Humans have become good enough at agriculture to feed the world’s 8 billion people, which is amazing - but we're destroying our planet doing it. Farming uses an enormous amount of land, crowding out nature and driving extinctions. It contributes to climate change, soil degradation and pollution of waterways. And farming uses a lot of fossil fuels and other resources. But we all need to eat. How can we feed ourselves without destroying the planet we live on?
With us to discuss all this is Miranda Mertes. She recently earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst - a dual degree in Sustainable Food & Farming and in Animal Science. This has given her an overview of current cutting edge thinking on a wide range of farming and environmental topics.
This conversation is a good overview for those who want to learn about the intersection of food and environment. It also contains creative ideas. I especially like our discussion of farms that combine animals and crops, to boost yields and reduce environmental harms.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Mother Jones, 1/12/15
California’s Almonds Suck as Much Water Annually as Los Angeles Uses in Three Years
Our World In Data - Land Use
(This shows us the huge amount of land used for agriculture, especially meat production)
Our World In Data - Environmental Impacts of Food Production
5:57 Integration of plant and animal production
7:44 Eutrophication, runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into waterways
8:41 Repairing soil degradation with livestock
9:20 Soil loss, erosion, degradation
11:49 Chemical fertilizers
12:17 Fossil fuels used for fertilizer
13:19 Farming and climate change
13:58 Feeding the 8 billion human population
15:38 Should we all eat organic food? It’s complicated.
18:56 Enormous amounts of land used to grow food worldwide, especially meat
21:45 Meat is an inefficient way to get our nutrition
23:26 Meat production’s impact on the environment
25:53 Sustainability is impossible with the high volume of meat being consumed. Diets will have to change.
26:38 Eating vegan
27:39 Water used for farming. Water scarcity
30:18 Eating locally produced food
33:07 Are there ways to produce meat with less harm
34:03 Grass fed meat
35:21 Regenerative grazing of cattle to sequester carbon and mitigate climate change.
40:11 Grazing to use and improve marginal land
41:53 Integrated farming systems
44:43 Silvopasture, combining livestock grazing with tree crops/forestry
46:29 Farms as diverse ecosystems that mimic nature. Agroecology.
49:57 Sustainable farming requires more human labor, and public policies to support that labor.
52:22 Government programs to help farmers innovate and take risks
55:57 Scientists as government decision makers, to balance complex priorities