June 15, 2007: Let’s face it, the United
States and her inhabitants are extremely wasteful. From plastic
bags and packaging materials, to fuel-inefficient automobiles to
oversized food portions, we are a nation and people who (shamefully)
pride ourselves in the foolish motto that “bigger and more
In your daily activities, stop and take notice to all the wastefulness
being exhibited around you: lights being left on in empty rooms,
easily recyclable products being discarded in the trash, food scraps
being thrown into plastic garbage bags instead of in a compost pile.
The list goes on and on.
In 2005, residents, businesses and institutions in the United States
produced more than 245 million tons of municipal solid waste. This
is approximately 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day! And believe
it or not, all of this waste doesn’t just vanish into thin
air once it gets loaded onto your local municipality garbage truck.
The majority of this waste will get disposed of in a landfill, while
little will get recovered/recycled or composted, and some will be
burned at combustion facilities (adding to our air-pollution problems).
These waste-management practices find a “suitable” home
for all this garbage, but the remnants will linger on for many moons
to come in our air, soil, and water.
If one was to be truly honest in these perilous times on planet
Earth (global warming, loss of biodiversity, dependency on foreign
energy sources, war, etc.), they would realize that a drastic shift
in policy (regarding both production and consumption) and the socially
accepted ways of consuming are necessary.
Throughout time, most beneficial and worthwhile change has occurred
from the bottom and worked its way up through the ranks. It is widely
believed and accepted that agriculture is the root of civilization.
To quote my fellow
intern’s previous journal entry, “Farming is the
root of everything.” So why not start at the root of everything
and civilization, which is agriculture?
If more farmers implemented sustainable practices on their farms,
I believe that this would have a positive snowball effect and branch
outward to all different sectors of society, hopefully in time transforming
it from its current polluting, wasteful state to a more environmentally
sound and sustainable one that will be around for generations to
In order for sustainable practices to work, whether they are in
agriculture or business, they must meet three critical objectives,
also known as the triple bottom line: economic profitability, social
benefits to the community and environmental conservation. All three
of these goals can be met with proper planning and implementation.
Sustainable agriculture, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily
organic, and organic agriculture is not necessarily sustainable.
Sustainable agriculture is, however, a whole-system approach which
aims to maintain the overall health and well-being of the land and
the people that land supports. Sustainable agriculture strives to
simultaneously meet the goals laid out by the triple bottom line.
With regard to environmental conservation, sustainable farming aims
to integrate soil, water, plants, animals, climate and people into
a successful production system that is symbiotic with the environment,
the people and the economy. Sustainable farms mimick the natural
systems and healthy ecosystems found in nature. Nature has a special
knack for balancing herself out and finding equilibrium (this despite
our best efforts to upset that balance). Why, then, should we treat
a farm—which is a natural system and works in cycles—like
a factory, which is not a natural system and requires vast amounts
of energy inputs resulting in rampant air, soil and water pollution?
Economic and social sustainability in agriculture (and in all of
society) can be achieved through proper planning and sound management.
When these two objectives are met, farms and farmers remain in business,
achieve annual profitability, decrease their reliance on government
payments, decrease their reliance on off-farm inputs such as feed
and fertilizer (thanks to composting and cover crops), support other
local businesses and families and also boost the local economy.
Society as a whole can learn valuable lessons from the cycles found
in nature and the sustainable practices found in agriculture. By
assimilating sustainable practices into the norm of society, the
nation as a whole would be less dependent on foreign sources of
energy, local economies would receive a boost, the quality of life
for many would be elevated and, most importantly, planet Earth and
nature would stop receiving the detrimental onslaught that has been
going on uninhibited for much too long.