Is Sustainable Farming Going Mainstream?

National_Organic_Program

A recent article in Time magazine touted the need for sustainable agriculture. Calling the American food system “energy intensive,” the article predicted that “our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later.” The article also cited the consequences if American agriculture does not become sustainable: eroded farmland, antibiotic-resistant germs, and increasing health costs.

Another weekly news magazine, U.S. News & World Report, recently contained an article about sustainable agriculture. The article mentioned a study by the Technische Universitaet Muenchen which created a “new indicator model” to assess the sustainability of farms. Professor Kurt-Juergen Huelsbergen from the Organic Farming and Crop Production Systems at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen said that farmers who want to practice sustainable agriculture “need a solid basis for their decision-making.”

Last November a short article by Public News Service stated that sustainable agriculture “is catching on in California… sustainable farming practices are becoming more mainstream.” Kris O’Connor, executive director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, was quoted as saying, “Sustainability is no longer this kind-of extreme sense of how to be looking at agriculture, but rather a holistic approach that respects both the human and the natural resources.”

Demand for organic produce has increased since the late 1990s, according to the National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service. The production of organic produce has also increased. From 1997 to 2003, organic food sales grew between 17 and 21 percent. Total food sales during the same time period only grew two to four percent. In 2003, organic food sales grew by approximately 20.4 percent, reaching $10.38 billion.

Despite the growing popularity of organic produce, marketing is still a challenge. As one organic farmer put it, “Marketing can be a challenge, but not so much anymore because we’ve been doing it for some time. Markets are more readily available than 20 years ago.” Consumers are turning to the internet to find local organic produce. A company called SPUD offers home delivery of organic produce and groceries for major West Coast cities. Consumers create an account with SPUD through the company’s website and then select items they want delivered.

The Time magazine article points out that despite the growing popularity of organic produce, less than one percent of American farmland is farmed organically, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A report by the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Series sites two impressions about sustainable agriculture which contribute to a lack of support for it:

  • Sustainable agriculture is similar to the type practiced in the early 1990s, which involved purchasing few inputs and marketing little of the produce.
  • Farmers value their freedom of action, and the recent interest in sustainable agriculture by governmental agencies has been viewed negatively rather than positively by some.
Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.