If you’ve arrived at this page, you are curious about sustainable agriculture and how you might support a profitable, environmentally sound agriculture that is good for communities. You’ve come to the right place!
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture encompasses diverse methods of farming and ranching that are more profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities.
Here are some great resources for learning more about the most common sustainable agriculture practices:
- A 12-page booklet, What is Sustainable Agriculture?, highlighting a sampling of sustainable ag best practices, with profiles of the people putting them to good use.
- An illustrated poster depicting the elements of sustainable agriculture—a great resource for teaching children! You might also be interested in K-12 curriculum materials.
- Chefs A'Field, a SARE-funded television series about acclaimed chefs and the sustainable farmers they work with.
- USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC)—specializes in identifying resources about sustainable food systems and practices in support of USDA's effort to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and farmers worldwide.
- Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a USDA initiative to promote sustainable local and regional food systems. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website can connect you to helpful resources available through USDA, and is a source of ideas, stories and inspiration.
What Can You Do to Support Sustainable Agriculture?
If you care about how your food is produced, learn about and become an active participant in the food system. As a customer, your food-buying dollars become your clout, and where you choose to spend those dollars you vote for or against food production methods.
Farmers markets provide an opportunity for eaters to meet and talk directly with the people who grow their food. Farmers, too, can learn more about their customers. To find a farmers market near you, visit the USDA's database of farmers markets. You can also search for farmers markets in your region through the MarketMaker program.
Farm stays—overnight lodging on a working farm—are growing in popularity among both farmers and vacationers. Farmers can diversify their business and vacationers can get a fun, relaxing glimpse into the life of a real farm. Check out Farm Stay U.S. for a national directory of participating farms, as well as other useful information.
Community and school gardens can provide an important source of fresh produce, particularly for under-served populations in low-income neighborhoods. They become a good source of information about growing food as well as places for community gatherings.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) farms allow people to buy shares in the harvest of a farm before the crops are planted. In exchange for their investment, "shareholders" receive fresh fruits and vegetables (and sometimes products such as cheese, flowers, eggs and meat), weekly throughout the season. CSA members accept part of the financial risks associated with farming and enjoy access to "their" farms for educational events and volunteer opportunities. To find a CSA farm near you, visit www.LocalHarvest.org.
Pick-your-own farms and roadside stands provide access to fresh produce directly from the farmer who grew it. Prices for pick-your-own are reduced in exchange for your labor, and the trip to the farm provides an excellent outing for groups of families and friends, particularly children.
Buying organic products supports farmers who do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers and adhere to federal standards to protect the environment. Organic products provide premium prices to producers for their extra management time and risk. Look for "certified organic" labels when shopping.
Talk to the source of your food to learn more about how it is grown. Join and patronize food co-ops, ask grocery managers to buy from growers and processors who use sustainable methods, and ask for food origins on restaurant menus. If you express interest in eating sustainably produced and processed food, chances are that your suppliers will respond. Visit www.EatWellGuide.org to find local food sources near you, and scan for "eco" labels when shopping.
Seek alternative sources for buying meat, such as from producers who raise livestock using free-range strategies. Local Extension offices at your land-grant university can point to you to growers in your state, or visit www.EatWild.org for a national list of alternative meat producers.
Explore online options for sustainably grown products, which also can make great gifts. National source lists and other sources abound.
(Adapted from Cornell Cooperative Extension Food and Nutrition Center.)