Time do to a little thinking about sustainable food and agriculture. The last few units seem to be about what the economy should be, not just what it is. When it comes to agriculture, sustainable seems to be the same. It’s what agriculture should be, but not entirely what it is.
So… what do I see as sustainable agriculture. At a most basic level to me, it is agriculture that doesn’t deplete or damage the environment it depends on to function. This isn’t a new concept. It started around 6000 B.C. with crop rotation. The idea that agriculture as it is, fails to be sustainable makes me wonder why we haven’t run out of food already. Agriculture by it’s nature requires it be sustainable. Farms can’t get new fields every year, and you can’t feed cattle and pigs on hope. Crops keep growing year after year. So there has to be more to it.
This to me is where the rest of the environment comes in. Agriculture affects the non-agriculture areas around it. Pesticides and fertilizers mess with the wetlands, lakes and rivers. It impacts other natural food sources like fish and wildlife. Sustainable agriculture would not have a negative impact on the world around it, and we’ve proven over and over that it’s possible to have completely sustainable agricultural practices.
So why don’t we do it, if it’s already possible? That’s where the economy ties back into it all. It’s profit driven. We work the land, and breed our animals for maximum output, with minimum input. Very early on we discussed how money is essentially a form of rationing goods. With goods kept to a minimum, it makes sense to try to use the least we can to produce the most we can. Anyone who has managed a farm knows a whole lot about food efficiency, and it’s measured all the time. A careful farmer can tell you how much muscle gain his animals get per pound of grain.
Sustainable agriculture would require us to abandon this idea. We need to be less concerned about maximum output, for minimum input, and more concerned about the land owned by the guy next door. The problem is, how do you make someone abandon the idea of earning more money so he can take better care of his own home, and family? How do you make a farm, look 50-100 years down the line, when he might not have enough money to get him through the winter?
I think we are stuck. I only see two ways out, we need a system that puts sustainability over profit, and rewards it. Or we need to find a way to make sustainable agriculture more profitable than other forms of agriculture. Demonizing farms for doing what our own economic system encourages them to do, isn’t exactly helpful. Until we change the model, the results will stay the same.