Sunday, February 26, 2012


One word that is used quite a bit in farming is "sustainable", and it's used in farming so much that it's almost become just a noise. 

Many people claim that their farming practices, or timber harvest, or fishing method, is "sustainable".   In fact, "sustainable" is a goal that many producers strive for; it sounds good, and it seems to mean something to consumers. 

When you look up the definition of Sustainable agriculture there's actually a pretty clear definition, and what it has that I think bears reflection is the words "...that will last over the long term"

When someone says that they have a "sustainable" farm I think that the first thing that should come to mind is how long they've been doing it.  I've too many "sustainable" farms come and go.

When I think about what I'm doing, or what I will do, I do so with the idea of doing the same sort of thing 3 years,5 years, or 10 years from now.   I'm 48 years old; I will probably live into my 70s; that means that everything I want to do will have to be in the next 22 years.   That's the limit of "sustainable" for me, and during the last decade or so - or sooner -  I'll have a decreasing physical ability, so my term is shorter than I'd like.   For me, a sustainable farm is one where it makes a profit and looks like an attractive job for someone else -- because I like the idea of setting something in motion, and having it continue after I'm gone.   That's the sort of sustainability that appeals to me. 

  Doing something for 6 months and then finding out that you have to do something else isn't sustainable -- by definition. 

When I look at farms that completely change their whole operation every year or two I don't consider them "sustainable" -- because they didn't sustain.  They didn't endure.

And I wish they'd stop using the word. 


Lee Johnson said...

One of my favority geeky webcomics, XKCD, had a recent episode which noted that if the current usage trends continue, by the year 2109 all text everywhere will just be the word "sustainable" repeated over and over again. Thus, use of the word "sustainable" is not itself sustainable.

becky3086 said...

I am not sure that I have ever thought about sustainable in this way. For me sustainable means that what I am doing can sustain itself without me having to buy extra things for it.