Elements of low input agriculture: how to grow food without doing a lot of work

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My professor’s garden at the Alachua County Cabin was the definition of low-input agriculture. These greens are organic and tasty. Photo by Nealy Kehres

Last fall, I took a class in which I hosted a soil health workshop for my semester project. While preparing for the workshop, we often worked in my professor’s garden to get hands-on experience with soil and truly understand how sustainable agriculture works.

He presented the idea to us that sustainable agriculture revolves around the concept of not putting a lot into the land; low input agriculture.

The USDA defines low input agriculture as “farming systems [that] seek to optimize the management and use of internal production inputs (i.e. on-farm resources)… and to minimize the use of production inputs (i.e. off-farm resources), such as purchased fertilizers and pesticides, wherever and whenever feasible and practicable, to lower production costs, to avoid pollution of surface and groundwater, to reduce pesticide residues in food, to reduce a farmer’s overall risk, and to increase both short- and long-term farm profitability.”

I learned that there were many ways these systems work. For instance, using compost instead of synthetic fertilizer is much simpler and cost effective. You simply throw your organic waste into a bin until they decompose into a nutrient rich fertilizer that you can spread on your plants.

Additionally, setting up your garden on a hill and strategically placing the plants in spots that get the appropriate amounts of water when it rains reduces the need to spend extra time watering plants and reduces the amount of water used.

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These chickens were natural fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, they produced eggs in a human and sustainable manner. Photo by Nealy Kehres

Incorporating livestock can also contribute to the success of low input agriculture. Chickens, like the ones featured above, fertilize the soil through their waste and feed on the pests that can kill crops.

This was such a rewarding and educational experience for me. It helped me understand alternative means of growing food that most of the population doesn’t know about. Plus, we always left the garden with delicious, sustainably-grown herbs and vegetables.

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This dill was also grown in my professor’s garden. Pictured is the process of tying bunches of the herb together so that it could hang to dry. Photo by Nealy Kehres
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