What a semester! I feel like I first started at the Howdy Farm entirely clueless on farming – I knew nothing of fertilizing or starting seeds or harvesting or rotating crops with the season. I’m sure I have only brushed the surface of the depth of things to know about farming (understandably so, considering people study 4+ years to earn a degree in this!). Regardless, I learned so much from my time at the Farm this Fall.
The Howdy Farm is an organic farm, and I realized that I never looked into what exactly that means. I have seen how we do not use synthetic chemicals or pesticides on the plants, but alternatively use microorganism sprays and powders (like Mycorrhizal fungi) to increase plant growth and improve plant health. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, organic agriculture is when a system relies on ecosystem management instead of external agricultural inputs, essentially using the existing ecosystem for agriculture rather than treating problems that come up with synthetic chemicals (i.e. synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, drugs, genetically modified seeds, etc.). Organic agriculture uses practices that promote soil fertility and improve the health of the ecosystem.
One method of optimizing nutrient competition that is practiced at the Howdy Farm is growing a variety of crops. By growing many different crops at the same time, we avoid large losses in production or widespread crop failure. We also practice soil building practices at the Howdy Farm to sustainable improve the quality of the soil. Some of these practices include planting a cover crop in between harvests, such as peas. Once the cover crop is grown up, we till in back into the soil. The nutrients and organic matter of the cover crop is returned to the soil, making it richer! This also plays a part in preventing soil erosion and improving soil formation, resulting in a more stable ecosystem. By not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we are also reducing the pollution of groundwater in the area. Instead, we use compost and other organic matter to fertilize the soil.
I know that this information only brushes the surface of the advantages of organic agriculture, and there are plenty more health benefits and economic benefits! Seeing organic agriculture practiced at the Howdy Farm was a valuable experience for me to learn about our food system and the impact we can have on our environment.
Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations