by Caroline Kirby
Sustainability has been somewhat of a buzzword over the last few years, but when it comes to certain areas, like agriculture, the two go hand in hand. Agriculture, while important and necessary, “places great pressure on natural resources and the environment.” NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), goes on to explain that sustainable agriculture is the practice intended to protect the environment while expanding the Earth’s natural resource base and maintaining soil fertility.
Sustainable agriculture is important for various reasons, but perhaps the most notable being that this practice can lead to long-term results like protecting the environment, preserving agricultural systems, and producing in accordance with human needs.
Getting Started with Sustainable Farming Practices
Sustainable farming (also referred to as sustainable agriculture and sustainable ag) is “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application” according to U.S. agricultural law.
The most important thing to know about getting started with a sustainable small farm is to have realistic expectations. Sustainable farming is a marathon, not a sprint, and results won’t be apparent overnight.
Here are some places to get started so that you set your sustainable farm up for success.
1. Tap into your networks and resources: Whether you’re new to farming or have a history, there are tons of resources for farmers looking to get into sustainable practices. Dig into your local community and regional organizations as well as national associations like SARE, USDA, and even financial institutions that offer financial resources and grants for farmers.
2. Focus on skill-building: It doesn’t matter if your farm is going to be a full-time lifestyle or a hobby farm; you’ll want to invest in yourself and your skillset. Read, listen to podcasts, see if you can help out on a neighboring farm before diving into your own so you can get a feel for some of the common issues you may run into and how you can address them. This will save you time, money and give you a better feel for what’s going down on your land.
3. Plan a management system: Another key characteristic of farming is the ability to be flexible, but that doesn’t mean you should go in without a plan. Developing some sort of management plan, whether you’re designating tasks or enlisting the help of professionals, will help take some of the pressure off of yourself and ensure things run smoothly.
4. Create a production plan: Look at factors such as climate, rainfall, soil type, production quantity and duration, land size, and methods to help devise the most practical operation for the resources available to you.
5. Assess and update when needed: Plans are great, but it’s also important to continuously monitor performance and make updates when necessary. Regular monitoring can help you optimize your production and make updates that will benefit your farm.
By adopting sustainable farming practices, you can support yourself, your community, protect natural resources, and leave your land better than you found it. If you’re new to the practice, don’t try to go it alone — visit other farms, build up your network, and follow proven results! Read to find the perfect piece of land for your sustainable farm? Check out Land Hub’s listings.
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