How sustainable is sustainable farming?

We hear about sustainability everywhere we go.  When is comes to farming, what is sustainability?  Current farming practices attempt to be sustainable, but are actually far from it. 


Even in certified organic farming practices, the use of machines, nonrenewable resources, and other inputs are usually present.  These inputs (along with “organic” fertilizers and pesticides) make the system unsustainable by creating an ecosystem that is dependent on outside nonrenewable resources.

Earlier in the semester, my classmate Elise and myself explored the idea of Natural Farming, an idea developed by Masanobu Fukuoka in Japan.  Natural Farming uses the power and benefits of nature and the processes of biology and ecology.  Rather than altering the soil, water, and air of the farm, natural farming allows the soil, water, and air of the farm to operate on its own.  There is a lot of planning that goes into creating this farming ecosystem, which requires no inputs but labor and manure—that’s a truly sustainable farming practice.

In class, we learned about the basics of permaculutre and creating perennial guilds.  Permaculture is basically creating agricultural and community system based on the natural orders of ecosystems.  We designed guilds by placing perennial crops into a certain pattern so that the plants are able to work together to create a sustainable microcosm. 

This class project is very similar to designing natural farming systems where there are plants that serve different ecosystemic functions, acting as fertilizers, pest managers, ground cover, shade bearers, and other services that help the mirco-ecosystem be successful.  It is important that we look into plants that are natural to the area that we are designing the guild for, which was overlooked in class.  In Minnesota, using crops like asparagus, lambs quarters, and raspberries is more natural (and probably more efficient) than growing non-native plants.

The idea of permaculture is catching on, and that is great thing for the future of farming and sustainability.

Zach Tauer

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