Now I am offering it here as a statement of my own definition, which was
included as my answer to my own group question. (I do not fit the definition
of a Yuppie forever defining the word sustainable. I like compost more than
Forwarded from Alt.Sustainable.Agriculture
Subject: What is YOUR definition of Sustainable?
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (LionKuntz)
Date: 6 Jun 1998 20:09:22 GMT
I realize that there are different definitions of what is SUSTAINABLE
agriculture (the name and subject of this newsgroup). Sometimes, people with
different definitions might be talking at cross-purposes at each other,
instead of to each other because their definitions are so different. Since
there are other "agriculture" newsgroups, but only one SUSTAINABLE-agriculture
newsgroup, there are many choices for people whose definition of SUSTAINABLE
is about the same as conventional agriculture.
I, for one, do not have such a loose definition of SUSTAINABLE
agriculture that it could possibly be confused with conventional. If there
whose definitions are also not so loose, there can still be room for debate
and disagreements, but at least it would not be wasting time discussing
conventional agriculture issues, dealt with in several other newsgroups.
Before picking apart this article in rebuttal, publish your definition,
standalone by itself, if it differs. In the following the term "net-sum"
means positive & negative, or good & bad, are added together cancelling each
other until a neutral result or either a positive-good or negative-bad is
With this in mind I ask for public disclosure of your definition of
SUSTAINABLE agriculture if you have one. I said I have one, and propose to
offer it as an example of a form of agriculture which is definately
different from conventional agriculture. Here it is:
SUSTAINABLE agriculture begins the same as conventional agriculture.
It is some form of productive activity involving other lifeforms, where humans
intervene in natural processes to reap harvests of foods, fibers, medicinals,
spices, building materials, chemical raw materials, and assorted products.
Where SUSTAINABLE agriculture departs from conventional is the specific
processes used, the long-term accountability, the multi-generational
longevity and repeatability, and ecological compatability. Here is where
specifics of differences enter the definition.
SUSTAINABLE agriculture is designed to use such techniques and knowledge
so as to improve the land in continuing fashion, adding productivity over
time to some high plateau. Such practices which are already known to diminish
fertility over time are excluded from the definition of SUSTAINABLE
practices. Fertility is perceived as an inherent property of the normal earth
physical chemistry, climate, and interactive dynamics of living organisms.
definition of fertility has proven itself for 500 million years on this
planet, and needs no improvement.
All persons, without exception whatsoever, are recipients of services
from the planetary ecology and have an obligation to participate in the
a net-sum harm-free manner. Agriculture is not exempt from this obligation.
"Cheating" in this obligation in large enough quantity is demonstrably proven
to create death for the ecology, voiding the services received from the
ecology and extinguishing the cheaters. Cheating is not any part of
SUSTAINABLE living or agriculture, as extinct species do not practice
agriculture or anything else. To the extent that some cheat, others have to
carry their load of
duty, and if too many cheat that load cannot be made up by the faithful
SUSTAINABLE practioners acknowledge their duty to life and perform their
duty. This is not a debatable point or issue.
SUSTAINABLE farmers do not kill themselves, their families, their
descendants, their neighbors, their customers, nor their local ecology.
(Self-defense and harvesting crops being an exception. All higher life kills
to live, and all are eaten on the great recycling food chain. Wasteful
killing, negligent killing, thoughtless killing, wide-spectrum killing are
the kinds that are UNSUSTAINABLE.)
The great law of nature is that everything is recycled eventually. That
law applies to solar systems as well as local ecology. Some things which the
human race has learned to make are more durable than can be reduced by normal
processes in meaningful human timespans. Some things are toxic, and remain
toxic for generations or even millions of years. No generation has any right
to unleash such things for their descendents to deal with, and this includes
farmers. SUSTAINABLE farming examines its outputs and does not release
toxics which are durable and accumulate over time. SUSTAINABLE farmers are
accountable for their duty to the ecology in reciprocation for the services
rendered by the ecology.
It is true that some small proportion of humanity provides the food and
many other necessities of the totality of humanity. With such an important,
needed and valuable service to humanity, there is a possibility to excuse
farmers for net-sum harm to the ecology. SUSTAINABLE farmers refuse such
excuses, and remain faithful stewards of their duty to reciprocate for the
services they receive from the ecology, since farm pollution has been shown
to be ecologically destructive. Again, extinct species do not engage in any
kind of farming.
All persons without exception are held to the accountability of their
net-sum lifetime, or "personal lifetime environmental impact report". The
totality of the species activities is net-summed, and if the damage is
greater than the restoration, then the species is punished by natural checks
balances. This is currently manifest from "Mad Cow Disease" (vCJD or KURU),
Pfiesteria piscicida, and other lethal effects from reckless society-wide
conventional farming pollution practices. This sounds anthropomorphic but it
is a metaphor, shorthand for lengthy well documented scientific cause-effect
sleuthing. An even more concise metaphor is "Karma". A similar biblical
metaphor is "As you sow, so shall you reap".
SUSTAINABLE agriculture is part of the solution, not part of the
problem. It may or may not be enough of the solution, and net-sum the
sustainables could be wiped away along with the unsustainables. KURU infects
dogs, cats, mink, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, squirrels, many monkeys,
primate apes, horses, mice, hamsters, deer, elk, HUMANS, and of course Mad-
Cows. Pfiesteria is spreading through the world's estuaries preparing to
practically sterilize the breeding grounds of the deep ocean fisheries. These
are only two horrors, recently unleashed, traced directly to unsustainable
as their prime cause. Other unsustainable lifestyle economics contributed to
the unleashed and run-amuck status of these modern plagues, but agriculture is
held accountable along with the rest.
So far, this definition has been more what SUSTAINABLE IS NOT, and why
it is not similar to unsustainable agriculture. Now I introduce one vision,
among many, of what IS SUSTAINABLE.
SUSTAINABLE agriculture is positive-impact on the local ecosystem. Over
time, the land improves, with permanent fixtures added that are accumulated
over generations. The productivity improvements of selected crops is 4x
(four times) over conventional agriculture, meaning 20% of the ag-lands
to 4x productivity would be equal to the other 80% if both systems were
the same crops. In practice that would never happen. Many ag crops are
unsustainably as productive as they possibly can be for the foreseeable
future, and many other ag crops are for fiber, oils, and chemical raw stocks
Instead of attempting to compare apples and oranges, so to speak,
SUSTAINABLE agriculture can produce 80% of the food products on 20% of the
lands, taking some pressure off the remaining 80% of the lands. The 80%
remainder can be examined and the most destructive and unsustainable
practices can be eliminated, even if it means some reduction in total overall
productivity. A generous 30% safety margin for error means that 30% of ag-
lands can be retired from agriculture completely, hopefully put to more
such as carbon-fixing forests reducing greenhouse gases, and for
ecology-sustaining wildlife habitat. In any case, subterranean aquifer
depletion will forceably retire many unsustainable ag-lands in the next decade
No allowance for "Yankee Ingenuity" is provided for in this definition,
since inventiveness is not widespread throughout the population, with few
creative geniuses producing more than their fair share of new technologies.
The economics of current unsustainability actually punishes creativity and
like "Atlas Shrugged" may have already suppressed it to the point that there
be no "miracles" of technology to rescue those who paint themselves into an
With only known proven technology, techniques, and existing knowledge it
is possible to employ eight million people on sustainable farmsteads
producing 80% of the current domestic food production on 20% of the ag-lands.
Current mythology is that 3% of the people are producing 100% of the
agricultural product outputs. In reality, this 3% is supported by the iron
workers, tractor factories, tire companies, petroleum refineries, rendering
plants, university research scientists, and many more who are never thought
of as ag-workers. Boiled down to 3% of 100% is 33.3~%, which is a realistic
meaningful statistic: 1 farmer feeds 33 people. That is a do-able feat with
small scale SUSTAINABLE farmsteads on the magnitude of 2 to 10 acres each.
With a family of four growing for thirty families of four, then
8,000,000 sustainable farmsteads would feed the nation. An average size of
five acres is reasonable, so that would consume 40 million acres of land.
Actually, over 27 acres per farmstead is available at 20% of total USA ag-
lands, or 216 million acres out of 1.08 billion total ag land supply.
Conventional agriculture does not take responsibility for feeding
specific families: one farmer may feed 10,000 people their years supply of
contributes nothing to the rest of their diet. SUSTAINABLE farmsteads will
produce about 80% of the total diet of their personal customers. That is one
difference. Some imports from other countries and other farms will provide
In Japan farms are measured in 1/4 acres, with many farms being in the 2
acre size. Japan is phobic about self-sufficiency in rice staples and heavily
subsidizes domestic farmers to monocrop rice, so that the
productivity-to-acreage ratio is skewed, and true total productivity of small
farmsteads is not revealed. If a national will of the body politic wants a
sustainable future, small farms can exist in a multinational world.
United States SUSTAINABLE farmsteads of two acres can obtain
productivity of 4x to 10x conventional agriculture by avoiding those monocrops
which were already pushed to their maximum productivity. Corn, wheat and rice
have already obtained 3x productivity through the so-called "green revolution"
have reached the maximum sunlight to seedhead conversion theoretically
possible. The techniques are unsustainable, and there is a treadmill of
racing against emerging predators and diseases to hold onto that plateau. The
pollution limits and aquifer depletion is sure to retrench that plateau to
some lower level.
It is possible for some large acreage monocrop operations to use
sustainable techniques without pollution or aquifer depletion, but it
requires a change in techniques and accepting lower per-acre productivity.
productivity is obtained by stealing your grandchildrens' aquifer irrigation
water supplies to water crops for this present generation's consumption.
Current productivity is also obtained by degrading your grandchildrens'
environment for todays' consumption. To be sustainable means to back off of
these experimentally high conventional agriculture yields by staying within
sustainable water supplies and keeping farm pollution from leaking into the
ecosystem. As Fukuoka proved in Japan (One Straw Revolution book) rice can
be produced sustainably with satisfactory yields, but it requires more
"husbandry" and less machinery.
With growers looking eye-to-eye with their 30 families who depend on
them for their daily food, growers will be in a position of respect in their
community. They will expect, demand, and receive a fair and equitable
portion of the total economic pie. They will be entitled to fair living
and fair working conditions: they will know it, their customers will know it,
their customers will know they know it. This is called the "free market",
which does not often exist today. Small farmsteads without heavy debtloads
on huge acreages and the machinery required to farm huge acreages will be
satisfied with normal incomes of sufficiency. SUSTAINABLE farmers will not
be millionaires "on paper", or indentured servants to the banks and captives
They will not be country bumpkins: they will be educated like no
generation of farmer in world history before them, computer connected with
better forums of intellectual exchange than this present one your are
reading. They will know and understand the reasons to support their own
independent educational institutions and scientific research farms, free from
monetary influence of product vendors and industry-government ties. They will
have information they can trust. That information will pool in from millions
farms and they will learn from each other at a rate of speed previously
unknown. Farm knowledge technology will include free market video-tapes,
teleconferencing and CD-ROMS instead of industry bought-and-paid-for
extension agents and their expensive polluting advice.
What I just described is a recipe for SUSTAINABLE agriculture that can
perpetuate for 10,000 years with no degrading of the environment or degrading
of the farmer. If this definition is not good enough for you, show us a
------------------ Lion Kuntz (LionKuntz@aol.com)
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