What is Sustainable Farming?

In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “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.”

The Sustainable Table website, (http://www.sustainabletable.org/home.php), gives the following characteristics of this type of agriculture: conservation and preservation, biodiversity, animal welfare, economically viable, and being socially just. I will give a quick summary of each below.

When I think of conservation and preservation I go back to when I was a kid. I am sure we all rememeber our mother’s telling us that if we used something we needed to put it back. Well this is the same concept. Whatever resources that are used from the environment like water, soil, tree, etc, is put back. This makes sure that future generations will have the same resources.

In organic farming there is alot of emphasis on biodiversity. This means that several different kinds of crops are rotated so that the soil stays rich and free of disease. Another key component of organic farming is the way in which animals are treated. The animals welfare comes first on an organic farm and they are treated with respect, and are allowed to behave naturally. For example chickens are allowed to peck, and roam around vs. being kept in tiny cages. The animals are also fed their natural diet and are not pumped full of antibiotics and other chemicals.

One of the major arguments that is brought up against organic farming is that it isn’t economically viable. This is not true. While there are certain costs to organic farming, there are also bigger pay offs for it as well. For example the farmers themselves are paid fair wages and have control of their own farm. Most farmers today are dependant on government subsidies and are owned and controlled by large companies like Monsanto that force them into practices that they, the farmers, don’t even want to be a part of. Another pay off is that organic products are in growing demand, and are sold at higher prices.

The University of California has a very informative page about sustainable agriculture. It discusses what is considered to be the three main goals of the sustainable agriculture movement: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. According to the University of California, “A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment.” (http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/concept.htm)

Advantages and Disadvantages of Organic Farming

Here I will explore more in depth the pros and cons of organic farming with some help from Fantastic Farm’s website. (http://www.small-farm-permaculture-and-sustainable-living.com).  Please check this website out to learn more about the authors.



Consumer Benefits:

  • Nutrition & Taste:
    • Organically grown food is dramatically superiorto that grown by modern conventional methods because it contains higher vitamin and mineral content. Organic food has also been shown to be better tasting by use of the Brix test. Click here for more information about Brix testing.
  • Poison-free:
    • One of the biggest advantages of organic food is that it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. Most if not all food that is regularly put on your grocery store shelves is chock full of chemicals from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides to antibiotics and even arsenic!  There has been a dramatic upward trend in diseases and illness like cancer that are caused by ingesting chemically altered foods in industrialized societies.

…“Representative data on the number of new cancer cases in New South Wales, Australia has been collected by the New South Wales Central Cancer Registry. Adjusted to take account of our aging population, their graph (below) shows that between 1972 and 2004 the incidence of new cancer cases per year (average for both sexes) has risen from 323 to 488 per 100,000 people. This is an increase of over 50% in just 32 years…

Food Keeps Longer:

  • Chemically/Industrially farmed plants have less structural and metabolic integrity than organically grown plants. This causes the conventionally grown produce to rot faster.

Grower Benefits:

Disease and Pest Resistance:

  • Many experiments during the 1930’s through today have proven that organically grown plants resist diseases and insect pests naturally so the argument that pesticides are necessary is incorrect. Pesticides are not a necessary evil like some would have yo ubelieve, they are merely a ‘quick fix’.

Lower Input Costs:

  • Because the natural grown crops have a greater resistance to pests and diseases the organic farmers save a lot of money not buying pesticides, and fertilizers are created on site by manuring, leguminous crop rotation, composting, and worm farming.

Environmental Benefits:

Climate Friendly:

  • The conventional agriculture is very energy expensive and uses up 9 calories for every 1 calorie of food that it produces! Organic agriculture produces much less greenhouse gases and is considerably more climate friendly.

It doesn’t use soluble fertilizers:

…”Farmers pour tons of phosphate and nitrogenous fertilizer on their cropping lands every year. Because it is soluble, much of this fertilizer is either washed off the soil surface and into waterways (especially phosphates) or leaches through the soil profile beyond the reach of plants and finds its way less directly into waterways (especially nitrates). Levels of 50 mg/L nitrate (as nitrate) or above results in groundwater that is unfit for drinking. In some of the more contaminated areas, the concentration is in excess of 100 mg/L (LWRRDC 1999).”…(http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/concept.htm)

With fresh water reserves under increasing pressure from climate change this is a grave situation for humanity. Click here for more information about the world’s water supply.

It doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides.

Another pollution disaster caused by agrichemical use is the contamination of groundwater reserves with poisonous pesticides or herbicides such as: Atrazine, Simazine, Dieldrin, Chlorpyriphos, Amitrol, Metolachlor, Trifluraline and Diuron Dieldrin, Lindane, and Alachlor. Even the “safest” herbicides such as Roundup (glycophosphate) – the second most widely used in the USA – are now known to pose a danger to wetland ecologies at routine contamination levels.

Groundwater studies in the US have found significant contamination. In Carolina, for example, over 27% of wells sampled in 1997 were found to be contaminated with pesticides commonly used in conventional agriculture. (Click here to go to “Nitrogen and Pesticide Contamination of Ground Water Resources” by the Ground water Quality Technical Committee of WRIA 1 Watershed Management Project.)

There is no viable method to clean up this widespread contamination that posts an unreasonable public health threat to current and future ground water users.

Beyond the water supply problem, most people don’t realize that it is difficult if not impossible to wash the chemicals off of your produce. Listed below are the “dirty dozen”; these are the fruits and vegetables you get at your grocery store that no matter how much you wash it, you are ingesting every chemical that was used on it. You should always buy organic versions of these foods. This list was taken from http://willtaft.com/the-dirty-dozen-of-food/ and condensed in table form for your convenience. Please check out his blog for more information about what the FDA allows as a ‘reasonable’ amount of poison in your food.

Produce Harmful Chemicals Commonly Found
Peaches Top 50 + Dinocap, Formetanate hydrochloride
Apples Top 50 + Prothiofos,   Terbuthylazine, Dinocap, Formetanate hydrochloride, Propargite,   Thiabendazole.
Bell Peppers Top 50
Celery Top 50
Nectarines Top 50 + Formetanate   hydrochloride.
Strawberries Top 50 + Benomyl, Formetanate   hydrochloride.
Cherries Top 50
Pears Top 50
Grapes Top 50 + Atrazine, Dinocap,   Simazine.
Spinach Top 50
Lettuce Top 50
Potatoes Top 50

Carrots, green beans, cucumbers, raspberries, domestic grapes, and oranges all rated above 40, (on a scale from 1 to 100), for chemical residue.

The top 50 chemicals applied are listed here

Read more: http://willtaft.com/the-dirty-dozen-of-food/#ixzz1pxJlSZqe



  • While it is the case that in the short term industrialized agriculture has superior productivity, however in the long term the advantages will continue to fade away. As we dump more chemicals on the soil to try and make the soil maintain this high productivity of monocultures the soil quality will continue to decrease and eventually become un-usable for future generations.


  • It takes more time and skill to organically farm food because it requires the farmer to know the land, have more of a relationship with it versus relying on a quick chemical fix. Farmers have to have a greater understanding of the farming system and use careful observation to correct problems instead of using the plaster over it effect of chemicals.
  • It will also take some time to rebuild the current fields into healthy ecosystems.


  • A problem with this movement towards sustainable agriculture/organic farming is the lack of regulation. Everyone has a different idea of what sustainable means, or what organic means and without reliable regulation it is difficult for consumers to make informed choices.
  • Check out this video and website that goes over the problem of labeling. http://www.slowfoodusa.org/

I will end here. I think that this gives a good start on defining organic/sustainable agriculture. I would like to thank the Sustainable Table, the Fantastic Farms website, and all of the other great sites I have found during my search for information. Thank you for having so much information out there.

The outcry for a better way has been heard from farmers and consumers alike. As human beings many feel that we are the stewards of this earth and that it is our duty to ensure that we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their agricultural needs, there also some who believe that we should hold that the environment and animals have their own intrinsic value. However, we will delve into the philosophical debates behind this line of thinking in a later post.


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