Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is sustainable agriculture?

It's pretty easy to identify what's unsustainable about agriculture today: the cramming of thousands of animals in warehouses and keeping them alive in unnatural conditions with antibiotics and hormones; the storing of millions of gallons of waste generated by these animals in lagoons and then mixing this toxic brew with huge amounts of clean water in order to spray it on the land; and the many ways this waste makes its way into our water and poisons our air.

But what exactly is sustainable agriculture? As legally defined in U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103, sustainable agriculture means "an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term:
  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

However, we don't think this definition goes far enough. We prefer our own, which is the result of input from farmers and diverse organizations working on the issue. Here it is:

Sustainable farming is a system that emphasizes stewardship of natural and human resources and is grounded in the principle that we must meet our present food needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. It protects and improves the soil, conserves native biodiversity and habitats, and provides viable farm livelihoods as a consequence of food production. Sustainable farms are appropriate for the landscape and the local economy, and produce safe, healthy food while treating workers with respect and animals humanely and sustaining communities.

What do you think? What's your definition of sustainable agriculture?