What is “Sustainable” Food?

the farmer in love - il contadino innamorato

the farmer in love – il contadino innamorato (Photo credit: Uberto)

So the first letter in “SOLE Food Kitchen” is “S” for Sustainable. But what in the world does that mean?

The word “sustainability” is probably this year’s most overused buzzword. It must be the trendy replacement for “green”. Everyone from businesses to teachers are trying to be “sustainable” in what they do and how they do it. Or, at least, they say they are. Who knows what they are doing in practice. In the case of many large food corporations, what they are really doing is “greenwashing” existing practices by using a word that bears no resemblance to reality. But that’s my peeve for the day.

More farmers are using the “sustainable agriculture” term, but what exactly does that mean? And how will I know if they are really “sustainable” or just using the jargon as a marketing tool? I found myself getting a little muddled on the subject, so I started doing some research to clarify the issues for myself. And here is what I found.

Sustainable agriculture is “farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food.” (www.sustainabletable.org)

While sustainable agriculture includes organic food production, it is a larger philosophy that promotes living wages for farmers and farm workers, healthy environments for humans and animals on the farm, caring for the land so it is not depleted of its richness and fertility, and reducing the carbon foot print of our food by encouraging consumers to buy as local as possible. Unlike the term “organic,” there is no certification for a farmer to be “sustainable.”

So, how do I know if a farmer is using sustainable agricultural practices or not? The Sustainable Table initiative offers loads of resources to help consumers, including lists of questions to ask farmers, produce managers, even grocery store workers. This is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about sustainable agriculture. It is offered by the Grace Communications Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to highlighting the connections between food, water and energy. Here is the link to their question sheets:http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/questions/

Would a farmer lie about being sustainable? I can’t say “no”, but my guess is that the vast majority of farmers will be pretty upfront about how they grow their crops or raise their animals. The questions certainly help since they are very specific. If you get wishy-washy answers or defensive responses, keep moving!

We have found this strategy of coming prepared with a few questions that we ask every farmer to be very helpful in both understanding how farms work and also opening up a conversation with farmers we don’t know. I hope you find it useful as well!

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3 responses

  1. I’m so happy that you began with the secure living for the farmer piece. So often that is forgotten in the rush for organic, sustainable, etc…

  2. Pingback: Why Sustainable Agriculture is Important for Rising Global Population Green Living 4 Live | Green Living 4 Live - We believe everyone can do something to reduce their carbon footprint.

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