Blog: Patrick Crouch

How does your garden grow? Rather than silver bells and cockle shells, perennially practical Detroiters are turning city wasteland into food for the masses. Patrick Crouch, program manager of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthworks Urban Farm, will plant his ideas about food justice and permaculture in our heads this season.

Post 3: Toward a regenerative culture, toward a regenerative community

Sustainability is all the rage, but when we challenge ourselves to come up with creative solutions, why stop at sustainability?  Why not have a goal of regeneration for our planet and our people?  Why not the goal of making things better instead of just being sustainable?

Food is one of our most basic needs, and yet our current system causes huge amounts of destruction to our society and our environment in the process of food production.  I question if something so important as food should even be allowed to be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market. I'm of the opinion that we should treat safe food as a right of all people, just the same as access to air, fresh water, and shelter.

What would a regenerative agricultural system look like?  I'm not altogether certain, but I do think there are some basic values that will be important.

Respect for all.  That means people, plants, animals, soils, and water are not seen as just commodities.  This means no poisoning and exploiting workers and giving them fair wages. This means giving animals the chance to act as animals, not confined protein generators as they are now.  This means protecting our soils and waters.
Diverse.  Both in the forms of crops and the people growing them.  Unless you count migrant laborers, women and minorities are completely underrepresented in the farming community.    A multitude of crops and animals should be grown, both to reduce chances of crop loss and to create better integrated systems.

Efficient.  Currently one farmer feeds 144 people.  You might say that's efficient, but I think we need to view efficiency in a different light.  That sounds like a lot of unemployed people.  Human, animal, and plant power are more efficient than almost any device we can design.  Try powering a tractor on hay – maybe if you turn it into ethanol, but its waste can't be used to fertilize the soil, like a horse's can. And it's still going to be putting out carbon dioxide, and don't get me started on the embodied energy in the tractor.

Decentralized.  Currently food travels an average of 1,400 miles from seed to plate. That's hugely wasteful as well as very dangerous.  Our current food scares are related to these huge centralized processing systems where small problems turn into big ones. Plus local food systems are more stable and better able to serve the people that live in the area.

Small.  Large farms have only come into existence as a result of mechanization.  As we move to a more regenerative agriculture we have to rely less and less on brute force and more on thoughtful thinking and finesse.  This means we need to shrink down so we can manage these more complex systems.  This also means that more people will be in control of land, greatly increasing the population's access to true wealth.  Small farms make much more efficient use of land, since they can't afford to waste land.

Perennial-based.  Annual crop farming is hugely wasteful on so many levels by comparison to perennial crops.  As we move forward, perennial crops will be more and more our focus. Perennial crops conserve top soils, sequester carbon, and increase soil fertility.

Community minded.  Farmers must stop calling the people that eat the food they produce consumers and start calling them what they should be, friends and neighbors.  Agriculture should build community rather than devastate it.  Smaller farms can support more people farming, as well as more folks supplying the needs of the farmers.

Petroleum independent.  While all of this might sound like a nostalgic quaint agrarian dream, what I am talking about is not a return to past times.  Our current food system is completely reliant on petroleum, and like it or not, that system will soon collapse.  Small scale community-based agriculture will be crucial for us to be able to provide for ourselves in the post-petroleum economy.

Just.  There is no way for us to regenerate our world or our community while injustice prevails.

For further inspiration of what regenerative agriculture could look like, I recommend looking at the writings of folks like Bill Mollison and John Todd, but I also recommend a walk in the woods.  Though 3.5 billion years of trial and error, nature has worked out the most efficient systems in the world. We would be smart to take our cues from her.