As I was doing research for this month’s blog, I stumbled across something I hadn’t put much thought in before: biodiversity. It’s an official-sounding term that plays an important role in our everyday lives.
Imagine it this way: One field is covered solely with one type of plant, with only a few weeds here and there breaking up the monoculture. The field next to it has over ten different species of plants (not including weeds) in the same amount of space. With its wide variety of green material, the latter example is clearly more plant-biodiverse than the former. And this field with many species? That’s Freedom Foods.
But what makes biodiversity so important?
Our entire ecosystem is based off of the interactions between the different life-forms—between the birds and the insects, the plants and the animals. Having a large and genetically diverse set of organisms in the same area can lower disease pressure, reduce soil erosion, help with soil nutrient depletion, and provide an environment where plants grow well and support both humans and animals. The more we work within nature (e.g., farming), the greater the potential for something to go out of balance and cause problems for us and the other organisms that live here.
How can we keep this dilemma from happening? It turns out that natural-friendly farming just might be part of the answer!
Studies suggest that natural-friendly farms like ours tend to have higher biodiversity. Without no herbicide use, the native plants along the field edges are able to thrive. Pollinator populations such as bees also benefit. Meanwhile, careful soil practices can increase microbial populations in the soil. In turn, this increase in soil biodiversity leads to healthier soil—and healthy soil can accommodate a large variety of plants. Another way that natural farms frequently have higher biodiversity than a conventional farm is because they tend to grow many different crops on the same land. In our case, we have up to fourteen types of vegetables growing together on the same fifteen acres.
While monocultures such as the wheat-fields of Kansas and the cornfields of Indiana definitely have their purpose and place, we are excited to discover that our small farm is doing its part to keep the local ecosystem flourishing.
Wanting to dig in deeper? Check out these publications.
BENGTSSON, J., AHNSTRÖM, J. and WEIBULL, A.-C. (2005), The effects of natural agriculture on biodiversity and abundance: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42: 261–269. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2005.01005.x <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2005.01005.x/full>
Nascimbene, J., Marini, L., & Paoletti, M. G. (2012). Organic farming benefits local plant diversity in vineyard farms located in intensive agricultural landscapes. Environmental Management, 49(5), 1054-60. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.purdue.edu/10.1007/s00267-012-9834-5
Rundlöf, M., Edlund, M. and Smith, H. G. (2010), Organic farming at local and landscape scales benefits plant diversity. Ecography, 33: 514–522. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0587.2009.05938.x