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Booklet helps small farmers develop sustainable practices

Steve Moore in the Department of Environmental Studies used decades of data to publish a guide for better energy use in growing crops and raising livestock.


It takes a lot of energy to move a strawberry from the fields of California to a New York City dinner table. Every calorie contained in one berry requires 435 calories of energy consumed to grow, package, distribute, wholesale and then retail the little red fruit.

Those calories derive from the fossil fuels burned to power facilities, gasoline for the vehicles that move the harvest, and the human labor that planted and picked the berries. The same goes for other popular produce, from corn to potatoes to turnips.

That troubles Steve Moore. The imbalance of energy stored in certain crops compared to the energy consumed to produce them is a problem that needs to be address as the planet’s population continues to grow and climate change threatens limited resources available in parts of the world.

His new publication, “Energy Use in Biointensive Food Production,” is an attempt to help small farmers make such a shift. Moore, a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Studies who teaches agroecology courses and oversees the organic vegetable garden research site at the Elon Environmental Center, published the booklet through the California-based nonprofit Ecology Action.

The booklet is Ecology Action’s latest in a mini-series of self-teaching manuals to assist anyone interested in learning more about sustainable practices. “Pick up anything on farming and gardening and it talks about production,” Moore said, “but we really don’t address issues of sustainability.”

The booklet also is based in part on research Moore conducted in 2003-2004 on onion production. By including tables and worksheets, the booklet gives farmers a methodology to determine how much energy is consumed and produced by their crops. Moore hopes the formulas he shares - from calories exerted in manual work, irrigation, fertilizer and compost - give growers a starting point for making their harvest sustainable.

Steve Moore, an agroecologist in the Department of Environmental Studies, hopes people "think more outside the box" about sustainable living and farming.

“I’d like people to think more outside of the box,” Moore said of his interest in creating sustainable agricultural practices for a healthier earth. “Changing light bulbs won’t cut it and buying a watermelon at the local farmer’s market is a good start, but we have such a long way to go. We can’t get complacent.

“I hope this booklet is one of the next steps to push us ahead.”

Moore previously worked as the small farm unit manager and agriculture energy specialist at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University. He has also served as director of the Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., and founded the Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources.

With his wife, Carol, Moore also co-founded Harmony Essentials, a company dedicated to the vision and practices of a sustaining food system. While living in Pennsylvania, he was appointed to the Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Board, served two terms on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and currently serves as vice president of the board of directors for Ecology Action.

He volunteers as well on the board of directors for The Ecological Learning Foundation. Moore is an associate editor of the peer review journal, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, formerly the American Journal of Sustainable Agriculture.

At Elon, Moore directs the Peace Corps Prep Program, an academic and service initiative that prepares students for careers in international development.

Eric Townsend,
7/2/2013 8:45 AM