Sustainability. The short definition is: the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. The easiest way to describe it agriculturally is to put as much or more back into the soil as you take out. I say soil because that is what sustainable farmers really and truly grow. If you concentrate on the health of the soil, plants grow themselves.
Sustainability is much more than just the environment, however. Here at the FRESH Foundation, we consider all aspects of farming and how they can be protected and nurtured and yes, sustained. These four principles are the cornerstones of sustainability:
- Economic viability; If you can’t make a living, you won’t be able to do it for long.
- Environmental compatibility; It must be safe for people and other organisms.
- Socially responsible; inclusive and charitable, good for everyone.
- Effectively productive; efficiency breeds sustainability and production.
*Adapted from the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences – The Ohio State University
Practices like no-till or strip tilling preserve the integrity of the soil structure and cause minimal disturbance to the microorganisms that are so important to the availability of nutrients to plants.
Responsible use and selection of pesticides (yes, organic and sustainable production still uses pesticides) for specific problems ensures that unintended harm is not done by their application.
Micro-irrigation, sub-irrigation and other responsible watering techniques conserve water and place it only where it’s needed. Inter-planting different crops together increases beneficial insect populations, disease resistance, and crop yield.
Knowledge of soil structure, texture, microorganisms, organic matter, water infiltration and storage capacity, plant nutrient and water needs, efficient production practices, and many more aspects all go into sustainable production. These concepts have been proven to work on the smallest backyard garden all the way up to large farm crop productions of thousands of acres.
We will be covering many of these aspects in more detail as we go. An important part of the teaching farm includes classes to help gardeners and farmers learn more about the details and the benefits of these systems. We hope that you’ll be able to follow along and make your corner of the world a little more sustainable.
Here are some good resources to help you get started;