“Sustainability” has become a buzz word lately, with farmers around the world seeking to maximize profit while minimizing environmental impact. It takes a lot of time, money, and planning to create a sustainable agricultural system, and there is not a simple copy and paste system that will fit each farm. How, then, can we create and maintain a sustainable balance of give and take with our environment? Here at UGACR, we believe site-specific integrated farming is the answer, based on the specific goals of each farming operation.
Integrated farming is a management system customizable for and applicable to any agricultural system. It is a more holistic approach, focusing on the preservation of energy and nutrients and the welfare of plants, animals, and even people! The European Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture has identified organization and planning, human and social capital, energy efficiency, water use and protection, climate change and air quality, soil management, crop nutrition, crop health and protection, animal health and welfare, landscape and nature conservation, and waste management pollution control as the keys to an integrated farming system.
As mentioned before, any farming system can become sustainable if it adheres to these standards, although there is no perfect system for every farm. Our integrated farming system here at UGACR is the result of years of planning, research, and experimentation. Our farming and waste management system creates three different cycles, where there is little to no waste of energy or nutrients and almost no pollution.
Two key components in our system are our biodigesters and composting. The farm biodigestor, through the use of microorganisms which digest harmful solids, takes waste from the pigs and converts it into clean, nutrient-rich water which provides a natural fertilizer and water for our pastures, and methane gas for keeping food warm in the dining hall. Scraps from people’s plates once they’re finished eating are fed back to the pigs, which also provide meat for our meals. Other organic scraps from the kitchen are composted and become nutritious soil for our organic farm. The large biodigestor treats wastewater from the campus’ dormitories and public restrooms to provide methane gas for cooking our meals as well as clean water that is returned to the soils. Through the use of the biodigesters and composting, we have managed to create a sustainable cycle that all leads back to everyone’s favorite place: the dining room table.
Just as the UGA arch has three pillars, so too, does sustainability. In order for us to achieve true sustainability, we must create a system that does no damage to the surrounding community and environment, while ensuring financial stability. An integrated farming approach has the ability to minimize environmental impact while also saving money. We here at UGACR continue to give back to the community, hiring as many locals as possible as staff members, purchasing sustainably-grown food from local farmers, and coordinating tours at local farms as part of our sustainability plan. Thanks to our integrated farming approach, we are one step closer to achieving that goal.
Blog and graphics by Erin Burnett, UGA Photojournalism Intern, with thanks to Designed by Freepik“>freepik.com.