Sarah Taylor Lovell is an Associate Professor of Landscape Agroecology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
What is the biggest question facing your field today?
How do we meet the food needs of a growing population, without further degrading our environment?
Why is it significant?
This question is significant, because for many years we have relied very heavily on our base of natural resources in order to produce food. Most agricultural systems require large inputs of energy, nutrients, and fresh water – all of which will be increasingly limited. Climate variability further threatens the food supply, particularly in areas that grow crops as monocultures, with just a single crop species within a growing season. These systems are the most susceptible to failures due to droughts, floods, and other extreme conditions.
Where will the answer likely come from?
I feel that the answer will need to come as a shift to an entirely new method of food production (and food consumption). Much of our agricultural land in the United States is dominated by grain crops that are used for livestock feed or processed food products. An alternative is to transition agricultural lands to healthy fruit and nut crops that are grown on trees and shrubs, and can be used for direct human consumption. These “productive agroforestry” systems would provide a wide range of environmental benefits such as stabilizing the soil, cycling nutrients, and sequestering carbon. By growing a variety of different crop species, the systems will be more resilient in a variable climate. Vegetable crops and livestock could be integrated with the trees and shrubs to further diversify the landscape and the food system. The edible products of these crops can be sold directly to consumers, in local markets, so the energy of transportation and packaging would be reduced. This concept will require a shift in our paradigm regarding the types of foods we eat and where they come from.
You can find more information about the research Prof. Lovell’s lab group is doing at these sources:
Lab website – http://multifunctionallandscape.com/
Project Website – http://www.agroforestry4food.com/
Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/AgroforestryForFood/