Before modern transportation and refrigeration, most of the food people ate was grown near their homes. Farmers planted and harvested crops by hand, using the same techniques that had been used for centuries. Growing food was backbreaking work. People got by with much less food and much less variety of food than we enjoy today.
Modern farming, storing, and shipping techniques have made it easier to grow large quantities of many different kinds of foods, store them for long periods of time, and ship them around the world. These processes have helped reduce hunger and malnutrition in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, modern farming practices aren’t always healthy for the planet.
- In slash and burn farming, farmers cut down trees in jungles and forests. They burn the remaining plants, which leaves a layer of ash on the ground. The ash makes the soil temporarily fertile. Farmers plant crops there for a few years, but leave the land when it becomes desolate, burning more forests for more farmland. The bare land becomes a desert.
- During the Dust Bowl, thousands of acres of fertile top soil blew away, in part because farmers had overworked the soil.
- Today, pesticide and herbicide overuse can contaminate water systems and the soil, causing harm to animals and people.
- But, many people are working to create healthier farms. Some farmers use a “no-till” method of farming. Instead of plowing the fields each spring or fall, they plant crops directly in the ground. This method keeps the soil more fertile and moist so plants grow better.
- Farmers rotate their crops from one field to another so the soil gets a break periodically. Sometimes farmers plant a “cover crop” on the soil instead of a food crop. Cover crops, such as clover and peas, put nutrients back into the soil. They’re later plowed into the soil. As the plants break down, they enrich the dirt.
- Farmers add manure and compost to the soil every year to keep it healthier.
- Organic farmers use many of the methods mentioned above. Additionally, they’re committed to using only certain organic pesticides that are safe for animals and plants.
Questions and Answers
Question: How can I help with soil conservation and healthy environments?
Answer: You can work with your family to use earth-friendly gardening techniques at home. Start a compost pile and add the compost to your garden every year. Try “lasagna gardening” by covering the area around plants with a layer of weed-free straw. The straw keeps weeds from growing and also conserves water. Use soaker hoses to water plants and avoid using pesticides and herbicides.
Find out how to grow a scrap garden.