We know agroecological farming works. The biologically-based practices involved restore ecosystem function, safeguard biodiversity, reduce soil erosion, protect public health, produce an abundance of high-quality foods — and sustain and strengthen rural communities and regional food economies.
But what does this look like on the ground? Here are a few examples from farmers in the U.S. that highlight the power and productivity of agroecology at work.
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Crop rotation for fumigant-free strawberries
Organic strawberry farmer Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm has been growing strawberries in the central coast of California for nearly 30 years. Instead of using dangerous pesticides like chloropicrin — linked to a host of health-harms including cancer — or ozone-depleting methyl bromide to fumigate his soil, he manages pests with agroecological methods.
The plant fungus Verticillium dahliae is one of the largest threats to strawberry fields. It can survive 10 years or more in soil and chokes plants of water and nutrients. Conventional farmers use fumigant pesticides to kill off the fungus, along with other soil organisms. Organic farmers like Jim have found a safer approach: a fruit-vegetable crop rotation.
Planting broccoli in the off-season suppresses the fungal disease, helps organic strawberry yields remain competitive — and safeguards the health of farmworkers, rural communities and the environment by avoiding use of harmful fumigants.
A rotational planting schedule, with broccoli in the ground in winter, limits the Verticillium dahliae population throughout the year. And when strawberry planting season approaches, the broccoli plants can simply be cut down where they stand to become disease-repelling “green manure” for the new crop.
Pesticide-free & profitable in the Midwest
Carmen Fernholz has grown organic corn and soybeans on his 450 acres near Madison, Minnesota, since before there was a market for them. Initially motivated by his aversion to chemical pesticides, his goal was to prove that his organic fields could match the productivity and profitability of his neighbors’ conventional cornfields. He’s done just that.
To achieve the long-term productivity he sought, he employed agroecological strategies like cover cropping and crop rotation to build soil fertility, and to diversify his crops and landscape.
For four decades, his enterprise — A-Frame Farm — has proven remarkably resilient. This is in part because Carmen relies on human resources rather than chemical inputs that can erode soil, water quality and other essential farm resources. His knowledge- and labor-intensive organic system also prevented the indebtedness that often accompanies over-expansion.
Meanwhile, the organic premium on his rotation crops — including flax and alfalfa — has grown faster than the price of their conventional counterparts. Carmen says his highest benchmark of success came about ten years ago when a neighbor stopped by and asked Carmen for help transitioning to organic:
I thought that after that many years, if people who have seen my system and watched me over time were willing to sit down and try it themselves, that to me was the beginning of what I felt was a success story.”
Native hedgerows & pollinator habitat
Singing Frogs Farm in California is an island of biodiversity in a sea of grape monoculture. Farmer Paul Kaiser grows fruits and vegetables for the 110 members of his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Throughout his fields, he has planted flowering hedgerows, made up of thousands of native perennials from several dozen species, selected to ensure blooms year round that provide forage for honeybees and native pollinators.
Singing Frogs Farm receives support from the USDA Pollinator Campaign, an initiative designed to assist farmers who diversify their landscapes and restore native pollinator habitat. Watch the film below to learn more about this and other agroecological practices on Singing Frogs Farm: