Sustainable Farming: What Can Our Gardens Grow?

November 13, 2009

It’s the time of the year when we reflect back on the summer.  If we planted gardens, we harvest vegetables.   We put those fruits and vegetables away to be savored in the winter.  We hope they’ll sustain us.

Sustainable farming is the catchphrase for food production methods that are focused on environmental stewardship, farm profitability and prosperous farm communities.  I thought it might be nice to consider sustainable farmers just for a moment in this blog; they operate a “business” that can be very green indeed.

Our nation has been the food basket of the world for some decades because of advanced practices in agricultural production.  We led the way in developing beefier cows, faster producing hogs and chickens that laid eggs ‘round the clock.  This first “green revolution” paved the way for decades of success in this country.

The cream in our crop seemed a little heavier than farmers in other lands could produce, it seemed at various times.  But the cost has been tremendous.  Doctors and geneticists ponder the hormones in milk that our children drink.  The run-off of animal wastes from hog and poultry farms has seeped into water tables around these operations.  And the small farmers themselves have been mostly driven out of business in favor of larger corporate farms that take over and leave communities without a new generation to assume their responsibilities. 

In introducing sustainable practices, we may have a chance to rewrite the book for agriculture’s place in our nation and across cultures, as sustainable farming could benefit cultures who still use antiquated, outdated farming techniques.  Adding even a slight percentage of productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa could mean saving lives.  Done correctly, it could mean saving soil.

"That's great because these people need to eat. At the same time I'd like to hear wow, we improved the soil so that down the road they're going to be better off," says John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science at Washington State University.

Sustainability isn’t the easiest thing to produce in an arid clime.   You have to choose your crops wisely, work with the land’s inherent limitations and then try to get the crop to market before its lost.  All of these battles are fought against the steep incline of tradition and farmers who say “That’s the way my Daddy did it.” 

But we can do better.  Rotating crops, introducing legume and other forages such as peanuts and alfalfa into production where such crops are unknown and teaching people about stewardship of their land is important and valuable.


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