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The Growth of Sustainable Farming

POSTED UNDER Healthy Living

Sustainable farming is rapidly increasing, and now accounts for roughly half of row-crop acreage in the United States, according to SUSTAIN – a joint program between the food industry coalition United Suppliers and the Environmental Defense Fund. Sustainable farming. It sounds good – something we’d all like to get on board with, right? But what is it? And what does it really mean for you and the world around you?

According to Sustainable Table, “in simplest terms, sustainable agriculture is the production of food, fiber or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare.”

Sustainable farming is defined as being economically viable, environmentally sound and socially beneficial, working for the farmer, the land and the community. As the name indicates, it’s grounded in the idea of stewardship of resources, protecting and preserving them for future generations.

There are four key benefits of sustainable farming:

1. Environmental preservation: Raising crops and animals without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified seeds, as well as utilizing farming practices that protect soil, water and other natural resources.

2. Public health protection: Avoiding pesticides and other chemicals reduces exposure of people, animals and the environment to toxins. Sustainable farming also means the careful management of livestock waste, which often includes toxins, as well as pathogens.

3. Sustaining communities: Sustainable farming is economically self-sustaining, providing a living wage and safe working conditions for farmers, farm workers and others employed in the production, harvesting and processing of food, as well as supporting local and regional economies.

4. Animal welfare: In sustainable farming, animals are treated with care and respect – animals are able to move freely, behave according to their instincts and consume a natural diet. As a result, they’re under less stress and so require fewer antibiotics and other medications.

The Impact of Industrial Farming

Industrial farming focuses on large-scale production and cost-efficiency, often at the expense of the environment, farm workers, livestock and even the nutritional value of the food it produces. It makes wide use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics, and can result in deplorable conditions for livestock.

Environmental impact extends well beyond the release of toxins and pathogens into the environment, however. We typically think of climate change as the result of burning fossil fuels – and that certainly plays a role. But according to the Center for Food Safety, one-third of the carbon in the atmosphere today used to be in the soil – and industrial agriculture is largely to blame. Heavy use of chemicals, excessive soil tilling and use of heavy machinery disturbs the organic matter in the soil and releases carbon into the air. Scientists estimate that cultivated soil has lost between 50 and 70 percent of its carbon.

Powering the Growth of Sustainable Farming

What’s powering the sustainable farming movement? In a word – you. As consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from and how it’s affecting the environment, a growing number of food companies, including General Mills, Unilever, Campbell Soup, Smithfield Foods and Kellogg Company are urging farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices. It’s not only better for the environment, but it also gives their products an edge in the fiercely competitive food industry.

The impact is enormous. The 15 major food companies committed to sustainable farming represent about 30 percent of the United States food and beverage market, and interest continues to build.

You can help power the growth of sustainable farming by continuing to ask where your food comes from and how it’s grown and by directing your food dollars to local farms, farmers and companies that support sustainable farming.


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