Sustainable agriculture is an integrated method of farming and ranching that has become a very important part of helping the environment in a socially and economically responsible manner. Today, more than ever, there is a fundamental movement toward spending less, eating healthier and reducing one’s impact on the climate. Sustainable agriculture is both a result of, and a solution to, these motivations.
Essentially, sustainable agriculture can be defined as a way to produce food through a system which integrates plants, animals and humans in way that poses no harmful environmental consequences and requires very little energy and is cost effective. In other words, any agricultural operation that combines different elements of production to avoid waste, reduce energy costs, and that produces a healthy and affordable end product.
Here is a specific example of a sustainable agricultural system: A producer has a combined operation of cattle, goats, and vegetables.
*The producer uses the goats to eat the weeds in the pastures to improve the natural grass production for the cattle.
*The cattle eat the grass in the pastures and also eat the peanut and pea plants that are planted in the field.
*The peanut and pea plants are natural nitrogen fixers that actually enhance the soil instead of degrading it by removing nutrients.
*The vegetables are fertilized by the cattle’s manure and are periodically rotated onto soil enhanced by the nitrogen fixing plants.
*The cattle and goats replenish themselves by breeding, excess animals are processed in local organic meat processing facility and are consumed by the people farming and sold in local farmer’s markets along with the organic vegetables.
This is a very broad example, but it illustrates the basic principle that all aspects of sustainable agriculture mesh together and are interdependent. What are the benefits of this? In the example used, the operation does not have to spend significant amounts of money to chemically treat the pastures for weeds. In addition to the money saved, this avoids putting harmful chemicals into the food chain. The peanut and pea plants provide a natural fertilizer and allow the producer to be able to avoid purchasing costly commercial fertilizers that also can put harmful chemicals in the food chain. Selling the vegetables and beef locally and directly to the consumer is more profitable for the producer, more affordable for the consumer, and keeps the money local as opposed to going to a national or international food conglomerate.
The effects of this example of sustainable agriculture are felt much more immediately on a local level than on a national or world-wide level. However, the impact of numerous sustainable agricultural operations like this one adds up and gains momentum until its effects can be felt at a much larger social and economic level. As more and more producers turn toward sustainable agriculture, the effects and benefits will spread, helping economically depressed rural areas revive while at the same time contributing to the overall environmental situation, reaching far beyond the local farm where it started.