This is Part 1 of my main take-aways from listening to the Food Secure Canada webinar on Agroecology: Integrating Science, Practice, and Social Justice. If you missed it- you can still watch the recording online and see the pdf of slides here.
One point made during the webinar is that agroecology, just about 8 years ago, was still relatively invisible or unknown, whereas now it is becoming part of the typical language used in discussions on agriculture policies and re-establishing local food systems.
Take-away: If you are working with community food forests or urban food forestry in general- agroecology should be part of your vocabulary. Once you have a grasp on what it encompasses as a philosophy, research field, and practice, then you can help spread knowledge about it to others you work with.
Listening to the 1 hr webinar at the end of the post will help you get a better understanding of the word in all its meanings. The webinar is driven by the question: While agroecology has become increasingly popular in discussions of food system sustainability, what does it actually mean, and how can we use agroecology principles and practices to transform our food system?
Agroecology Summary- Science & Practice
Agroecology is a field that respectfully builds on local knowledge and practices to support local people’s ability to innovate and experiment rather than taking a top down approach. It is very much a bottom-up approach- meaning the information, practices, technologies and knowledge originate at the local level with everyday people that are doing the work on the ground. Universities, organizations, and agencies get involved to support what is being done by adopting research to improve or better understand the practices and to inform funding opportunities and policies.
Agroecology is focused on re-embedding agriculture in nature, where it originated from, and was at one time, more in harmony with. Agroecological research includes topics like inter-cropping, companion planting, niche-partitioning, including functional species in planting combinations, and increasing biodiversity as a part of pest management. When biodiversity increases, the need for pest management decreases because attacks by one pest getting out of control should be minimized. The diversity of plant species attracts a diversity of insects and fauna increasing the amount of natural predators present in the system. All of this highly relates to food forest ecosystems and configurations. If you are interested in agroecological research findings you will be able to find them associated with three main research fields: process-based modeling, agronomy, and landscape ecology.
The Major Take-Away: Community Food Forests Should be Serving as Sources of Plant Genetic Material
The major take-away that I think is highly applicable to community food forests? Using these projects as sources of regionally acclimated germplasm such as living plants that can be used for vegetative propagation or seed sources. There are already a handful of community food forests and orchards experimenting with this idea through either creating seed libraries that are connected to the site (such as Basalt Food Park) or using the site to test different varieties and cultivars that produce best in the local conditions. Did I just use a bunch of words that are potentially confusing? I’ll break some of them down below.
Germplasm– living tissue from which new plants can be grown- meaning it could be seed or it could be a plant cutting to stick in the ground elsewhere to grow the same plant or cultivated in water or a rooting medium until new roots grow from the cutting and then it can be planted. Germplasm could even be pollen or another living source of a plant that is considered a genetic resource.
Seed Library– A way to save seeds in a community, catalog them, and share them with others to produce more of the same plants and seeds while increasing the acclimation, tolerance and resiliency to local conditions.
A variety is a natural variety- meaning a plant found in growing in nature is a variety of a fruit, nut, etc. Plants grown from the seed will be similar to the original plant.
A cultivar is a cultivated variety- meaning humans intervened to help produce desire characteristics and results. Typically plants are cultivated from a cutting of the originally cultivated plant (vegetatively propagated) in order to reproduce the same results. Growing cultivars from seed may not retain the same characteristics of the parent plant so results are variable.
Community food forests serving as local germplasm sources is an important topic that I will be expanding on more next week in another post that explores information from the webinar on participatory plant breeding. I will also discuss how to relate all of this to meaningful community food forest planning and integration into regional food security. For now here’s a direct link to the webinar- watch it over Saturday breakfast! 🙂