A huge portion of my project, Farmer Seeking Roots is a conversation about sustainability. As I travel and work alongside these passionate family farmers and share meals with consumers, I intend to engage both farmers and consumers in conversations about what sustainability means to them, why they choose to support the real food movement and finally what they see as the future of food. Since these are questions I would like to pose to others, I decided that I should probably answer them myself.
“Sustainability” is a term that is becoming severely co-opted as of late. Our supermarket shelves are being “green-washed” in response to growing trends. In reality, we need to become more than sustainable. We have done too much damage to our health and the health of the environment already to settle at sustaining. We need to reclaim, rebuild, and reinvent our current food system. That being said, I think it is important here to give my definition sustainable food. In its essence, sustainability means to provide what is essential for something or someone to continue indefinitely. In the context of agriculture, this means to maintain and improve the land food is grown on, the livelihood of the people who grow it, the environment it is grown in, and the community that consumes it.
I see sustainability in agriculture as meeting the following criteria:
1. Farmers and their employees are able to maintain a decent standard of living.
2. Soil is regarded not only as the foundation of any food system but also as a living being requiring nurture and care.
3. When growing vegetables, fodder and forage: Chemically derived pesticides and fungicides are used only in extreme cases of infestation as a last resort. The use of chemically derived fertilizers and herbicides is prohibited.
4. Animals are treated with respect, given room to roam, fed a diet they have evolved to eat, are raised without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics, and if the plate is their destination, they are slaughtered humanly and with reverence.
5. Population levels are undiminished, or enhanced, when foraging wild edibles or harvesting fish and game.
6. Resources are used with care and efficiency, with little to no waste, and nutrients are cycled properly through the local ecosystems.
7. No seed should be patented ever.
8. Food nourishes people, both in the community where it was grown and further afield.
As a farmer, I support this concept of sustainable agriculture largely out of self-preservation. The idea of working with highly toxic chemicals every day makes me feel ill. I cannot imagine spraying a crop with those toxins one day, then harvesting it to feed to myself and others the next. I support raising animals humanely because it would not be possible for me to work in a toxic, ammonia filled warehouse, looking into the eyes of animals that deserve more. A farm animal’s life may be short, but it should be happy. I support it because I was an environmentalist long before I was a farmer. I have always had respect for the natural environment and I don’t believe that we as a species will continue to exist on this planet if we continue to march blindly down our current path. Sustainable agriculture is imperative to the health of our environment. There is so much energy expended to feed all of our human residents, let’s expend it with a consciousness of the repercussions. Finally, I support it because I as an individual love nothing more than coming home at the end of the day, tired and covered in dirt, but sanguine in the knowledge that I have expended my energy in nourishing others with food that was grown with love and integrity. I cannot fathom doing anything less.
As a consumer I support sustainable agriculture for my personal health. Eating toxic chemicals scares me. The burgeoning threat of antibiotic resistance scares me. However I make these decisions out of more than just fear and self-preservation. I support sustainable agriculture because I feel it is my duty as a citizen of this planet. We are all waking up to the fact that our vote with our dollars is more impactful than our vote at the ballot box. We vote, every day on what we want our future to be. We can vote for the health of our farmers, our families, for the health of our food and our animals, and finally for the health of the planet as a whole. When I buy food that is raised sustainably, I know that I am giving that producer the ability to carry on producing. I am proving that it is possible to make a living producing food the right way, and I am encouraging others to join me.
I am an optimist about the future of food. We as a people are waking up to the dangers of industrialized agriculture and processed foods. We will no longer be fooled by labels like all – natural or low – fat. We are becoming too smart for that. I admit, I am lucky enough to live in a bubble of people that are like minded when it comes to the importance of food provenance. However I see this movement shifting more into the main stream every day. We have an incredible mountain to climb. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs, but I can see the light on the horizon.