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Sustainable Agriculture: The Future of Food, The Future of Our Planet

The farming industry is beginning to expand into more sustainable agriculture practices and to move away from industrial farming. How will this change the future of our food system and our planet?

Growing up in the Central Valley of California, I was surrounded by farms and agriculture. Watching the industrial practices that ruled the vast acres of farmland each new season, I became oblivious to the harmful actions that were taking place right in front of me. Watching corn grow annually on the same patch of land, having to stay indoors when crop dusters were spraying pesticides, seeing many people gathering produce in the blazing sun: it was all so normal to me. I did not realize the negative effects that resulted from industrial agriculture. It was not until my first Environmental Studies class in college that I questioned the agricultural practices that had become so normalized to me. Only then did I begin to search for answers that supported sustainable alternatives. 

So, what is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is transforming farms across America and in many other countries. But what is it? It is a multifaceted approach that combines economic, social, and environmental factors for better farming practices.

- Economic: Is the farm a profitable business that is contributing to the economy?

- Social: Is the farm ethically treating its workers and benefiting the local community?

- Environmental: What practices are being implemented to maintain healthy soil, minimize water usage, reduce the production of pollutants, and promote local biodiversity?

Each facet of sustainability in agriculture works to combat the ongoing global issues of food insecurity, exploitation of natural resources, and unethical workplaces. In alignment with the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals, the promotion of sustainable agriculture falls under Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Goal 2 hopes to, “ By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.”  

Sustainable agriculture views a farm holistically, as an entire ecosystem, and develops ways to maintain the resources within it. There are many practices that are beginning to shape the future of farming. 

The Future of Farming

Here are a few of the most notable sustainable farming practices that promote agricultural diversification:

Crop Rotation and Crop Diversification

Many industrial farms grow the same crops on the same plot of land, draining the nutrients of the soil and as a result, leading to the use of pesticides in order to kill off weeds and pests. Diversifying the crops within the farm and rotating the plants each season optimizes the nutrients that are put back into the soil, reduces pests, and limits pesky weed growth. 

Cover Crops and Reduced Tillage

Industrial farms often till the land prior to planting new crops to avoid weeds during the growing season, however, the practice also contributes to soil erosion. Cover crops are planted during the offseason and have become a sustainable alternative. Farmers benefit from the use of cover crops by returning nutrients into the soil, avoiding erosion, and reducing the need for herbicides. 

Managed Livestock Grazing

Rather than keeping cows in mud-filled corrals and feeding them premade livestock feed, managed grazing has proven its benefits to farmers. Managed grazing is moving the livestock from one plot of land to another throughout the day and continually rotating the plots being grazed. This allows for the livestock to consume nutrients from other plants, prevents overgrazing, and helps let the manure fertilize and mix into the soil. 

Integrated Pest Management 

IPM is an alternative to using chemical pesticides to avoid crop-killing pests. Through either biological or mechanical methods of pest control, IPM is a more natural way of maintaining crop health. With the use of both pest eating insects and pest-resistant seeds, farmers can efficiently grow crops without drowning them in chemicals.

Sell to Local Community

Another big contributor of greenhouse gases in the agricultural industry is the transportation system. Finding local farms that sell to community markets, or directly to consumers, saves on the carbon footprint and also reduces the need for packaging. Selling locally is a simple and effective way to support sustainable agriculture. Prior to the pandemic, I had plans to intern at a local agriculture farm, Sweet Farm.

Sweet Farm

Half Moon Bay, CA

Sweet Farm is a veganic agricultural sanctuary in Half Moon Bay, California. It is the first non-profit sanctuary in the world that addresses the global impact of factory farming and industrial agriculture. They focus on community education, veganic agricultural practices, rescuing abused farm animals, and using revolutionary technology for food and agriculture production. Sweet Farm is also a pioneer in the usage of biochar. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance made from crop waste that is added into the soil to increase the absorption of carbon, help with water retention, and reduce nutrient leaching. Sweet Farm is a prime example of the future of sustainable agriculture. 

What can you do?

There are many ways that you can help promote sustainable agriculture in your daily lifestyle. Sustainable food consumption will benefit your health, local farmers, and the environment.

- Support Local: Shop at your local farmers market. This reduces the carbon emissions from the produce you consume and puts profits into the local economy.

- Choose Organic: Organic food options have fewer chemicals in the production process and they are better for your health and the farming ecosystem.

- Grow your own food: Pick a few of your favorite fruits and vegetables, and try growing them in your own yard! There is nothing better than picking fresh veggies and making your own garden salad.

- Find Alternative Sources for Meat: Try to find producers that are organic and free-range to reduce your environmental impact. You can even try to have one meatless meal a day!

Sustainable agriculture practices produce healthier, safer, and more environmentally friendly products as compared to industrial agriculture practices. You can do your part to help the world embrace a greener future, and be sure to remain open to the trends that have the potential to transform our daily food consumption. 

KC Magsayo is an undergraduate student studying Marketing and Sustainability at Santa Clara University. Her passion for surfing and hiking has driven her to live sustainably, in order to maintain and protect healthy ecosystems. She will be finishing her degree in the spring of 2021 and is hoping to pursue a career in which she is able to create value in a company that links its market objective with environmental and social value. 

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