the 15 principles of organic farming

Organic agriculture is the counter movement to conventional agriculture that supports a more natural relationship between production and the environment in which production takes place. In order to support this relationship and reduce the negative impact of horticulture and agriculture, 15 main principles rooted in common sense have been established. Any plant practitioner can choose to adhere to these standards regardless of certification. They are as follows:

  1. Avoid all synthetically-produced chemicals, including supposedly organic “icides” like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides [they might be made with organic ingredients but they don’t really support soil health]
  2. Cultivate crop varieties with natural resistances and tolerances in suitable crop rotations
  3. Use beneficials for pest control
  4. Control weeds via mechanical [rather than chemical] methods
  5. Avoid the use of easily soluble mineral fertilizers
  6. Utilize nitrogen from manure and manure compost
  7. Practice green manuring with nitrogen-fixing plants [Leguminosae]
  8. Use slow-acting, natural fertilizers
  9. Preserve soil fertility via humus management
  10. Rotate crops with diverse varieties and long crop rotations 
  11. Abstain from the application of synthetically-produced chemical growth regulators
  12. Limit stocking density to improve animal welfare and reduce damaging effects to the soil, water, and air
  13. Restrict the use of purchased feed and focus on creating an on-farm or in-community production circle
  14. Use antibiotics on an as-needed basis
  15. Support biodiversity by embracing polyculture and intercropping 

Header Image Credit: Agrilicous.org

question: what is horticulture?

Defined by the American Society for Horticultural Science as, “the art and science of producing, improving, marking, and using fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants,” horticulture is an important component of society that positively impacts citizen’s quality of life. Such improvements can take the form of, for example, increased nutrition, more attractive living environments, or a demonstration of cultural identity.

From an economic perspective, horticulture is a $17 billion [USD] industry that produces more than 2.4 billion tons of goods annually as well as provides employment and income to various participants of horticultural supply and value chains. It is also a growth market with enterprises that vary vastly in size.

the horticulture supply chain
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

Each supply and value chain has a number of different stakeholders who are affected by the flow of goods. The actions taken by each link of the chain influences the other members. Therefore, cooperation plays a strong role in the effectiveness of a supply or value chain.

supply chain history
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

With such a wide-range of stakeholders, the types of employment provided by horticulture are many. The end-products of these services provide aesthetic, sociological, and psychological benefits. Such benefits range from being able to enjoy fresh fruit on a daily basis to drinking a fine bottle of wine with friends to being able to send a sick family member flowers to sitting in a well-tended park on Sunday afternoon. Horticulture is able to provide these benefits because it differs from other plant sciences and botany as it it incorporates both art and science.

employment sectors in horticulture
Source: International Society for Horticultural Science, exerted from ‘Harvesting the Sun’, 2012

In response to massive consumer demand for horticultural products and a quickly growing population, it has been argued that large-scale production, which is generally vertically integrated, is the only production system capable of consistently meeting global demand. This capability is grounded in the shift from the use of manual labor towards the expansion of the use of machinery and robotics. It has also been asserted that large-scale production is more efficient. However, evidence contrary to the aforementioned assertions has been produced, indicating that small-scale production is as productive as large-scale production. However, due to widespread modernization in the horticultural field, it is often much more difficult for small-scale producers to compete in the market which in turn allows for a concentration of economic power.

Nonetheless, changes in consumer demand may work in favor of small-scale producers as consumers seek out more authentic food experiences, diversity, and are more interested in supporting their local communities. If small-scale producers can effectively exploit such demands as well as provide high-quality products at reasonable prices, they are likely to be able to capture a greater market share. Specific opportunities can be found in tropical fruit production and the diversification of vegetables – two areas where both demand and consumption has steadily increased.

Current issues being faced by the horticultural industry, regardless of size, include controversy associated with seed production, changing weather patterns and climate, soil and fertilizer management, disease and pest control, rising energy costs, and water scarcity.

sources:

https://articles.extension.org/pages/64847/what-is-horticulture
http://www.ashs.org/?page=horticulture
http://www.harvestingthesun.org/sites/default/files/ISHS-Harvesting-the-Sun-full-profile.pdf

an introduction to community supported agriculture (csa)

First introduced in Japan and Switzerland in the 1970s, community supported agriculture (CSA) is a form of partnership between farmer and consumer.  They enter into a contract which provides consumers with a certain number of ‘shares’ in the farm. Each share provides the consumer a box (or bag or bucket or …) of vegetables or other products at a regular interval. 

There are four basic components of a CSA:

  1. Partnership: a mutual agreement between the producer and the consumer is established for the growing season
  2. Local Production: the exchange is local, i.e. a part of the community, in order to facilitate the relocalizing of the human-food relationship
  3. Solidarity: a unifying relationship is developed that is beneficial to both producer and consumer
  4. A Producer/Consumer Tandem: the direct person-to-person relationship, i.e. no intermediaries or hierarchies, is established

The establishment and execution of a CSA have several benefits and challenges for producers and consumers that are summarized below.

Challenges

Opportunities

Producers

  • Potential for a bad worth of mouth
  • Increased management requirements
  • Time demands → customer relations
  • Packaging and distribution costs

Consumers

  • May feel like they are not getting their money’s worth
  • Lack of choice
  • May be expensive
  • ‘Long-term’ commitment
  • Short shelf life (no preservatives)
  • A significant amount of produce that requires cooking
Producers

  • Marketing before the growing season
  • Consistent cash flow
  • Development of customer relationships → loyalty
  • Shared risk
  • Cuts out the ‘middleman’
  • Little capital investment
  • Word of mouth advertising

Consumers

  • Access to super fresh produce
  • Development of relationship with producer
  • Contact with the farm

Society

  • Reduced environmental impact of food(?)

For the implementation of a successful CSA, the participants – both farmers and consumers – must have the ‘right’ type of personality, i.e. committed and patient. However, if such a relationship can be established, CSAs are a very viable marketing strategies that can be used by small farmers to remain competitive in an environment largely dominated by industrialized agriculture.

sources:

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3482?opendocument
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy597

7 tips for the successful implementation of direct marketing strategies by small farmers

Direct marketing is a form of marketing that is drastically different than commodity selling. Where commodity selling is based on a market-determined price and generally focused on standardized, large-scale sales that are impersonal in nature, direct marketing involves 1:1 selling between an individual/group and the seller. In doing so, trust is established and alternative forms of value are created. The value created in this respect enables small farmers to remain competitive against agribusiness as they are able to provide alternative benefits, for example, novelty or flavor, for consumers.

Accordingly, the expansion of direct marketing strategies is grounded in the trend towards embracing consumer preference. Examples of prevalent consumers demands include:

  • Authenticity: consumers are interested in the simpler things in life
  • Community: consumers want to support local businesses
  • Family: consumers want activities that the whole household can enjoy together
  • Security: consumers desire to have food that is safe for consumption
  • Convenience: consumers seek out food that tastes good and is readily available
  • Balance: consumers want a balance between work and recreation

When deciding to implement a direct marketing strategy, there are 7 basic keys to success:

  1. Involve all ‘players’: develop a strong and diverse network in order to enjoy the benefits of different skills and talents
  2. Start small: Smaller operations are easier to manage and can more easily adapt to any challenges and opportunities that may present themselves. 
  3. Grow naturally: Once a plan has been proven successful, it can be expanded at a healthy rate.
  4. Keep (good) records: Quality information is required in order to evaluate progress and determine whether goals are being met. Records are needed not only for financials but also for product interests and on-farm productivity. 
  5. Make decisions based on recorded success: The information gathered through record keeping allows for more informed and intelligent decisions to be reached. 
  6. Find and develop the niche market: Sellers should think like consumers in order to determine what products and services consumers desire. Once consumer preferences have been determined and/or a loyal consumer base has been developed, it is essential to continue to interact with customers and offer incentives, e.g. tastings, to maintain loyalty.
  7. Develop a toolset for information: Information is a key to success. Being prepared can aid in the development of new customers and help to maintain the loyalty of existing ones. 
    • Examples: Business cards, price lists, product information sheet, recipes/prep tips, website

sources:

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3482?opendocument
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy597
http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/commodity.asp

question: what strategies can small farmers use to better compete in a challenging market environment?

Small farmers are an integral part of society. They produce food, provide rural employment, and contribute to diversity in both ownership and societal structure. However, they are also faced with a number of struggles, particularly when it comes to market entry and competition with large-scale agribusiness. In order to address these issues and maintain profitability, small farmers must be innovative and adaptive. This implies the use of new marketing strategies to protect their existing market share, and, if possible, expand it. There are three main types of new marketing strategies. They are as follows:

  • Differentiation: providing a product that is clearly different from that which is offered by conventional producers. Conventional production can offer mass quantities of goods at a low price, but this is often at the expense of other desirable qualities or services.  This presents small farmers with an opportunity to fill identified market gaps. Differentiation can take the form of, for example, offering heirloom varieties or personalized service.
  • Specialization: choosing a specific product or group of products and fine-tuning the production process to reduce costs. When specializing, it is essential not to fall into a low-value monoculture trap, as it will not prove economically or environmentally sustainable. Instead, specialization should focus on high-value products, e.g. berries which can be sold fresh, as jams or other processed products, and wine. Specialization may also take the form of vertical integration or functional upgrading. Vertical integration refers to the process of internalizing multiple steps of the production and distribution process. Functional upgrading refers to the introduction of a new, higher value product.
  • Diversification: integrating different activities, processes, or methods to add value, e.g. growing several types of crops including some perennials and raising some dairy producing ruminants. In doing so, farmers are able to mitigate some risk in that the likelihood of total crop loss in the event of an inclement weather or pest event is reduced. Likewise, it can support biological diversity and support a more stable farm ecosystem. From a different perspective, diversification can take the form of services provided, e.g. partnering with local schools to provide educational opportunities or senior citizen centers to provide elderly care in exchange for low-impact assistance.

sources:

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. (2017) Farm Direct Marketing for Rural Producers. Retrieved from http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3482?opendocument
Fromm, I. (2007). Upgrading in Agricultural Value Chains: The Case of Small Producers in Honduras. GIGA Research Programme: Transformation in the Process of Globalisation. Retrieved from https://www.giga-hamburg.de/de/system/files/publications/wp64_fromm.pdf
Mitchell, J., Coles, C., and Keane, J. (2009). Upgrading Along Value Chains: Strategies for Poverty Reduction in Latin America. Retrieved from https://www.odi.org/resources/docs/5654.pdf
Rethink. (n.d.) Resilient Food Systems and Market Differentiation. Retrieved from www.rethink-net.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/Pictures…/RETHINK_CS-leaflet_LT.pdf
Rosset, P. R. (1999). The Multiple Benefits and Functions of Small Farms. Food First The Institute for Food and Development Policy.

 

 

question: what are small farms, how do they contribute to society, and what challenges are they faced with?

Producing a vast amount of the world’s food, small farms are valuable assets that contribute to long-term economic sustainability and food security. What actually constitutes a small farm is hard to specify as there are extreme variations in societal structure, ergo many definitions exist. In the United States, a small farm is defined as any farm earning a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of $250,000. In Canada, a small farm is considered a farm that doesn’t sell commodities in a market with set prices. The FAO has a much more complicated definition: “small farms are complex interrelationships between animals, crops and farming families, involving small land holdings and minimum resources of labour and capital, from which small farmers may or may not be able to derive a regular and adequate supply of food or an acceptable income and standard of living”, while the European Union has no concrete definition.

Despite a lack of a universal definition, small farms contribute a great deal to society – even beyond food production. It could even be argued that small farmers are some of the most underappreciated members of society even though they add genuine and unselfish value to the world. For example, small farms support rural employment as well as maintain and accommodate social connections in rural areas. This is especially important in an age of widespread urbanization as it contributes to the goal of more balanced development. Likewise, it provides diversity in societal structural. Such diversity is particularly essential to maintaining diversity in ownership in an era when the consolidation of power is a major issue facing society. In this respect, they provide also a basis for community empowerment. In doing so, small farms are a symbol of regional identity.

The benefits provided by these farms are threatened by a variety of factors, with the aforementioned issue of the consolidation of ownership and power being at the forefront of concern. This issue is catalyzed by unfavorable government policies (see Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin) that have been developed in favor of large agricultural conglomerates with the financial resources to influence government officials. A lack of societal sympathy and support for small farms due to false perceptions, for example, the belief that small farms are unproductive, further contributes to the problems faced by small farmers.

hoophouses-clay-bottom-farm
This is a picture of Clay Bottom Farm in Indiana that produces 30 varieties of vegetables to feed 200 families on one acre of land. Photo Credit: Clay Bottom Farm

sources:

EU Agricultural Economic Brief

http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/t0757e/T0757E02.htm

http://articles.extension.org/pages/13823/usda-small-farm-definitions#.UsV_8ifCYx4

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X15002703

www.foodfirst.org

http://smallfarmcanada.ca/2014/10-years-8-questions/

zero acreage farming (zfarming): what it is and how it can change the future of (urban) agriculture

It is not uncommon to hear about the challenges that will be faced in feeding the growing population of the world. One of the main concerns is the lack of arable space, an issue that can be attributed to land-use changes, especially urbanization. Subsequently, the rapid growth of cities contributes to a number of issues, with the overwhelming demand for resources, e.g. food, that must be imported from outside systems being among the most relevant. This long-distance between urban-dwellers and agricultural production creates ecological problems in the form of inhibited nutrient cycling, high costs, and emissions problems.

Despite these issues, it is also well-documented that cities are efficient hubs of innovation. Accordingly, cities have birthed the idea of zero acreage farming, or ‘Zfarming’, which is defined as a form of agriculture that does not use farmland or open space, rather it uses otherwise unused spaces. Zfarming can take the form of, for example, rooftop farms/gardens, edible walls, indoor farms, or vertical greenhouses. As the competition between food producers and various interests is alleviated, the conflict related to land-use in urban spaces is resolved. Moreover, urban spaces supportive of Zfarming practices can be considered to have added-value as there is a unique component to said spaces.

Additional potential benefits associated with Zfarming include, for instance, the potential to shift towards new frameworks for food supply systems via input from evolving customer and social demands, and income generation – especially when higher value crops are grown. Furthermore, Zfarming can help address issues related to urbanization by providing economic opportunities which incentivize the transition towards more sustainable, resilient and efficient urban spaces.  

At present, Zfarming is almost exclusive to middle-class spaces with operations often catering to the needs of higher end restaurants or supermarkets with the use of mid- and long-term contracts in order to establish income consistency. This is arguably necessary due to the higher startup and maintenance costs. However, Zfarming is also associated with social/educational centers, efforts to improve the quality of urban life, and supporters of innovation focusing on alternative, i.e. not soil-based, methods for growing. It can, therefore, be assumed that as innovative practices are disseminated, they will gradually become integrated into lower-income spaces.

To encourage and promote Zfarming in more locations and further foster development in existing venues, the following supportive infrastructure is needed:

  • Modern and adaptive policy that is reflective of modern societal demands
  • Financing programs to allow for a shift away from top-down approaches to startups
  • Greater involvement (human capital)
  • Knowledge sharing to address the issue of a lack of practical experience which results in difficulties in the planning and implementation phase, something that can hinder the longevity or establishment of any Zfarming operation

In promoting Zfarming, innovative practices that may contribute to sustainable urban agriculture may be developed and implemented. Supplementary to the practical benefit of growing food, Zfarming also aids in the advancement of new forms of resource efficiencies, farming technologies and the practical application of such innovation, making it a trend worthy of further investigation.


source:

https://www.econ-isr.tu-berlin.de/fileadmin/fg283/Infos/Logos/RAFS_FINAL-1.pdf