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Sustainable Farmer

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

When a consumer demands, and a farmer claims, that a farm is sustainable, what do they mean? Lots of ink has been spilled, research funded, and advocacy groups formed over the last forty years to answer that question. Garth Youngberg and Richard Harwood wrote in 1989 in the American Journal of Alternative Agriculture: “We are yet a long way from knowing just what methods and systems in diverse locations will really lead to sustainability…In many regions of the country, however, and for many crops, the particular mix of methods that will allow curtailing use of harmful farm chemicals or building crop diversity, while also providing economic success, are not yet clear.
The stage is set for challenging not only farm practitioners, but also researchers, educators, and thefarm industry.”

Four decades on, the sustainable challenge is driving significant change in the farming industry. In our online member meetups, many use “sustainable” to describe their growing practices. Here’s how one of our members, John Greenwood who co-owns JNJ Farms with his wife Jan in Macomb, IL, first described sustainable in his farm’s marketing materials when he was just starting out.

“JNJ Farms takes great pride in producing locally grown safe and nutritious food for our customers. We use sustainable practices and don’t use pesticides on our produce. We grow our plants using non-GMO seeds. The production and management techniques we use help us avoid problems with insects before they cause damage to our crops. We can assure you that the produced raised at JNJ Farms is safe for your family. We eat what we grow. If we wouldn’t eat it, we wouldn’t sell it!!!”

John now points out, however, that it doesn’t capture the most important aspect of sustainability for a farmer – profitability. “To me sustainable is making a profit and being able to farm next season.”

While sustainable farming draws cheers from an increasing number of consumers demanding ”fresh” and “local” and “nutritious” food, they have to realize it comes with a price, and they have to be willing to pay it. You can’t have sustainable farming unless those doing it can afford to stay in business. .

Congrats to John for managing to figure out the right balance to sustain his farm business for 5 years. And congrats to his customers for making it worth his while. Here’s to the next 5…


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