Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: The state of sustainable agriculture in the United States






That’s a hefty headline.  Let’s see if I’m qualified to write about it.

The state of sustainable agriculture is strong.  The very fact that it exists at all is a huge step forward compared to fifteen years ago.  We have an engaged customer base that understands the need for a change in the way food is produced in this country — largely due to the proliferation of documentaries like “Food Inc”, “Fast Food Nation”, “King Corn”, and “Super Size Me”.  Those are the films that broke through the American collective consciousness and propelled many consumers to change the way that they eat, the way they shop, and the way they think about food.  The books that led to the movies were “Fast Food Nation”, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and “In Defense of Food”.

Those were the biggies, but there were many others and we have had a lot of credible folks from around the world weighing in on the subject like Jane Goodall,  Prince Charles from the U.K., Alice Waters – our own top chef from Berkeley,  the rockers from Farm Aid – we especially remember Neil Young leading the chant about No Factory Farms – in response to the amount of C.A.F.O.s flooding our countryside.  We were even lucky enough to have Paul and Nell Newman giving early credence to the subject further solidifying organic agriculture in the American consciousness.   We had our own pioneering organic gurus who never gave up from the sixties and seventies like Elliot Coleman, the folks at The Rodale Institute and Mother Earth News.   I may have missed some crucial components here, but the point is made.  Without the commitment of early pioneers in the U.S. we would never have been where we are now.

Ramping up production is always the hard part.  In the industrial agriculture world, we have a system in place in the U.S. that is probably the largest in the world to help support and maintain agriculture in this country:

  • We have land grant universities in every state that are chartered by the government to do agricultural research and development.
  • We have an extensive agriculture extension service that is designed to take that knowledge and give instruction in our counties and towns and to educate farmers and producers about new methods of agriculture.
  • We have agricultural co-ops in place across the farm belt to help farmers receive lower prices for commodities and where they also have access to less expensive equipment and services that they otherwise would have to pay more for.
  • In the Farm Bill legislation, we have direct payments made to farmers to encourage them to produce the most commonly used crops in this country, and we (the tax payer) even help them have less expensive crop insurance so that they can all afford it and to ensure they will buy it.
  • With all of these programs in place it’s still not easy.  Producers in the areas of agriculture not directly supported by the farm bill have it especially tough.  These producers are locked into the commodities market and have the hardest row to hoe due to unpredictable and wildly fluctuating prices.

So imagine, in the world of sustainable agriculture, how hard it is to build a new system in this country from the ground up with none of the supports listed above.  Not only do we not have those structures in place for sustainable agriculture, but we also have to compete against the above system in the market place.  The prices of “conventional” foods seem to be less expensive, although the savvy consumers understand that they’re paying for the price difference through their tax dollars.

It is amazing that even with the deck stacked against it, organic production and purchasing is still growing in this country.   To me, that means the future looks bright.  If we could get some more programs in place to help encourage sustainable agriculture in this country, the same way we encourage industrial agriculture, or if we just level the playing field so that sustainable and industrial can compete  on fair terms, it seems obvious that you will see sustainable agriculture thrive.   The very nature of sustainability means that it is more cost efficient.   The “closed loop” systems that we use where fewer off-farm inputs are purchased will allow us to thrive and compete and win the market share in today’s more educated consumer marketplace.


Dave Ring along with his wife Sara owns a small organic vegetable and egg farm in East Central Indiana.  In May of 2007 they opened the Downtown Farm Stand, a local organic grocery store.  The store has grown to include a “made from scratch” deli restaurant, and a full grocery store selection.  They are active in the community and have founded a local Slow Food Chapter, and are constantly looking for ways to advance a local, sustainable, and organic food system.

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One Response to “HOMEGROWN Life: The state of sustainable agriculture in the United States”

  1. Caroline Says:

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for this entry! I agree that the good food movement its growing and I can see it sprouting up in restaurants, schools, the media, and throughout the food system more and more often. While at times the state of agriculture in the U.S. can be frustrating, especially with an impending Farm Bill, the hope springs eternal for the future of farming! Thanks for mentioning all of the terrific resources that helped get this movement off the ground and onto the shelves (literally)! It’s folks like you that will help sustain the future of sustainable ag!

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