Sustainable Agriculture: Growing For a better future
We often don’t think about where our food is coming from. Sure, we drive by fields of crops or farms for livestock — agriculture is everywhere. But when we actually get to buying that food from the grocery store, our main concern is how to feed ourselves and our families in a way that’s healthy but inexpensive.
Unfortunately, we actually pay for cheaper food in other, bigger ways. Nearly everything on the grocery store shelves was grown or produced through a dominating standard of Big Agriculture. This corporate farming structure operates by producing crops and livestock on a very large scale, with the help of government subsidies and money from other corporations. It turns out this method isn’t benefiting the consumer or the farmer, and it can’t last much longer.
Why Big Ag is Hurting Us
What’s so wrong with agriculture on a large scale? It comes down to the materials and processes used by corporate farms. The use of pesticides and the tremendous amount of electricity and water needed to operate farms of this scale isn’t sustainable, meaning we’ll run out of these resources faster than we can produce more. Much of the way conventional agriculture operates is actually self-defeating, with farmers damaging their own products and land, other farms and crops, and even the atmosphere of our world over time.
- The United States uses more than 1 billion tons of pesticides each year. That’s 22% of the world’s usage, and it’s agriculture that is mostly responsible for this, accounting for 80% of the U.S.’s usage (1). Pesticides are expensive and made with materials that actually harm crops and soil over time. They pollute air and water both when produced and when applied.
- The agriculture industry as a whole accounted for 10% (2) of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. This level of emissions has increased by 19% since 1990. Greenhouse gases, including the carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide produced in agriculture applications, trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, are the norm for raising livestock for meat production. Housing more than 1,000 animals at a single facility as CAFOs do poses many problems to air and water pollution, human health, and the animals themselves. For one, the methane gas produced during cattle digestion is a greenhouse gas, and makes up about a third of agriculture’s total emissions (3).
- Agriculture is responsible (5) for more than 80% of our nation’s consumptive water use. Plants and animals need water, but this astounding number is largely due to unsustainable water usage and irrigation practices, with even more water polluted by pesticides and animal waste.
Sources: 1. Grace Communications Foundation 2. EPA 3. EPA 4. USDA
If this is how large-scale agriculture is working, clearly something needs to change.
How Organic Agriculture Changes the Game
Organic agriculture isn’t just a concept or something that only a few independent farmers are doing. More and more conventional farmers are learning about sustainability and adopting organic materials and practices into their normal operation. It just makes sense for farmers, who end up saving money by cutting down on resources and allowing their business to better sustain itself for generations.
And for farmers and consumers that are concerned about the statistics above and the impact of Big Ag if its pattern continues, the good news is that sustainable agriculture can actually reverse much of the harm done by large-scale farming.
- Improve soil: Sustainable methods of crop rotation, natural fertilizers, and other effective methods of soil treatment improve the land that crops are grown in and can repair the soil from exposure to harmful pesticides and other materials. This translates to higher yields and reduced fertilizer costs.
- Use less energy and water: Harnessing solar power, wind energy, and implementing rain catchment and other water conservation methods can make a huge impact in reducing the usage and waste of resources in agricultural applications. Organic systems typically use 45% less energy (1) than conventional farms.
- Better manage pests and weeds: Catch-all synthetic pesticides are often the only method in place for pest and weed control in large-scale farming. But in sustainable agriculture, methods like integrated pest management (2) combine mechanical control, biological treatments, and lower pesticide use to manage pests and weeds far more effectively.
- Increase yields and efficiency: Organically produced crops consistently equal or outpace yields from conventional farms, and the plants themselves are more resilient. In years of drought, organic corn yields were shown to be 31% larger (3) than conventional yields, even up against genetically modified “drought tolerant” varieties.
Sources: 1. www.eartheasy.com 2. EPA 3. www.eartheasy.com
Let’s Change Our Food System
The key to changing agriculture in our country is in educating individuals to become sustainable growers and conscious consumers. Only then can we improve the food we find on the grocery store shelves and the health of our communities. We need organic, sustainable agriculture to heal the damage that’s been done to the planet and move forward with a system that will sustain itself for generations to come.
Here at Maharishi University of Management, we want sustainability to be common sense and tied to everything individuals do. An education in sustainable agriculture sets you up to be a pioneer in an industry that needs an overhaul, and quickly. The only way to make lasting changes is to grow and support farms and businesses that are redesigning the way we grow our food.
Learn more about how you can make a change in agriculture at MUM.
Cultivate self awareness by learning how sustainable agriculture affects the individual as well as the world. Sustainable Living students at MUM connect their own inner experience and growth to what they learn through the practice of Transcendental Meditation®. Sustainability begins in the individual; without inner growth, outer growth can’t occur.
Students who pursue a focus in organic agriculture also gain practical knowledge from hands-on work in gardens and greenhouses, internships on organic farms, and creating and planning an economically sustainable farm. After graduation, these real life skills lead to jobs such as:
- Organic Farmer
- Farm Manager or Assistant Farm Manager
- Community Garden Manager
- Buy Fresh Buy Local Coordinator
- School Garden Program Manager
- Farm to School Coordinator
Sustainable agriculture has real world applications in improving the lives of people, communities, and land. Sustainable living students at MUM learn that agriculture goes beyond simple food production to create meaningful global impact. Graduates of the program have gone on to make lasting changes in communities around the world by working on sustainable gardens, farms, and other projects to help create a sustainable revival in global agriculture.
Josef Biechler, a graduate of the Sustainable Living department of MUM, now manages 18 small research farms as a soil scientist in Costa Rica. His research is sponsored by the Rodale Institute, a highly respected nonprofit group at the cutting edge of organic farming, and The Carbon Underground, an organization dedicated to reducing atmospheric carbon levels through sustainable agriculture.
Josef came to MUM from Ames, IA, where his family was already using sustainable practices on their dairy farm. He became an expert in composting, and started a soil lab on campus, which is still in operation. In his senior year, he founded Red Clover Consulting with fellow Sustainable Living student Tara O’Brien. Now Josef’s research in Costa Rica involves running tests on soil carbon levels, working to reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Josef’s day typically begins at 4 am with his Transcendental Meditation® practice. Despite long and intense work days, Josef says he loves the demanding work.
You can read more about Josef and his work here.
Courses at MUM
At MUM, students in the Sustainable Living department can choose to take a particular focus on organic agriculture and sustainable agriculture. Building on the fundamentals of sustainability gained from core courses, students in this track study the creation of food systems that nourish and sustain communities, both urban and rural. Sustainable agriculture courses delve into systems of food production that are regenerative—using principles of organic growing, biodynamics, and season extension to renew both land and society.
MUM students in this track can take the following courses:
Nourishing Civilization through Production of Food Based on Features of Natural Ecosystems — Nutrient Recycling, Biodiversity, Maintenance of Healthy Soils, and Full-Cost Accounting – Offered Annually
This course covers the general principles and techniques of organic and sustainable agriculture including crop rotation, cover crops and green manures, biodiversity, organic pest and weed control, National Organic Program standards, irrigation, and soil fertility. Students spend approximately half of their time in class learning principles of vegetable production and half of the time applying their knowledge and gaining practical experience in the University’s vegetable gardens and hoop houses or other local organic farms. Course fee: $65 (4 credits)
Learn how to extend the season growing, harvest produce throughout the winter and start transplants using unheated hoop houses. Topics include: choosing the hoop house location, design, layout, and costs, growing transplants, natural insect and disease control in hoop houses, nutrition, food system sustainability, and more. Class will include field trips to local hoop houses and some hands on activities. Course fee: $65 (4 credits)
Biodynamic Agriculture is an advanced state of organic farming which lays the foundation for a new way of thinking about our relationship to earth and the environment. It was the first ecological farming system to raise voice against the commercial fertilizers and pesticides during the early years of industrial agriculture. In Biodynamic agriculture a farm is considered as a self-sufficient organism with interactions with biotic and abiotic factors.
Natural Law as the Basis of Intelligent Planning – Offered Biannually
This course provides an opportunity for students to create a business plan for a small farm or farming-related business. Students will learn the planning process from exploring their values and goals to creating a vision and mission, and on to planning strategies for the financial, human resources, marketing and production aspects of their farm/business. Topics will include annual and perennial crops, value-added enterprises, income/cash flow, risk analysis and contingency planning. We will also examine the SPIN business models for small farms. The class will include field trips to local farms and food-related businesses. Course fee: $65 (4 credits) Prerequisite: one of the following: SL—A101, SL—A201, SL—A301, or consent of the instructor
Collectively, we can take steps to change our consumption, reduce our carbon footprint, and learn about sustainability.Is Climate Change Inevitable?
Josef- Sustainable Living Alum- Class of 2013
“So much of what we hear is doom and gloom,” Josef says. “They say ’We’re running out of time, it can’t be fixed.’ Well, I’m working towards a solution, every day. I’m working toward making a difference. To me, that’s very fulfilling.”
Become a climate change mitigator and study Sustainable Living at MUM.
Global warming and climate change begins with us. When we lose the connection to our inner self, the outer world suffers! Help fix climate change while learning about inner and outer sustainability in our Sustainable Living Degree at Maharishi University.
"I was struck by the happiness of students and the loving, open atmosphere. People laugh here. People hug here. The professors are open and welcoming when approached."
Nicole Borgaard, Eugene, OR