On October 15th, as part of the World Food Days events at New College, UofT, Christine and I were able to attend a panel discussion on agroecology in urban and rural contexts with Damian Adjodha from the Black Creek Community Farm and Alvaro Venturelli of Plan B Organic Farms.
Agroecology is a systems approach to agriculture, seeking a deeper understanding of our traditional farming practices, local ecosystems, and the niche we occupy in our environment. Damian talked about how he’s putting this approach in place in smaller, more intensive urban farm and community gardens, and Alvaro discussed the approaches they’ve taken on his farm which uses a direct marketing, community-supported agriculture practice to supply the Hamilton, Halton and Toronto area with local, organic produce. Damian and Alvaro have both incorporated traditional farming knowledge in an effort to find real solutions to the farming problems they face. In this sense, agroecology appears to be a step beyond organic farming practices, which Alvaro described as treating symptoms, as opposed to understanding the underlying problem, as agroecologists try to do.
Two of the key concepts from the discussion were observation and experimentation. By learning about the natural systems around his farm, Alvaro has been able to capitalize on existing natural defences against pests, and also beneficial partnerships. From seeding his compost with fungal spores that will attack harmful beetles or build stronger soil structure, to providing breeding places for parasitic wasps on wild carrot plants, he has been able to farm in a much less disruptive way than traditional methods of pest control and fertilization would allow. Experimentation, of course, is a key part of this process. Damian expanded on this, describing his attempts at building a new Three Sisters. The Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash, are traditional companion plants in North America: the corn provides a support for the beans, which fix nitrogen from the air, and the squash provides a ground cover, discouraging weeds. Damian has been trying variations with other crops, including Jerusalem artichokes, and cucumbers.
Both Damian and Alvaro agreed that education and engagement are crucial for youth. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, why not check out the farm visits or volunteer and intern opportunities at Black Creek Community farm and Plan B Organic Farms?