Building Soil

There is an exciting challenge ahead of us. How can we revitalize our extraordinary planet, ensuring life and health for the environment, the life-forms of a myriad of ecosystems, humankind, and future generations? The answer is as close to us as the food we consume each day. We can begin to create a better world from right where we are—in home gardens and mini-farms. Millions of people in over 140 countries are already using GROW BIOINENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming techniques to work toward this better world.

We “farm” as we eat. If we consume food that has been grown using methods that inadvertently deplete the soil in the growing process, we are responsible for depleting the soil. It is how we are “farming.” If, instead, we raise or request food grown in ways that heal the Earth, then we are healing the Earth and its soils. Our daily food choices make the difference. We can choose to sustain ourselves while increasing the planet’s vitality. In the process, we preserve resources, breathe cleaner air, enjoy good exercise, and eat pure food.

What are the dimensions of the challenge of raising food that sustains the soil?

Current agricultural practices reportedly destroy approximately 6 pounds of soil for each pound of food produced.

Why is this happening?

Conventional agricultural practices often deplete the soil 18 to 80 times more rapidly than nature builds soil. This phenomenon happens when the humus (cured organic matter) in the soil is used up and not replaced, when cropping patterns are used that tend to deplete the soil’s structure, and when minerals are removed from the soil more rapidly than they are replaced. Even organic farming probably depletes the soil 9 to 67 times faster than nature builds it, by importing organic matter and minerals from other soils, which thereby becomes increasingly depleted. The planetary result is a net reduction in overall soil quality.

In contrast, the techniques used in GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming can build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature. The overall goal of GROW BIOINTENSIVE techniques, which distinguishes these techniques from Biointensive practices, is the miniaturization of food production in a closed system. GROW BIOINTENSIVE features the use of the following eight techniques in a closed system that does not use any chemical substances. Ten years ago, Ecology Action coined the term “GROW BIOINTENSIVE” to refer to this style of production.

Biointensive techniques include:

Deep soil preparation, which develops good soil structure. Once this structure is established, it may be maintained for several years with 2-inch-deep surface cultivation (until compaction once again necessitates deep soil preparation).

The use of compost (humus) for soil fertility and nutrients.

Close plant spacing, as in nature.

Synergistic planting of crop combinations so plants that are grown together enhance each other.

Carbon-efficient crops by which approximately 60% of the growing area is planted in dual-purpose seed and grain crops for the production of large amounts of carbonaceous material for compost and significant amounts of dietary calories.

Calorie-efficient crops by which approximately 30% of the growing area is planted in special root crops, such as potatoes, leeks, garlic, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes, which produce a large amount of calories for the diet per unit of area.

The use of open-pollinated seeds to preserve genetic diversity.

A whole, interrelated farming system. When GROW BIOINTENSIVE is used properly—with all of its components and so all wastes are recycled and enough organic matter is grown to ensure that each farm can produce enough compost to create and maintain sustainable soil fertility—GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming can create soil rapidly and maintain sustainable soil fertility. It is how each of us uses GROW BIOINTENSIVE, or other food-raising practices, that makes a living difference!

The combination of these techniques makes it possible to greatly reduce resources compared to conventional agricultural practices while greatly increasing soil fertility and productivity.
• A 67% to 88% reduction in water consumption per unit of production
• A 50+% reduction in the amount of purchased fertilizer in organic fertilizer form required per unit of production
• A 94% to 99% reduction in the amount of energy used per unit of production
• A 100+% increase in soil fertility, while productivity increases and resource use decreases
• A 200% to 400% increase in caloric production per unit of area
• A 100+% increase in income per unit of area

However, GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming (or any other sustainable farming practice) is not a panacea. If not used properly GROW BIOINTENSIVE practices can deplete the soil more rapidly than other farming practices because of the high yields. But above all, using only a single agricultural approach to grow food would not be vital. It would be another form of “monocropping” in a living world ecosystem that thrives on diversity. Sustainable approaches in the future will probably be a synthesis, a sustainable collage, of:
• Agroforestry
• No-till Fukuoka food raising
• Traditional Asian blue-green algal wet rice farming
• Natural rainfall “arid” farming
• Indigenous farming

These food-growing techniques are only part of a sustainable future. To preserve the plant and animal genetic diversity upon which we all depend, we will need to keep one-half of the world’s farmable land in a wild, natural state. As we begin to use sustainable, land- and resource-conserving food-raising approaches, more wilderness areas can remain untouched so more of the endangered plant and animal diversity on this Earth can be preserved. This wealth of genetic diversity is necessary if the planet on which we live is to support abundance.

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