Jake Robinson’s Story
Humanity desperately needs to return to a state in which we are an important component of the ecosystems in which we inhabit rather than continually at odds with it. Agriculture represents that area in which humanity most commonly and profoundly interacts with the natural world, and it is at this junction were we see much of the negative environmental impacts attributable to humanity. Habitat loss and the resulting displacement or extinction of species contributes the breakdown of valuable ecosystem services for which myriad species including ourselves rely upon for continued existence. Greenhouse gas emissions (primarily N20 and CH4) emitted from our agricultural practices comprise 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions, while agriculture itself consumes 17% of the fossil fuel used in the U.S.. Indeed I have chosen to leave my own region of Pennsylvania due to concerns over personal health due to environmental pollution from the natural gas fracturing industry and the aptitude of state government in light of immense industry lobbying. Having spent so much time and effort trying to create a functioning agricultural system on my own land, it was a very hard decision to make.
A key conclusion of the U.N supported IAASTD report “Agriculture at a Crossroads” was the ability of agroecological practices to increase eco-system services, provide ecological resilience and mitigate climate change while still providing increased production on smallholder farms where the majority of food is grown. Having left my land but not my interests, I find myself currently in the second semester of a graduate program in agroecology. Graduate school is an expensive affair and I\’m requesting $2000 in grant money to help recoup the cost of books as well as expenses incurred from my thesis work.
I\’m focusing my research on pigs. One of the few non-poultry agricultural species lacking a rumen, its digestive abilities closely match our own, and as such can be thought of as a competitor for human foodstuffs. The vast majority of pork is currently raised on grain/soy/fishmeal blends; all foodstuffs for which we can expect increasing demand as population levels rise. With increasing pork consumption matching increased affluence in many parts of the world, and no clear ecologically sound alternative to grain fed pig-lots, its a highly worthy area of investigation.
My hope is that research into this area will help shine light on the means by which pigs can be fit into more efficient, agoecological systems both by understanding better the farm services (recycling, tillage, weeding) that pigs can provide as well as modeling the farming environment to mimic closer the natural habitat of their wild relatives. This may be particularly important for the small-hold farmer where such benefits could be seen as negating some of the costs of production and where the health of the environment most directly impacts the stability of the farm.
Of course all of this will help inform future management of my own land when I am able to afford and dedicate time to a new plot.