Aconventional Agriculture

The dichotomy between “conventional” and “organic” agriculture is deeply embedded in our national conversation about food. (Am I being too charitable by calling it a “conversation?”)  This polarization has numerous downsides, but a very practical one for farmers like me is this: Which am I?

 I adhere to the “organic” philosophy that the soil of a farm is a living ecosystem. I want my ecosystem to include several species of plants, and dozens of life-forms from fungi and bacteria, to insects to birds. I’ve experimented with goats grazing the orchard covercrop.

Despite mimicking natural systems, my ecosystem’s purpose is un-natural. It exists to support a primary crop. But when that crop, or its supporting ecosystem , is threatened, I will use “conventional” means to restore balance. Too many gophers, not enough potassium, invasive weed species… not welcome scenarios. I will do what I need to put things back into balance.

 So what does that make me? Being neither a round peg or a square hole can be lonely. I’m certainly not “industrial organic”… the in-between category introduced to the world by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I have toyed with “artisanal conventional”, but that sounds slightly pretentious, and “artisanal” is getting used much too much these days. I meet my own definition of “sustainable”, but not everybody shares my definition. “Unconventional” suggests somebody who defies convention. That’s better, but I think my practices reflect an indifference to convention, rather than a rejection

“Aconventional?” Yes… I think I like that.


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