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Issues in Agriculture

Sustainable Ag: What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Preface: I’m just wrapping up my second semester of graduate school. I was asked to write a one page reflection on my changed, enlightened, or steadfast views on sustainable agriculture. 

I can confidently say that I am finishing this semester with a changed view of what it means to practice sustainable agriculture. I don’t know that my definition of sustainable agriculture is very cohesive, as there are so many practices that can fall under that umbrella, but I have a clear picture of what sustainable agriculture does not do. It doesn’t deplete the soil, the water, or biodiversity on any level. It is not dependent on fuels, fertilizers, or chemicals that are derived from a limited resource. It doesn’t exploit laborers, consumers, or governments. Sustainable agriculture is not wasteful.

Sustainability is so much more than just a set of practices deployed at the farm level. Sustainable agriculture requires the participation of all parties: suppliers, producers, distributors, consumers, and regulators. It does more than put food in the mouths of the hungry, it nourishes communities by creating livelihoods and connections between people. Sustainable agriculture will play a part in undoing the environmental degradation that has been done, and in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sustainable agriculture will never look exactly the same in one place as it does in another. It is adaptable to small changes and to large ones. It’s constantly evolving to meet the demands of an evolving food system and world. There are many groups working to further the reach of sustainable agriculture, and while they may never agree about the best way to do it, that’s ok. Focusing solely on optimizing practices seems to have led us astray, so perhaps there’s room for a little bit of disagreement and disorganization.

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