Tuesday May 17, 2016
In honor of our wonderful planet, we at Hawaiian Organic Noni are discussing and sharing the organic farming methods we use on the farm. We’ve also be sharing some information about the ethic of sustainability that informs every decision we make as farmers and as a business.
Today we’re discussing the role of animals on an organic farm. Chances are, when you think about the word “farm” in the abstract, you think of cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and maybe also a barn cat and a herding dog for good measure. From our childhood, we’re taught that these animals are a vital part of what a farm is.
In reality, however, most American farms today are remarkably devoid of animals. Cows, pigs, and chickens have all been taken off the farm, to be raised almost exclusively on ranches and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations). Even insects have no place on the modern industrial farm — they’re killed off by large amounts of toxic pesticides. Indeed, most farms today are a monoculture of just one crop, usually soybeans or corn.
This lack of diversity has serious consequences for the fertility of plants, defense against pests, and the quality of the soil.
Probably the most important animals on any farm are the pollinators. Without them, most of the food crops we currently enjoy would not exist. And with populations of honeybees and other pollinators on the decline, that’s starting to become a very real concern.
Scientists aren’t sure yet exactly what’s causing the mass bee die-offs we’ve been seeing in the last 20 years, but they have some theories. Synthetic pesticides are almost certainly a contributing factor. The pesticides are supposed to be administered in a dose that’s non-lethal to bees, but it’s becoming clear that even a low dose can cause disorientation, weakness, and sickness. And who knows what the effects are of low long-term exposure?
On our organic farm, we do all we can to support our friends the pollinators. In fact, there are over 45 beehives on our organic farm. We believe that offering them a wide diversity of plants to visit is beneficial, so we grow a wide variety of tropical flowers and fruits on our farm in addition to the noni. Click here to learn more about the role of honeybees on a noni farm — it’s a little unusual!
Another very important reason to support a healthy diversity of animals on a farm is their ability to deter pests. The stereotypical mouser cat is one example, but chickens, spiders, and beneficial insects are also critical for keeping pest populations under control. Have you ever seen a chicken chase a grasshopper?
When modern industrial agriculture uses herbicides and pesticides to try to maintain their monocultured fields, they’re trying to bypass their need for these pest-controlling animals. It works in the short term, but in the long run, pests are great at evolving to outstrip our chemical warfare. They build up resistance to our chemical warfare, requiring the use of more and more concentrated harmful chemicals. Organic farms, like ours, use systems of Integrated Pest Management to suppress and prevent pests, rather than eradicating them.
If any animal on the farm is more important than pollinators, it’s the decomposers. We do all we can to encourage earthworms, beneficial bacteria, and fungi because these hardworking organisms are critical to the organic farmer’s goal of returning as many nutrients as possible to the soil.
In particular, our friends the earthworms are directly responsible for the huge amount of fertility in our compost pile and in our soil. We use their castings (known as black gold) in our soil, in our mulch, and in our compost because it’s a truly unparalleled fertilizer, low in pathogens and packed with nutrients. The result is healthy, happy noni trees that produce maximally-nutritious fruits all year round.
Many modern farmers get caught up in trying to sterilize their farms of all life except the crops they’re growing, including decomposers, pest-controllers, and pollinators. Nothing could be more counterproductive! Nature hates monoculture for a reason: ecosystems made up of a wide variety of co-existing species are much more stable than a whole field of genetically-identical clones.
We strongly encourage you to support farmers who encourage diversity of species on their farm. Animals on the farm allow the farmer to use fewer chemicals while producing more nutritious food. It’s a win-win for the farmer, the consumer, and the environment.
Animals can be incredibly useful in a backyard ecosystem too! There are lots of ways to support wild and domesticated pollinators, pest-controllers, and decomposers on your land. Just ask us if you’d like some tips!