The Santa Barbara County Dept. of Agriculture is doing its part to protect and preserve the environment for future generations.

Rather than spraying toxic chemicals to deter pests, the agriculture department has adopted a sustainable alternative to improve crop health and lessen the impact of chemicals in the environment. Farmers in Santa Barbara release natural predators like parasitic wasps to exterminate pests. The wasps prey on insects that destroy crops and are just as effective as pesticide spray, without the adverse effects to the environment and humans.

County Entomologist Jerry Davidson said the practice is effective and less expensive. Chemical pesticides are more costly than wasp larvae, so the county actually saves money through sustainability.

“We release biologically controlled agents to control the exotic species,” Davidson said. “Eventually the pests are controlled to the point where we no longer need to control them.”

This practice is used for weeds as well as insects. The parasitic wasp Hymenoptera feeds on several types of destructive plants and insects. The wasps have been control-released for nearly 20 years.

Chemical pesticides are easily spread through air and water currents and would have detrimental effects to humans and animals who came into contact with the spray.

“It would be an urban nightmare if chemical spray was released,” Davidson said.

This program is part of a statewide cooperation between the state government, the UC system, the United States Dept. of Agriculture and the Farm and Agriculture Dept. The sustainable agriculture program was initiated to promote environmental health, economic profit and the unique social quality of small farms. Due to increases in technology and the global economy, small family farms are being pushed off the land in favor of large corporate farms. The sustainable agriculture program seeks to improve the income and abilities of small family farmers.

The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at UC Davis has identified water conservation, water quality, biodiversity, renewable energy, air quality and soil as its targets for sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture.

According to the sustainable agriculture program, sustainable agriculture refers to a production and distribution system that integrates natural biological cycles and controls, protects and renews soil fertility, and reduces the use of nonrenewable resources, while still providing adequate farm income.

Fairview Gardens, located on Fairview Avenue in Goleta, is one of many local farms that meet these criteria. With a shower that uses recycled “gray” water – sewage-free water reclaimed from people’s drains – and a tractor that runs on vegetable oil, Fairview Gardens is at the forefront of sustainable agriculture in Santa Barbara County. The gardens attract guests annually from all over the country to observe a model of sustainable urban agriculture.

“We grow our crops organically without chemicals, we don’t like to use substances that will harm the environment,” Christine Cunningham, education coordinator at Fairview Gardens, said. “Our emphasis is on building healthy soil, because healthy soil means healthy plants.”

Fairview Gardens provides for a local market and also serves as an educational center. The garden hosts school fieldtrips for elementary schools, high schools and universities, cooking programs and an annual urban agriculture workshop. Most features of the garden serve to educate by example, Cunningham said.

“We pay our employees a fair wage and we try to use as few [resources] as possible,” Cunningham said. “We just had a composting toilet installed because we’re concerned with the way existing sewer systems link to the ocean. We want to model alternative solutions.”