What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture involves food production methods that are healthy, do not harm the environment, respect workers, are humane to animals, provide a fair wage to growers, and support farming communities.

Sustainability includes buying food as locally as possible, which benefits the local community and economy, while supporting a healthy environment by enriching the soil, protecting air and water quality, and minimizing energy consumption.

Small, local farms are run by people who live on their land and work hard to preserve it. They protect open spaces by keeping land in agriculture use and they preserve natural habitats by maintaining forests and wetlands. By being good stewards of the land, seeking out local markets to sell their produce, minimizing packaging, and harvesting food only when it's ready to be consumed, farmers can significantly reduce the environmental impact their business has.

Studies have shown that sustainable agricultural practices can actually increase food production by up to 79% while at the same time actively reducing the negative effects of farming on climate change and the environment, through pollution by fossil fuel consumption, carbon-dioxide emissions, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the excessive use of antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones.

We need to ask these kinds of questions: "Do you know how these animals were raised?" or "Do you know the name and the location of the farm where this product was grown?" It's a good idea to take a ride out and look first-hand at the farm's operation and the conditions that the animals live in. Checking these facts out can go a long way in giving you confidence that you're supporting quality farming and the sustainability issues that are important to you.

What we don't see in the industrial food production system behind most of the commercial food we eat is the effect it has on the environment and the quality of life for the animals who become our meals. Fossil fuels play a large part in transporting food or fueling machinery, and, when refined or burned, they create greenhouse gases which contribute to air pollution. The biggest part of fossil fuel use in industrial farming is in making its chemicals. 40% of the energy used in the food system goes towards producing chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Then add transportation, processing, and packaging to the food system equation, and we quickly see that the fossil fuel and energy use of our current food system puts tremendous stress on the environment.

For example, between production and transportation, if they grew 10% more produce for local consumption in the state of Iowa, it would result in an annual savings from 280,000 to 346,000 gallons of fuel, plus it would reduce carbon-dioxide emission annually by 6.7 to 7.9 million pounds.

Food processors also use a large amount of paper and plastic packaging to keep fresh foods from spoiling while being transported and stored for long periods of time. This packaging is difficult or impossible to reuse or recycle. Industrial farms are a major source of air and water pollution.