'Alternative agriculture' is used here to be inclusive of a broad range of agricultural systems that are alternatives to present common practices. In includes ecoagriculture, biodynamic farming, organic agriculture, and other such approaches. All are looking for ways to make agriculture ecologically and economically sustainable.

A suitable inclusive definition is found in MacRae, et al,
Polices, programs, and regulations to support the transition to sustainable agriculture in Canada in American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, Vol. 5, #2, 1990, pg. 76.

"Sustainable agriculture is both a philosophy and a system of farming. It is rooted in a set of values that reflects an awareness of both ecological and social realities and a commitment to respond appropriately to that awareness. It emphasizes design and management procedures that work with natural processes to conserve all resources and minimize waste and environmental damage, while maintaining or improving farm profitability. This is accomplished by taking into account nutrient and water cycles, energy flows, beneficial soil organisms, natural pest controls, and the humane treatment of animals. Such systems also aim to ensure the well-being of rural communities, and to produce food that is nutritious and uncontaminated with products that might harm human and livestock health."

The erratic economics of agriculture is considered to be the primary impetus behind increased crop specialization in North America. Modifications in farming strategies have lead to drastic changes in farming systems:

•Increased specialization of farms (growing fewer crops in larger fields) that causes amalgamation of small, individual fields.

•Increased size of individual farms due to large, specialized corporate farms replacing small, diversified family farms.

•Increased use of modern machinery that is more easily and more economically operated in large fields.

•Increased clearing of fence rows to gain more land for agriculture.

•Increased use of large sprinkler irrigation systems that eliminate uncultivated irrigation ditches and their banks.

•Replacement of uncultivated earthen irrigation ditch banks with concrete.

•Federal aid to farmers through the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service for various types of land 'reclamation.' (Chris Maser, 1988, Restoration Forestry, pg. 16)

These changes have resulted in a set of problems that effect agriculture and society as a whole as discussed in,
Organic Food - Paying the Real Price by Theresa Marquez. (Organic Harvester, Vol. 3, #3, pg. 8-10) She outlines some of the true costs of conventional agriculture (much paid with tax dollars) that the alternative forms of agriculture are trying to resolve. These include:

•Farm Subsidies ($73.8 billion in 1988)

•Pesticide/Fertilizer Abuse (845 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients per year in U.S.;

•45 billion pounds of fertilizer per year in U.S.)

•Water Pollution (pesticides in drinking water wells and ground water and turbidity from soil erosion)

•Air Pollution (pesticides in rainwater, fog, air column)

•Wildlife Destruction (pesticides killing non-target fish, birds, insects)

•Soil Erosion (3 billion tons a year lost in U.S.)

There is a growing awareness that the yields of conventional farming have come at a high environmental and social cost. While there are many visions of the farming future they have in common greater cooperation with nature, greater concern for economic independence from banks and government-subsidy programs, and diminished reliance on chemicals and petroleum. Both small and large-scale growers are beginning to use sustainable practices to conserve soil, discourage insect pests and improve their crops. (Verlyn Klinkenborg,
A Farming Revolution, Sustainable Agriculture, in National Geographic, December 1995, pg. 68) Permaculture and other forms of alternative approaches to agriculture develop models that may be emulated by others.


Alternative Agriculture