What Does Sustainability Look Like?
GAINESVILLE, Florida – Sustainable agriculture may be widely popular in practice, but its driving principles are about as nebulous as the definition of “sustainable” itself. What does sustainability really look like?
For a group of Cooperative Extension agents, a tour to seven farms in Florida challenged their preconceived ideas of what sustainable agriculture might be, and many came away with some light bulb moments.
“Practices and principles of sustainable agriculture are distinctly different when observed in a real-world setting. For example, is crop rotation a principle of sustainable agriculture, or is this one of several practices that is an application of something much broader?” said Mickie Swisher, associate professor in community development and sustainable and organic agriculture at the University of Florida. “The principles of sustainable agriculture do not necessarily equate to specific farming practices, but rather are systematic concepts that help guide farmers in their decision-making processes.”
Participants who spent the week studying principles of sustainable agriculture were taking part in the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Fellows Program. The program is designed to provide hands-on experience and materials for selected National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) members to study and become familiar with the basics of sustainable agriculture and alternative farm systems as currently practiced within SARE’s four national regions.
“Many professionals use the terms ‘principles’ and ‘practices’ interchangeably when discussing sustainable agriculture,” said Swisher, who is the Florida state ag co-coordinator for Southern SARE. “This was a wonderful opportunity to explore principles that guide the farmers on each of the farms we toured and discuss how we can apply those principles in our own programming.”
In a brief survey conducted by tour organizers following the Fellows Program, over 80 percent of the participants indicated that their perception and vision of sustainable agriculture had changed, including a better understanding of how large-scale operations can be sustainable. In addition they indicated they would make a greater effort to incorporate sustainable agriculture in their programming, as well as serve both small and large farming operations in their sustainable ag education.
The SARE Fellows Program is supported by the SARE Professional Development Program.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.