Just a quick note, or my post will wind up as long as yours,
though probably not as interesting...
I was fascinated with your definitions of "organic" as they
coincided with part of my definitions of "sustainable".
I've heard some debates recently about which is "purer", but
I'm not sure that's a useful concept.
First my "negative" comments:
I guess, unfortunately, there's a lot of folks in both
arenas who use the "answer in a can" (calendar spraying)
approach without regard to the "(w)holistic" considerations.
It's just that those organic folks don't use synthetic
chemical source materials for the contents of that can.
Also, there are large commercial operators who are attracted
to the premium prices of organic markets who do not adopt
any change in philosophy.
Also, there's a lot of folks who call themselves
"sustainable" who have just put a slightly different slant
on "business as usual" to make it sound sustainable -
especially when it comes to getting funds for grants.
However, as you pointed out there is no
agreed upon definition of sustainable agriculture. And
maybe that isn't such a bad thing. There are so many
different subsets of "agriculture" right now:
including "biodynamic", "regenerative", "Holistic Resource
Management", "Permaculture", etc. If we insist on a hard
definition of "sustainable" it will tend to be divisive at a
time when we're just starting to make some headway. I think
we're poised on the brink of being able to get some major
changes instituted in agriculture as a whole. If those of
us in the "alternative" arenas insist on divisive actions
instead inclusive actions, we risk a wide pendulum swing
back away from the progress we've made so far.
Look at the past and our progress over the past 20 years:
we've adopted a lot of improved tillage practices,
pesticides are targeted more towards specific pests,
nitrogen fertilizer isn't used with such a heavy hand in
many places and there is at least some awareness in the
general public of concerns about soil erosion, water
quality and food safety - to name a few. Unless there's a
crisis situation, change doesn't usually happen overnight,
in spite of our wishes.
My definition of sustainable agriculture (with apologies to
those who state it so much better than I) : is one that will
contribute to our world's current civilization being around
indefinitely into the future instead of being a detriment
towards that goal. That means it has to positively
contribute towards the resources needed to
support that civilization: the environment, our society, and
deal with such concerns about food safety/human health and
economic profitability (for both families and society as a
whole). Therefore ANY type of agriculture that (as Ann
says) is "linear" instead of "(w)holistic" and has the goal
of optimizing only one objective - be it yield,
profitability, environmental protection, food safety,
survival of the farm family, preserving non-renewable
natural resources, etc., is most likely to have a critical
blindspot in it's lack of balance that inevitably will lead
us to repeat the fall of the great civilizations of the
We really don't know what the "real definition" of
sustainable agriculture is. Only time will tell. We can
only use our best guess and not cut off debate on types of
technology that may turn out to hold hope for the future.
Just as we're learning the value of maintaining genetic
diversity, we need to value our philosophic diversities as
they relate to agriculture and use them to strengthen
us, not divide us: that very diversity may be a useful
survival resource for the future. Sustainable agriculture
is a good umbrella concept to use to bring people together,
as John Ikerd has said.
In case anyone's interested, I get most paranoid about 1)
our overwhelming dependence on technologies that rely on
non-renewable natural resources, 2) that we might do too
much damage before we realize what's important and 3) that
our change for the better will be too slow to have the
positive impact it otherwise could, that we might be running
out of time. (Sorry, must be one of those strange "end of
the millenium", "half empty cup" thoughts).
Ooops, much longer than I intended... "End sermon".
Extension Farm Management Specialist
(What's that comment folks sometimes make at the end of
their posts...something like: "These are my personal ideas,
not endorsed by my employer"?)