It is becoming clearer by the day that we need to reform our food system. From droughts, to challenges in energy demand, to the lack of transparency in our food choices, there are many reasons why we need to change from a conventional industrial food system to one that is sustainable.
The following list demonstrates why we need sustainable agriculture to grow nutritious food for people, maintain the health of the planet, and sustain livelihoods of local communities.
Reasons why sustainable agriculture is important for our future
#1 Sustainable farming restores and nourishes the soil
Healthy soil leads to healthier plants and animals, resulting in much more nutritious food for people. Healthy soil holds in moisture much more efficiently than depleted soil does, and leads to resilient healthy plants that are not as susceptible to attacks from diseases and pests.
Such as a system generally fails to nourish the soil beyond the three primary nutrients of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Such a simplified mechanistic view of plant-based nutrition and wellness leaves out many different important nutrients, minerals, and healthful plant compounds that plants need, resulting in depleted soil that grows much less nutritious food and leads to nutrient deficiencies in the human population.
This lack of respect for the soil in today’s conventional industrial agriculture system is plagued with problems of soil erosion, crops that are susceptible to attacks from disease and pests (thus requiring more toxic chemicals for “protection”), water pollution, and higher susceptibility to drought.
#2 Sustainable agriculture works in harmony with nature and not against it
Sustainable farming learns from what nature has to teach us about how natural productivity truly works and applies those lessons to create systems that are both naturally productive and naturally efficient.
Nature generally works through cooperation and collaboration instead of by domination, everything is recycled in some way, and everything functions well within natural limits. Sustainable farming practices take future generations into account and are regenerative.
What society is in the midst of discovering right now is that our constant strivings to control everything when we farm is largely failing, and nature will always find a way to outdo us. Although we are very clever, we are still hitting nearly every natural limit that exists, and we absolutely must re-examine our relationship with Mother Nature for our own survival.
#3 Sustainable farms save energy
Sustainable agricultural practices strive to reduce energy use at all levels. Beyond embracing less energy-intensive forms of agricultural production, we can design farming systems that work smarter, not harder, and systems that will become more productive and efficient with each passing year .
By reducing energy use and eliminating the need for fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the agricultural sector could be reduced dramatically.
In contrast, unsustainable agricultural practices are extremely energy-intensive and is heavily reliant upon fossil fuels for both production and transport many thousands of miles from field to plate. In fact, the conventional industrial agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world today.
#4 Sustainable farming protects and conserves water
Sustainable agriculture systems employ many methods that conserve water, including the use of mulching, drip irrigation, hugelkultur garden beds, creating swales on contour that help to hold water high on the landscape and recharge underground water resources, planting crops that do not require as much water such as an emphasis on perennial crops with deep roots.
Sustainable agriculture also employs methods that help to protect waterbodies from pollution and works to prevent pollution (in these systems, pollution is considered to be “waste” that is leaving the system), such as through the use of filter strips near water bodies and contour farming.
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture requires a great deal of water for production, and the crops in such systems are generally vulnerable to drought.
#5 Sustainable agriculture values diversity
Sustainable agriculture embraces diverse farming systems that incorporate a variety of crops instead of just a few select monoculture crops.
Such diversity leads to greater resiliency in the face of drought, diseases, and pests, since a sustainable farm is not as dependent upon a single variety of a crop or just a few primary crops for income.
A diverse sustainable farm also incorporates both plant and animal production together within a cooperative system, and is a healthy place for pollinators, people, and wildlife.
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture generally relies upon a few primary crops, and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to protect their monocrop plants that are more vulnerable to disease and pests. These agricultural chemicals can be very toxic to people, wildlife, and pollinators.
Crop and animal production are generally separate, with animal waste requiring disposal, and crops require their own fertilizers in these “efficient” conventional agricultural systems.
#6 Sustainable agriculture provides resilience in a world of climate change
Sustainable farming methods are the cornerstone of the low input agriculture. As previously stated, sustainable agriculture conserves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. It also conserves water, decreasing vulnerability to drought.
With diverse systems that grow a variety of crops, an emphasis on those plants that naturally require less water, and systems that have healthier plants because of the presence of healthier soils, crops in sustainable systems should have greater resilience than those in conventional systems.
In addition, when sustainable agriculture systems incorporate trees and other perennial plants, along with free-range livestock grazing systems, agriculture can actually become carbon sinks .
#7 Local sustainable farms support local communities and economies
Local sustainable farms place a great deal of emphasis on local food production.
By localizing our food system, we reinvest our money in our communities, where it continues to circulate within our local area to provide jobs for our friends and neighbors.
#8 True sustainable agriculture is good for people, the planet, and is profitable
Farming operation is not truly sustainable unless it takes into account whether it benefits the people, the health of our planet, and whether it is profitable as well.
If there are enough people who demand a sustainable food system and support such efforts with their money, we may very well see such an equitable system come to pass before we know it.