Rachel Marshall writes about the role farming methods play in reducing our ecological foodprints.

To create a more fair, resilient and sustainable food system we must look at how the food we eat is produced. Our current food system is built around an industrial farming model that relies on huge amounts of inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides and animal feeds to increase production. Over the years, the average UK farm has grown in size and has increasingly focused on a small number of crops (often grown as monocultures) or intensive animal production. Machines have increasingly replaced human labour – leading to the loss of skills, jobs and the decline of rural communities.
The overuse of agrochemicals has negative impacts on biodiversity– from the organisms in our soils to our pollinating insects- all of which are crucial for supporting local food production. Using artificial fertilisers and importing animal feed (often linked to tropical deforestation) also contribute significantly to climate change, and to the pollution of air and water globally and locally. We have created a food production system which depletes the very resources it relies on- soil, nutrients and biodiversity- whilst causing serious environmental harm. Scientists, food activists and farmers themselves are calling for us to move away from this model.
So what is an alternative?
Agroecology describes an approach to farming where ecological principles (our understanding of how healthy ecosystems operate) are applied to the design of farms and our wider food systems. This results in farms that are small-medium in scale and are adapted to meet the needs of the local communities and landscapes. They are diverse in terms of what they grow and are built around human skills and labour, with the support of appropriate technology where needed. Instead of using artificial fertilisers and pesticides, the soil is fertilised with organic material (such as animal or green manures); striving to create a balanced farming ecosystem where pests and disease are kept in check by healthy soils, plants and natural predators.
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that agroecological farming systems can feed us all whilst enhancing carbon sequestration, building soil health, increasing biodiversity and moving us away from fossil fuels. As a result, agroecology’s role in feeding us is recognised by people both locally and globally: from the international peasant farmer movement, La Via Campesina to global political institutions such as the United Nations
The FoodFutures’ Resilient Food Checklist’ is based on agroecological principles and we are drawing on this to help shape a 10 year local food strategy for North Lancashire.

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