As farms have sought greater financial efficiency, there has been a rise in monocultures and specialised farm operations. This move away from traditionally diverse farms has damaged the environment and has resulted in less nutritious food production.
Olivier De Schutter, the former Special Rapporteur on The Right to Food to the UN – suggests that it is ‘the maintenance or introduction of agricultural biodiversity (diversity of crops, livestock, agroforestry, fish, pollinators, insects, soil biota and other components that occur in and around production systems)’ that is required to achieve both ‘production and sustainability’.
‘In addition’ writes De Schutter ‘the diversity of species and of farm activities that agroecological approaches allow are ways to mitigate risks from extreme weather events, as well as from the invasion of new pests, weeds and diseases, that will result from global warming’.
The Stream Farm Experience
Smaller, diversified operations can utilise the unique topography of their farmland. At Stream Farm we use our watercourses for our rainbow trout, our south-facing slopes to grow apples, and our steep pasture for grazing sheep.
Our blend of farming activities allows for a largely closed system which is characterised by low reliance on inputs, no waste and symbiotic relationships between our farming areas. Our hens and chickens produce nitrogen-rich manure for our orchard, our bees pollinate the clovers in our grazing pasture and our apple blossom, producing honey in the process, our spring supplies our livestock with water and our cattle graze the long grasses down in order that the sheep may follow them. In the winter our cattle and sheep eat the grass we cut in the summer, their manure is collected from the barns and spread back onto land, replenishing the fertility, structure and water-holding capacity of top soils. Nothing is wasted!
Such a mix of farming activity fosters biodiversity far better than damaging monocultures that destroy hedgerows, woodland and soils. Stream Farm has a network of deep hedgerows (many of which we have restored) which play host to the dormouse and the hedgehog – and guide the bats as they navigate the fields. Large areas of woodland provide nesting grounds for barn owls, buzzards and woodpeckers. Land set aside as gorse is perfect for the fox to build her den. The grazing pastures, free from chemical sprays, are inhabited by woodcock, butterflies, hares, voles, a family of deer and, very often, many moles. Our clover leys provide forage for our honey bees. The lush water meadow and stream banks, frequently flooded in the wetter months, are frequented by herons, moorhens, otters and mink. The many waterways and ponds are teeming with crayfish, tadpoles, newts, frogs and toads. Slow worms, grass snakes and lizards find plenty of prey in the dense vegetation around our field borders. And of course our organic soil, annually replenished by animal manures and composted straw, provides the perfect home for earthworms, slugs, wild mushrooms, the many bacteria and fungi that work to maintain soil fertility and create an increasing biomass.
For more reading about the importance of good soil we recommend the CPRE report ‘Back to the land: rethinking our approach to soil‘, December 2018.