Earlier this year,someone from usda.gov answered that question this way.
**"AGRICULTURE is commonly understood to be any component of the industrial
segment which provides goods and services to producers of food and fiber,
production of food and fiber commodities, storage of food and fiber commodities,
processing of food and fiber, transportation of food and fiber, marketing of
food and fiber. American agriculture, like agriculture anywhere in the world, is
an industrial system. The primary
difference is that the production segment is highly dependent upon the
environment, much more than other industrial systems. Furthermore, a
breakdown anywhere in the system directly affects the lives of anyone
interested in eating. There is no other industrial system upon which
humanity is so dependent.
In my opinion one of the clear problems we have moving into the 21st
Century is to communicate with the public that agriculture is not simply
the growing of crops and livestock."**
If "agriculture is not simply the growing of crops and livestock," why doesn't
the USDA's recent "Toward a More Sustainable Agriculture Agriculture" give even
a hint that the agriculture it wants to sustain extends beyond the farm, except
to the farm environment and rural communities?
Sustaining the production aspect of agriculture is probably a piece of cake
compared to sustaining the current marketing/distribution sector which consumes
about 80 percent of our food dollar (and has been taking another percent every
few years for decades).
Does sustainable production do us any good without sustainable distribution?
And doesn't the distribution sector have an increasing influence not only on the
production sector, but also on what is eaten and its quality? We can argue
about the nutritional value of organic growing methods. Tufts is even having a
conference on the influence of production methods on food quality. But for
many urban residents, it is distribution agriculture which has the greatest
effects on what they eat. If only fast, fatty, sweet and convenience foods are
easily available, the role of soil conditions in health becomes pretty small.
Viewed as a whole system, I doubt that we can beat the home or community garden
for sustainable agriculture. It's worked for thousands of years, and still