A look at sustainable agriculture

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By Sunny Anderson

Agriculture involves more than the farmer.

As a university student interested in the future of agriculture and sustainable farming practices, I constantly seek to learn more about farming methods that help restore the environment and continually improve the conservation of natural resources.

That’s why I feel lucky to have had a 15-week hands-on experience on a farm in San Luis Obispo, California, where I saw the results of implementing sustainable practices.

City Farm SLO is a 19-acre nonprofit urban farm that strives to achieve sustainability through climate-smart agriculture. The farm aspires to bring people from all walks of life together to share the passion for the region’s agricultural heritage through volunteer days, farmers’ markets and an annual harvest festival.

City Farm sustainably produces bountiful crops.

The farm uses strategies such as crop rotation, integrated pest management, and rotational grazing of sheep to manage the plot of land. A variety of crops are grown on the same land during different seasons, allowing the replenishment of nutrients in the soil. Rotating crops in this way can help eliminate pests that are harmful to plant growth. Using grazing sheep as a controlled disturbance keeps the soil healthy and preserves the future health of plants, as their waste products increase the fertility of the land.

In addition, City Farm uses thermophilic composting. With this “hot” method of composting, loose materials create high numbers of bacteria, forming ingredients to increase plant growth. The farm also uses a worm bin to increase the diversity of the compost. Additionally, a Johnson-Su aerobic bioreactor takes organic waste and transforms it into an environment that promotes symbiotic relationships with plant roots. The system is a simple composting method that creates a growing medium to spread on soils, providing beneficial nutrients.

City Farm removes waste and creates vast amounts of microbial life through these processes. It is an important element in improving the long-term health and production of farmland, as well as providing the community with a farm-based education. Younger students can tour the farm and explore the concepts of nutrition, biology, and ecology, and older students can develop life skills and explore the connection to food and the land.

I am amazed that despite being a small farm mostly supported by grants, donations and sponsorships, City Farm is sustainably producing bountiful crops. They regularly sell a plethora of fresh produce such as peppers, tomatoes, and vegetables year-round to local customers at many farmers’ markets.

Sunny Andersen is an intern at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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