Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sustainable Farm Uses Unsustainable Practices

Field-to-plate: VT college students try farming
By LISA RATHKE – 1 day ago

POULTNEY, Vt. (AP) — Devin Lyons typically starts his days this summer cooking fresh eggs for breakfast from the farm's chicken coop. Then, depending on the weather, he and a dozen other college students might cut hay in the field using a team of oxen, turn compost or weed vegetable beds.

While other college students are in stuffy classrooms, about a dozen are earning credit tending a Vermont farm. For 13 weeks, 12 credits and about $12,500, the Green Mountain College
students plow fields with oxen or horses, milk cows, weed crops and grow and make their own food, part of an intensive course in sustainable agriculture using the least amount of fossil fuels.

"Lots of schools study sustainable agriculture but I don't think any of them put it into practice," said spokesman Kevin Coburn.

There are no tractors on the 22 acres next to the brick campus of the small liberal arts college on the edge of the town — just two teams of oxen, and goats, pigs, two cows, and chickens. Read More

There have been several articles that I have read in the last six months that were similar to this. They normally highlight a small college that is offering what amounts to a gardening class. This one is trying to use very little fossil fuel. They seem to be accomplishing that by using livestock to pull equipment and a lot of human labor. On the surface, I’m sure it sounds romantic to some people, but is this the most efficient way to grow food? In my opinion I would say no. While they may be using less fuel, they are also practicing some soil damaging practices such as plowing which causes the release of vast amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere, lost soil moisture and soil erosion. Also, if they are relying on this as their sole source of food, they are one crop failure or natural disaster away from starvation. It’s great that people are learning about food production, but they need to realize this probably isn’t the best way to do it.

1 comment:

Steiner Tractor Customer Service said...

Interesting article. Tractors were "invented" in part out of a necessity to produce food more efficiently and without the need to feed and care for livestock throughout the winter. It's funny (sad?) that we so easily forget the past.

We used to travel by horse and buggy. That doesn't use fossil fuels. Can we really have a widespread return to that method? No, we can have small groups that bike, or walk, but it will not be something that will meet the needs of the many.

I see these farming practices the same way. It is great for those that are able. At my home on 3 acres, I maintain a small "container" garden. I don't use pesticides, I weed by hand, I don't use any fossil fuels or chemicals. However, this garden doesn't even produce enough to sustain my own family. It is nice to be able to grow some of my own foods, and my tomatoes really taste great, but I still depend on major food producers for the bulk of my food. It isn't sustainable for me to do that on my own.