What is it?
A scientific field focused on practices that are sustainable alternatives to mainstream industrial agriculture. Rather than solely focusing on production efficiency and financial profit it is a more holistic approach that takes into consideration social and cultural factors as well as an ecosystem approach to agricultural and forestry systems.
The relationship between agricultural and/or forestry and the biological and sociocultural context within it exists are given importance in designing systems that fit with the triple bottom line: benefit people, profit and the earth. Additionally, emphasis is placed on building healthy and functional communities in relation to food and forest products rather than valuing the success of an individual over the whole.
It’s important to note that agroecology includes more than sustainable vegetable, grain and fruit agriculture systems. Growing tree crops, both for timber, fiber or non-timber products such as medicinal plants or decorative materials from the woods are equally important to human systems.
Why does it matter?
Agroecology is more than a scientific field, it’s a way of thinking about producing food and meeting human needs that encapsulates many of the practices that are related to community food forests like agroforestry, permaculture, organic production, community supported agriculture and many others. It’s a way of thinking that allows us to be creative and intentional in designing a system to meet needs rather than just apply a prescription practice based on producing potential financial gains.
It also matters because it provides an umbrella term. We are often a reductionist society breaking down ideas, science, concepts, etc. into tiny little parts to understand them. Now we are realizing we need to fit them back together and understand them in context of their relationships to each other, to us and to world to continue developing our knowledge. We need to understand how parts function on their own and how they relate and can be grouped together. Agroecology gives us a broad term and way of thinking that provides a conceptual net for catching a variety of practices that we can then pull out and use in experimental recipes to achieve the specific objectives for each unique situation of producing goods from nature.
Thoughts and questions…What do you think?
Thinking in an agroecological way means we are aware that how we cultivate, manage and use plants reflects our cultural values of natural ecosystems and how we view ourselves as part of nature or apart from it. If we see ourselves apart from nature does that mean we see ourselves as a part of a world that is not integrated with nature? That has authoritative right over nature? Are we insignificant parts of nature that are really at its whims? Are we stewards? Are we creators or caretakers? Do we have more than one role? Is there a “nature” and an “us”? Does nature exist without us or us without nature? I know my thoughts on that, but what are yours? Using an agroecological frame- what societal and cultural values are reflected in community food forests?