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  • Tradition, technology and teachings – A balancing act in building sustainable farming communities

    Posted on April 21, 2017

    Part 1 of 2

    Lessons from the past

    Anika Molesworth

    On farms around the world, teachings from the past can provide lessons for the future. If one takes a pause from our fast-paced modern world, and listens to the stories of yesteryear, it becomes apparent the virtue of traditional knowledge, heirloom breeds and the benefit of adopting heritage conservation practices into farm business models.

    Arqueixal farm in Lugo, Galicia, is noted for its preservation of traditional agrarian life. The farmers undertake rural work as a celebration of existence, with a deep respect the rhythms of the seasons: the nurturing of the wheat crop, harvest and then cultivating the land, baking bread in ovens, and making artisanal cheese. At Arqueixal farm, guests are invited to participate in ancestral practices and to reconnect with the land and local community. Here they aim to unite people with nature and cultivate a strong bond through the slogan: “Only by understanding the past we can build the future.”

    On the other side of the planet, volunteers are removing weeds in Taiwan’s humidity at The Farm of LearningThe local indigenous tribe of the Pisilian region, the Atolan, have thousands of years’ worth of knowledge to impart, and have been closely engaged in the Farm’s conservation practices. The volunteers learn practical skills from their experience raising sheep based on organic principles, and gain a deep understanding of sustainable land management methods.


    At Freixo do Meio, Portugal, the livestock grazing in the swaying grass and sleeping under shady trees are indigenous breeds, including Alentejo black pigs, Serpentina goats, and black turkeys. These animals are managed according to seasonal conditions, their numbers fluctuating in response to feed availability and land condition. Here at Freixo do Meio the linkages between man and nature are promoted, and the farmers endorse eating local and healthy, and treading with a light ecological footprint.

    Right around the world, the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities for ecosystem management and sustainable use of natural resources plays a key role when it comes to farming. Traditional knowledge is often holistic in outlook and adaptive by nature, gathered over generations by observers whose lives depended directly on the quality of information and its use. It often accumulates incrementally, its reliability is assessed through trial and error, and it is transmitted to future generations orally or by shared practical experiences.

    National Trusts and heritage groups promote sustainable farming practices in conjunction with natural and built heritage conservation, and are preserving this important knowledge. No one is so idealistic to believe that past ways were all good — some practices were regrettable and many unsustainable — but we do need to understand them in order to learn and improve. A sustainable future is more likely to be achieved if we understand and respect the best of the past, and intertwine these environmental and cultural values in our farming landscapes.

    Part 2 of 2

    Futuristic farming

    The next installment will cover how science is shaping the face of farming, and when it is combined with traditional knowledge what benefits may eventuate.

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