Sustainable farming (or sustainable agriculture, if you want to be a little fancy) is a huge part of a sustainable world. The way that we get our food and the fibers for our clothes has a very big impact on the world at large.
At least, it does when it’s done wrong.
Sustainable agriculture seeks to minimize that impact so we can all live more lightly on the earth, while still having access to the things that we need and want.
At its most basic level, sustainable farming ensures the future productivity and profitability of farms and ranches by taking good care of them now while planning for the future.
If you want an official official definition, here’s how the United States Congress defines sustainable agriculture:
“An integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
- satisfy human food and fiber needs;
- enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
- make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
- sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
- enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”
Then let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
The Hallmarks of Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture is three things above all- profitable, environmentally friendly and good for communities.
Let’s break that down even further.
Sustainable Farming Is Profitable
If it’s not profitable, it’s not sustainable- you know, from a business point of view. A sustainable farm or ranch is one that will allow you to keep farming or ranching on into the foreseeable future, and for someone else to take up the reigns after you’re gone.
Obviously things happen, and this doesn’t mean that someone practicing sustainable agriculture will never go out of business, but being profitable is a great step toward economic sustainability and one that many farmers have trouble reaching.
Sustainable Farming Is Environmentally Friendly
If you don’t take care of your environment, your environment won’t be able to take care of you, or the generations that come after you. Sustainable farming practices are carefully calibrated to provide for our needs now without sacrificing the ability to meet the needs of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in the future.
When you conduct your business planning to be in it for the long haul, you’ll find that environmentally friendly practices come naturally to you because they’re also business-friendly practices.
After all, it doesn’t make much sense to wring your resources (land) dry this year to make a bit more money if it means you won’t be able to use that resource again for many years, if ever.
It’s much more responsible both fiscally and environmentally to ensure you’re not taking too much in any given year. That way, you ensure that you’ll be able to generate an income the next year.
Sustainable Farming Is Good for Communities
Not only does sustainable farming not harm communities by, say, polluting the water with pesticides, but it also actively helps them by increasing biodiversity, offering a place to buy food in what may otherwise be a food desert, and supplying a constant supply of healthy foods.
Many sustainable farms offer other community enriching activities like special events on the farm, education on sustainable agriculture, and membership CSAs that deliver boxes of farm fresh produce to members’ doors every week.
If that sounds like a dream, maybe you should check out a local sustainable farm in your area!
How Is It Done?
There are many sustainable farming techniques that can be used, either on their own or in combination. Some of the most common procedures include:
- Using renewable energy- solar is a popular one, but wind power and hydro-electric may also be viable depending on your setup!
- Integrated pest management- basically involves deterring harmful pests naturally and leaving those that are not harmful to coexist with plants. Bats and birds are often encouraged to roost nearby and can prevent the use of pesticides by eating unwanted insects
- Crop rotation- a very necessary process that keeps soil healthy and allows it time to recover
- Managed grazing- moving livestock through different grazing pastures to prevent overuse of any one and spreading around the manure that acts as a fertilizer
- Selling locally- not only is it easier to organize logistically, but it saves on transportation costs both monetarily and in fuel
- Careful water management- choosing the right crops for your area can drastically reduce the amount of water needed, as well as well-planned irrigation systems and rainwater collection
- Manual weed removal- on small farms, farmers may be able to manually pick out weeds rather than using machines or herbicides
Frank and Josje offer a great example of how to farm sustainably, and you can hear more about the systems they implement on their farm here:
Our Brands Committed to Sustainable Agriculture
Many of our DoneGood approved brands put sustainable agriculture practices to work in their business- whether they end up selling coffee in the end, or sheets. It’s a big part of a lot of businesses out there since so much of what we buy starts its life on a farm.
Here are some of our favorite brands that are committed to sustainable agriculture:
Under the Canopy’s range of organic cotton bed sheets, duvets, bath towels, robes, and rugs all start their lifecycle on a sustainable farm. Organic cotton is grown according to strict standards that help to conserve water, minimize the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, and makes for a more sustainable farm overall!
Another place to get your organic cotton fix, Boll & Branch offers bed and bath essentials that you can buy with confidence. They even have their own mattress!
Ok, it’s another organic cotton brand, but this one sells clothes! Once you’ve outfitted your bed in that sustainably-farmed, organic cotton goodness, you’re going to want to do the same for your body. If you ever leave your bed again, that is.
Organic cotton doesn’t have a corner on the sustainable agriculture market, despite how the last three brands on this list make it seem! Organic bamboo is also a member, and Bambu makes great use of it. They harvest bamboo from wild groves, without the use of fertilizers or pesticides, and turn it into awesome kitchen utensils and compostable disposables.
They also sell a pretty rad plastic-free bamboo and cork flyswatter that I bet you didn’t know you needed until now.
I had to slip another organic cotton brand onto the list. There are just too many good ones I don’t want to leave out! This will be the last one, I promise.
Brentwood Home sells mattresses for every member of your family, from King size to crib size and even a few for Fido. Now aren’t you glad I told you about them? I would hate for you to miss out on an organic cotton pet bed.
Sustainability is a huge factor when choosing a coffee to buy, both in terms of the business practices and the farming ones. Blue Mayan has you covered on both fronts.
Their direct trade model ensures that farmers are paid fairly for their crop and that they’re supported predictably enough to invest in new sustainable efforts. After all, it’s easier to take a risk in your business when you know where your next paycheck is going to be coming from.
On the Blue Mayan website, you can view a summary of each farm where Blue Mayan Coffee comes from, along with the specific sustainable practices that each one is using. It’s pretty cool to know that much about your morning java! (Is anyone still calling it java?)
Sustainable Agriculture 101
This has been your intro lesson to sustainable farming. By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what it is, what methods are used to achieve it, and why it’s a good idea. You also have a shopping list of a few brands that practice sustainable agriculture, and I’m sure you could find a few more farms and ranches in your local area.
If all this has piqued your interest and you want to learn more, check out this TEDx Talk on the topic by Dean Carlson, an expert in the field (pun intended)
Freelance writer working with bighearted businesses who want to better our world.