Growing Our Own Food: The Biointensive Method

En Nuestos Manos (In Our Hands)

Directed by Matt Anderson (2020)

Spanish with English subtitles

Film Review

This is a very beautifully made film, in nine episodes, about the Biointensive alternative to industrial agriculture.

Episode 1 concerns the history of  Biointensive organic farming, described as an amalgam of the Biodynamic and French Intensive methods. The current approach incorporates indigenous farming methods from all over the world. The documentary features interviews with the late English master gardener Alan Chadwick, who began experimenting with this approach in Santa Cruz in 1972 and with John Jeavons, who founded Ecology Action after studying with Chadwick. Ecology Action has gone on to train thousands of farmers from around the world in Biointensive farming.

The first episodes features Biointensive farmers working to restore Xochimilco, the UN heritage site in Mexico City that has been seriously degraded by industrial farming. In my favorite part of Episode 1, the filmmakers visit an ancient Inca irrigation system in Peru where maize (corn) was first domesticated.

Episode 2 provides detailed instructions on how to prepare a garden bed through double digging. Loosening the soil is essential to provide air to the microbes that assist plants in taking up nutrients. This episode profiles Biointensive farmers in Oaxaca Mexico.

Episode 3 provides detailed instructions on how to build an effective compost pile. It profiles farmers from Oaxaca and from the G BIACK project in Kenya that trains farmers throughout Kenya in drought resistant methods developed by their ancestors

As of January 1, all 9 episodes are available on YouTube

De-Urbanization: The Future is Rural

The Future is Rural: Food System Adaptation to the Great Simplification

By Jason Bradford

Book Review

Free PDF: The Future is Rural

This recent publication by the Post Carbon Institute disputes the common mainstream assertion that migration towards urban areas will continue to increase in coming decades. Instead it offers compelling arguments (based on substantive research) that the transition away from fossil fuels will reverse the current demographic flow, resulting in major “de-urbanization.”

Bradford’s prediction of a major migration from urban to rural areas is based mainly on the inability (owing to higher costs) of renewable energy to fully substitute for cheap fossil fuels. He asserts there will be less energy available to move food into cities from the countryside, as well as less energy to move wastes in the opposite direction. Thus he predicts a growing number of city dwellers will be forced to relocate to ensure continuing access to food.

Bradford argues that despite its current low cost, a total transition to renewable energy will result in higher costs because

1) most renewable sources are intermittent and energy storage tends to be expensive.

2) there is no cheap renewable replacement for liquid fossil fuels. While there are renewable replacements for gasoline and jet fuel (eg biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells), getting all cars, trucks, ships, and airplanes to run on renewable fuel alternatives will require costly retrofitting.

3) renewable energy has a much larger geographic footprint (ie requires a larger land areas) than fossil fuels. While renewables have a much lower environmental impact, capturing renewable energy on a massive scale will require careful planning so as not to interfere with food production.

The good news is that increasing automation will also shift job availability from cities to rural areas, as the loss of cheap energy leads farmers to once again rely more on human and animal labor.

The book is mainly a compilation of research related to fossil-fuel free localized food production. It seems to cover all the basis, including permaculture; biointensive farming; no-till soil management; perennial polycultures and natural systems agriculture; and fermentation and other ancient food preservation techniques.

Bradford also devotes a chapter to exploring what the food system transition will look like.