Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Protect Farmland, Protect Sustainable Food

There’s no wiggle room here: farmers need farmland. I know, that’s not strictly true. Creative urban and vertical gardeners have proven that you don’t really need that much land to grow fresh vegetables. Nevertheless by and large the fact remains that farmers need access to land. This is a global issue. It is happening in the US just as it is happening in Mali or Nicaragua. And, not surprisingly, the people that often get squeezed off the land to make way for big development projects are small, traditional farmers. The loss of traditional and productive farmland is a multifaceted issue and can have disastrous affects on the environment as well as on communities and entire countries.

In many parts of the world, traditional small farmers use sustainable agricultural practices. They work with the land, and have developed farming techniques that are tailored to their specific environment. They don’t use heavy-duty pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Farmers are stewards of the land, a role that is often lost on land developers and big agriculture. Well-managed farmland helps preserve watersheds, control flooding, and protects groundwater, in addition to providing space for wildlife. Farmers work within the confines of preexisting natural systems and rows of plants are much better for the health for the health of the land than rows of houses or pavement.

The loss of farmland is also very disruptive to community health and structure. Not only does it mean the loss of local food sources, but it also means a loss of livelihood. In many places, farming is a way of life, rooted deeply in place and culture. The inability to maintain a traditional way of life is devastating for many communities. In the U.S., small farms play an important role in communities, though perhaps not as entirely vital as they do in more traditional farming areas around the world. Nevertheless, productive farmland means local jobs and businesses, and may also provide a place for recreation and educational activities.

The preservation of farmland for small farmers ought to be a priority for our local and national governments, as small sustainable farms are an important piece of food security, an increasingly worrisome issue. Many non-profit organizations recognize the importance of preserving land for farming and are devoted to protecting traditional, productive farmland all over the world. Farmland trusts or other types of land trusts often help new or expanding farmers to secure land as long as they comply with sustainable stewardship practices. Organizations with political voice and influence, like the international powerhouse La Via Campesina spread awareness about land loss and work towards change on the policy level. We need to reclaim land for farming, and specifically for farming that is healthy and sustainable for our land and our communities.

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