Have you ever heard of a gift that keeps on giving? That is a good description of sustainable agriculture, and what it keeps on giving is healthy food in an eco-friendly manner, a gift that is extremely important in today’s world.
Sustainable agriculture involves being good stewards of the land. It implies the ability to produce food indefinitely without damage being sustained by the soil and the surrounding ecosystem. To further expand on this definition, sustainable agriculture is a method of raising food that is healthy for consumers, animals and workers, does not harm the environment and provides a fair profit for the farmer.
When family farms were the norm, agriculture was in harmony with the environment. The soil was healthier, as cattle was alternated with crops in the fields, thereby putting back what was taken out. However, the 1980’s saw an increase in foreclosures of family farms. Unable to compete with large farming corporations, many went out of business and were replaced by corporate farms.
Corporate farms produce food continuously on the same land without an opportunity for the soil to rest. Manure and chemical fertilizers are added to the soil until overuse of these products in itself becomes a problem. In addition, corporate farms confine an extremely large number of animals in one place, leading to unmanageable amounts of waste. Whereas the amount of waste on a family farm can be used judiciously in the management of the soil, the amount of waste produced on corporate farms becomes a pollutant that causes contaminated ground water and polluted streams and rivers.
Sustainable agriculture is extremely important in today’s world. Urban development has led to the loss of prime farmland. This leads to uncertainly as to how an increasing population will be fed, especially when present farmland is undergoing depletion of needed nutrients and pollution of the soil. Animals are often kept in unhealthy conditions on industrial farms and exposed to a large amount of toxins, thereby making the use of these animals as a food source an increasing health risk. The continuing destruction of the ecosystem through pollutants is causing extinction of many species to accelerate, producing a loss of biodiversity. Humans need a variety of both plants and animals in their food. However, at present only fifteen plant species and eight animal species make up ninety percent of human food.
Furthermore, a large portion of the fossil-fuels that are using in agriculture are used for the production of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In order to conserve resources and to minimize the negative impact on the environment, it is important that sustainable agriculture is employed which includes the use of more natural processes (i.e. crop rotation, organic pest control, animal manure, natural minerals to preserve soil fertility).
Sustainable agriculture is not just a system; it is a philosophy. The world must embrace this philosophy in order to survive. Otherwise, the gift that keeps on giving will become the gift that gave until it ran out.