In 1990,the US government defined sustainable agriculture as 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; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
Phew, that is quite a definition! So what does all that mean? Well, sustainable agriculture is more a philosophy of the best way to operate a farm rather than a concrete set of rules.
It is a way of running a farm that takes into consideration the long-term impact of farming on the environment. Farmers that adhere to this philosophy try to raise their animals in a natural environment and to raise a variety of fruits and vegetables rather than one crop.
It can perhaps best be explained by the fact that these farmers live where they work and that they hold a true love and passion for where they live and what they do. How unlike a large corporation whose CEO only inspects the farming venture on paper and in terms of accounting numbers. The family farmer puts forth his sweat and first hand cares for his environment because it is also his home.
Why should you support sustainable agriculture?
We all want food that tastes better and food produced through sustainable agriculture tastes better. It also tastes closer to the way food tasted before the advent of mass production in farming. The longer it takes for food to go from the farm to your table the less flavorful that food is. More additives may make the food last longer but they do not make the food taste better.
Sustainable farm products are healthier. Grass-fed beef has more omega-3’s than factory farmed, grain-fed meat. Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the hearts of healthy people, and those at a high risk of having a heart attack, or those who currently have cardiovascular disease.
Animals raised in a sustainable environment are allowed to eat food that is natural to them in a natural environment. Factory-farmed animals may never see a day of sun. On industrial farms animals are treated as a commodity rather than living beings.
Sustainable farms help the ecosystem. Agriculture has a tremendous impact on the environment. Animals produce large quantities of waste that require disposal. With larger scale production there is more waste that can contaminate both surface and ground water. Sustainable agriculture puts back what it takes out and minimizes harm to the ecosystem.
In sustainable agriculture the waste from animals is used to fertilize crops. Rotating animals from field to field also helps replace nutrients in the soil. Farmers who use sustainable management practices look for ways to work with the environment and encourage its production rather than to use heavy metal input to recreate a man’s world.
Another tenet of sustainable agriculture is that farm workers are treated humanely and are paid a fair wage. This is true for both seasonal hires and permanent workers.