One of the biggest lies we’ve been told about genetically modified organisms is that they’re the only solution to feed the ever growing world population.
We all know this is a problem, one of the biggest humanity has ever faced, so we gobble up any solution brought forth. Case in point, genetically modified foods.
A compassionate heart is forced to choose between changing the system or finding a new way. I encourage you to look outside of the existing system; to thrive on this earth we need to create a new model that doesn’t revolve around exploiting it.
There are other options besides resorting to a new technology with a lack of proper long term research.
Why GMOs Will Never Feed the World
The idea that we can get away with using fewer chemicals to grow genetically modified foods is a joke. If anything, this type of organism actually creates super bugs, resistant to roundup and any other conventional agricultural chemical. The mainstream solution is to create stronger chemicals to kill this breed of super bugs, but what of our environment?
The research on GMOs clearly shows decrease yields, the soil becomes infertile (1), insects become resistant to the chemicals and thus more chemicals are needed to produce less and less food.
We see this example in the case of Argentina, a nation who embraced biotechnology when it first entered the scene, and whose population now bears the consequences.
In 1990 Argentinian farmers used 34 million litres (9 million gallons) of pesticides, by 2013 that number increased nine-fold to more than 317 million litres (84 million gallons) of pesticides. A visual representation of the devastating effects caused by a rapidly expanding export economy can be seen here, but be warned, it’s not pretty (2).
Feeding the world isn’t such a concern when there is no world left to feed. The harsh reality of these agricultural chemicals is seen far more in third world countries where the regulations aren’t as strict. These chemicals are serious endocrine disruptors, known carcinogens, that need to be handled with the utmost caution.
Farmers in poor countries aren’t given proper training and the governments aren’t regulating whether crops are sprayed 50 feet away from a school yard or hospital. Everyone becomes susceptible to the deleterious effects of these agricultural chemicals and the results are far from a table full of food at dinner every night.
If the goal of Monsanto’s GMO crops is to feed the world, it’s clear they are doing the direct opposite.
Is there a way that we can give back to the earth while at the same time, growing food?
A Permaculture Model to Feed the Planet
Now that we’ve brought to light the darkness rapidly spreading throughout the world, let’s focus on some solutions!
It’s become a commonplace opinion that the world is overpopulated and there simply isn’t enough to go around. While I won’t get in to the vast array of economic reasons, I will state that there is a solution. This is an abundant planet we live on and there are tools and techniques that our indigenous ancestors utilized for millennia with great success.
A permaculture model isn’t a hokey-pokey new technique that some guy came up with out of the blue. It’s a compilation of the techniques of the world’s indigenous people to grow food, create eco-friendly shelters and work together with nature to create abundance. The principles of permaculture are directly descended from the principles of our native ancestors. This wisdom cannot be lost, for it holds the key to saving the planet from certain demise.
Creating Self Sustaining Food Forests
What is a food forest? Within the permaculture model, we work with nature to create abundance. In nature there are no mono crops, lawns of one species don’t exist, empty weedless fields of grain are completely foreign. This model of growth hasn’t served us well, so taking a lesson straight out of natures design makes sense.
Forests have layers, a healthy forest has fertile soil home to billions of microbes and fungi; this supports the growth above the ground. A healthy forest is home to multitudes of species and there is a natural balance. As the biomass and mushroom mycelium of the forest floor grows, so does the health of the forest and its inhabitants.
In the wild, it’s survival of the fittest, but when humans step in we can play a part in who holds the strength in the forest.
Creating food forests is nothing new. This practice was employed long before technology thought to plant mono crops using soil-killing principles. Returning back to this way of life is inevitable for our survival and certainly more joyous!
How wonderful to witness the web of life in such close proximity.
How rewarding to invest time and energy into something which will live on for generations to come.
The smart farmer knows that ultimately a mono crop won’t thrive—it’s simply an eventual outcome of modern farming practices. Like the man in this video who ripped out his apple orchard to replant a food forest with a variety of perennials, fruit trees and nitrogen fixers. His farm will now only increase in bounty, a gift he can give to his children’s children.
The Basics of Food Forests
1. The first year consists of employing permaculture principles to rebuild the soil.
There are various techniques utilized to capture as much water and sun as possible so that we aren’t relying on external factors for success nearly as much.
Care is taken to ensure the first years new trees and perennials are protected from weeds, but as time goes on and the forest strengthens itself, weeds play a positive role in building greater biomass and adding to diversity.
Mimicking a natural forest, layers are created: there’s the forest floor, the understory, the mid-story and the upper story and in each layer lives different species. Fruit trees and hardwoods engross most of the upper story, while bushes and shrubs populate the middle ground, the lower forest floor level is planted with useful edible plants which also do the important task of fixing nitrogen.
Tools like mushrooms and worm castings are used to heal and rejuvenate soil, these techniques can take even the most degraded soil and bring it back to life.
2. As time goes on and the forest floor rebuilds, plants and trees really start to take root and grow strong.
By the time the perennial plants are strong enough, we don’t have to pull weeds out at the root, we can just chop and drop allowing the biomass to grow.
Animals start to come back to eat the seeds and any other remnants. The permaculture model encompasses the importance of sharing. We share with each other and we share with nature—there is more than enough to go around. The old paradigm of killing any organism which attempts to ‘steal’ our food, is done away with. Every creature in the forest has a purpose, including the ‘pests.’
3. The longer a food forest is able to grow and build biomass and healthy soil, the more food we get from it.
This type of system only gets better and more manageable with time. As perennials and trees grow strong and resilient, less care is needed to get rid of weeds, fertilizer is unnecessary as the soil itself is so high in nutrients. The time investment significantly decreases, allowing us to pursue our passions or create more food forests!
What About Climate Change, Drought and Dead Soil?
Different permaculture principles apply to different climates. There are techniques which can repopulate the dry deserts of the Sahara with abundant vegetation. Pollution can be managed through the use of fungi and mycelium which have been shown to eat petroleum waste and render it inert. Certain plants can help to detoxify radiation, like gingko biloba which was used throughout Japan in WW2.
Food forests are resilient to climate change and hold water deep under the ground; these systems aren’t reliant on copious amounts of wasteful irrigation. With these permaculture principles, people are able to grow certain foods in places they never would’ve dreamed possible.
Kiwis being grown in Quebec, Canada.
Greens grown all winter long in the dead of a Northern winter.
It’s all possible.
Food forests aren’t just for vegetation either, they become a habitat for birds, insects and wildlife over time. There are also permaculture designs which employ fish, creating a self-sustaining system and provide food to humans, wildlife and fertilizer to the forest.
Going Backward is the New Going Forward
Technology has fantastic implications, but only if we can figure the basics out, like how to feed everyone. What good is a world where most people are suffering and living without their basic needs being met. It doesn’t have to be this way. Using permaculture models, we go back in time to when humans were stewards, not dominators. It all starts with you, in your backyard, in an abandoned lot, in your community garden. Reintegrating ancestral skills is the only way to heal the damage we have caused on our planet of finite resources.
Author: Chantelle Zakariasen
Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Screenshot via Youtube.