Let’s chatGPT about gardening

After a two year research project, with an interdisciplinary team, the conclusions I came to on the state of the world, and our near future, are not that relaxing. They will be available in the book Breaking Together, out in May. One of the chapters is already available, preprint, as the matter of food security seems so urgent. [subscribe to this blog to get a link to the full book when it’s out]

That context means I am especially happy to have launched a demonstration organic farm, using an approach called syntropic agroforestry. It does not mean I will definitely escape the impacts of agricultural disruptions and the socio-political ramifications. But it means that at least I am doing something about it that will benefit both people and planet. 

As I’ve been writing so much for the forthcoming book, I’d rather garden than write about it, so I asked chatGPT to tell you all about the approach we are taking. The prompt was “Write a summary of many reasons (environmental and social) why syntropic agroforestry is a good idea. Explain why it is helpful to educate and support farmers in Indonesia to do syntropic agroforestry.” ChatGPT responded:

“Syntropic agroforestry is a sustainable agricultural approach that involves growing a diverse range of crops in a way that mimics natural ecosystems. There are several environmental and social reasons why syntropic agroforestry is a good idea, including:

Biodiversity conservation: Syntropic agroforestry systems can help to conserve and enhance biodiversity by creating habitats for a wide range of plant and animal species.

Soil health: Syntropic agroforestry can help to improve soil health by reducing erosion, increasing organic matter content, and promoting soil biodiversity.

Climate change mitigation: Syntropic agroforestry can help to mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in soils and biomass.

Water conservation: Syntropic agroforestry can help to conserve water by improving soil moisture retention and reducing runoff.

Sustainable livelihoods: Syntropic agroforestry can provide farmers with a more diverse and resilient income stream, as well as greater food security.

Educating and supporting farmers in Indonesia to do syntropic agroforestry is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, Indonesia is a country with a rich biodiversity, but many agricultural practices in the country have been unsustainable, leading to deforestation and soil degradation. By promoting syntropic agroforestry, farmers can improve their land and reduce their impact on the environment. Secondly, many farmers in Indonesia are smallholders with limited resources and access to knowledge and technology. Providing education and support for syntropic agroforestry can help them to improve their yields and incomes, while also benefiting the environment. Finally, promoting syntropic agroforestry in Indonesia can also help to address social issues, such as poverty and inequality, by providing farmers with a sustainable and diversified livelihood.”

That’s a decent summary, and the references for it follow at the end. It left out a key issue that I am doing it for, which is to create ways of producing food that are not dependent on global industrial systems. The computer agreed:

“Yes, syntropic agroforestry can contribute to food security by providing a more sustainable and diversified source of food production that is less dependent on inputs from industrial systems. By growing a variety of crops in a polyculture system, farmers can increase their yields and reduce their dependence on expensive inputs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, the diverse range of crops in a syntropic agroforestry system can provide a more resilient source of food, as different crops may perform better or worse in response to changing environmental conditions. This can help to reduce the risk of crop failure and ensure a more stable food supply. Finally, syntropic agroforestry can also provide a source of nutritious and culturally significant food crops that may not be available through industrial agriculture. Overall, the diversity and resilience of a syntropic agroforestry system can provide a more sustainable and secure source of food production, while also supporting biodiversity conservation and soil health.”

Although happy with the summary, I found it a bit earnest and hopeful, especially as it could all be ruined by extreme climate change, volcanoes or conflict. So I gave it another prompt, inspired by some recent Twitter spats that I observed: “Write a poem praising the proponents, including Chris Smaje, of organic farming and praising the critics of organic farming, including George Monbiot.”

“In fields of gold and green,

Organic farmers, we have seen,

Growing crops with love and care,

For a planet that we must spare.

With toil and sweat on every brow,

They tend to the earth, and they vow,

To leave it better than before,

And to take less, and to give more.

Chris Smaje leads the way,

For organic farming, we must say,

Guiding us with his wisdom and heart,

Towards a more sustainable start.

But critics have a say,

And they help us find a way,

To look at farming, with a critical eye,

And to ask the questions that help us try.

George Monbiot, he stands tall,

Asking questions about them all,

He reminds us to take care,

And to be mindful, fair, and aware.

So let’s praise them all today,

The proponents and the critics, let’s say,

For their passion and their drive,

To find the best way to survive.

To feed the world with care and love,

With balance, harmony, and peace above,

To live in a world that’s truly green,

A world that’s balanced and serene.

So let’s work together, side by side,

Proponents and critics, let’s decide,

On the best way forward, with care,

For our future, and our planet to share.”

Not to be imbalanced, I asked for a poem on Food Tech as well. The prompt was “Write a poem about what could go wrong with precision fermentation and lab-cultivated meat. Include some humour.”

Precision fermentation, it’s quite a thing,

To make our food, without animal fling,

In labs and vats, we cultivate,

A meaty substance, that we can debate.

But what if things go wrong, we ask,

And our meat, is not up to the task?

What if the flavor, is just not right,

Or the texture, is not worth the bite?

And what if the labs, can’t keep up,

And we’re left with a food, that we must toss up?

Or worse yet, what if they go awry,

And we end up with a mutant, meaty guy?

It’s all well and good, to innovate,

But sometimes things, don’t turn out great,

And with precision fermentation, we must be sure,

That what we produce, is safe and pure.

Lab-cultivated meat, it’s a brave new world,

But sometimes things, just don’t unfurl,

As we thought they would, in our heads,

And we’re left with a food, that fills us with dread.

So let’s keep on trying, and let’s keep on toiling,

To create a food, that’s worth the spoiling,

And even if sometimes, we miss the mark,

We’ll keep on trying, in labs so stark.

About as informative as a consultant’s report on the new food technologies, I thought. Now back to work… 

References for the chatGPT summary:

Biodiversity conservation:

A case study on the effects of syntropic agroforestry on bird diversity in Brazil: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016788091930546X

A review of the potential of agroforestry to conserve biodiversity: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-021-00604-3

Soil health:

A study on the effects of syntropic agroforestry on soil quality in Brazil: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X1830155X

A review of the potential of agroforestry to improve soil health: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912419301719

Climate change mitigation:

A study on the carbon sequestration potential of agroforestry systems in Indonesia: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912416300614

A review of the potential of agroforestry to mitigate climate change: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-019-00409-w

Water conservation:

A study on the effects of agroforestry on water infiltration in India: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880919305367

A review of the potential of agroforestry to improve water management: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10457-020-00514-8

Sustainable livelihoods:

A case study on the economic benefits of agroforestry in Indonesia: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912419302716

A review of the potential of agroforestry to support sustainable livelihoods: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211912420303097

Food security:

Gomiero, T., Paoletti, M.G., & Pimentel, D. (2011). Synergistic interactions between soil restoration, food security and poverty reduction: A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 31(4), 621-634. doi: 10.1007/s13593-011-0038-y