Biointensive Farming

As students in the Student Organic Farm Management and Marketing class at the University of Minnesota, we have had the opportunity to learn about different methods of organic and sustainable farming. We have learned about Spin farming, permaculture, and organic agricultural requirements needed to keep certification, as well as my favorite, ‘biointensive’ farming.

In our urban environment, we don’t have acres upon acres of land to grow vegetables, nor do we want that space. We have our garden plots at school, our community gardens and our own gardens at home. Biointensive farming can help us urban farmers grow as many vegetables as we can out of our little plots without harming the surrounding environment or doing damage to our soils. To the contrary, biointensive farming builds the soil while we create ecosystems within the garden that benefit plants and beneficial insects.

In the book “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons, the author lays out the different aspects of biointensive farming. The components are deep soil preparation to reduce compaction and aeration for better root health. Companion planting creates an ecosystem that supports each plant with beneficial relationships. Crop rotation with heavy feeders (corn, tomatoes, squash) to heavy givers (legumes) to light feeders (root crops) gives back the nutrients the soil needs for our plants to be healthy year after year. Along with rotation, composting improves soil structure, provides plant nutrients, and helps create healthy soil which in turn creates healthy plants. Jeavons also promotes the use of open pollinated seeds that are easily saved from year to year, they adapt to the local ecosystem and are proven good quality plants from the many years of farmers growing them.
The use of triangles and hexagons create maximum plantings in a garden.
Biointensive farming has many benefits to the urban farmer. We like to grow our own food, eat locally when we can, treat the environment with respect and build up our soils instead of degrade them; we are also notoriously short on space.

But Biointensive farming has a global context as well. With the growing population and land becoming more scarce for growing food, this could be a way for people to feed their families and local communities. It could be an answer that uses less water, energy and fertilizer than industrial farming while keeping in mind the effect we have on the environment we live in.

Nicole Nelson