Lets take a look at some of the benefits of sustainable farming.
You Are What You Eat
Certainly, the Earth is the core of sustainable agriculture. The environmental benefits are pretty clear: A reduction in chemical contaminants, cleaner water supply, system wide recycling, long-term viability of crop land and a system that continually renews itself – with the help of human stewards. The humans aren't only the stewards of the system, though. They're also prime benefactors.
Evidence suggests that food grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers is more healthful. Typically, sustainable farms are also organic farms, and organic food has no added growth hormones or agricultural chemicals that are potentially detrimental to human health.
Humane Living Conditions
There's more to the equation, though: the social side of sustainability. A key component of sustainable farming is humanity. This means, for one, humane treatment for animals: Chickens can roam, cows graze in pastures and animals live free from indoor containment. But humanity is not only for livestock; it's also for people. The sustainable method aims for fair wages and good living conditions for everyone working the land, so they can live free of government subsidies. The goal is not only for the food but also for the entire process to be sustainable.
Another crucial aspect of sustainability-as-way-of-life is community. Sustainable farming wants to reconnect food consumers with food growers. In the sustainable system, people know how and where their food is grown, and they respect and value the process. Farmers and consumers engage in a direct give-and-take: They are providing for each other in a very real way, which encourages mutual respect and a sense of community.
Those consumers typically are willing to pay a bit more for sustainably grown food because the philosophy of sustainability is important to them. This allows growers to earn more suitable wages than they may earn in a large industrial setup.
It all seems idyllic, but where "pay a bit more" is concerned, challenges arise. Sustainable farms face potentially lower output, greater labor requirements and the likely need to sell their output for a higher price. To achieve the profitability necessary for the quality of life that is part of a sustainable ideal, farmers must seek out appropriate markets for their goods. They need markets where sustainability and community connections are valued.
Sustainable farmers must put forth effort and marketing talent, and they must consider the possibility of taking a financial hit during a conversion from conventional to sustainable. But in the long run, evidence suggests sustainable methods can be at least as profitable as non sustainable ones, possibly more so.
And in sustainable agriculture, the long run is pretty important.
- Earles, Richard. “Sustainable Agriculture: An Introduction.” National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. 2005. (July 28, 2010) http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/sustagintro.html
- MacRae, Rod. “Definition of the term ‘Sustainable Agriculture'.” Ecological Agriculture Projects. 1990. (July 28, 2010) http://eap.mcgill.ca/sustain.htm
- Sustainable Table. “Introduction to Sustainability: What is Sustainable Agriculture? (July 28, 2010) http://www.sustainabletable.org/intro/whatis/