Eco-Agriculture: How The Amish Are Saving Our Farms

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Food. It’s a big deal.

With seven billion people on the planet now, that’s a lot of mouths to feed. As the population began to surge in the 20th century, it became evident that the same-old, same-old with agriculture wasn’t going to get the food on the tables.

So we turned to Big Science, we said “Fix this,” and boy, did they. Now we have Big Food. Along the way, we’ve seen industrial farming result in crazy things like pesticides that cause birth defects, bee colonies collapsing, seeds being patented for “intellectual property” by big business, and lots more madness.

That our food supply is broken becomes more clear daily. But what if we’re on the cusp of solving this problem for our future, by turning to people who choose to honor the past?

The Amish solution

The Amish don’t shun advances and technology quite the way most people think, as this thoughtful NPR article explains. Instead, they’re very selective about technology and science, opting only to use them when they really can advance their lifestyle.

Enter an 18-year-old Amish farmer named John Kempf who decided something wasn’t right with modern agriculture, especially when piling pesticides upon pesticides resulted in his family’s failing crops. He began to study the crops and go back to the basics, turning to books and science.

That’s how his company Advancing Eco Agriculture was born. In the eight years since, he’s become a world-reknown expert on biological agriculture, speaking all over the globe.

His website explains where we’re going wrong and how to fix it: “We have adopted a warfare mentality instead of a nurturing empathy — a combat mindset in which we are fighting diseases, killing insects, and destroying weeds. At AEA, we have proven there is a better way. We help you produce crops which are resistant to disease and insect pests, and greatly reduce the need for pesticides.”

A better way? Say what?

This great article from The Atlantic Monthly explains how, armed with his eighth-grade education, Kempf understood that a plant’s natural state would be to produce its own defenses that would be toxic to its attackers. But thanks to Big Science’s intrusion, we’re messing up the natural defense system by arbitrarily throwing the chemical and/or nutritional kitchen sink at plants.

Imagine if you had a cold and just needed some rest and nutrition, but were instead treated with chemotherapy? You’d still be sick, but now you’d be reeling from a pulverized immune system and damaged gut, preventing you from absorbing nutrition. This is essentially what we’ve been doing for agriculture for decades.

Kempf decided to start analyzing the plants’ sap and seeing what deficiencies existed, then putting those nutrients back into the soil so the plants would get exactly what they need, as opposed to some blanket chemical barrier meant to kill all comers.

Making the perfect ecosystem

The Amish farmer in the Atlantic story tells of how his first season tacking the AEA method of biological farming resulted in a hookworm infestation. He did nothing to fend them off, and soon came the wasps, who killed the hookworms.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there in reality. (Or wasp-eat-hookworm.) But when we attack one pest, we’re attacking the entire ecosystem.

Nature is a complex fabric, woven from many strands. The more strands we tinker with, the quicker the fabric unravels. This is where we are now — a failing ecosystem, with threadbare food security.

By returning to biology with Amish sensibilities, and ditching the chemical warfare, the future of food looks more like that which our forebears enjoyed — healthy, plentiful, and natural — but bolstered by science in a way that supports the ecosystem and allows it to thrive as a whole, rather than a butchered sum of its parts.

Before you bust out the pesticide because you’re mad at nature for doing its thing, consider the emerging natural alternatives, like biological and eco agriculture.

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