Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Due to the fact that over 7 billion people need food to survive, agriculture is a very critical resource issue. Unfortunately, current agricultural practices (in conjunction with population growth rates) doom future generations to contamination, lack of fresh water, unproductive soil and ultimately starvation. Common practices introduce toxic chemicals into the environment, irrigate with dwindling freshwater resources, and erode our once fertile top soil at an alarming rate. It is safe to say that we cannot continue down this path if we are to feed ourselves in the coming centuries.
Sustainable agriculture is comprised of a system that provides a reasonable yield of food while protecting environmental quality, community social welfare, and farmer livelihood. Generally, chemical pesticides or fertilizers are not required, irrigation water is obtained from precipitation, and crop diversity is encouraged rather than the conventional monoculture crop of modern agriculture. Instead of highly mechanized till-farming where topsoil is disturbed every season, sustainable agriculture encourages no-till farming to protect valuable soil fertility. Crops are rotated frequently and mixed throughout smaller fields to encourage natural pest resistance. With sustainable agriculture, our environment is protected and the land will remain healthy and productive for future generations.
The health of farmers and the community are also protected within such a system. Crops are kept local and sold at venues such as farmers markets, where farmers retain more of the profits from the sale of their harvests. Because organic farming operations are more labor intensive, more people are required to work the land. The system typically requires 2.5 times more labor than conventional farming, but it yields 10 times the profit with a rise in crop yields and the elimination of the need to purchase expensive chemicals (Michigan Land Use Institute). With today's high unemployment levels, this system makes sense solely from an economic perspective. Sustainable farming encourages a livable wage for the people who provide us with a vital staple of life. It is obvious that our agricultural system has a long way to go before achieving sustainability. However, we can start today by supporting the roots of our local economies. We can be conscious in our decisions by putting our dollars not only toward organics, but locally produced organics. Even though it's not feasible to purchase all locally produced organic food today, the movement to once again be part of community-supported agriculture is taking hold. Please join in.
"A sustainable agriculture is one that depletes neither the people nor the land." ~Wendell Berry, 1984
This article provides a great statistical look into the state of organic agriculture. It reviews statistics on acreage, value, prices and organic farm demographics, profitability, and evolving issues in organic agriculture like mandatory certification.
The thoughts advanced in this paper are based on existing data and information on organic agriculture in developing countries which are, as many would expect, rather scarce. More focused statements would need extensive field research. This paper has therefore attempted to offer a conceptual framework that could be used for evaluating the sustainability and productivity of existing or potential organic agriculture systems, under different bio-physical and socio-political settings.
Formerly known as the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, Beyond Pesticides works with their allies in protecting public health and the environment with the goal of transitioning to a world free of toxic pesticides.
This site offers general information on human and environmental health issues linked to toxic pesticide use, as well as access to resources like current news and publications and a guide to non-toxic pest management strategies for your home and garden. Click here to find out more!
Conservation Economy is a project of Ecotrust, an organization created in 1991 by a small group of diverse people seeking to bring the good ideas emerging around sustainability to their home. This site explains the basic characteristics of sustainable agriculture and also offers case studies of sustainable farming operations.
A project of Sustainable Table, the Eat Well Guide allows users to enter their zipcode and find local farms, stores, and restaurants selling humanely-raised animal products and organic produce.
Farms without Harm is a network of concerned citizens and groups promoting safe, sustainable farming in Michigan. It educates the public through speakers, workshops and other programs. Check out their web site for upcoming events and meeting information. To contact the organization, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
The Alliance includes farmers, processors, distributors, grocery stores, and consumers in the Midwest region who promote sustainable agriculture techniques and products. The organization provides certifications to farms/ranches and food handlers who provide food to society that is humanely produced and environmentally responsible.
The Local Harvest community level map on this site allows users to enter a city or zip code to find sustainable farmers, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture projects (CSAs) in their area!
The GRACE Project is working hard to educate consumers on the problems associated with factory farms and promote the use of sustainable farming operations. The site contains news, information on factory farms/CAFO's, press releases, photo galleries, and many other resources.
Growing Power is "a nationally recognized leader in urban agriculture, which provides hands-on training and technical support for community projects". Located in Milwaukee and Chicago, the organization hosts workshops and demonstrations for aquaculture, aquaponics, vermiculture, horticulture, small or large-scale composting, soil reclamation, food distribution, bee-keeping, and marketing. Check out their web site for information on upcoming workshops, collaborative projects, selected articles, and other useful information.
Local Harvest features a national database of organic establishments and an online store to buys seeds, crafts, soaps, and other products. The site allows consumers to search regionally for restaurants serving local organic food, farmers markets, family farms and CSA's, and grocery stores with local, organic, and humanely raised meat and dairy products.
NRDC is an environmental action organization that uses law, science and the support of more than 1 million members and online activists, to protect the planet's wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things.
This link features NRDC’s Organic Foods 101 page which provides basic information about organic foods, national labeling standards and online organic food sellers.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for the organic industry in North America. OTA’s mission is to encourage global sustainability through promoting and protecting the growth of diverse organic trade.
Their site offers facts on organics including FAQ’s, public policy, market trends, food safety and US organic standards in addition to educational materials, organic supplier directories, recent news and much, much more!
This website helps to form partnerships and connections between land owners and individual gardeners. Gardeners and green thumbs without land can now conveniently connect with participating landowners in their area through this website. Individuals without land now have the opportunity to grow their own food. The whole underlying concept of this website is to build a “Trusting community that yields the efficient use of land and a greener planet.”
Located in Londonderry, New Hampshire, Stonyfield Farm is committed to keeping artificial ingredients out of their food products. They use only pure, all natural and organic ingredients; and never any preservatives or artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. They also use premium milk from farmers who have pledged not to use the synthetic bovine growth hormone, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Click here to learn more about Stony Field Farm's sustainable products and initiatives.
Since 1988, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grant program. As part of the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, SARE funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.
Visit this site to learn about how sustainable agriculture is working on diverse farms throughout the U.S. You'll have access to real-life stories of farmers who are implementing sustainable agricultural practices on their own farms.
Sustainable Table provides information to promote healthy eating habits in America, including sections devoted to the concept of sustainability, sustainable agriculture, and sustainable school lunches and education. This is a very useful resource to the consumer who wants to learn how to make smart choices at the grocery store.
The Sweetwater Local Foods Market is "Michigan's first farmers market to exclusively sell certified organic/organically grown fruits and vegetables and meats, eggs, and cheese from humanely raised animals".
United States Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program (NOP) regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced.
This page provides information on the NOP's various certifying agents and organic standards including guidelines for producers, handlers, processors, and retailers. Click here to learn more about the NOP and organic produce policies and standards.
The West Michigan Cooperative (WMC) is the region's first-ever online farmers market, brought to you by Farms without Harm, the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, DeLeeuw Digital, LLC and Media Rare. The WMC serves as a way for local farmers and consumers to stay connected all year long.
Funded by the Steelcase Foundation of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Header photo by Carol Y. Swinehart, courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant Extension
Site by CMC/GrandNet