Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 22: Small-Scale Sustainable Agriculture in Broward, Florida

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This is the 22nd post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

This chapter is called Treehugger Organic Farm:  Visions for Small-Scale, Sustainable Agriculture in Broward, Florida and is by Thelma Velez. The chapter begins with a discussion of the legacy of the green revolution and its ecological repercussions. Velez defines the green revolution as a transition from small scale agriculture to more industrial and mechanized forms of food production. In the United States, this translates as much larger farms over time run by smaller numbers of farmers who often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. The ecological impacts of industrial farming are many. For example, soil erosion is quite high, nutrient pollution has increased, and pesticide use is problematic for ecosystems. In addition, a range of genetically modified organisms have replaced traditional natural crops.

Another important issue with food is that although there are over 2 million farms in the US, there are only a handful of powerful retailers, distributers, and processors that are responsible for bringing the food to consumers. Many of these actors are part of global corporations that serve as the bottleneck between farmers and consumers. Local food activists have been working to remove the bottleneck and bring consumers closer to food producers--particularly local food producers in urban and suburban settings. These farms take on a range of forms:  community sponsored farms, rooftop gardens, community gardens, famers markets, and school gardens. As Velez notes, these activities help communities reach their sustainability goals.

The case study in the chapter focuses on Treehuger Organic Farm, which was founded in 2012 on 4.6 acres of land in a mixed-use area of Davie, Florida which is located in the greater Miami area. The owner purchased the property to produce, in particular, fresh fruits and vegetables that were free of chemicals. He quickly brought on a team to help him develop the property into a producing farm in harmony with the local ecosystem. The team focused particularly on permaculture. 

There were some tough times as the farm developed. There were soil issues, tropical storms, and unexpected expenses. In addition, a community sponsored agricultural component of the farm never really took off. However, the farm expanded a range of permaculture plants--particularly fruit trees. Unfortunately, the owner eventually decided that it was in his best interest to sell the farm to a neighboring farmer.

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The author highlights in a lessons learned section of the chapter that while there were successes in terms of social and ecological sustainability, the farm had serious economic sustainability issues. The farm needed significant upfront investment and those investments were not fully returned and the farm was not ultimately economically sustainable. 

The chapter concludes that cities and suburbs often make it difficult for small farms to integrate within the broader landscape and that there are an array or rules that make it difficult for small-scale farmers. The author suggests that communities should consider how to better support these farmers since they play a big roles in enhancing community sustainability.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on urban farming.

1. What forms of urban agriculture were discussed in the chapter and what examples for them can you find in your community?

2. What environmental conditions did the farmers in Broward, Florida, face? What types of environmental conditions do farmers face in your community?

3. In the U.S. about half of all food retailing is managed by 5 companies. What are the impacts of this reality on small farms?

4. Small urban farms certainly produce food. However, they are often involved in other activities. What other things often fall within their mission?

5. What is the closed-loop concept within permaculture?

6. Why was it difficult for Treehugger farm to turn a profit?

7. Do communities have an obligations to financially support small farms if they prioritize sustainability and local agriculture?

8. What would you have done to try to keep Treehuger Farm in business?

Previous Entries in This Series

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