10 Key Values
Future Focus/Sustainability

By Dorothy H. Engel, North Carolina Green Party

dor-engel.jpg“Ask yourself what you can do to contribute to the future of our planet.”

The tenth key value is Future Focus with the spotlight on Sustainability While this is a broad and very important topic, the focus here is specifically on sustainable agriculture. The word “sustain” comes from the Latin word “sustinere” — to keep in existence or maintain. It implies long-term support. With respect to agriculture, sustainable describes farming systems, which are able to maintain productivity and social usefulness indefinitely. Such systems must be resource conserving, commercially competitive and environmentally sound. [For a more comprehensive discussion of the above, please see “Sustainability’s Promise,” Richard Duesterhaus, Ed., Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (Jan. Feb. 1990) 45(1): p. 4.]

As defined in the 1990 Congressional Farm Bill, sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of plant and animal production, which will, over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources; integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Water: Great strides have taken place in developing systems of irrigation in arid climates and in conserving water re sources. Less attention has been paid to the quality of water, which affects the viability and nutritional value of produce. Pesticides, herbicides and nitrates leach into the soil, into the plants, which are being produced, and ultimately into the ground water. Organic farmers utilize biological controls to eliminate pests, and plantings that attract beneficial insects to consume the unwanted pests. Healthy soil insures healthy water supplies.

Energy: Alternative sources of energy for farming must be considered. Presently, farmers rely heavily on gasoline-powered engines to plow, till and mow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if John Deere would produce a hybrid tractor! Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power need to be harnessed and used in lieu of standard energy sources such as electricity and gasoline wherever possible.

Air: this most basic resource is important to farming health and human health. Agricultural pollutants include smoke from agricultural burning, dust from tilling, pesticide drift from spraying, and nitrous oxide fumes from the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Plowing under crop residue where feasible, and planting cover crops and perennial grasses to reduce dust can im prove air quality. Farmers using crop dust ers can be persuaded to look at organic methods rather than polluting the air with chemicals.

Soil: The use of organic fertilizers to enrich the soil as opposed to chemical fertilizers will result in stronger, more disease resistant crops. Organic enrichment from compost or manure builds healthy soil from year to year, while chemical fertilizers are temporary, and do nothing to improve soil quality. Crop rotation helps solve problems of soil resource depletion, since different crops require differing amounts of nutrients. Crop rotation also helps in controlling pest populations.

Educating farmers about organic farming practices, utilization of organic pesticides and herbicides, composting, crop rotation, and planting to attract beneficial insects along garden borders, will help to insure the future of sustainable agriculture. Shifting from chemical to organic practices is probably more easily done in small increments. Most farmers have developed their entire system based on long term experiences and may probably resist change. If they can be persuaded to make small changes over time, eventually they will find (as most do) that organic methods are most cost effective in the long run, with a bigger pay-off at the market. To ward this end there is a wonderful Organic Growers School in western North Caro lina at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. Each spring prior to planting season, the school sponsors a two-day conference focusing exclusively on organic farming methods.

Ask yourself what you can do to contribute to the future of our planet. You may not be a farmer or a gardener, but you could work with many of the groups committed to improving the quality of our air, soil and water. Composting can be done even in cities, and organic produce is widely available. Many city dwellers contribute and work organic community gardens — a wonderful way for all to benefit from healthy food. This is especially beneficial for children to learn about plants and food sources in an urban setting. By educating them, we are generating hope for the future. Our focus for the future must be to improve the quality of our natural resources, air, soil and water, as well as to improve the quality of our food sources. My own experience has been that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the garden grow in richness each year through organic additives, yielding tempting, disease and pest resistant produce.