Applied Sustainability

One of the things which continues to amaze me is the disconnect between advocates of sustainable food systems and the mainstream grower community. Often it seems as if people believe that sustainability is simply incompatible with production ag.

At yesterday’s annual meeting of the Associates Insectary, I was reminded once again how narrow that gap can really be. We covered a lot of information about our insectary operations, but the one data point that was really striking to me was the reduction in equipment hours per acre. Since the beginning of this decade, we have dropped equipment hours by one-third. That means huge reductions in fuel consumption, materials applied, fewer opportunities for accidental exposure to our employees or neighbors. That is a pretty big reduction for an operation that was running pretty tight to begin with.

Now perhaps Associates Insectary isn’t that typical. Since being founded in 1927, we (I’m a grower/member as well as a Director) have tried to balance natural, biologically based pest control with essential chemical treatments to maintain a healthy bottom-line both economically and environmentally. While we can look back at some of the practices of the past and shake our heads, the long-term, 81 year trend is one of constant improvement, whether we are looking at equipment usage as mentioned above, or rearing techniques for the Cryptolaemus beetles and predatory mites that anchor our biological services.

Over the next few months, expect to hear from the late Willard Beckley in this space. A UC Berkeley trained economic entomologist, Mr. Beckley managed the insectary from the depths of the Depression to late 1960’s. His writings, I believe, are great testimonials to the concept of applied sustainability, although that term would not come into vogue until years after his retirement. I’ll be reflecting on his thoughts in future posts.