This article is a result of my recent promise whar can we do NOW to help ourselves, the world and, at the same time, move towards the creation of Wisdom Society, The choice of agriculture may sound rather strange: we habitually associate agriculture with the farming industry, with hundreds or even thousands of hectares of land covered by corn, sugar cane, or wheat planted and harvested by huge tractor machines. Also, we may see it as a massive assembly of Spanish or Duch greenhouses producing tasteless fruits loaded with chemicals or equally tasteless hydroponic tomatoes. This industry, killing our natural environment, are as far from Wisdom Agriculture as the edge of the galaxy to our planet.
You may also think that it will propose another version of natural farming or permaculture fantasize, well-meaning fantasies. Though, the intention of these kinds of approaches are much closer to Wisdom Agriculture, but, unfortunately, they ignore the reality that we live in the 21st century, and there are 7,6 billion people to feed.
Wisdom Agriculture accepts the fact that, from its inception, around 12,000 years ago, agriculture was a man-made accomplishment of domestication of wild flora, to produce more crops edible or using them for other human advantages. Furthermore, it accepts the fact that the process of domestication and further improvements were accomplished by modification of their genetic structure. I am emphasizing this fact because current fashionable attacks on so-called genetic engineering are often misguided and based on fear propagated by ignorant media. The authors most often do not even attempt to discern the difference between criminal activities of Monsanto from the unique possibilities of this revolutionary approach. For example, all current attempts to develop an anti-COVID-19 vaccine are based on genetic engineering.
Modern farming industry
The views on agriculture embraced by the capitalistic economy are simple, it is one more industry designed to maximize profit. As usual, the environmental and health consequences of this approach are forcefully and deliberately covered up by powerful agricultural and chemical industry lobbies. Among them is the relatively rarely mentioned the fact that the existing farming industry is one of the key actors in the warming and drying of the planet and destroying the soil. A few data from One Green Planet site: about 7 million hectares of forest are lost worldwide every year, 50% of forests have been recently converted into farming land, 75 percent of global soybean crops being fed to livestock and 33% of agricultural land worldwide is used solely for the same purpose. But it is not everything: in 2018, 5.5 billion bushels of corn, that is, 37% of the U.S. supply, was converted in ethanol fuel, which is not less destructive as natural gas.
Further on, this kind of farming practices contributes to the destruction of biodiversity by using legal poisons called insecticides. Others, the herbicides such as glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup (still legal) produced by infamous Monsanto, may contribute to some form of cancer. On top of that, some kinds of genetically modified products (again Monsanto) gained ill repute by effecting other crops making their seed infertile.
The last issue concerns the destruction of soil and the overuse of water. Here are the figures: Globally, 70 percent of water is used for agriculture, while in the USA this figure reaches 80%. In contrast, the amount of water used by municipalities globally is only 11%. IThe enormous use of water in farming is mostly due to its waste: it takes 217 litres of water to produce just 1kg of corn (I converted the data from the site into metrics). Milk also is not free from problems – it takes 628 litres of water to produce one litre of milk.
As far as soil degradation is concerned, the damages are difficult to express it figures, so I list only a few most important issues: loss of organic matter, water and wind erosion, structure decline (includes soil compaction and surface sealing) and, of course, soil contamination by toxic chemicals and pollutants.
All of that is avoidable if we will not be conditioned to consume an enormous amount of meat, milk and egg products. Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. Indeed, we are genetically designed as omnivorous, and we may need some animal protein for our diet. But it does not mean that we have to destroy our ecosystem to cultivate and then kill animals for their meat or make out of them, egg and milk factories. Instead, we can focus on genetically engineering using genomes of existing animals as a starting point and “grow” meat, from agricultural products. The same approach can be applied to eggs and milk, which would eliminate the necessity of the industrial killing and torturing of animals. I have to admit that such attempts are only in the pioneering stage, but it is only a question of time to become a commercial reality
I could continue presenting more facts and figures justifying the absurdity of the current farming industry and the cruelty of animal husbandry. But it would not be of much use without proposing some alternatives described in the next section.
Wisdom agriculture cooperative
Before describing a suggested alternative to the current approach to the production of food, I will state several principles, which guide this proposal.
- To begin with, it should be clear that I am not talking about agriculture within the Wisdom Society but about solutions available now in our capitalistic system. It is a form agro-industry that can be realized everywhere, except countries which too authoritarian and corrupt
- At the same time, it will use the approach, structure and methodology identical to agriculture as withing Wisdom Society. Because of that, Wisdom agriculture would be a key step towards the realization of such a society.
- Another goal of Wisdom agriculture is the production of food in a way, which, at least, satisfies the current norms necessary to be labeled as organic, ecological or bio, depending on nomenclature used in a given country. It is necessary not only to make it healthy but also for the commercial advantage because such a label permit to price it above the non-organic ones. The next, perhaps the most important and challenging, is that the proposed agricultural methodology not only would not have a negative influence on the natural environment, but it would help in its regeneration. It would minimize the surface land necessary for food production, which would increase the amount of land to bring it back to its original state before it was destroyed by modern farming and other kinds of industry.
- The proposed approach permits to satisfy the nutritional need of all 7,6 billion human beings, which other alternative methods like natural farming or permaculture would not be able to do.
- Finally, from the economic point of view, this kind of agriculture requires a modest initial investment, which may relatively quickly, be repayable from the income.
All of that is clearly impossible to realize within the present farming industry. But Wisdom agriculture will be based entirely different by combining several already used agricultural practices with advanced technology and underused capacity offered by the natural environment. First of all, it will utilize the possibility of growing crops more than only one season a year. The majority of existing edible plants like peas, wheat, corn, tomatoes, and many others require only around 2 to 6 months to produce crops. Consequently, from the same amount of land, we could produce the amount of crops up to 3 or even 4 times larger than using traditional methods. However, that would require a protective greenhouse environment with controlled temperature, watering, amount of light and humidity.
Moreover, such an environment may also protect plants from harmful insects and weeds that would eliminate the use of insecticides and herbicides, which are the most dangerous practice for the natural environment. Also, such an approach permits to dramatically minimize the need for water. To summarize, the use of the greenhouse environment is one of the most important elements of Wisdom agriculture.
Making this approach realistic requires overcoming several challenges, some economic, and some technological. They are listed below together with the proposed solutions
- Cost of the greenhouse. There are two basic kinds of greenhouses, some covered by plastic sheets and others by glass panels. The first kind does not last too long and, later on, useless plastic, in the best case, has to be recycled (what requires energy) or dumped. In both cases, it creates environmental problems. Consequently, the glass greenhouses are chosen, and in the following will be quoted prices. The Chinese suppliers are chosen because they are, as a rule, dramatically less expensive than similar western produced equivalents. Their prices can be as low as $10 per one square meter. It can be higher depending on the quality, hight of structure and the size of the purchase. Obviously, these prices are for orientation only
- Heating/ cooling of a greenhouse. The key question, which must be answered is: how to heat a greenhouse in the winter, and in some cases, how to cool it in the hot summer? The suggested solution is a closed-loop, shallow geothermal devices in the form of a geothermal heat pump. The cost of such a device is surprisingly low – around $200 per one kilowatt of energy. It also requires around a few hundred meters of piping, (depending on the required output of energy), which has buried no more than about 2m underground. This kind of heating/cooling is already used for greenhouses and seems to work very well
- The plants, in order to grow, require light of proper frequencies and intensity, which is necessary for photosynthesis. If needed, such supplementary light can be delivered economically by LED technology. This approach is used on a large scale in the Netherland, where agricultural land is extremely expensive, so an increase of the speed of growth is critically significant.
- The important issue is agriculture is maintaining the quality and fertility of the soil. To preserve the good quality of the cultivated plants and qualify for labeling as organic or bio, it is necessary not to use chemically produced fertilizers. The suggested solution is composting the residua of the unedible residua of the harvested plant with added wood chips. To make to process more efficient could be added lucerne (alfalfa) plants, which not only speed up the composting but additionally provide the compost with the key nutrient: the nitrogen. The alfalfa could be grown additionally in a conventional way as a source of soil and nutrition for the greenhouse plantation. The quality of soil can be improved by many natural means, for example, via the controlled presence of springtails.
- Several kinds of plants are not self-pollinating and require the assistance of insects. Since the typical “pollinator, the bees, cannot live in a closed environment of greenhouses; instead, bumblebees, which apparently do not mind it, can be used.
- Since the discussed form of Wisdom agriculture is supposed to function within the capitalistic economy, there arises a question, what kind of products have to be cultivated to bring optimal income. There are obviously many ways of accomplishing that, but I would like to contribute my suggestion. After some research, I came to the conclusion that organic or bio berries such as raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries qualify for this category. Their price out usual summer season is very high. The reasons for that is because these kinds of berries are very delicate and must be carefully harvested and delivered to the point of sale as quickly as possible. It is not particularly difficult during their usual summer season, but in the winter or spring, they have to be imported from countries with a warmer climate, which is difficult and expensive. Also, the agricultural practices of such countries rarely qualify to be labeled as bio or organic. Consequently, they are very expensive. For example, the price of raspberries can reach up to 28€ or more a kilo. All of that creates a “window of opportunity” because such berries are perfectly suited to greenhouse cultivation with a controlled climate. For example, raspberries, between producing crops, require around 5 weeks of the “cooling” period in the temperature around 5oC. Since greenhouses using geothermic technology can be not only heated but also cooled, it makes it possible.
The economic structure of Wisdom agriculture
Since we are presenting Wisdom agriculture within the present capitalistic economy, it has to follow its rules. In other words, it has to generate income to its owner or owners. This income has to cover the initial costs, which incurred while establishing it and the maintenance later on. At the same time, the income must guarantee the owner(s) and/or the employees the life-style at least at the same, but hopefully at a better level than they have before getting involved Wisdom agriculture enterprise.
The capitalistic economy makes available several structures to accomplish that. Here, however, we suggest workers cooperative because of its effectiveness and potential for employing ideas of Wisdom Society. This kind of enterprise is often successful and recently gaining worldwide popularity. It can utilize several forms of ownership, management and income sharing. It the case of Wisdom agriculture, it would have equal sharing of ownership, income and participation in its management are the best solutions. It is because of its innovative character, which requires ongoing research in the areas of biology, agriculture, genetics and physics. To accomplish that, the participation and cooperation of a group of members are necessary for learning new areas of knowledge and skills. In some sense, they have to be curious, creative researchers rather than classical farmworkers. Based on sharing their new knowledge, they can reach joint decisions. Such kind of involvement could hardly be expected from the employees on a typical capitalistic farm.
As I already mentioned in the recent post about Wisdom cooperatives, they could be suitable for the members of the neighbourhood and cohabitation kinds of urban nuclei, which typically are city dwellers. Wisdom agriculture may be particularly attractive for those who would like to recover their rural roots. This trend increases recently, but most often, the idealistic dreams of newly born farmers end up quickly and become a disaster, while facing economic reality. It is not surprising: individuals without the necessary knowledge, skills, and communal support are failing in the unknown environment. The modern belief that a little backyard garden is a sufficient preparation is, let’s put it gently, is very naïve.
All discussed above, and many other reasons suggest that forming Wisdom agricultural enterprise may be healthy, realistic and also is prudent. Healthy because it reconnects the people immersed in absurdities of the city life with the very source of our existence, which is agriculture. Wisdom agriculture could be not only a solution for many environmental problems but, at the same, time opens our horizons on what one can accomplish as a cooperating group. It is realistic and prudent because it prepares participants to survive if the world may face a catastrophic shortage of food. In other words, it makes sense not only as a necessary step towards the creation of Wisdom Society but as an intelligent and interesting alternative for our present life.