Friday, March 28, 2014

What Does It Mean - Sustainable Agriculture?

Field with Short Season crops
What is Sustainable?
One of the current buzz-words in the media is 'sustainability.' But, of course, media or popular recognition is a two-edged sword. On the plus side, a broader segment of the population will be ready to learn about sustainable practices. But, unfortunately, the concept also becomes prone to corruption as it gets misused and abused. Since we've been asked by a couple of people to explain what sustainable agriculture is, we thought we'd give you our perspective. Then, you will understand what motivates us as we grow food for you.

1. Sustainable Agriculture provides us with "Food with Integrity" for our consumption. 

Consumers are easily able to see who raised the food, what methods they used and can confirm that the farmer avoids exploiting resources (labor, environment, etc). In short, there are no "smoke and mirrors" here. We grow using approaches that we believe are best for your well-being, the well-being of our environment, our community and our farm. And, as we learn and gain experience, we make adjustments. We constantly ask ourselves if our choices are the best we can make and we challenge ourselves to improve.

In this definition, interaction with the community is important. This is where the 'connection to our food' component of sustainable agriculture comes into the picture. Everyone who eats should be concerned about their connections to the grower and how they do their job. One implication is that responsible methods of farming are preferable. Why would any of us want to support businesses that willfully mistreat workers, pollute the environment or sacrifice quality to acquire every last penny possible?

For that matter, why would you want to put anything but the best fuel into your and your family's bodies? You want food that is fresh, tasty and healthy. If you know the farmer, you have a better idea as to how it is grown and whether it is being produced in a way that makes you feel that you are doing the best you can to provide excellent food for your table.

2. Sustainable Agriculture operations work to minimize external inputs to maintain the operation. 

If the operation cannot provide certain necessary resources, a sustainable response would be to work with a local provider. In our case, we try to find a source that best fits the mission of the farm and is closest in proximity to us.

We can look at farming from an input/output standpoint. An increase in materials we bring in from 'off-site' to grow the season's crop increases cost. The more self-sufficient the operation is the better. So, if a farm can develop its own composting operation, it can maintain soil fertility without relying on other sources exclusively. This links back to food with integrity. If inputs come from the farm, then it is easier to trace and assess appropriateness. If the farm cannot provide the input on their own, then due diligence needs to be taken in order to vette the source.

We are also concerned that inputs, whether they take the form of an action or addition of physical item(s), are more likely to do good than harm. For example, reliance on Round-up will impact long range health and productivity of the land where we grow our food, so we opt not to use synthetic chemicals such as glysophates. This is where organic practices usually enter the picture. Inputs to the crop are carefully selected in an effort to reduce residual deleterious effects.

3. Sustainable Agriculture stands on three legs: Community, Environment and Profitability

Each of these is important for a sustainable system. (Dr. Francis Thicke, PFI Conference keynote 2007)
What I like most about the third definition is that it encompasses the other two. But, it also makes no bones about the business side of sustainable agriculture. If there is to be a sustainable agriculture system, it has to be attractive to new and existing farmers, otherwise, very few people will fill food production needs. What we want are healthy, prosperous farms with people who love what they do.

For some reason, many people believe that profitability comes at the expense of ideals. And, frankly, if it were a matter of starving or being fed, I might agree. But, when did we decide that having enough wasn't enough? There is a difference between healthy profit and exorbitant growth and income. We can provide our food needs AND pay the farmer fair prices AND the farmer can use practices that are environmentally sound.

While this may sound too idealistic to work, we'd like to point out that as of 2014, we will be entering our tenth season. Over the last ten years we have had challenges and successes. Weather patterns have changed, economic climates are different than they were when we started and our own perspectives have developed as we gained experience and learned. We are a living farm. We experience, we learn, we adapt. With every change, we do our best to find the balance that best meets the principles we set forth or the Genuine Faux Farm. In the end, we find that we are still here, striving to do our best to be a positive force in the local and sustainable foods movement.

It can be done. Let's encourage more people to do this.

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