Sustainable Agriculture for Our Future
Sustainable Agriculture is commonly associated with farming that has a small Ecological Footprint. Organic Farming, Permaculture, Regenerative Agriculture, or any form of agriculture that aim to fulfill certain criteria. “The primary benefits of sustainable agriculture are: Environmental Preservation, Protection of Public Health, Sustaining Vibrant Communities, and Upholding Animal Welfare.” (GCF, nd)
“Sustainable agriculture” was addressed by Congress in the 1990 "Farm Bill" [Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1990) NAL Call # KF1692.A31 1990]. Under that law, "the term 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; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
*Retrieved from: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/terms/srb9902.shtml
Conventional Agriculture, can be defined as “Intensive-type farming, through the application of high-input systems that offer an increased yield, is known as conventional agriculture.” (Theocharopoulos et. al., 2007) Farmers use whatever means necessary in order to produce high yields, most of the techniques used are bad for human health and the environment. Monocropping is one technique that has devastating effects on biodiversity and the soil. Insecticides are, by far, the worst thing for the environment, right below GMO’s and the two seem to go hand-in-hand with each other. “Monocropping became prevalent in industrialized countries in the 1940s and 1950s, as farming became more commodity-based and less subsistence-based, and as smaller family farms were consolidated into larger, industrial operations.” (GCF, nd) “Monocropping causes a number of negative environmental impacts. Soil degradation results from the common practice of not rotating crops in monoculture farming. Crop rotation, the practice of changing what is planted in a particular location on a farm from year to year, improves soil health and quality, and generally increases yields; while monocropping has been implicated in declines in crop yield and loss of nutrients from the soil.” (GCF, nd)
Among the top 10 pesticides used in terms of pounds applied in the agricultural market were the herbicides glyphosate, atrazine, metolachlor-s, acetochlor, 2,4-D, and pendimethalin, and the fumigants metam sodium, dichloropropene, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin. This information is from a recent report released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage: 2006 and 2007 Market Estimates” which illustrates graphically historical trends and levels of use over the last 20 years. “There is mounting evidence that one of the major ways of increasing farm production, through use of chemicals on-farm, can accelerate ecological problems. Unfortunately, many researchers still do not openly concern themselves much with sustainability issues and have the common attitude that "everything we do is sustainable." Many advocates of sustainable agriculture would not agree and argue that success in moving toward sustainable agriculture depends on using the limited nonrenewable resources (e.g., fossil energy fuels, certain chemicals) as sparingly as possible and getting maximum return from their application by using the biological cycles that exist in nature and are largely ignored in present-day agriculture.” (Norman, et. al., 1997)
So let’s put all of this into perspective. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in many common herbicides is the active ingredient in the herbicide ‘Roundup’, which is sold by the agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. Monsanto is the world’s leading producer of glyphosate. Genetically modified crops are marketed by Monsanto to reduced labor and financial savings by simplifying and reducing the costs of weed control. The reality of this is quite the opposite, with increasing health worries, the impact on the environment and biodiversity and the development of weed resistance it has sparked new concerns. The biggest is weed resistance. It seems nature has outsmarted the scientists by becoming resistant to glyphosate but if the USDA approves Dow Chemical’s application seeking approval of a controversial genetically engineered corn that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2, 4-D, we can be sure the effects will be equally devastating to our already sensitive ecosystem. In a letter recently sent to the USDA in April 2012, over 140 groups and more than 365,000 citizens from across the country are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reject the application; it stated “American agriculture stands at a crossroads. One path leads to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, litigious disputes in farm country over drift-related crop injury, still less crop diversity, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising farmer production costs. This is the path American agriculture will take with approval of Dow’s 2,4-D corn, soybeans and the host of other new herbicide-resistant (HR) crops in the pipeline. Another path is possible, but embarking upon it will take enlightened leadership from USDA.” (Hamburg, nd)
Sustainable Agriculture vs. Conventional Agriculture
Sustainable Agriculture is different from Conventional Agriculture in most every way. Conventional Agriculture is run by “Big Ag”, huge conglomerates, whereas, most of the truly sustainable farms around the world, are run by real people, real farmers, and real communities with real respect for the planet. Sustainable Agriculture is being conscious of your actions in cultivating crops, making sure the good of the whole is always paramount. Farming systems that are “capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems... must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.” (USDA, Gold, 2009) [John Ikerd, as quoted by Richard Duesterhaus in "Sustainability's Promise," Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (Jan.-Feb. 1990) 45(1): p.4. NAL Call # 56.8 J822]
Conventional Agriculture has become a money-making machine, controlled by multinational companies and is running rampant all over the world. It is destroying ecosystems, abusing animals, the planet and humans, for monetary gain. By controlling governments through lobbying, they have infiltrated political positions and created a network by which to shield themselves and they are getting bigger every day. Realizing the downhill path that Conventional Agriculture is on, is the first step to create a more desirable outcome. Educating people of the seriousness of the problems we will face in the near future, is very important. Keeping things simple, is usually the best solution to be sustainable. Teaching people to flow with nature, rather than go against it, will help secure a sustainable future.
Some Sustainable Agriculture Farming Methods
Permaculture, Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), Aquaculture, Agroecology, and Biodynamics. Here is a list of Sustainable Farming Practices; Crop Rotation, Crop Diversity, Integrated Pest Management, Attracting Beneficial Animals, Soil Fertility, Managed Grazing, Physical Removal of Weeds, Management of Water, Growing to Sell Locally, and Use of Alternative Energy. (Bacco, nd)
The three most effective practices; Aquaponics, Permaculture, and CNG farming (a blend of these is also advisable);
“Aquaponics is an integrated aquaculture (growing fish) and hydroponic (growing soilless plants) system that mutually benefits both environments. Aquaponics uses no chemicals, requires one tenth or ten percent of the water needed for field plant production and only a fraction of the water that is used for fish culture. The waste from fish tanks is treated with natural bacteria that converts the waste, largely ammonia, first to nitrite and then to nitrate. The fish waste absorbed by plants is pumped to a bio-filter system as a nutrient solution for the growing plants (Grow Bed). The only external input to the system is food for the fish. Both systems complement each other as a single unit, not as separate units. Once the system is initialized the water stays PH balanced and remains crystal clear. The water is recycled with a small amount of water added weekly to compensate for what is lost by evaporation and transpiration by the vegetables. Aquaponics is the future of home gardening and commercial fresh food production.” (SoCal Aquaponics, nd) The yields per 3 acres produce 1,000,000 pounds of food each year according to Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization, Aquaponics farm in Chicago. By using a vertical grow system (stackable pots), with an Aquaponics system, you can yield even more per acre.
Certified Naturally Grown
“Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a non-profit organization offering certification tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers using natural methods. CNG was born of a commitment to healthy food and healthy soils, and grew out of the belief that we could create something uniquely valuable to small farmers and the communities they feed. CNG was founded when the National Organic Program (NOP) took effect in 2002. Our certification model encourages collaboration, transparency, and community involvement. Our programs are based on the highest ideals of organic farming, and the requirements are reasonable. CNG farms don't use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds, just like organic farms. Certified Naturally Grown is an independent program not affiliated with the NOP.”(CNG, 2012) This is what most people think organic farming is, although organic farming still uses synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, only in lesser quantities than Conventional Agriculture. CNG is beyond organic, in that, its standards are even higher than those set by the USDA's National Organic Program for organic certification.
“Permaculture is an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of our lives. Permaculture teaches us how build natural homes, grow our own food, restore diminished landscapes and ecosystems, catch rainwater, build communities, take care of waste and much more. The philosophy within permaculture is one of working with rather than against nature, and of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than premature and thoughtless action. Permaculture design techniques encourage land use which integrates principles of ecology and applies lessons from nature. It teaches us to create settings and construct ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and the resilience of natural ecosystems. In the spirit of sustainability, it also teaches us to allow natural and designed ecosystems to demonstrate their own evolutions.” (Permaculture Institute, nd) “Permaculture was developed in Australia in the late 1970’s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It has since grown into an international grassroots movement. Permaculture is a unique blending of traditional practices and scientific knowledge, of ageless wisdom and innovative ideas, of time-tested strategies and useful information from around the world. Demonstration sites span the globe.” (Mountain Meadow Farm, 2007) Permaculture addresses all the current problems in agriculture and goes with nature not against it like the current Big Agribusiness model of industrialized farming.
These are a few of the solutions we can implement to solve the current food crisis. The farming models presented are key in realigning agriculture with nature. Another model that could completely revolutionize agriculture, in suburban areas around the world, would be to return the farm to our own backyards. Implementing these farming techniques, to a backyard setting, is the most sustainable way we can feed ourselves and our communities in the future. The days of large farms are going to be a thing of the past. Smaller farms will still play an important role but the industrial model of farming will soon be extinguished. An organization can be formed which could work with communities to implement the “Backyard Program”, which would be tailored the specific environmental and social needs. If a small percentage of homes could lease a twelve foot by twelve-foot space to the community, it would be a sufficient amount for food production. Each family that donated property could receive fifty percent of the food yielded from the plot of land they leased. The remaining fifty percent could be sold locally (within one mile) at a farmer’s market or it could be carted around the neighborhood, essentially going door to door, reducing costs and carbon emissions. Those profits would pay the salaries of the farmers. The number of houses each community has participating will determine many things, although the percentage of houses needed to start is very low. This model will provide the absolute freshest food, at much lower costs. It will reduce the need for transportation, while eliminating the use of fertilizer, pesticides, and GMO’s.
Communities can be culturally infused through the localization of the farm in their own backyards. Our food will not be from a foreign land, we can have fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, and grains, which would provide the community with the nourishment it needs for optimum health. Our communities can begin to learn about food and the importance of controlling the ability to produce its own food. By reconnecting to the land, each of us can individually play a part in the restructuring of the current farming model and the revitalization of the food system with this systemic approach.
Sustainable Agriculture is implemented, on some level, all over the world. Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and many other areas around the globe, although some countries and individuals have better methods and results than others. The internet has become a very important tool and it is helping shape the future of agriculture.
Locally Grown Food
Growing our food locally, we can reduce our carbon footprint on the planet and create local jobs. By becoming more conscious of our environment, independently, we could each play a small role, on the road towards sustainability. Composting in our own homes and eliminating the need for landfills would also be an enormous positive change towards sustainability. Community farms and individual home farms could all play a part in feeding local communities. This will restore our food system back to the people and create a sustainable environment. The global agriculture system we have in place today has gone awry on almost every level. We have taken the natural and systemized it into an industrialized mechanism. We need a more systemic approach to agriculture in order to regain control of the foods we eat while combating the cost of transportation, and quality. The current farming models in place today, including CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) are not solving the problem, and huge multinational companies are on the brink of gaining complete control over our food supply.
"Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people." ~ Henry Kissinger
There are many examples of Sustainable Agriculture in operation, CSA’s are in operation in a few places on Long Island but I am not a big fan of CSA’s, mainly because I think I have a much more sustainable model. I started a program called Farms 2 U, in Sea Cliff, N.Y. which is specifically what I mentioned earlier as the “Backyard Program” This is our second year exploring and doing field work. Eventually it could be something like a franchise. We could setup individuals or groups that wanted to start similar projects in their area. The only way to regain control of the food supply is to become systemic and by that, I mean to have our food come from within not from the outside in. It also creates new energy within communities including a social need to get back to the land and could be the impetus of teaching people about the problems we face with our food supply and the ecological impact we are having on the planet due to poor farming practices.
Certified Naturally Grown (n.d.). CNG - Home Page. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from http://www.naturallygrown.org/
Discovery Communications, & Bocco, D. (n.d.). Top 10 Sustainable Farming Practices : Discovery Channel. Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/10-sustainable-farming-practices.htm
Gold, M. V., & USDA (2009). Sustainable Agriculture: Information Access Tools. Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/agnic/susag.shtml
GRACE Communications Foundation (n.d.). Sustainable Table | Sustainable Agriculture - The Basics. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.sustainabletable.org/246/sustainable-agriculture-the-basics#gsc.tab=0
The Honorable Margaret Hamburg Commissioner Food and Drug Administration, & CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY (n.d.). USDA Receives Over 370,000 Public Comments Opposing Approval Of 2,4-D Resistant, Genetically Engineered Corn. Retrieved July 24, 2013, from http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/spring_12_fsn_54961.pdf
Mountain Meadow Farm (n.d.). Permaculture history: Mountain Meadow Farm, Flagstaff, AZ. Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://www.mountainmeadowfarm.org/permaculture_history.html
Norman, D., Janke, R., Freyenberger, S., Schurle, B., & Kok, H. (1997). Defining and Implementing Sustainable Agriculture. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.kansassustainableag.org/Library/ksas1.htm
Theocharopoulos, A. (2007, March 7). Sustainable Farming Systems vs Conventional Agriculture: A Socioeconomic Approach | InTechOpen. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from http://www.intechopen.com/books/sustainable-development-education-business-and-management-architecture-and-building-construction-agriculture-and-food-security/sustainable-farming-systems-vs-conventional-agriculture-a-socioeconomic-approach-
Permaculture Institute (n.d.). Permaculture Institute. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/permaculture_design_course
SoCal Aquaponics (n.d.). What is Aquaponics? Retrieved July 19, 2013, from http://www.socalfishfarm.com/fish/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=44&Itemid=53