What Are Diversified Farming Systems?

Images above courtesy of Ecoagriculture Partners.

Diversified farming systems are a set of methods and tools developed to produce food sustainably by leveraging ecological diversity at plot, field, and landscape scales.

Livestock at Full Belly Farm, a DFS example. Photo by Paul Kirchner Studios

Food crops are planted and animals are grazed in ways that replenish natural ecosystems. Diversified agriculture is critical to feed the world population reliably and in perpetuity while mitigating climate change and avoiding a collapse of the ecological systems on which human survival depends.

While there is no single template for “DFS,” they share a common focus on local production, agro-ecological and local knowledge, and whole systems approaches to agriculture, based on incorporating ecological diversity from field to landscape scales.

For example, in the field, crop polycultures and integration of fish or livestock permit more efficient use of nutrients.  Around the field, hedgerows or live fences provide habitat for beneficial insects that control pests and provide pollination.

Hedge row at Full Belly Farm. Photo by Paul Kirchner Studios

In the surrounding landscape, wild or partly-wild patches of pasture, meadow, woodlots, forests, marshes, streams, and lakes support livestock and wildlife, provide flood control and forest products, and improve water quality.

Around the world, DFS depend on diverse cultures, practices, and governance structures to support these locally adapted management systems. By supporting a complex fabric of natural and human ecologies, DFS allow critical ecosystem services – like pollination and pest control – to be generated and regenerated within the agroecosystem, aided by the human knowledge to sustain those processes.

The ultimate goal of the new DFS center, as a research hub at UC Berkeley for studying this multi-scale, systems-based agriculture, is to help create a resilient, socially just, and secure global food system.

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