The Elements of Agricultural Sustainability

Dateline: 2 June 2008
Updated: 26 April 2013

I have been reading the book Food, Farming, and Faith by Gary W. Fick, a Cornell University professor. Chapter Twelve of the book is titled, Agricultural Sustainability. Citing the results of two different studies, professor Fick presents eight elements that define agricultural sustainability. They are as follows:

1. Relative independence from industrial and technological inputs.

2. Decentralized or more local production and management.

3. Community as opposed to a competitive orientation.

4. Harmony with nature instead of control.

5. Diversity instead of specialization of enterprises on individual farms.

6. Restraint reflected through consideration of environmental and social costs and cautious application of new technologies.

7. Quality of family life.

8. Spirituality as motivation for the way they approach farming.

Regarding element #8, Fick writes:
Many of the writings of Wendell Berry (cited elsewhere) have clear themes related to values or religion. Fellow agronomist Roger Elmore wrote an article about the interplay of religious worldviews and the processes of agricultural sustainability. He concluded that the moral or religious aspect of agriculture is very important but largely ignored in many of the secular models of agricultural development. This is confirmation that the spiritual component often has not been acknowledged.

In other words, a person's worldview (their fundamental beliefs about what is right and wrong and which motivate their actions)is an integral part of their attitudes about what is the right and wrong way to farm. So, people who have a sincere concern for sustainable agriculture are motivated by their religious beliefs. That certainly applies to me.

I think those eight elements that define sustainable agriculture are worth giving a lot of thought to. You will notice that they are pretty much the exact opposite of the elements of industrial farming. The two just don't fit together.


Lythir said...

Just flying by, and noticed your blog. I wanted to comment on your statement: "people who have a sincere concern for sustainable agriculture are motivated by their religious beliefs".

I have seen that in some people, and see it in myself although I don't follow your particular religion, but there is also a large group of people who are drawn to sustainable agriculture because they see the patterns for the other kind aren't working, and they want something that will last without depleting the earth where they live. For some it's not about "right" and "wrong" ways to farm, it's about what can be SUSTAINED. What promotes health in the long run.


Haymaker said...

I'll stipulate to his list of eight for discussion purposes, but be wary of the "community - not - competition" code phrases for socialism.

If I were raising pastured poultry, for instance, and my neighbor started doing the same, you'd bet I'd have a bit more spring in my step at chores and spend more time putting pencil to paper in solving things. Before you know it, we'd both be putting out a) more numbers of b) better chickens in a c) customer-pleasing manner, than if we weren't glancing over the fence at the competition.

Perhaps that author has already spoken to the need for competition to improve products and services. But agrarianism defined should not include substituting community before customers.

Andy & Kelli said...

I gotta agree and then some with haymaker...

Thoughts here

Anonymous said...

I disagree Haymaker. Have you read Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma? As soon as you chose to compete with a competitor or neighbor, you loose. Your farm must be sustainable and you cannot be both sustainable and competitive. Living in harmony with the land means gaining the knowledge of what is sustainable for your land. Before one can choose a sustainable family farm, they must change their attitude. Community vs. Competition; monoculture vs. polyculture; organic vs. conventional...and so on.