Thoughts on Agroecology
“Man feeds the earth; the earth feeds man.” –Chinese proverb
Long ago, in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, human beings began harvesting and domesticating wild seeds, plants and animals for the purpose of yielding food. Thus began agriculture.
Fast forward 10,000 years. Agricultural lands now comprise over 40 percent of the earth’s land surface. Agriculture now employs more people and uses more land and water than any other human activity. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations refers to farmers as “the largest group of natural resource managers on Earth.” Perhaps the greatest challenge these managers face today is how to meet the world’s increasing demand for produce without harming its remaining ecosystems.
Can agroecology – the scientific discipline that uses ecological theory to study, design, manage and evaluate agricultural systems that are productive and resource conserving – be the answer? What better time to explore this question than fall, a time known in our hemisphere as harvest season.
We’ll begin by talking with Dr. Wes Jackson, a man widely regarded as the father of sustainable agriculture. Dr. Jackson founded The Land Institute back in the 1970s and has been furthering the science of agroecology ever since. He shares with us some history, wisdom, ideas and a palpable passion for the land. Research plots: research plots at The Land Institute. Source: The Land Institute.
Your responses to our reader survey reveal your concerns about industrial agriculture as well as your commitment to and interest in developing solutions.
In her article A Growing Movement In The Concrete Jungle, Biohabitats Ecological Designer, Nicole Stern, describes one of the hottest new trends to hit our cities – urban agriculture.
We recognize that a discussion of agroecology would be incomplete without mentioning permaculture. The Permaculture Institute defines ‘permaculture’ as:
“an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor.” Because permaculture extends beyond how food is grown, to address how homes are constructed, diminished landscapes restored, rainwater harvested, communities built, etc., we see it as a topic deserving of its own issue of Leaf Litter. So look for that in the future!
For those of you who want to dig deeper into the topic of agroecology, we provide loads of resources. Be sure to check them out. Finally, catch up on the latest at Biohabitats.
Leaf Litter Talks with Dr. Wes Jackson
President, The Land Institute
Wes Jackson was born in 1936 on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. After attending Kansas Wesleyan (B.A Biology, 1958), he studied botany (M.A. University of Kansas, 1960) and genetics (Ph.D. North Carolina State University, 1967). He was a professor of biology at Kansas Wesleyan and later established the Environmental Studies program at California State University, Sacramento, where he became a tenured full professor. He resigned that position in 1976.
Dr. Jackson’s writings include both papers and books. His most recent work, The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge, co-edited with William Vitek, was released by University of Kentucky Press in 2008. Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place, also co-edited with William Vitek, was published in 1996. Becoming Native to This Place, 1994, sketches his vision for the resettlement of America’s rural communities. Altars of Unhewn Stone appeared in 1987 and Meeting the Expectations of the Land, edited with Wendell Berry and Bruce Colman, was published in 1984. New Roots for Agriculture, 1980, outlines the basis for the agricultural research at The Land Institute.
Wes Jackson is a recipient of the Pew Conservation Scholars award (1990), a MacArthur Fellowship (1992), and Right Livelihood Award (Stockholm), known as “Alternative Nobel Prize” (2000). He has received four honorary doctorates and in 2007 received the University of Kansas Distinguished Service Award.
The work of The Land Institute has been featured extensively in the popular media including The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, National Geographic, Time Magazine, The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” Life magazine named Wes Jackson as one of 18 individuals they predict will be among the 100 “important Americans of the 20th century.” In the November 2005 issue, Smithsonian named him one of “35 Who Made a Difference.”
LL: What led you to start The Land Institute back in 1976?
Just as I got tenure as full professor, my thinking intensified about the kind of education necessary to really deal with the problems of the ecosphere. It was clear that the deterioration of the ecosphere was an outward mirror of an inner condition. Therefore, we needed to test our values and philosophical ideas against physical reality. I thought that if students could spend half their time reading, thinking and discussing and the other half with hands on, we could tie the abstractions with the particularities. That might cause students to more likely be interested in ‘spontaneous elaboration’ rather than settle for minimal compliance too characteristic of college students.
LL: I have seen the Land Institute described as “a modest organization with an audacious goal: to re-invent agriculture.” The Institute’s web site mentions a goal of “having conservation as a consequence of agricultural production.” How close has the Institute come to realizing its goals, and have its goals changed?
Our values haven’t changed, but we’ve had to narrow our focus to where we thought we could be the most effective. When we began, we said we were “devoted to a search for sustainable alternatives in agriculture, energy, shelter and waste management. But as we moved along, this changed. First of all, what do I know about shelter and waste management? Coming off of a Kansas farm, having done a Ph.D. in genetics in a college of agriculture at a land grant institution (North Carolina State University), and knowing the serious problems of soil erosion, fossil fuel dependency and chemical contamination of our land and water, it seemed to make more sense – in thinking about the problem of agriculture – to narrow our emphasis to an area in which we could really be effective. [photo: erosion with carrots]
That’s not to say we haven’t chimed in when it comes to climate change and the energy problem. In fact, if you’re working in the realm of agriculture, you’re into energy automatically. Our sense of “oughtness” keeps us aligned with various other non-profits and colleagues who are similarly interested, but our primary job is working to perennialize the major crops and put them in mixtures that would mimic the vegetative structure of a natural ecosystem – particularly a prairie.
Our goal is to use nature as the standard for measure. Essentially, all of nature’s ecosystems feature perennials in mixtures and all of our high yielding crops are annuals and treated as such. Our job is to perennialize the landscape.
LL: To me, the idea of perennializing crops seems like a no brainer. What is the greatest barrier to widespread acceptance and application of this?
First of all, for ten to twelve thousand years, our primary sources of calories have been these annual grains: rice, wheat, corn, sorghum, soy beans, etc. They are all annuals. There are, essentially, no perennials that are herbaceous. There are plenty of woody perennials, like fruit trees, but they represent such a small percentage of the total agricultural acreage of the planet. Somewhere between 68 – 80% of the agricultural acreage of the planet is devoted to annual monocultures. So yes, it might seem like a no brainer, but it takes a long time to perennialize a major crop. When we started, I said it’d be a 50-100 year time frame. There’s no quick fix on this. Well, how many people are interested in working on something they can’t finish in their lifetime? That’s the nature of most humans. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that we need to start now. We have a saying: “if we’re working on something we can finish in our lifetime, we’re not thinking big enough.”
LL: The topic of this issue of Leaf Litter is agroecology. For some of our readers, this may be an unfamiliar term. What does the word ‘agroecology’ mean to you? Does it differ from ‘eco-agriculture, ‘permaculture’ and ‘sustainable agriculture?’ If so, how?
Those are all pretty close to being synonyms. John Piper and I published a paper several years ago about the necessary marriage of ecology and agriculture. A little history here is important. Ecologists and evolutionary biologists have had the luxury of being descriptive. Whereas agriculturalists have had the burden of being prescriptive. Those are two different worlds. The world of the DEscriber and the world of the PREscriber need to be brought together. If one, say, is working in agroecology or is an agroecologist, at least they’re acknowledging the necessity to bring the two together. If one is working in eco-agriculture, or permaculture, that, too, involves acknowledging the need for a marriage.
If one is working in sustainable agriculture, it is useful to have ecosystem as the conceptual tool. The way agriculture has been, nature is to be subdued or ignored. By bringing the processes of the wild to the farm, we get the complementality that comes from species interactions.
LL: The Land Institute’s web site mentions using “nature as a standard or measure” for decisions in agronomics. How do you define sustainability in agriculture and how, specifically, can/should it be measured?
No deficit spending of the stuff we’re made of, the ecological capital. If you look at the upper third of the periodic chart of the elements represented, there are twenty some elements that go into organisms. Only four of those elements are in the atmospheric commons: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The others are in the soil. That’s the stuff that we’re made of. If we don’t have those elements, we’re not going to fix carbon and we’re not going to have a standing crop of biomass – whether it’s human, deer, turkey, corn plants or anything else. Those are the elements that go into living organisms. Sustainability means that we not erode the ecological capital beyond replacement level. We need those nutrients that go into organisms back on the land. If we don’t, then we’re involved in deficit spending of the landscape.
I’ve had numerous people ask me to define sustainability and give me an example. There’s a short answer in addition to the longer one I’ve just given you. Define justice and give me a good example. Both are value terms. We can’t get a good definition of justice or find an impeccable example, yet we have organized society around that concept. We’ll never get it perfect, but it’s far better to have the concept of justice, subject to the vicissitudes of history, than not have it. In a similar manner, it’s better to have the concept of sustainability, subject to the vicissitudes of history, than to not have it. My feeling is, let’s run with it and do the best we can. It came out of “the people,” not out of Washington.
LL: Where, in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, do you believe more progress has been made toward less deficit spending and more sustainability of ecological capital?
Wherever people who feature perennial grasslands, so that means ranching. If they don’t overstock, that’s pretty sustainable. You still have fossil fuel for pickup trucks, hauling your cattle, etc., but that’d be one. Forestry has the potential. The ordinary grass farmer has something closer to sustainability. For agriculture, as a group, the Amish are probably ahead. There are individuals, scattered here and there, who are very careful in the management of their farms, so that after a heavy rain you don’t find soil headed toward a watery grave in the ocean.
There is a lot of rice farming in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia which takes advantage of the nutrients that have already run down from the highlands and using very little fossil fuel. Until the building of the Aswan Dam, farming along the Nile valley was fairly sustainable.
We are a land animal, so we have to look at land. Most land of the world is rolling land, not valley land. The civilizations that have managed to be relatively sustainable are the valley civilizations or areas where there has been some cultural practice for maintaining terraces like some of the rice farming terraces you see in the Orient. There, we’ve had farmers for 40 centuries. There’s a famous book about this written by F.H. King called Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan.
Those are the places where we’ve had the good examples, however, during industrial time, the circuits have been blown in a lot of those areas. We also had fewer people then. The Green Revolution, for instance, in places like Latin America, Asia, Africa where they had land races of crops that were replaced by larger farmers and the Green Revolution varieties.
LL: Do you think principles of agroecology can be applied anywhere food is grown (at any scale; in any part of the world)?
That depends on how general the principal is. There are so many watts of energy per hour that can be harvested by chlorophyll per square meter. There are also basics that have to do with the second law of thermodynamics, and that is that big fish eat little fish and little fish eat littler fish, and so on. You have different trophic levels within ecosystems. In some of those, there are symbiotic relationships.
If we start with some of those basics and then find the commonalities across all ecosystems, we can get started. That is not too hard. Ecologists have been working on these kinds of questions for decades.
But then we need to remember one very important reality that involves the other end of the spectrum: all adaptation is local. That, by the way, acknowledges the baseline for the reality of the ecological mosaic. At one scale, no two square feet are the same. You are moving up to another scale, certain details will have to be ignored. These are the kinds of considerations that are going to have to be increasingly brought into the consciousness of future agriculturalists, foresters and ranchers.
Now, as things currently stand, Homo the Homogenizer will plant soybeans in Brazil on former rainforest land, a heavy rainforest, and also plant soybeans in Nebraska where there was once a prairie, and irrigate with fossil water out of the Ogallala Aquifer.
LL: The fields of conservation biology and regenerative design are becoming increasingly integrated. Are you seeing the same kind of melding of disciplines and industries…agriculture and development, etc?
Right now I’m in a car, heading to the airport in Wichita to fly to San Francisco for a slow food conference. I’ll be on a panel there, but the main reason I’m going is to work with a group of people to put together a 50-year land use bill. We started out with a 50 year farm bill and changed it to be more inclusive. The idea at the start was that we’d use five-year farm bills as mileposts toward a 50-year bill. Since then, we have added forestry and ranching, so now it’s 50 years on the land.
We hope to get it in front of presidential candidates Obama and McCain for the next Secretary of Agriculture, and beyond agriculture we need to influence the Secretary of the Interior. I think the timing is good, partly because Obama has been talking about change and because there’s a constituency developing. So far we’ve had meetings in Washington, DC, Illinois, and Minnesota. After San Francisco, we’ll be meeting in Oregon and North Carolina. These are people who have been thinking about sustainable agriculture for a long time. They make up a constituency that has been building, and stewing for many years. Together, we can all address the number one issue: soil erosion, and number two: chemical contamination of land and water.
We have got to stop eroding the stuff that we’re made of and quit losing our ecological capital. We must stop chemical contamination of the land and water and fossil fuel dependency. That’s the collective consciousness of these folks. Well, that and keeping alive the family farm and actually getting more people on the land and increasing the eyes to acres ratio. This is a big agenda we have before us. We hear the talk among the politicians about climate and energy. We were talking about that 30 years ago. We have wasted three decades now. Maybe we’ll find the substitutes for the fossil energy with wind machines, solar collectors, conservation, etc. But there is no substitute for soil. We’re not going to have a technological substitute for soil. That’s our mission now, to increase awareness and action. We can now say that there is a critical mass that has developed.
LL: What programs, policies, etc. do you think should be put into place, perhaps as part of this bill, to ensure the long-term viability of agroecology?
Good question. Number one, let’s reexamine our export policy, which has caused a huge subsidy for certain crops. We feature bushels and acres and ignore the soil erosion, the nitrogen put on the fields, the creation of dead zones. Let’s examine why it is an export policy is so important we have to subsidize it. Of course we don’t. It’s to offset the balance payment deficit for, among other imports, foreign oil. Instead of bankrupting our landscape in the interest of the short term balance of payment problem, let’s say okay, here is our goal: To save the soil and water resource means we have to perennialize most of the landscape. Instead of something like 80% of our landscape being devoted to the annual, let’s reverse that and have 80% devoted to the perennial.
In the short run, what that means is getting more of our land grass down, more grass fed meat, perhaps elimination of the mega-feed lot entirely, quit growing so much corn and soybeans for cattle and let’s get them on grass. There will be fewer cattle, but we don’t need that much protein anyway. That’s one. Then, let’s get a massive program of perennializing the major crops. Over the next 50 years, gradually increase the perennial grain crops. Even though the population is expanding, we do hope and expect that the U.S. population will bend over and begin to go negative by 2100. Unfortunately, we could have another 100 million 30 years from now. So it’s the perennialization of the landscape to get those roots to take hold of the soil.
LL: Can lands degraded by industrial agriculture really be restored to the level at which they can sustain a perennial polyculture and regain “the genius of place?”
It all depends. If you have the nutrients – phosphorous, potassium, manganese, so on – then restoration is easier. But if you don’t, there’s not much you can do on a large scale. That’s one reason we have deserts on the march. The answer is yes and no. if you’re in Iowa, and there’s been degradation, the nutrients may be there because the soils are deep as a result of the Pleistocene Ice having pushed them down off the Canadian Shield. One can jump start soil improvement again and build back soil. But if you don’t have the stuff organisms are made of you’re not going to do it.
LL: In ecological restoration and regenerative design, there is a lot of talk about traditional ecological knowledge. What can we learn from indigenous peoples that can be applied to current and future agroecosytems?
The first thing to be attentive to with indigenous peoples is the fact that they have been living for a long time on contemporary sunlight, which is dispersed energy. People who are harvesting, and in some cases growing, their food supply without any fossil fuel input can teach us a great deal.
This is the big lesson that every young person needs to learn: we need to acknowledge the reality of the subsidies that we have introduced to give us the illusion that our system is more sophisticated than the systems of indigenous peoples.
Once we introduce a fossil carbon into a food system, such as natural gas, which serves as the feedstock for the Haber-Bosch process to turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, we have a different world. There is an energy cost for non-renewable sources. There is a cost for fertility or traction from industrial sources.
Indigenous peoples have not been relying on that fossil carbon, until more recent times. The nature of the patterns of a people in a particular place that have been relying on contemporary sunlight for their sustenance and health is THE story that needs to be understood by those of us trying to figure out how to wean ourselves from the extractive economy.
LL: You mention wanting to get this message out to young people. I know that you founded the Land Institute to guide the abstraction to the particularity. Has it been difficult to convert academia to your paradigm?
We can’t expect to turn this big a ship around in a hurry. It takes time. There is also reluctance on the part of a fair number of professorial types to get in involved in something that is so long-term. Then there is the unconscious institutionalization of the technologies that are dependent upon the fossil fuels which has created a kind of technological fundamentalism. There’s a belief that we’re going solve these problems through technology without acknowledging the scaffolding that stands behind even the renewables such as a wind machine. For instance, if you’re hauling blades, towers and generators to a wind machine site, you’re traveling over roads, and that’s an embodied energy cost. Where will the energy come from to fix the pothole? How much of that pothole repair should be charged against the wind machine? By the time you’re through doing the accounting on all of this, a lot of people just throw up their hands and say, “it can’t be done.” Of course it can’t be done, but there needs to be some acknowledgement that civilization itself, with its technological fundamentalism, has made a commitment to the idea that we’re going to solve these problems through technology. We will need economic growth through the short term of renewables being put in place, but ultimately we better think about how we’re going to stop growth. It’s been energy that has made this economic growth possible. So we can say so far it’s been the energy available to build the accoutrements of civilization that has created so many of our problems. When you’re caught within that system it’s very easy to develop this kind of religious fervor for technology. From my point of view, we need to assemble a group of adults to look at the hard questions and not worry about the political consequences or political reality.
LL: So would you say that the momentum of the past – that ship that’s so hard to turn around – is the greatest challenge to changing people’s mindsets regarding agroecology?
We all know that all things interact. I believe that if we had our perennials farmer ready now, the consciousness could shift very fast, because they would be compelling alternatives. But think about who wouldn’t be interested in perennial polyculture. Number one, the seed houses. If you have perennials, you don’t need seeds being planted every year in the same field. The farm machine companies wouldn’t be interested because there would be fewer passes through the field. The chemical companies who make fertilizer won’t be interested. You get biological nitrogen fixation using contemporary sunlight. The chemical companies that produce insecticides and fungicide won’t be interested. photo: crop spraying.jpg With species diversity you have chemical diversity and it’d take a tremendous enzyme system on t he part of an insect or pathogen to give you an epidemic.
This doesn’t mean there would be no fertilizer or pesticide. But if we have our eye on the ball, and it does mean no soil erosion and no fossil fuel dependency, then we can begin to imagine a different future.
What we need, first of all, is a vision. That’s the reason for this 50-year use of the AmericanLand bill we’re working on. If we get that vision our there in the same way Kennedy got a vision out there about putting a man on the moon in a decade, that increases our imagination about possibilities. Just recently, watching the Democratic convention, I was amazed. Martin Luther King’s vision was expressed 40 years ago, and now there is a black man running for president. It takes time. The question is, do we have that kind of time given the rapid climate change coming on?
LL: How is climate change affecting the institute’s work?
Firs of all, let me throw out a disclaimer. I’m not a climatologist. I’m a geneticist. I respect a way of knowing through those who publish and referee journals. I think it’s the best way to come to know a physical reality. I accept the consensus of the Intergovernmental panel, the National Academy of Sciences, and the
A little over a year and a half ago, they wanted to build a coal fired plant here in Kansas. Our Governor was for it, but there was a chance to testify so I did. Before it was over with, we turned our Governor 180 degrees. Kansas became the first state in the country to say no on the grounds of CO2. We then established a climate energy initiative. That now has a several people working in constituency building to do something about energy consumption, not just in Kansas, but on a larger geographical scale.
I’m concerned about what that means for agriculture in Kansas and elsewhere. The models are not all in agreement. I’ve heard some say that Kansas will be hotter, but not necessarily dryer. Others say it will be hotter and dryer. We are studying this as part of our research agenda.
LL: What is your stance is on urban agriculture and growing food on urban green roofs?
I think anything that allows people to connect to the biological world beyond humans and pigeons is a good thing and should be encouraged. The only thing to be mindful of is don’t’ presume that you’re dealing with 400 million acres that are sustaining the human population. I think it’s important for conscience raising and to get people to be in touch. The primary value to me is that it’s an empathy raiser. urban agriculture
LL: Has the Institute worked on developing any perennial vegetable staples like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, etc?
Corn is a species that ought to be perennialized. It’s going to be difficult to get winter hardiness into corn. We have started working on this, but we need a full time geneticist for that. We have crosses between corn and a perennial type of corn from Mexico, but we really need to get the genes for winter hardiness into corn. Potatoes are a very important vegetable crop, but you’d have to tear up the ground to get the potato out.
If you look at the inventory of crops, number one is rice, number two is wheat, number three is corn, and number four is potato. After that, you’re back into the grain crops again. Other than potatoes, vegetables occupy such a small percentage of the acreage of the planet. The vegetables we think we need to make us healthy – peas, beans, tomatoes, etc. – only occupy about 4% of the agricultural land.
LL: If you could be any kind of plant, what kind would you be and why?
A perennial corn plant. That’s about the most amazing plant that I know of. It has what we cal very active heterosis, which means hybrid vigor. If you put two inbred lines together, you get a very big increase in yield. It has its ears down on the side of the stem, not hanging out there on the end where it can break off your stem. It also captures a lot of sunlight. If we could have a perennial corn plant… whoa boy.
But that is a reductive question. The better question would be: if you could have your ideal ecosystem, what would you have? Now you can begin to think about an ecosystem in which you have the legumes, the corn plant, some warm season grasses, cool season grasses, and any member or the sunflower family, with all of them interacting in ways that have a net primary production of carbon. That would allow us to harvest a lot for our purposes and not degrade the ecological capital of the soil.
LL: What can people in our fields of work (ecological restoration, conservation planning, regenerative design) collectively do to affect positive change in agriculture and help change the ways of “Homo the Homogenizer?”
Number one is conversation. I try to imagine conversations everywhere – from the country club the water cooler. Think what, say, political correctness has done to eliminate racist and sexist language. People talk about political correctness as a pejorative, but we’re talking about the change of consciousness here. The first thing we have to acknowledge is that we need to keep talking it up.
But we know that talk isn’t enough. Ultimately, you have to start putting some particularity to work. There are things like Community Supported Agriculture. There’s a slow food movement. We can begin, through these movements, increasing the consciousness about the possibilities tied to long term necessity. People learn and then get pulled into what me might call this fight and work in the area of their passions. Everybody can’t go out and be a plant breeder, but there are many ways to begin to vote for the local. Take the farmer’s market. Going to the farmer’s market begins to reduce the driving. Maybe we say hey, we do have to pay more, but we end up paying less because we end up paying fewer taxes in order to keep up an infrastructure that has us driving around so much.
LL: Other than the points you have already made in our interview, what is one key thing you’d like to communicate to our readers about agroecology?
I’d like to see them get behind the necessity for a 50-year plan for U.S. land because if we can’t get our house in order, we’re going to have a hard time telling the world what to do. Get behind anything that moves agriculture from an extractive economy to a renewable economy and measure our progress. organic sign.jpg That would be what I would hope a president would say in an inaugural address: “My fellow Americans, from this day forward, we as a people are going to measure our progress by how independent of the extractive economy we become, and we’re going to begin with our food supply. Now we won’t hear that in January, but maybe if we get started now, we’ll hear it in 2013.
“You Said It” Survey Results
For some of you, this may be your first encounter with the term “agroecology”. What does it mean, anyway? The Agroecology Research Group at the University of California Santa Cruz defines it as the “science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design, development, and management of sustainable agricultural systems.”
But what, exactly, does agroecology mean to you? Here’s how some of you defined the term:
- Farming in a sustainable manner to protect the ecology of the site and region.
- Taking care of the earth as we produce our foods.
- Sometimes adapting new ways with sustaining the earth while reaping food products and sometimes returning to ways that ancient native cultures have sustained the earth while reaping food.
- Human crop and domestic livestock production by or compatible with processes found in nature.
- Best (not perfect, depends on other human and physical geographic characteristics) fit of production type and process to the total environment.
- Application of ecological principles including sustainability principles to agro-ecosystems
- It researches and recommends sustainable means to feed the world’s people with the least harmful impacts on the natural environment.
- Scientific term defining the environmental connections and impacts between agriculture (a human endeavor) and ecology (natural and/or human environmental systems).
- Conducting agricultural enterprises while considering environmental and ecological impacts so that these impacts are minimized.
- Cultivation and land management that works with nature and uses natural system processes to produce and sustain production.
- Back in early elementary school days, I recall the native Americans supposedly showed the earliest colonists how they planted corn, squash, and beans together, along with fish carcass remains for compost. In undergrad applied entomology, we learned about the value insects play in pollination and integrated pest management. Pollination.jpg
- The wise management and use of agricultural resources based on sustainable ecological knowledge.
- Growing food and supporting ecosystem services that might otherwise be lost with conventional agriculture approaches.
A little over half of you (55%) say you or someone you know has been involved in a program or project that has applied principles of agroecology.
We wanted to know which impacts of conventional, industrial agriculture concern you the most. 27% of you said loss of natural areas and their associated ecological services. 19% of you cited non-point source pollution. 16% are most concerned about soil degradation and erosion, while 14% said loss of biodiversity. 6% of you said loss of pollinating species while 2% of you said flooding. 10% of you could not choose one impact you felt most concerned about.
57% of you believe unquestionably that is it possible for an agricultural system can regenerate biodiversity and ecosystem services while also producing enough food to feed the world’s increasing population. 11% of you, however, do not. The rest of you say, “it depends.” Here are some of your comments:
- It has to be small scale and oriented to feeding a LOCAL population. Our food production system as currently configured is inherently unsustainable.
- Only if we move to plant-based diet worldwide, eliminating the inherent waste in fossil fuel based “meat production”
- It remains to be seen whether permaculture, “sustainable” farming practices, agro-ecology can deliver the volumes needed to feed the world without compromising the future of the planet and its diversity. Better farming practices can certainly help to maintain or perhaps regenerate biodiversity and ecosystem services, but can they keep up with population growth?
- Plenty of food is being produced at this point. It is the corrupt governments of countries that are allowing their people to starve even when aid is brought to them. As far as biodiversity, monoculture practices need to change and we need to encourage more free range and organic farming.
- If there is a good planner involved with some very creative thinking AND support of the producers it can be done.
- A few years ago, 45% of our food came from other countries; perhaps over half now. More varied local crops and seasonal local markets would help biodiversity and reduce transport costs.
- Generally environmental bottom lines are not adhered to: multiple use and values is a very difficult model to make work in practical terms
- Not sure, given global growth projections, but we’d damn well better try. I do believe we can (at least) do LESS ecosystem damage, grow better quality food, and transport, store and process it less.
- It’s going to take a commitment from the farming section, and government at all levels to partner and find innovative, sustainable, and cost effective solutions.
- Depends on techniques used, organic farming or farming using chemicals, etc. It also depends on if farmers are farming to the physical edge of an area.
- Will be a possibility when the world’s population is brought back to carrying capacity.
Striving toward sustainability in agriculture is great. But how, exactly, to you recommend measuring sustainability? As one reader put it, “that would be a dissertation, not a comment box.” Nonetheless, many of you offered your suggestions:
- Quality and quantity of food produced.
- Carbon footprint fertilizer and pesticide inputs soil loss soil fertility.
- Net gain in native biological production and ecosystem services.
- Net import of energy and net export of pollutants; impacts to surrounding ecosystem including site and regional hydrology and habitat.
- Amount of goods that are produced locally and distributed to local retailers/consumers.
- Maintain/avoid existing natural areas and promote non-conventional farming practices through education and incentives.
- Measured by planetary health measures: biodiversity levels, population balance, reduced pace of global climate change, species no longer rushing to extinction, new ways of sustaining the earth.
- Economic, social and environmental sustainability need to be assessed but environmental sustainability is the core: i.e. the “hard sustainability” model. There should be no net loss of species or habitats.
- Somehow determining what the ‘maximum’ food production for a ‘system’ might be that allows the accompanying ecosystem to sustain or improve and measuring against that determination.
- Depth of “living” soil and increase of depth of living soil. Soil crop rows.jpg
- Can the land support quality nutritional crops that produce heritage seeds and sustain a human population?
- By its ability to function with mostly local inputs.
- Productivity should not be measured by output of produce, but by the overall health of and increase of biodiversity & nutrient flow on a site. There are areas of the world that have long-term, sustainable agriculture such as 2,000 year old Moroccan Food Forests.
- Create quantitative values for sustainability, e.g. carbon credits to create second and third bottom lines for commerce and create financial incentives to “tip” the market.
- By developing an agricultural sustainability tool that measures (or scores) the sustainability practices in use on a farm compared to the amount of acres actively used while measuring production output.
- Insect and plant diversity.
- Soil condition, diversity over time and space, plant and insect tolerance to pesticides as indicator of overuse.
- Amount of output (harvest) measured against the amount of harm to the environment.
- Estimate the ecosystem services (not in monetary value, but in scientific quantities such as carbon dioxide sequestered) that would have been provided by the native flora and fauna in the pre-developed state. Measure the ecosystem services after agroecological principles are applied to the post-developed/farmed land.
- Carrying capacity of the system versus output, fuel used from seed to table, water recharge, soil conservation per unit of food production, anything that links the inputs with outputs in terms of efficiency and sustainability.
- The measure of sustainability is historical consistency. When we’ve struck a balance between the management of agriculture and the natural environment, it is one that, while cyclical, is static.
76% of you believe that principles of agroecology can be applied anywhere food is grown (at any scale; in any part of the world. The rest of you disagree. Here’s what some of you had to say:
- More education is needed especially in the third world countries. For example: Give people a flock of ducks and teach them tradition methods for raising, breeding, harvesting and selling. A community can quickly become self supportive as well as gain self-esteem and pride in themselves and their community.
- Less economically advanced countries may not have the resources needed.
- It will take profound political will and change of direction.
- I think they already were, for the first 99% of those 10K years. Now it will require MAJOR social-political rethinking, especially in places where the power-holders get rich off export crops.
- Subsistence farming does not provide incentives. You can be too impoverished to want to take the necessary risks.
- Education is the key. Farmers must be shown how and why such practices are important.
- Principles, yes. They must be broad in scope and flexible. In the bread basket where I live, we are losing valuable groundwater resources from unsustainable irrigation from the Ogallalah Aquifer. We need to find better ways of deriving profit from the land that don’t require constant watering, while trying to provide some ecosystem services.
- Diversity of scale is as important as diversity of plants.
- In the poorest of countries, it would be more difficult. In more developed countries, it could be possible, and particularly if the political arena is favorable.
We were curious to know what incentive(s) you think should be offered to farmers to encourage the enhancement and protection of ecosystem services on farmland. Many of you mentioned tax breaks and credits. Here are some of your other comments and suggestions:
- First off, remove perverse subsidies (e.g. corn for corn syrup). Farmers here in NC have tons of subsidies to do conservation practices. It’s the subsidies that encourage monocropping and policies that encourage resource-intensive agricultural products that need to be REMOVED first.
- Hobby farmers will follow practices that challenge them and give them enjoyment. Commercial farms must be given practical, monetary incentives.
- Subsidies contingent on protecting and/or regenerating ecosystem services.
- Organic farmers should be given tax breaks. There should be more laws, whether state or federal, discouraging the use of pesticides and hormones. Farmers should be given grants to assist them in incorporating more environmentally friendly practices.
- Funding/low-interest loans for transition costs.
- The most effective incentives would need to be determined by qualified, diverse teams at a more local scale, since what works best in one area could be ineffective, at best, to actually detrimental, at worst, in another area.
- Intrinsic incentives: our lives and the lives of our children and the lives of other plants and animals will be healthier and richer in our balance with mother earth.
- Use a cap and trade system.
- The money will win out. Use a cooperative stake in productive processes to manage the commons.
- Marketing assistance; priority in government purchasing; monetary
- Crop/farm subsidies shifted from things like corn and milk to small, local/regional farming operations.
- A limited time property tax rebate like in Woodbury County, Iowa.
- I believe in removing tariffs and subsidies on industrial agriculture worldwide, especially in developed western countries like the USA.
- Financial incentives to do it “right”, growing the “right” crops for human sustenance … not to grow as much as possible for economic gain. An example might be in Switzerland, where some of the farmers are given government subsidies to continue farming in the old tradition.
- Higher prices for higher quality food.
- Better market prices for documented best practices. Subsidies to revegetate some areas; research into crops that are better able to withstand environmental conditions such as reduced rainfall, salinity, etc.
- Assistance to switch to non-industrialized practices, marketing and market development and investment in public engagement and agroecological literacy for the average person.
- In developed nations they should be required to protect ecosystems because their actions always affect resources outside their direct area of influence.
- Ecosystem services can not be monetized to any significant extent without introducing inflation that makes farmers worse off. Education and further development of ways to support ecosystem functions of farmland is the best alternative. Developing a consciousness in farmers of their role in preserving our planet and developing more benign farming methods that still result in good yields are the best approaches.
- Education, co-op transportation and marketing, reimbursement for loss of production land to increase buffers.
- Methods to make their life easier. For each type of farmer, find the most difficult problem and help them solve it in a sustainable manner.
- Open up free-market (no subsidies for agribusiness) and improvements to infrastructure to provide ways to get crops to market.
- Some type of special designation, such as “sustainably-grown” – grants and technical support – tax breaks.
- Society will have to place a value ($) on these ecosystem services, then either credits or direct payments to the farmer will have to paid for these services.
- Hard cold cash baby. As consumers, we can buy their products. As governments, we can give them the money that would’ve been spent to mitigate problems avoided.
- Capital financing, priority access to markets.
- Longevity of the farm, crops, and sustainability without dependency on other groups that do not have a vested agriculture interest.
- Restoration taxes or fees for non farmland property owners.
- There should be no superficial incentives. While this might be an overtly optimistic outlook, sustainable farming practices should offer enough natural benefit – improved crops, community, quality of life, living situation – that outside incentives would not be necessary. This, of course, demands that the entire global farming system needs to be readdressed so that the focus is shifted to promotion of long-term development instead of short-term gain.
Many of you would like to see a removal of subsidies to “corporate agrobusiness conglomorates.” Other programs and policies you’d like to see put into place to ensure the long-term viability of agroecology include:
- Change any policy that encourages us to obtain vast quantities of basic foodstuffs from abroad that are possible to grow domestically. The end of cheap oil will help.
- Government funding for research and policy implementation based on research results. Initiate policies at federal level to address most efficient methods/incentives for maintaining agroecology.
- This is a huge topic: policies needed to protect environmental sustainability; in New Zealand this means an upgrading of the Resource Management Act and proper monitoring of the State of the Environment. Education programmes to instill ecological understanding into all aspects of the farming operation. Better monitoring of resource development and use by local government. Proper environmental accounting i.e. real costs of usage and degradation of air, water and soil built into to economic models i.e. environmental and biodiversity are not free resources which can be owned/controlled by a small number of private individuals.
- Animal registration & food safety regulations should be different for short-term local vs. long-term national food storage & distribution.
- More stringent monitoring of water quality. Highlight and publicize good farm management examples. Farmers are great at looking over the fence to see what their progressive neighbors are doing.
- In the US income maintenance and universal health care. The research and education services encompassed in “extension service” have been very successful in introducing conservation and production practices.
- Transparent uniform labeling of foods that include ‘sustainability” factors.
- Look at cost analysis and comparisons of true cots accounting for various means of food production – including loss or gain of ecological services and tangential benefits, look at cost recovery and incentive support through tax shifting.
- Tax subsidies and federal aid for conversion to more ecological practices in farm management. Stronger education programs to train farmers in the new practices along with continued funding of research to develop better methods.
- A national insurance policy to guarantee that farmers who convert their farms to organic or practice other ecological methods will not fail in the first years after conversion.
- Reduce subsidies to current practice and continue work to modify markets to recognize this practice is better for the planet, humans, and sustainability of the environments that we know (and will continue to learn about). Identification of markets of certain areas to take advantage of climate. Build incubator systems, whereby, a transition will move business in this area from research and development into practice.
- Education and policies that support long-term sustainability rather than short term short lived productivity.
- There are several institutions that are already charged with regulating agriculture. The trick is to shift their focus to developing long-term sustainable solutions. Policies should reward positive growth and exploration of new methods.
A Growing Movement In The Concrete Jungle
By Nicole Stern, Ecological Designer
The word agriculture conjures images of vast, rural, rolling farm fields, quite apart from any dense city life. Large trucks with pictures of these same farm fields drive down the highway, sometimes across the country, to deliver this produce from rural to urban locations. With the coupling of population shifting to urban areas and a rise in fuel prices, what if we grew food, not just local to the area around the city, but in the city itself? Many urban farmers are doing just that through farming small pieces of land, forming community gardens on empty urban lots, converting their yards to edible planting, growing vegetables in pots on balconies, using edible plants as ornamental landscaping, combining urban art with food growing, or even growing food on rooftops and walls. The following snapshots of communities and individuals growing food in unconventional settings show the full spectrum of urban agriculture types.
Small farms within suburban communities can be tremendously productive. Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA utilizes a 12-acre site surrounded by suburban homes to grow over 100 types of fruits and vegetables organically. One of the many innovative techniques Fairview farmers use is to alternate which species are planted next to one another within the planted rows as an organic pest control measure (if a pest prefers one type of plant, their damage will be limited). Members of the surrounding community come to the farm to buy Fairview’s products at their produce stand, join their community supported agriculture (CSA) program, or find these products at the local farmer’s market. (
John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, promotes an extremely efficient method of growing your own food through a technique called “Biointensive” gardening. Through smart methods of digging, crop rotation, planting times, and companion planting, Jeavons maps out a method to grow an entire diet of food on very little land (for example, feeding a family of four on half an acre of land). Biointensive gardening is an ideal technique for community gardening within the city as well.
Networks of community gardens are taking back vacant lots to grow food, revitalize neighborhoods, and create cooperative communities. A walk around New York City reveals fenced in community gardens in every borough. At GreenThumb www.greenthumbnyc.org, residents can search for a community garden in their area. GreenThumb is the nation’s largest urban gardening program. Community garden.jpg. Since the network’s start in 1978, the program has grown to 600 gardens and 20,000 members with each garden having a minimum of ten members.
A growing number of home owners (or anyone with control of a patch of dirt around their living space) are replacing lawns and ornamental landscaping with edible plants. The “Edible Estates” project by Fritz Haeg has installed prototype gardens around the country to demonstrate how a front lawn can be converted to a productive food garden.
Even those without ground to plant in can grow vegetables and herbs in pots on small patios, balconies, on rooftops, walls, or indoors, even using productive planting as art. A summer 2008 exhibition at the PS1 Contemporary Art Museum in Brooklyn, NY, “Public Farm 1”, uses suspended cardboard tubes planted with vegetables as an art piece (). At Trent University in Canada, professors and students use the roof of the Environmental Sciences building for sustainable agriculture. The produce is used by local groups including a nearby café.
Why stop at using horizontal land and roof-tops for urban agriculture? Another exciting technology gaining recent popularity is the living wall (or green wall). One company that produces a modular vertical planting system to install on wall surfaces, Green Living Technologies,has recently completed a project with Urban Farming to build a living wall in a low-income area of Los Angeles. The “Urban Farming Food Chain” wall, to be maintained by local residents, is planted with tomatoes, leeks, cucumbers, strawberries, and other edible plants. ELT Living Walls sells small living wall kits to hang on indoor walls. These mini living walls can be planted with lettuce, herbs, or other edible plants – even apartment dwellers can grow their own food. For anyone not living in rural farm country, one or more of these types of urban agriculture is applicable to your home or neighborhood. The reasons to grow your own food or support local urban agriculture are numerous and growing. Urban agriculture re-connects people to where their food comes from, reduces dependence on non-renewable fuels, utilizes wasted urban spaces, saves money, creates community, can bring life to urban landscapes, and is a key ingredient global food security for a sustainable future.
In addition to the many links that appear throughout this issue (including those you provided in response to our survey), we have gathered the following recommended resources on agroecology.
For starters, check out The Land Institute’s list of publications.
Here are some more helpful links:
American Farmland Trust (AFT) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting U.S. strategic agricultural resources
Bioneers is a forum for connecting the environment, health, social justice, and spirit within a broad progressive framework.
The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First shapes how people think by analyzing the root causes of global hunger, poverty, and ecological degradation and developing solutions in partnership with movements working for social change.
The Intervale Center supports financially viable and environmentally sustainable agriculture. We manage 354 acres of farmland, nursery, compost production, trails, and wildlife corridors along the WinooskiRiver in Burlington, Vermont, and we share what we do and what we learn with others around the state and throughout the world.
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service is managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and is funded under a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. It provides information and other technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, educators, and others involved in sustainable agriculture in the United States.
The Land Stewardship Project is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1982 to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture and to develop sustainable communities.
LocalHarvest helps people find products from family farms, local sources of sustainably grown food, and encourages them to establish direct contact with small farms in their local area.
The Rainforest Alliance’s agriculture program supports the international secretariat of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a coalition of leading conservation groups that links responsible farmers with conscientious consumers by means of the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal of approval.
Winrock International is a non-profit organization that provides esearch, training, policy analysis and institutional development to improve agricultural productivity, sustainability and income in developing countries
Relevant News Links
Biohabitats Projects, Places and People
Looking Beyond The Banks Of Crestwood Lake
Located between the Village of Tuckahoe and the City of Yonkers in Westchester County, New York, Crestwood Lake is one of several in-line ponds along the Bronx River, and a part of the larger Bronx River Parkway Reservation. Covering approximately 10 acres, the Lake receives water from a 33 square mile, highly developed urban/suburban watershed with very little stormwater management. The Lake is an important component of the County’s public open space, but over the years, it has experienced excessive sedimentation. The resulting, frequent need for dredging has also made it a rather costly feature to maintain. In an effort to help the Westchester County Department of Planning enhance the ecological, recreational and aesthetic values of the lake and also lessen the need for future dredging, we teamed with partners HydroQual and Soil Testing Inc. and developed series of three restoration concepts. Crestwood 2 Each concept addressed the issues of water quality, flood control, habitat restoration, recreation, aesthetics and historic preservation and attempted to balance the objectives of various County departments and stakeholders. By allowing this conceptual planning process, and by including such a multitude of voices, the County was able to broaden its view and consider our recommendation that in order to seriously address the excess sediment and flooding of CrestwoodLake, a system-based, watershed-wide approach would be needed.
From Flash To Flow
The headwater tributary you see in this photo was once a perennial stream. But with upstream and surrounding development in this suburban watershed in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, it had become storm dominated, intermittent and severely (we’re talking 12 feet) incised. Recognizing the need for innovative stream restoration, the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works turned to Biohabitats and teammate Underwood & Associates. We developed a restoration concept that involved filling the incised channel with porous granular material (i.e., sand) with a high carbon content (i.e., shredded wood) held in place with grade control weirs and cobble riffles. The concept also incorporates several energy dissipation pools to provide energy reduction and infiltration. As the flow ramps up and fills the initial pool, seepage through the granular channel fill will begin its sub-surface seepage down the channel bed. Ultimately, water will flow through the channel downstream with much less velocity, volume, and erosion potential. The concept also creates approximately one acre of wetland and one acre-foot of water quality treatment. Our full design work is just about done, and we look forward to watching this transformation come to life as we provide construction oversight.
Adding Curve Appeal In Texas
The Cypress Creek watershed is a 320 square mile basin in Harris and Waller Counties, Texas. At approximately 45 miles in length, the headwaters of the watershed are relatively undeveloped, but transition into the developed urban landscape of Houston’s outer suburbs. Recognizing the need to maintain flood control, but restore ecological function within the watershed, the Harris County Flood Control District asked us to assess the entire watershed and develop concepts for stream restoration.
Various ecological restoration approaches were identified to address channel instability, flood storage, in-stream habitat enhancement, and riparian enhancement. Ultimately, we were contracted to design the restoration of a 2,000 linear foot section of Cypress Creek that was actively eroding near a park playground. The restoration is now serving as a demonstration project to showcase the use of natural channel design in addressing channel stability.
Preserving Ways In Coastal Bays
Maryland’s coastal bays make up one of the richest, most diverse estuaries on the eastern seaboard, and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program intends to keep it that way. A partnership of federal, state and local government agencies and the people who depend on the bays for their livelihood and quality of life, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program developed a comprehensive conservation and management plan to protect and restore the health of these precious resources. As part of the plan, and in an effort to provide fish passage and water quality treatment for a drainage area used mainly for chicken food production and waste application, the Program initiated an ecosystem restoration project in an area known as the Bishopville Pond, near Ocean City, Maryland.
Working in collaboration with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Maryland State Highway Administration’s Environmental Programs Division, the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Worcester County, Biohabitats and our partner Underwood & Associates, developed a design that includes: the restoration of an existing sand mine with 32 acres of non-tidal wetland; stream restoration in an approximately 4000-ft long ditched portion of Buntings Branch, a tributary to the Saint Martens River, one of the worst non-attainment areas in Maryland; and the restoration of fish passage through the Bishopville Pond using a natural channel design as a pass through an existing sheet steel dam. Finally, the restoration project will be planted with genetic stock from the Coastal Bays region once locally abundant but now essentially rare elements in the landscape. In keeping with the Program’s overall focus on stewardship, the planting effort will be handled as a project with local schools, watershed associations, and State and County organized volunteers.
We were delighted to read in this Ohio EPA Biological and Water Quality Report of the water quality improvements that have taken place since our work on the Kent Dam modification project in Kent, Ohio. Check it out!
More Good News
We are pleased to announce that we were recently awarded a $1.26 million contract from the Philadelphia District of the Army Corps of Engineers to provide biological and environmental services related to terrestrial and freshwater civil works activities.
Biohabitats president Keith Bowers will cross the Atlantic for this year’s World Conservation Congress , October 5-11. The conference, hosted by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and taking place in Barcelona, brings together over 8,000 of the world’s leading environmental decision makers.
We are proud to once again sponsor Restore America’s Estuaries Conference on Coastal & Estuarine Habitat Restoration. This five-day event is is the only national conference focused on the goals and practices of coastal and estuarine habitat restoration. Biohabitats president, Keith Bowers, joins senior ecologists Joe Berg, Terry Doss and Ed Morgereth on an esteemed list of presenters.
October 14-15 won’t want to miss Water Resources Engineer Ted Brown’s presentation of Case Studies in Ecologically Sustainable Development.
Few people get excited about dirty sink water. Fortunately for us, our new Ecological Designer, Nicole Stern, is one of them. A landscape architect with a penchant for grey water and green design, Nicole specializes in designing closed-loop systems and sustainable landscapes. She brings over five years of expertise in water biofiltration and innovative design to the Biohabitats team. A certified massage therapist, Nicole also brings a unique understanding of how the connections between mind, body, and spirit contribute to ecological design.
Nicole holds an M.L.A. from PennsylvaniaStateUniversity and B.L.A. from CaliforniaPolytechnicStateUniversity. She has also studied landscape architecture in Australia, Spain, Portugal and the CzechRepublic. When she’s not healing humans or the natural environment, Nicole can be found hiking, camping, gardening, cooking or staring at a public bathroom sink while her creative wheels turn.
As a child, engineering intern Amy Longcrier dreamed of becoming a mermaid. Somewhere along the line, however, her career aspirations shifted toward the magical world of water drainage, a path no less enchanting for this Tennessee native with an interest in the health and sustainability of the planet. Before joining our team this summer, Amy worked for a land development firm in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was able to hone her skills in drainage engineering, CADD, computer modeling, and regulatory permitting. Amy holds a B.S. in Biosystems Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is also a registered Engineer Intern and a card carrying member of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Amy once hula hooped for two hours and eight minutes without stopping. When she is not busy drafting sustainable designs and playing with her hula hoop, Amy can probably be found in the water. When she needs to dry out, she also enjoys sports, camping, cooking and sewing. We’re glad Amy joined the Biohabitats team, and we think she fits in just swimmingly.
Fresh from the University of Maryland’s Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate program, water resources engineer Phil Jones was eager for an opportunity to work on cutting-edge projects to protect and restore the streams, wetlands, and forests of his native Maryland and beyond. Formerly with the LowImpactDevelopmentCenter, Phil’s expertise is in stormwater management and its connection to ecology and site design. Equally important, he has the valuable but rare ability to present and communicate technical information to a variety of audiences. An avid hiker and film buff, Phil is equally at home in the city or out on the trail.
For many true artists, the technical application of art can be a compromising – and daunting – challenge. Not so for Jean Wisenbaugh, our new graphic designer. With a resume that includes positions at Business Week magazine and, most recently, the Maryland Science Center, Jean has applied her talents in illustration, information graphics and graphic design to everything from greeting cards to molecular diagrams of pharmaceutical therapies. When she’s not at work putting complex information into a clear, compelling and accessible form, Jean can be found on a hiking trail, in her garden or with her nose in a book.
We are proud to add Nick Lindow to the Biohabitats team. And that’s not just because he brews his own beer. A water resources engineer with a Ph.D. in Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Nick brings loads of expertise in stream restoration, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, urban stormwater management and groundwater bioremediation. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, Nick is has a passion for the outdoors. He prefers field work over desk work, and spends much of his free time hiking, and biking. After a brief stint with a traditional, civil engineering firm, Nick was drawn to Biohabitats by our unique atmosphere and strong environmental ethic. A true native son, Nick earned all of his degrees, including a bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering and water resources, from North Carolina State University. Did we mention that he brews his own beer?