By. Sarah Chun
It was a sunny but brisk morning as I made my way towards the urban farm for my manager duties: irrigating and composting. I turned the corner onto Wooster Street when I saw a pair of squirrels scamper past me and through the grass. Once I entered, I noticed the same pair and a small gathering of birds at one of the seedbeds. I shooed them away and my presence was enough to keep them away. However, this lead me to think about the many other pests such as weeds and fungi that are also prevalent among many gardens and farms. How do we minimize the damage that they inflict on our vegetation?
Often times, in industrial farming, pesticides are used to eliminate or control a variety of agricultural pests that can damage crops and reduce farm productivity. According to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) information on U.S. pesticide usage, over 1 billion tons of pesticides are used in the U.S. and 5.2 billion pounds worldwide every year. The problem with such enormous utilization is the fact that exposure to these harmful chemicals can affect and impact our health and environment greatly. It can lead to loss of biodiversity, water pollution, soil contamination, and pest resistance, which results in the need for increased application. Pesticide is also linked to a number of health problems, including neurologic and endocrine/hormone system disorders, birth defects, cancer, and other diseases.
So what are some alternative ways to combat this issue? As many have been doing in the past several years, you can opt to purchase and consume organic goods or, as we have done, start sustainable farming. It does not have to be an overwhelming project; it can start with small steps in your own backyard or community.
Sustainable farms practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a variety of techniques to eliminate pests while minimizing environmental damage. This can include growing pest-resistant crop varieties, using predatory insects to kill plant-eating pests, employing mechanical pest traps, and eliminating pest nesting areas by plowing under harvested crop. It also helps a great deal to rotate crops and/or intercrop when farming. This replenishes nutrients removed from the soil while breaking pest cycles, helping to reduce weeds, and encouraging plant diversity. So with the choice that you have, where would you start?