What is Sustainable Anyway?

One of the most overused words, in our humble opinion, is ‘Sustainable’ This seems to have become the ‘mot du jour’ when describing the kind of life we’d all like to think we’re leading. It’s one of those buzz words that makes us feel like we’re really supporting a worthwhile cause. While Sustainability is no doubt a worth while goal, can we truly be sustainable?

As farmers growing with organic principles, we also tend to be rather contradictory when it comes to garbage and things unsustainable. At the end of each season, when we walk our fields and begin the arduous task of cleaning up the farm and ‘putting it to rest’ for the winter, it always strikes us that we use far too many unsustainable products. Plastic is one of those items that is ubiquitous on almost any farm, even on those practicing organic methods. I look around our farm and see 4 greenhouses draped in plastic, and the countless beds we setup with a plastic ‘mulch’ used for weed suppression and maximizing soil temperatures. How can we even begin to consider ourselves ‘sustainable’? Then there’s the reemay (row cover) used to protect many of our plants from insect damage or provide extra warmth during colder months. Reemay is made with polypropylene or polyester, which can hardly be considered sustainable. And how about our equipment? Most of it requires diesel or gasoline for operation.

While this might seem a bit discouraging and even hopeless, there is some good news on the horizon. Many farms, including ours, are beginning to see the proverbial irony with the common goal to farm in harmony with nature, and our habitual efforts to do the exact opposite. This is why or farm has decided to make 2013 the year we begin working towards a less trashy agricultural existence. That means using biodegradable ‘plastic mulch’ (manufactured w/ non-GMO products), and reassessing what ends up in the landfill each winter by asking if that product can survive a couple more growing seasons. Even though farmers tend to be the most thrifty folks on the planet, we cannot get around the fact that some of the products we use are simply not sustainable. Our goal must be to seek out those products that put the least amount of stress on our environment. This is not easy, but it cannot be an excuse to continue farming this way.

As less destructive product options become available to farmers, it’s up to us to take the lead on utilizing these items. If you’re not sure what is available, contact your local University extension agent and find out what they are field testing. With a little knowledge and vigilance, we can truly work towards a more sustainable farming model.

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