Barns and Farms: The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture

Often, when people think of healthy food they are thinking primarily about food that is good for the body. But there are other ways that food can be healthy. It can also be eco-friendly in that it is good for the environment as well. Ideally, food should be produced in ways that do not negatively impact the environment or result in the mistreatment of animals. When combined with practices that pay farmers fair wages, provide a safe and humane working environment for workers, and supports the community, this is called sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture has certain characteristics that are associated with it. These characteristics include biodiversity, animal welfare, conservation, preservation, and economic viability. In addition, sustainable agriculture is also commonly characterized as being just on a social level. This means that competitive wages, benefits, and fair treatment are extended to workers.

In terms of being economically viable, farmers associated with sustainable agriculture do not rely on government subsidies but are able to make a fair and decent living. Animals on the farm should not be mistreated and should be able to live in conditions that do not hinder their movements or behavior. A biodiverse farm does not use chemicals for the most part. In some cases, they may only use extremely minimal amounts. Different species of both animals and plants are also a significant characteristic of sustainable agriculture as it helps reduce the risk of insect infestation on crops or disease. Lastly, sustainable farms do not create excess pollution or waste. It strives to efficiently re-use resources when possible and ensure that resources are replenished. They also reduce the amount of pollution caused by fossil fuels by selling in local markets.

Despite these characteristics, sustainable agriculture can be interpreted and applied differently by individual farmers, even though the United States Congress addressed it in FACTA, or, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. Under Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 of this Act, sustainable agriculture was given an approved definition. However, farmers are not legally obligated to follow this definition of sustainability. As a result, some farmers may claim to practice sustainable farming although they do not abide by the definition of sustainable farming and may disregard the critical characteristics associated with it. This is an unfortunate downside to many healthy and environmentally friendly forms of farming, such as cage-free farming. This should not, however, be a deterrent in purchasing sustainable food items. Many farmers are honest in how they run their farms, and they appreciate the benefits and standards that are associated with this type of farming. As local, family owned businesses, a majority of sustainable farmers strive to have the freshest food possible. They may sell their produce or other food items as farmers, or outdoor, markets.

When not certain about the benefits of sustainable agriculture, people should look closer at factory farming and its negative impact on the environment, the small farmer, and one's health. When it comes to environmental health, factory farming releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is this type of gas that continues to contribute to global warming. Animals are treated in an inhumane manner, often kept in cramped close cages, crates or stalls. Animal waste from this type of farming may also leak into the water and soil, contributing to pollution. Because of these conditions, the animals are also frequently treated with significant amounts of antibiotics which in turn makes its way into the food that consumers eat. This and the overall poor condition of the animals increases the risk of human illness and disease upon consumption. Yet another negative of factory farming is its impact on the economy. Because it relies heavily on mechanisms to tend to the animals, there is little need for workers. People who would work in farming are left unemployed, raising the rate of poverty in rural communities. Because of the volume of animals, small farms are also put out of business as they are unable to compete.