The food universe
The idea of the biological niche, as a place in the planet's food web, has been investigated as the food universe of a rural community composed of small farmers (familiar agriculture).
The breadth (specilization) and the seasonal variation (flexibility) of small farmers families food niche were determined to know the variety of consumed food and their dependence of specific food. It was supposed that the small farmers families studied present a self- sufficiency ingest, because they are relatively independent of external factors (merchandising) and they have strategies (diversified production and capacity of to stock food) to prevent variation in diet with environmental cycles. The fitting of family caloric ingest to the energy wasted on agricultural activities, was also investigated.
The model rural community belongs to Pouso Alto municipality, located on South region of Minas Gerais Stat of Brazil. The farming and cattle activities are sustained by familiar work. During the summer cultivation season ("época de planta" = plant time), the studied farmers use the exchange work days as a strategy to increase the independence of external labour. Besides this, this cooperative work has the important function of aggregation and social cohesion. The farms are small, owned or rented, and they are used to several purposes regarding plant cultivation, cattle pasture (natural or cultivated) and maintenance of nature vegetation.
The farmers belong to the peasant class and can be characterized as: (
a) "a main feature of peasant production is its relatively high self-sufficiency, and peasant families consume a substantial portion of their own production";
(b) peasants are engaged in a production process predominantly based on family labour";
(c) human and animal power, rather than fossil fuels, are the main sources of energy";
(d) the combined production of use values (goods consumed by families) and exchange values (goods circulated as commodities);
(e) peasants, generally, are small-scale landowners";
(f) although agriculture tends to be the main activity of peasant households, peasant subsistence is based on a combination of practices". These characteristics are also frequently found in a great number of other Brazilian family farmers.