Brian Depew: It’s not all about organic

A growing number of people equate sustainable farming with organic farming. That’s a mistake. At the Center for Rural Affairs we look beyond labels and focus on core values – stewardship, community, and ownership. We ask if a farming system protects the land, water, and how it impacts community, and if it encourages widespread ownership.

We champion organic family farming. Many organic farmers are innovators in practices that protect the environment. Premium prices for organic products have kept countless farms profitable. We’ve also harshly criticized corporate organic – farms that meet the letter of the organic labeling law, but otherwise look like industrial operations.

Similarly, painting all conventional producers with one brush overlooks critical differences.

Among conventional, family-size farmers are many ardent conservationists who maintain grass waterways, buffer strips, terraces, and shelterbelts that reduce erosion, limit runoff, and provide habitat.

Innovative farmers are employing cover crops and no-till to enhance soil health. This practice represents a convergence of the best from organic and non-organic practices.

Other conventional farmers who do use chemicals are also implementing innovative management strategies to reduce cost, weather drought, and build soil health.

Farmers adopting these practices are using careful management in the field as an alternative to expansion.

This means more farmers on the land, controlling their destiny and rising to meet the most pressing stewardship challenges of our time.
In an era where climate change is the most critical challenge facing farming, farmers who embrace these values may hold the key to achieving widespread change across the landscape.

Brian Depew
Center for Rural Affairs

 

Editor’s note: Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, nonprofit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

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