In the Spirit of IMA: "The Green New Deal, Landscape, and the Public Imagination"

Multifunctionality is at the core of IMA’s understanding of emerging agri-culture.

Farms are never just places where a commodity is produced, but if we think about them in that narrow way, the more farms become places of conflict, sources and receivers of dysfunctional pollution, policy and politics. Multifunctionality is the idea that farms produce more than crops that sell in the marketplace. Farms can produce public goods like healthy topsoil, clean air, water, biodiversity, open space, and climate mitigation. Farms can be sites of innovation in public health through reviving traditional foods and being sites of accessible green space. Farms can be places for physical, mental, and spiritual recovery and well-being.

The biodynamic concept of the farm organism is implicitly multifunctional, taking into account that all the lifeforms living in the farmscape have multiple, nested roles to play in the whole. Describing the farm as one whole organism, or symbiotic holobiont, as evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis might say, makes it difficult for any farmer to treat the soil, a cow, fellow workers, customers, or one’s farmer-self as a solitary resource whose purpose is maximum extraction. By-products are raw materials. Manure is precious. Niches are everywhere. Rather than maximizing export and waste, maximize transformation and regeneration.

There is currently no US policy to guide a large scale transition to this kind of agricultural thought, general set of practices, and diverse, place-based landscapes.

What might the Green New Deal mean for the farmscapes and food systems of the next century?

Here is an excerpt from an article in Landscape Architecture Magazine by Nicholas Pevzner, Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Landscape Architecture, whose work focuses on ecological systems design and the public and civic potential of infrastructure:

“In some places, agricultural lands are already indistinguishable from energy landscapes—in Iowa, for example, vast arrays of wind turbines spin for miles above working farm fields. Increasingly, solar farms are sharing space with pollinator habitats and grazing land, with each designed so as not to interfere with the other’s operation. Some farms are now processing their cow manure in biodigesters to generate electricity while reducing methane pollution. These practices already exist owing to forward-thinking farmers and energy developers, but could be greatly expanded through incentives and public funds, and a whole swath of the rural public could be enlisted to participate in targeted agricultural programs under a Green New Deal umbrella.

Agricultural land can also do good carbon work, absorbing and sequestering atmospheric CO2 with the spreading of compost and biochar on fields, no-till farming, alley cropping or other types of agroforestry, combining trees with cattle (also called silvopasture), or practicing any number of other “carbon farming” techniques. Hedgerows can be used for stream protection while simultaneously feeding local bioenergy or biochar industries. These new hybrid practices will need to be disseminated and planned, drawn up and configured, with business plans written and fine-tuned, but perhaps the reorganization of agriculture is not as radical as some opponents of the Green New Deal would have us believe.

For the past century, industrial agriculture has operated as an extractive practice, squandering topsoil, destroying local biodiversity, and contributing to climate change. The next generation of agricultural landscapes must be restorative rather than extractive, and multipurpose rather than monocultural, but this shift must be carefully designed to maximize synergies and reduce conflicts, including a precise articulation in cross section as well as plan. Through a combination of policy and design, agricultural landscapes can be reconfigured to produce renewable energy, build soil, and sequester carbon. If incentivized and supported, farmers can become a core constituency of the Green New Deal.”

See the rest of the article in Landscape Architecture Magazine