Digging Deeper


Sustainable ag: the 20-year definition debate

Yes, this is one of the salesmen at the Small Farm Trade Show, viewed from my booth just down the row. (Peggy Lowe/Harvest Network)
Yes, this is one of the salesmen at the Small Farm Trade Show, viewed from my booth just down the row. (Peggy Lowe/Harvest Network)

So the funny thing about going on the road for the Harvest Network is that I learn so much more from you than I offer to you.

Case in point: I was at the Small Farm Trade Show in Columbia, Mo., last week. When people approach my booth, we always have a nice chat. I explain what Harvest Public Media is, and what signing up as a source for the Harvest Network can do to help our report.

I ask folks to fill out a card, so I can get their contacts, along with their interests. This is so I only send you emails when I think something might be of interest to you, queries on issues that you want to contribute to. So I ask lots of questions, like “What do you raise?,” “How many acres do you farm?,” “How many head of livestock?” Stuff like that.

So here’s a conversation I had last week with a woman who said she had lots of animals on her small place. After saying chickens and a horse, she said she had some “does and bucks.”

I was like, “Um…you raise deer?”

She laughed and said, “No! Rabbits.”

I had no idea that mommy and daddy rabbits were named does and bucks. Perhaps I should have read up on this kids’ website, which explains the whole thing.  Go figure.

The show in Columbia was mostly aimed at those people interested in organic and sustainable agriculture, those with small operations. The popular keynote speaker was John Ikerd, a University of Missouri professor emeritus of agricultural economics who has written several books on the economic sustainabilty of small and mid-sized farms.

Ikerd, who was the first keynote speakers at this conference 20 years ago, noted that people are still arguing, two decades later, about the definition of sustainable agriculture. He defines it as farming that meets the needs of today while not diminishing the needs of future generations.

He also was highly critical of what he called the “corporatization of agriculture,” but said that companies can no longer ignore the call for organic and sustainable products because consumers are clamoring for them.

“We’re in the process of recreating the food system because our dominant food system is not sustainable,” Ikerd  said. “Agriculture may appear profitable, but it’s propped up by government programs.”

What do you think? We’ve asked this before, but what do you think the term “sustainable farming” means? Click here to tell me what you think.

Give us a shout -- I’m sure I’ll learn something.