Toward Local Food Sustainability


Sustainability is a key concept for anyone concerned about the environment, the future of the planet and life as we know it.  The path civilization has taken is woefully oblivious to long-term sustainability.  The consumption of fossil fuels is creating more pollution than the Earth can absorb.   Soils are becoming depleted at an alarming rate.  Few seem to understand that when the soil becomes depleted, it no longer sustains plant growth upon which all animals, including ourselves, depend.


In the book How to Grow More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, author John Jeavons lays out a scenario and timetable that no one concerned about our ability to continue to live on Earth should ignore. 


Jeavons claims: Current agricultural practices reportedly destroy approximately 6 pounds of soil for each pound of food produced.  US croplands are losing topsoil about 18 times faster than the soil formation rate.  This is not sustainable.  In fact, worldwide, only around 42 to 84 years worth of topsoil remains.


Jeavons also points out that even organic farming as currently practiced in many areas depletes soil 17 - 70 times faster than nature can rebuild it because it relies on organic matter and minerals that have been imported from other areas that become increasingly depleted.  The author claims this practice results in a net reduction in overall soil quality.


What is the solution to this dilemma?  A method he calls GROW BIOINTENSIVE.


Based on over 10,000 years of traditional agricultural practice by indigenous peoples around the world, this method includes the following features:


1)           Deep soil preparation – for better root penetration, and better soil aeration.

2)         The use of compost – to put nutrients and minerals back into the soil.

3)         Close plant spacing – for water retention, weed control, maximum productivity.

4)         Synergistic planting – of crops that enhance each other’s growth.

5)         60% grain cropping – for carbonaceous compost & concentrated dietary calories.

6)        30% high-calorie legumes & root vegetables – for concentrated food energy.

7)         10% -- leafy greens and salad vegetables for minerals, vitamins, antioxidants.


Not only does this system produce more food to feed more people than row-cropping, but just as importantly, it rebuilds soil rather than depleting it.  It is no coincidence this 60/30/10 soil “diet” not only rebuilds soil fertility, it remains the core daily diet of most indigenous peoples who live in agricultural areas throughout the world.


The 60/30/10 ratio is not only good for the soil; it constitutes a ratio that sustains healthy living for humans as well.  This is one more affirmation of the wisdom of Macrobiotics.


“Man and Nature Not Two” is a traditional Oriental saying that sums up what Jeavons and his co-workers discovered – what is best for the earth is also best for human beings.  That is, when we farm and eat the way traditional indigenous peoples did, we not only sustain a higher quality of health, but we also help sustain the very soil upon which our health and our lives ultimately depend.  By practicing the GROW BIOINTENSIVE method, we help insure the Earth will support healthy lives for our children and their children’s children.


Each one of us can be part of the solution, or part of the problem. The choice is ours.


Fred Pulver