Q.

What do the following very different farms have in common?

Mexico’s Las Cañadas Cooperative

Growing grains, vegetables and timber, and raising livestock and dairy cows in a cloud forest in Veracruz

Spain’s Veta La Palma Farm

Raising mostly fish, but also livestock and horses as well as growing rice

Virginia’s Polyface Farm

Raising cows, turkeys, chickens, pigs, rabbits, growing grapes and harvesting timber

Wisconsin’s New Forest Farm

Growing staple food crops and raising livestock

A.

They’re all eco-logical farms.

To grow crops, raise livestock or farm fish each mimics its nearby community of plants and animals that evolved over millennia. In many ways this biome-mimicking agriculture — or mimiculture — goes far beyond organic farming practices.

Welcome to Mimiculture, a site dedicated to inspired eco-logical farming. Our beat is reporting on progress in transforming farming from an eco-lunatic to an eco-logical endeavor.

Each article-length post explores a topic related to eco-logical farming, including its role in reversing environmental degradation and mitigating and adapting to climate change.

If you care about where your food comes from and the collateral costs and benefits of producing it, and would like to get an advanced peek at a farming future that contributes to passing on a habitable planet to coming generations, this site’s for you.

Our Collective Problem

We humans are in a planetary carrying capacity predicament. We are now depleting our finite global fresh water and fertile soil resources while our population swells, our atmosphere warms and our oceans acidify.

Planetary predicament components
Planetary predicament components

Agriculture at today’s scale using today’s methods clears away too much of nature’s abundance, uses too much fresh water, does too much collateral damage to farmed soil and downstream surface water, and loses too much carbon to the atmosphere — at a time we need to sequester it — for us to be able to continue doing it in our current eco-lunatic way.

The more ecological abundance we can restore, the more of us will be able to thrive. We therefore need to build up vital planetary resources like aquifers and complex abundant ecosystems on land and in lakes, rivers, estuaries and oceans, rather than draw them down, degrade them and crowd them out.

How Farming Differently Can Contribute to the Solution

We need to simultaneously increase nature’s bounty and maximize the amount of food we grow by emulating how nature creates abundance without our help. Instead of cutting nature down and keeping it at bay, we need to mimic its density, complexity and variety, while tweaking it to serve our purposes.

We can transform farming from an environmental culprit to contributor, while producing more nutritious and delicious food for more people. Here are some of eco-logical farming’s many benefits:

soil degraded/restored
It regenerates degraded ecosystems

Introducing the right mix of plants and properly managed animals can repopulate landscapes and restore depleted soil’s fertility.

Taking an analogous approach in estuaries and other coastal waters can restore degraded aquascapes.

Air pollution stacks
It mitigates climate change and its impact

Building soil sequesters carbon taken from the atmosphere. More carbon in soil improves its fertility, allowing more plant matter to do the same.

Producing a wide variety of crops and livestock well adapted to their locale reduces the risk of crop and herd failure due to more erratic and extreme weather.

Spraying crops
It provides more and needs fewer ecosystem services

Farmers today typically outsource fertilizer, livestock feed, and pest and weed control.

Eco-logical farming “insources” as much as possible. It builds up soil health and makes room for plants and animals that provide value to each other.

Water runoff
It minimizes water use

Water is a precious resource in all but the wettest regions of the world. Healthy carbon-rich soil, fully covered by plants that have deep root structures, captures and holds more rainfall.

Properly contoured land can redistribute water from wetter to dryer areas, maximizing the percentage of rainfall used on the farm.

Empty calories > obesity
It mitigates our obesity and diabetes epidemics

Diets high in calories but low in nutrients increase the incidence of obesity and diabetes. Crops and livestock produced eco-logically yield more nutrition per calorie than those produced using eco-lunatic methods, thereby lowering the incidence and severity of these chronic conditions.

Piggy bank
It reduces farmer financial risks

“Insourcing” from nature greatly reduces the up front costs of feed, fertilizer, seed, biocides, pharmaceuticals and machinery.

Increasing soil health improves crop drought tolerance, reducing the risk of crop yield reduction or loss.

Also, the increased variety of crops grown and raised on eco-logical farms diversifies risk of crop loss.

Cattle grazing
It puts farm animals to work doing what they evolved to do

Eco-logically raised livestock spend their lives doing what they’ve evolved to do while at the same time doing work that adds real value.

They not only can take care of themselves, but improve the ecosystems in which they live.

Farmer in field
It puts more humans to work in “brain and body” jobs

Eco-logical farming jobs are mentally and physically challenging and rewarding. Tasks include designing and managing a farm to be as productive and in-balance as possible.

This involves lots of ecological knowledge, planning, inventing, testing, observing, adjusting and doing tasks, by hand or machine, to keep the farm ecosystem humming.

About Us

Mimiculture looks through a nature-mimicking lens at farming-related innovations that have potential for impact at scale. It consists of thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written and illustrated article-length posts. We carefully select our topics, and invest time and energy in researching and creating posts that we hope you will be inclined to read because of the importance of the topics covered, the quality of the posts, and our focus on solutions and emerging successes.

Mimiculture is written and designed by Peter Laundy, who became fascinated with agriculture that mimics nature when reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as well as through working with Terra Brockman and her family of organic farmers on the website for her book about her brother’s farm and then on the website for the family’s farms and writings. He has practiced graphic design for over 40 years, with years 20 through 38 in the employ of Doblin, a pioneering user-centered innovation consultant to Fortune 500 companies, now owned by Deloitte.

Mimiculture fulfills his passion to contribute to addressing a huge, important problem, develop expertise in this content area, pursue his long-standing interest in innovation, spend time doing things he loves to do — researching, writing and designing posts — and after too many years be both his own boss and client.

Learn a bit more about the farms shown at the top of this page

Las Cañadas Cooperative
Las Cañadas Cooperative

Las Cañadas is an eco-logical farm, biome restoration project, commune, seed bank and educational institution located in a unique and extremely biodiverse cloud forest that has been seriously degraded by cattle ranching. Commune members are seeking to model a simple, healthy, sustainable way of life with primary focus on lightening their ecological footprints through restoration of the cloud forest, growing a range of perennial staple crops and livestock for food and bamboo for building materials, chemicals and energy. They are building on tropical homegarden traditions as well as emerging contemporary eco-logical farming practices.

Eric Toensmeier describes aspects of this farm in his book The Carbon Farming Solution

Veta La Palma
Veta La Palma

Canals to drain marshland, dug at the mouth of a river in the 1920s and expanded in the 1960s, have been repurposed into an 8000 acre brackish water fish farm by being flooded with ocean and river water. It’s a rich coastal ecosystem, teaming not only with fish but also with phytoplankton, shrimp, and half a million birds of over 250 species. For 10 months every year fish feed only on food generated by the ecosystem, just as wild fish would. Ecological services provided by the birds outweigh the 20% fish egg and baby fish losses they cause.

Veta La Palma’s fish are prized by top chefs around the world.

Blue Hill restaurant’s chef Dan Barber profiles this farm in his book The Third Plate


Polyface Farm
Polyface Farm

Polyface is a grass farm where cattle are managed to keep grass healthy by grazing to “cut” grass just in time and where needed. Then three days later a henhouse is wheeled into pasture as yummy-to-chicken fly larvae, a good source of protein, emerge from cowpies. Wild herbivore and bird behavior are thereby mimicked to raise food for us.

Simultaneously grass health improves, cattle and chickens are fed, fly populations are controlled, soil depth is increased, pastures are sanitized, carbon is sequestered, and yolks of the eggs laid by the hens are made richer in flavor, color and nutrition.

Michael Pollan profiles this farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the farm’s founder Joel Salatin has written many books on eco-logical farming


New Forest Farm
New Forest Farm

The farm mimics its area’s oak savannah in the proportion and distribution of forest and field, species mix (but with cultivated substitutions), and ecological function.

To speed the evolution of genetically superior plants that thrive on their own without human help, minimize the need for outside inputs, and grow superior produce, lead farmer Mark Shepard uses what he calls the STUN approach to plant care and natural selection: Sheer Total Utter Neglect. Plants that perform best earn the right to live on, and to have the plants their seeds produce be subjected to the STUN test.

Read more about New Forest Farm in Mark Shepard’s book Restorative Agriculture.

Image Credits
Example farms

New Forest Farm photo: photographer unknown.

Veta La Palma Farm photo: Herminio Muñiz

Polyface Farm
photo: John Runyan

Las Cañadas Cooperative photo: Ricardo Romero

Planetary predicament

Footprint photo (cropped and colorized): Marc Buehler
CC License

Population growth photo (cropped and colorized): Philippe May
CC License

Prosperity spreads photo (cropped and colorized): Chris CC License

Climate change photo (cropped and colorized): Jon K CC License

Benefits

Ecosystem restoration:

Cracked soil photo (cropped):
Jeroen Moes
CC License

Grasses photo (cropped):
Harry Rose
CC License

Climate change photo (cropped):
Francesco Falciani
CC License

Eco- services photo: (cropped):
Aqua Mechanical
CC License

Water use photo (cropped):
Lynn Betts, USDA NRCS
CC License

Obesity diabetes photo (cropped):
Randy Wick
CC License

Obesity diabetes icon:
Created by Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project

Financial risk photo (silhouetted):
H is for Home
CC License

Animals at work photo:
David Baron
CC License

Good jobs photo: photographer unknown, subject is Kansas farmer Justin Knopf, from Environmental Defense Fund website.

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