What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
There’s a transformation taking place on farms across the United States.
For decades, we’ve produced the bulk of our food through industrial agriculture—a system dominated by large farms growing the same crops year after year, using enormous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage soils, water, air, and climate. This system is not built to last, because it squanders and degrades the resources that it depends on.
But a growing number of innovative farmers and scientists are taking a different path, moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable—environmentally, economically, and socially. This system has room for farms of all sizes, producing a diverse range of foods, fibers, and fuels adapted to local conditions and regional markets. It uses state-of-the-art, science-based practices that maximize productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage.
Some proponents of industrial agriculture claim that its impacts are the price we must pay to “feed the world.” In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence has debunked this claim, showing that a more sustainable model can be just as profitable—and can meet our needs for the long haul.
OK, so sustainable agriculture is the wave of the future. But what is it, exactly?
In agriculture, sustainability is a complex idea with many facets, including the economic (a sustainable farm should be a profitable business that contributes to a robust economy), the social (it should deal fairly with its workers and have a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding community), and the environmental.