Biointensive Practices

Sara Hendershot
Decision Case Study
Agroecology Internship 2003

G. Tyler Miller quotes that it takes 9.8 calories of energy to put one calorie of food on the table using mechanized conventional farming.¹ However, using biointensive practices, the ratio averages 20 calories out for one calorie invested. Biointensive is all organic and relies solely on hand labor, with the use of simple tools such as hoes, rakes, forks, etc.

  • Describe the major variables of energy inputs for both mechanized and biointensive agriculture.
  • Where does the largest energy input lie? (For mechanized most likely transportation; for biointensive, most likely labor.)
  • In order to improve the ratio, what can be done? (Sell locally; grow more calorie-rich crops, such as root vegetables – onions, carrots, turnips, etc.)
  • Cooking and food processing is another energy-intensive activity that often diminishes the nutrition of the food.
  • How much of an impact does scale have to do with the system of agriculture farmers practice?
  • The statistic in Miller was quoted in 1994. In the past 10 years, do you believe the number has changed significantly? If so, how?

At the Sonnewald Farm, mechanized agriculture did not achieve the efficiency and sustainability farmer Steve Moore was striving for. As a result, he adopted a biointensive form of agriculture to grow one acre of vegetables crops. Through this practice, he attains high yields without stripping the soil of vital nutrients by applying compost. All produce is sold directly on the property at the natural foods store. There are two greenhouses heated passive-solarly so that fresh produce is still available throughout most of the winter.

  1. Miller, G. Tyler. Living in our Environment, 8th Ed. Wadsworth Publishing, Belmont CA, 1994, p 365.