Part 2: Antifragile Agriculture: Food systems that gain from disorder

Yesterday, I highlighted the fragilities of the current food system with its dependence on mined resources in the post The Next 10000 Years of Agriculture. We must focus our energy on finding the best long term solutions. To do this we must take the operations of Sepp Holzer, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin, and Bill Mollison, copy them and improve them. 

Antifragility is a word that needs to be brought into the conversation around food. It was coined by Nassim Taleb, (a top modern philosopher in my opinion). He classified things into three classes: fragile, robust, and antifragile. The example given in the book Antifragile most applicable to the food system in the following: New York City’s restaurant industry is antifragile. Every bankrupt restaurateur improves the overall quality of the food, because the remaining restaurants must innovate to create better and better food.

If we have many ecologically designed farms, with tinkering and experimentation similar to what top chefs are doing with food, we will discover new methods to help feed the world.

We should strive for an antifragile system, with all food production gaining from individual experimentation. If large gains come from tinkering individuals, we have large upside collectively and low downside collectively. Our current system has large risk of downside, with little foreseeable upside.

The current risks to the food production system:

  • Dependence on fossil fuels
  • Dependence on fossil aquifers
  • Dependence on chemical fertilizers
  • Dependence on chemical pesticides
  • Risk of weeds resistance to pesticides
  • Risks of GMOs
  • Topsoil loss
  • Dependence on commodity markets for grain and fuel

I have not thought of how an individual farm can be antifragile, so we must make farms as robust as possible. To make the whole food system robust, we need more homesteads with home gardens and deep pantries. Since grocery stores only have enough food for a few days, we should add redundancy to our homes in case of emergency (i.e, snowstorm or hurricane). Localized food production is important in case of a break down in the national or global supply chain. Even if it was just a week, there probably isn’t enough food in the stores.

Robust farms will have the following characteristics (comment more if you think of any):

  • Diversified production
  • Minimal dependence on fossil fuels
  • No dependence on irrigation
  • No dependence on chemical fertility

An example of a more robust, diversified food system: Salatin’s Barbell

I’m excited to hear feedback on this subject, post any disagreements or other ideas to the comments!

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