PARK WEST PAPER
What has the ability to penetrate our innermost depths?
Food is deeply meaningful to us. We crave it. We are captivated by its scent, colors, and textures. It becomes irresistible to us. We take pleasure in consuming the foods we desire. When we take the first bite, the intimate journey begins.
Our bodies have it all figured out, and it’s quite an impressive system. Multiple organs are involved in it. Once chewed, the fragmented foods are processed into their simplest forms to be properly absorbed. These nutrients are given a ticket to ride the train that is our circulatory system, eventually becoming part of our genetic expression and interlaced with our cellular structure. Food is essentially life that we borrow. What we don’t use eventually becomes food for something else, and the cycle continues.
The manufacturing of plants or animals in ecosystems created by people
Agriculture developed around 10,000 years ago in various regions of the world. Plant and animal management were once unfamiliar concepts to hunting and gathering communities. Still, it took a revolutionary turn as selective breeding resulted in a mutation of characteristics and traits among selected plants and animals that became increasingly reliant upon people.
Before the Industrial Revolution, clearing fields, weeding, fertilization, and irrigation were all achieved by the hands of men, women, and children. We began to introduce Oxen and cows to help with these tasks, and it wasn’t easy. We domesticated plants as well as other animal species like buffalo, sheep, chicken, and pigs. This archaic and perpetual dance of flora and fauna that has existed on our planet for thousands of years, even before human interference, could be the key to understanding our current agricultural standpoint.
The thread of earth that sustains us
Our current agricultural practices have compromised Earth’s ability to self regulate. Invasive soil tillage, overgrazing of animals, and toxic pesticide use are just some of the methods contributing to topsoil depletion, causing desertification, nutrient pollution, and erosion. According to a research study done by Stanford University, the soil on U.S. cropland is eroding ten times faster than it can be replenished. Topsoil is crucial for producing nutrient-dense and delicious food, and it’s also a key component in our planet’s overall health.
Soil restoration through photosynthesis
Through photosynthesis, plants can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using sunlight to turn the carbon into plant matter. Plants then exhale and return some carbon dioxide to the atmosphere while excreting carbon through their roots, feeding the population of microbial life that live there.
The current standard of crop management typically consists of mass production of only one particular crop. Upon harvest, fields are often left bare, exposing carbon into the atmosphere. If we instead plant cover crops, we can make up for carbon losses; by reducing the amount of carbon exposed to oxygen, we are then able to shelter it within the soil. By diversifying and rotating crops, we can improve soil biomass and, as a result, sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.
The life and death of microbes, a short story
Irresponsible land management has disrupted our intricate soil microbiome. The Imbalances of microbes and fungi within our soil make it difficult for plants to absorb nutrients. There is a vast ecosystem beneath our feet. To put it simply, plants absorb energy from the sun, turning it into sugars and proteins. They secrete these through their roots, allowing beneficial fungi and bacteria to grow. These are eaten by bigger microbes, which then are eaten by arthropods, who later become food for snakes, birds, and other animals.
Decaying members of this community and the dung of larger animals become fodder for other members; this way, nutrients are in a perpetual cycle. Microbes retain these nutrients around the plants roots and release them in plant-available form, food for plants.
Growing in South Florida
South Florida is like no other stretch of land within continental North America. Categorized as subtropical with a 10b geographical hardiness zone, we rarely experience the freezing temperatures that pause agricultural production in most of the country. It also means that many crops that are mostly grown in tropical parts of the world can also grow here. One of the challenges of growing food in South Florida is that we have relatively little topsoil in most areas. Most of the ground here is a combination of oolitic limestone and sand, both of which don’t offer plants a lot of fertility. In growing plants in South Florida, it is essential to either choose plants adapted to growing in low fertility soils or improve fertility by adding organic matter.
Social and economic progression
Just in the last decade, we’ve had an upsurge of interest in locally grown food, called by some the “farm-to-table” movement. Increasingly more diners and shoppers are interested in where produce is grown and under what conditions animals are raised. According to Katie Sullivan, publisher of Edible South Florida magazine, we now have four times as many farmers markets in South Florida than ten years ago and more community-supported agriculture (CSA's) each year.
Subsequently, we are seeing outreach initiatives by community members coming together to provide the tools and knowledge necessary for successful edible landscaping. For-profit and not-for-profit organizations like The Education Fund, Slow Food Miami, Ready-To-Grow Gardens, and Little River Cooperative are paving the way for locals to explore the many aspects of South Florida specific gardening. Floridians growing food at home is on the rise. More schools are integrating hands-on gardening programs into their curriculum and discovering the many benefits that outdoor-based education has to offer. Even some restaurants now have their own edible gardens.
Urban agriculture is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in and around urban areas. Locally raised foods often require far less packaging than store-bought produce and spare the gallons of fuel needed for large craft engines. We can be sure our produce is picked fresh and know exactly where it was grown in choosing locally. Additionally, we sustain the demand for local produce and participate in our local economy.
South Florida is a great place to discover all sorts of edibles, from the typical to the rarest and exotic. Becoming acquainted with our immediate environment can be invigorating; when we familiarize ourselves with our surroundings with a sense of responsibility and care, we actively participate in the preservation and longevity of the spaces we share.
By actively choosing to eat more locally, we continue to raise the demand for place-based agriculture, and we engage in and enrich this dialogue of food sustainability. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and we will likely always be importing some of our goods. We have a lot more to discover and learn about our food system and broadening our perspective will only further encourage our quest for nutritionally dense food.
Written by: Natalia Gomez