Uncovering the roots of farming sustainability
By: Elisa Fitzpatrick, OHEA Student Member
Did you know that less than one in five Canadians lives in rural communities?
The connection between us and where our food comes from is stretching further and further apart. With more people as city dwellers than rural land owners, a vast majority of people are no longer connected with our agricultural practices and the importance of sustainability in the agriculture sector.
Environmental sustainability of the food chain is frequently examined, but often, agricultural sustainability is left out of the discussion. What most consumers do not consider, are the tasks that farmers undertake to ensure that their practices remain sustainable.
Today my hope is that I can educate you on some ways that farmers establish sustainable practices, minimize their environmental impact, and continue to ensure that their farm land and resources will be bountiful for the future.
To start, did you know that soil is actually a non-renewable resource?
Let’s think about this. A growing plant requires good nutrients, and the soil provides some nourishment for those plants to be able to grow. If you continue to take from the soil and do nothing to replenish its nutrients, how will you be able to grow anything in the future?
It is important for farmers to continue to replenish these nutrients and contribute to the health of the soil, which can be done by spreading manure. This is vital not only to be able to produce a quality product, but to also be able to produce enough now and in the future.
Preventing erosion and maintaining soil health can also be done by planting cover crops. Cover crops are smaller plant species that cover the ground between or during planting seasons to help contribute to the nutritional quality of the soil and prevent erosion due to the elements.
Have you ever seen those lines of trees surrounding a farmer’s field?
They actually serve multiple roles in the farming environment, including supporting environmental sustainability. Other than simply blocking the wind, these trees provide habitat for wildlife in the area. In addition, native plant species are often allowed to grow along field edges which helps contribute to the ecosystem of the area, as well as attract native species -including pollinators- which are very important!
Moreover, farmers want their land to be renewable and sustainable. It is a key factor in ensuring that they can continue to produce agricultural commodities. Not many consumers are aware that farmers can participate in Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) to ensure their farming practices are sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
These programs are seen as a benefit to farmers for their ability to help farmers learn about new practices and work with areas of concern on their farm. Environmental sustainability is something that is important to all farmers and their successors. Whether it is through protecting soil health or participating in EFPs, farming practices and sustainability do go hand in hand.
If you’re interested in learning more about agricultural practices, the industry, or sustainability, I encourage you to check out these resources for credible information:
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/index.html
Farm and Food Care at https://www.farmfoodcare.org/
About Eliza Fitzpatrick
Elisa Fitzpatrick is a member of this year’s graduating class at Brescia University College in London. She has earned a Specialization in Foods and Nutrition. With experience both in the classroom and in a lab setting, Elisa has taken courses which have furthered her interest in the food industry, such as Food Product Development, Food Science, and Agriculture and Food Systems. She is currently working at Brescia as a Liaison Officer in student recruitment, with hopes of working in the food industry in the future.