Linfield College Community Garden

Student Research

Sustainable Agriculture

By: Brynn Hurdus

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is a way of producing food that is healthy for consumers, respects workers and animals, and does not harm the environment.
Characteristics include:

  • Natural resources are circulated throughout the environment, so whatever is taken out is put back in. This prevents exploitations and allows resources to continue to be utilized throughout future generations.
  • Waste is minimized and recycled throughout the farm's ecosystem so there is no buildup or pollution.
  • Localized as possible, minimizing transportation costs and fossil fuel consumption.
  • Minimal use of chemical pesticides, if at all.
  • Different species of plants and animals are rotated around the farm to enrich the land and help stop diseases and pest outbreaks.
  • Animals are treated respectfully; they perform natural behaviors and are fed what is natural for their species.
  • Farmers are treated well and paid a fair wage.
  • Workers are treated with respect and are paid fairly. The work environment is safe and healthy.

What You Can Do:

  • Educate yourself! Read a book or watch a film about the food industry and its impacts. Do your research; know where your food comes from. Share your knowledge!
  • Dine at restaurants that support local,sustainable food practices. Visit the Eat Well Guide to find local sustainable farms, restaurants, etc.
  • Buy locally, shop at a nearby farmer's market.
  • Grow your own garden!
  • Eat sustainable meat; reduce meat consumption. Even going meatless one day a week can help reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. It also greatly reduces your consumption of fossil fuels and water use.
    • One pound of beef requires an input of about 2500 gallons of water.
  • Understand labels. For example:
    • “100% organic” = single ingredient, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, milk
    • “Organic” = multiple ingredient foods that are 95-100% organic
    • “Made with organic ingredients” = 70% of the ingredients are organic
    • “Contains organic ingredients” = less than 70% of the ingredients are organic
    • Look for the “USDA Organic” label; only foods that are “100% organic” or “organic” are labeled.

Sustainable Agriculture

Industrial Agriculture

Organic foods contain more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and antioxidants. The latter helps fight cases of cancer.

Large use of pesticides is associated with higher cancer risks.

Research indicates sustainable food is healthier than industrial food, due to the lack of pesticides and chemicals in sustainable agriculture.

Unsanitary farm conditions lead to food contamination and higher cases of foodborne illnesses.

*Foodborne illness sickens 76 million people, hospitalizes 325,000 people, and kills 5,000 people in the U.S. every year.

Maintains natural resources for future generations

Exploits resources, responsible for substantial topsoil erosion, diminution of aquifers and genetic variation, and pollution of water, air, and soil.

*Industrial farms account for $34.7 billion worth of environmental damage in the U.S. every year.

Farmers raise no more animals than is sustainable on the land, allowing all of the manure to be used as manure.  This eliminates pollution from manure as well as the need for chemical fertilizers.

Uses too many animals on too few acres of land, creating much excess of manure.   This manure is stored in areas like manure lagoons, which creates quite an odorous form of hazardous gases released into the air. Additionally, the manure contaminates the land/nearby water with pathogens and an excessive amount of nutrients.

Sustainable agricultural practices use erosion- prevention methods like windbreaks, utilization of cover crops, supplement of organic material to the soil to help enrich the land, and use no-tillage or low-impact tillage methods.

Industrial agriculture combines the use of excessive plowing with the lack of cover crops and organic materials, which ultimately results in major erosion of the soil.  In addition, the large use of chemicals and fertilizes contaminates the soil.

Sustainable agriculture does not give animals hormones.

About two-thirds of American cattle are given hormones to speed up their growth.

*The hormone rBGH is used to increase milk production, but this unnatural process causes open sores and internal bleeding in the cow, as well as hoof diseases and an udder disease called mastitis.  The EU and Canada have banned rBGH.

Research has shown that small, sustainable farms that utilize organic and efficient farming methods and no- or low-impact tillage practices produce 60% less fossil fuels per unit of food than industrial farming techniques.

Between food processing and transportation, plowing, and production of fertilizers, an extensive amount of fossil fuels are emitted into the atmosphere.

*About 17% of the fossil fuel use in the U.S. is contributed to the industrial agricultural food system.

Sustainable practices include selling food locally, reducing fossil fuels from transportation and eliminating the need for preserving the food. Food produced within these practices contains more nutrients.

Food is shipped over long distances, requiring preservation and processing of the food, as well as large amounts of packaging.

*On average, produce is shipped 1,500 miles.

Animals are treated humanely and not kept from performing natural behaviors.

Animals are packed into small areas with no sunlight, open land, or fresh air. For most animals raised within industrial practices, their feet never touch the ground.

Laborers are treated fairly and respectfully, and work in a safe, healthy environment.

Workers are exposed to hazardous gases and dangerous work environments.

*58% of laborers working in swine confinement are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis


“Find Good Food: Local, Sustainable, Organic.” Eat Well Guide. Grace, 2003-2010. 10 May 2010.

Hackett, Jolinda. “How does eating meat affect water usage, water pollution, and the ocean?” Vegetarian Food. About, 2010. 10 May 2010.  

Pollan, Michael. “Why Should You Eat Sustainable Meat?” Happy Meat. 10 May 2010.

“Sustainable vs. Industrial.” Sustainable Table. Grace, 2010. 10 May 2010

Linfield College Sustainability Garden Club

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