Unconventional Agriculture | The Lexicon of Sustainability | PBS Food

Unconventional Agriculture


Today, half the world’s food production—what we eat—depends on chemical fertilizers and herbicides. These are the foundation of Conventional Agriculture, but they pollute our soils, drinking water, waterways, and oceans. Unconventional farmers like Steve Ela in Hotchkiss, Colorado focus on building soil fertility by working with nature, not against it.

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Food Terms

Holistic and regenerative farming practices focused on the integration of plants, animals, soil health and biodiversity. They keep the ecosystem in balance by producing the nutrients needed to nourish all aspects of the farm with a minimum of inputs imported from off site.
– LOCAL: The New Face of Food and Farming in America, by Douglas Gayeton

The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
– Permaculture Institute

The interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.

Soil fertility
Soil teems with a multitude of organisms which provide the necessary work for healthy plants to grow free from disease, pests and infertility. These interconnected interactions and feeding relationships (quite literally “who eats who”) help determine the types of nutrients present in soil, its depth and pH, and even the types of plants which can grow.

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Featured in the Film

Michael Ableman
Foxglove Farm
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Michael is a farmer, author, photographer and food advocate who has been farming organically since the 1970s and is considered among the pioneers of the international movement.

Steve Ela
Ela Family Farms
Hotchkiss, Colorado
Steve served as president of the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, currently serves on the Colorado Agriculture Commission, is vice-president of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, and serves on numerous local boards and organizations. He is active in organic tree fruit research and has helped to organize two major national organic tree fruit research symposiums.

Penny Livingston
Regenerative Design Institute
Bolinas, California
Penny Livingston-Stark is internationally recognized as a prominent permaculture teacher, designer, and speaker. Penny co-founded the Regenerative Design Institute, an education center located in Bolinas. With her husband, James Stark, Penny is co-managing Commonweal Garden, a 17-acre multi-functional integrated example of permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and regenerative living.

Rick Knoll
Knoll Farms
Brentwood, California
Until 1979, Rick and Kristie Knoll had been “alternative suburbanites” in Santa Ana, California, where their small backyard was a garden, replete with chickens, compost trenches, and hay mulch. Eager to escape to a more rural life, they came across a weedy 10-acre alfalfa field for sale about 60 miles east of San Francisco and saw it as a chance to do some serious organic gardening. Today they have a teeming 10-acre agro-ecosystem that thrives on the microbial power of “biodynamics.”


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