When folks find out that I am an organic farmer, the first question they ask is, “What do you do to control the pests?,” This surprises me—it’s as if they view all farming as some sort of heavily defensive act, that farmers are like generals in the field fighting off an endless invading force. My answer to the question is almost always received with some level of doubt and suspicion.
I tell people that pests and diseases are the result of a system out of balance. It’s no different for you or for me. If I push myself hard, don’t sleep, and don’t eat well, eventually I will get sick. Just like people, plants require a well-balanced environment to stay well. Plants under stress attract pests and diseases.
The best pest and disease strategy is to create the conditions for dynamic plant health. This starts by building and nurturing soils so that they are well balanced nutritionally and biologically and by providing growing conditions that are consistent and stable.
But even within the most well balanced biological system environmental or climatic conditions are such that pest or disease pressures can occur, and although an arsenal of biological and botanical materials is available for organic growers, we rarely spray anything unless the problem has reached a significant economic threshold. If the crop is so valuable that losing it means the farm may not be able to pay its bills, and if the pest or disease pressure is at a level that it will ruin most of that crop, then I will interfere. Otherwise the interference, the cost of the biological or botanical control material, the impact on the ecological system of the farm, are not worth it. We will let that crop go.
It is rare that this happens or that we ever have to implement any insect or disease controls. Our primary challenges are related to rodents, deer, birds, and, in some cases, humans. The best and least invasive strategy for these pests is exclusion, row covers, screening, fencing, and, for rodents, simple trapping.
Excerpted from “Street Farm: Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier” by Michael Ableman
Street Farm is the inspirational account of residents in the notorious Low Track in Vancouver, British Columbia―one of the worst urban slums in North America―who joined together to create an urban farm as a means of addressing the chronic problems in their neighborhood. It is a story of recovery, of land and food, of people, and of the power of farming and nourishing others as a way to heal our world and ourselves.
Michael Ableman is a farmer, author, photographer and urban and local food systems advocate. Michael has been farming organically since the 1970′s and is considered one of the pioneers of the organic farming and urban agriculture movements. Ableman is a frequent lecturer to audiences all over the world, and the winner of numerous awards for his work.