knowledge to create an agro-ecological system that will contribute to the health and well-being of people, economies and the land and natural resources we all rely on.
The brief breaks it down:
- Hallmarks of Healthy Farms (Productivity, Economics, Environment, Multifunctional, Regenerative, Biodiverse, Interconnected)
- Four Steps to Healthier Farms (1. Take a landscape approach, 2. Grow and rotate more crops, 3. Reintegrate livestock and crops, 4. Use more cover crops)
- What Farmers Need to Make the Switch (Offer greater financial incentives, Expand outreach and technical assistance, Increase publicly funded research)
And how exactly does UCS plan to get US agriculture to jump on this agroecological bandwagon? Policies and investments must be designed to entice farmers from their current farming practices. Financial incentives, outreach and technical assistance, and more research to improve sustainable farming are also key ingredients.
This is a great vision and jumping off point. The changes to our food system are necessary and will address food security issues as well as the environmental challenges that we are facing. Be sure to take a click around their Healthy Farm infographicto see the details of the brief... what does a healthy farm look like to you?