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What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Agriculture is one of the best land-use practices for a healthy Bay—when farmers implement effective conservation practices (see sidebar), that is. These practices, also referred to as "sustainable agriculture," reduce polluted runoff and soil erosion. Among them are preserving and planting forested stream buffers, fencing cows out of streams, and moving to grass or pasture-based production.

Sustainable Table—a website that "helps consumers understand the problems with our food supply and offer viable solutions and alternatives"—identifies the following characteristics of sustainable agriculture:

Conservation and preservation. What is taken out of the environment is put back in, so land and resources such as water, soil and air can be replenished and are available to future generations. The waste from sustainable farming stays within the farm's ecosystem and does not cause buildup or pollution. In addition, sustainable agriculture seeks to minimize transportation costs and fossil fuel use, and is as locally-based as possible.


Pasture versus Pen
Sheep roaming in an open pasture
Animals raised on pasture grass are healthier and spread manure naturally. Meat, milk, and eggs from these animals and are higher in nutrition.

Fencing and Stream Buffers
Stream with newly planted buffer and fenced pasture
Less pollution reaches waterways when animals are fenced out of streams and buffers are planted along their banks.

Crop Variety
A variety of freshly picked fruits and vegetables
Local producers usually grown more kinds of vegetables and more diverse "heritage" varieties.

Rotational Grazing
Cows stand at a fence separating grazing pastures
When animals are moved from pasture to pasture frequently, grasses grow taller and have deeper root systems, which better filter polluted runoff.

Biodiversity. Farms raise different types of plants and animals, which are rotated around the fields to enrich the soil and help prevent disease and pest outbreaks. Chemical pesticides are used minimally and only when necessary; many sustainable farms do not use any form of chemicals.

Animal welfare. Animals are treated humanely and with respect, and are well cared for. They are permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, such as grazing, rooting or pecking, and are fed a natural diet appropriate for their species.

Economically viable. Farmers are paid a fair wage and are not dependent on subsidies from the government. Sustainable farmers help strengthen rural communities.

Social justice. Workers are treated fairly and paid competitive wages and benefits. They work in a safe environment and are offered proper living conditions and food.

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