Sustainable- Is any farm truly sustainable?

“I had this blog post sitting in my “to post” later file. I originally wrote it a few weeks ago after watching the USFRA’s food dialogue. Tonight, I watched the Food Dialogues out of Iowa. The word sustainable was thrown around again. Here are my thoughts.”

Sustainable. It seems to be a word thrown around a lot lately in agriculture. Sustainable agriculture. Sustainable Farms. Sustainable businesses. Sustainable food.

I was watching a USFRA food dialogues live feed the other day when one of the panelists said that not a single farmer out there is sustainable because we are all using non-renewable resources unless you’re plowing with a mule.

Bingo.

I’ve always answered the question of sustainability this way: You are only sustainable if you are making money. If you don’t make money, you fold. You no longer exist the next year. You are not sustainable. To put it quite bluntly.

Woods and field

Woods next to our field, has stood there for the entirety of our family’s farm. Our farm is over 100 years old. Provides habitat for: deer, turkey, raccoon, pheasant, opossum, fox, coyote, squirrel, birds, bugs, and more!

When consumers think of sustainable, they often think of recycling, going green, less fuel use, etc. a lot of which are automatically associated with organic farming. Not all of those are associated with every organic farm though. And, conventional farmers are doing a lot of these practices as well.

Here are some of the things farmers of all sizes, types, and industry are investing in or doing already:

  1. Solar Power
  2. Wind Energy
  3. Recycling Water
  4. Recycling Compost
  5. Manure fertilizing
  6. Technology investments

And those are just a few of the things the farmers are doing. Farmers are also being resourceful in other ways like using as much as they can and not wasting. For instance, once farmers are done harvesting, many make bales out of the corn stalks left on the ground to use as bedding. A local farmer where I’m from has created a bio-refining business where they take scrap wood from homes buildings, farms and businesses and turn it into animal bedding. Technology utilizing autosteer in tractors has allowed farmers to use less fuel and reduce their emissions.  In fact, new tractors rolling off the assembly line have to meet new standards set forth by the EPA in 2015.

Farmers have to be resourceful. It is all part of operating your business both wisely and economically. Most of these improvements and actions farmers are making that I’ve mentioned just make sense both monetarily wise and environmentally wise. Farmers care about what happens to their environment so they seek information on things like water recycling, solar power and wind energy. In fact, most farmers I know are always seeking out ways to improve their farming practices.

Could we do more? We always can. Is every farm perfect? No.  Does something that works for my farm, work for everyone else’s? Not at all. Do farmers want to do more and are they taking the time to learn about these options? Definitely.

Wildlife habitat and conservation is one thing we practice at Hewitt Farms. We have land in both CRP and RIM, but also land we just keep as woods and prairie.

Wildlife habitat and conservation is one thing we practice at Hewitt Farms. We have land in both CRP and RIM, but also land we just keep as woods and prairie. In this photo, deer are checking out our field.

If there is one thing I have learned growing up on a farm, being a farmer myself, meeting other farmers, and visiting other farms, is farmers care. Farmers are doing so much, on their own farms, every single day to be kinder to the environment. Just because we are conventional or organic doesn’t mean that we aren’t all trying to do the same thing at the end of the day: provide safe, nutritious food while providing for our own families and making a living doing something we love.

So maybe we need to start evaluating what we all mean by sustainable. Small farms, larger farms, organic farms and conventional farms can all be doing great things for the environment. They are all just different. They do what works best for them in their situation.

How do you define sustainable? Can it just be about the environment? Does the definition need to be about business? family? money? Or maybe every farm needs to come up with their own individual definition of what makes their farm sustainable, rather than someone labeling it as “yes it is” or “no it isn’t” by their standards.

-Sara

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