William Bartram’s 1776 account of the Cuscowilla Indian village onthe south edge of Payne’s Prairie, near present day Micanopy,describes a society that lived in balance with their environment(Figure 1). He published Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida in 1791. In it he described how they produced their food, saying:
“They plant but little here about the town; only a small garden plot at each habitation, consisting of a little Corn, Beans, Tobacco, Citrus (and more). Their plantation, which supplies them with the chief of their vegetable provisions, lies on the rich prolific lands bordering on the great Alachua savannah, about two miles distance”.
There were no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. These savvy farmers grew crops organically. They took the time to understand their environment, and probably understood that their precious crop could be wiped out by insects or weed competition. Imagine these early farmers, moving through production areas; aware of every nuance regarding how various plants and insects interact.
It is not a far stretch of the imagination. In fact, these farmers knew certain insects ate the crops while others ate insects.
Today, these insects are referred to as being either “pests” or “beneficials”. In fact, nowadays you can purchase “good bugs” to eat the “bad” bugs on your crop!
During the 19th century, the demands of population growth on food supply were met with new technologies including mechanized farming, chemical pesticides, commercial fertilizers and vigorous plant breeding programs. These methods made it possible to grow more food per acre than ever before.
However, rising fuel costs and increased competition for once abundant natural resources like water motivate University of Florida/IFAS researchers to constantly look for ways to produce crops more efficiently while preserving the environment for many generations to come.
Today, organic production is a combination of new technology and traditional methods. As a result of recent research, there are many new tools for organic farmers to use including soil analysis, plant nutrient monitoring and integrated pest management systems.
Additionally, there are many new commercial organic fertilizers and pesticide products on the market which have made organic farming more user-friendly than ever.