Professional Development Program






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Conceptual Framework and Historical Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture

Before we move on to explore the themes and concepts of sustainable agriculture in more detail, think for a moment about how this history and background influenced the way people understood and reacted to the concept of sustainable agriculture as it was first developing. Many individuals and organizations welcomed the possibility of change and renewal for an agricultural system they felt was in dire straits. Many others were more skeptical or even antagonistic.
Organic, Sustainable, Biodynamic, EcologicalThe main issues were:
  • Ownership of the term
  • Ownership of the Term

    With such a strong connection to the organic farming movement, it's not surprising that there was confusion about the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic,’ that people often used the terms synonymously and that sustainable agriculture was viewed as part of an ‘environmentalist’ agenda.

  • A dividing line
  • A Dividing Line

    By focusing attention on the problems in agriculture and setting out a new direction for what farms, ranches, and the countryside could look like, discussions of sustainable agriculture often took on a critical tone, even when those advocating for sustainable agriculture were doing their best to reach across the dividing line. This resulted in an ‘us versus them’ mentality that persisted for a long time.

Most of these issues have been resolved as the broader agricultural and environmental communities have come together in recognizing agriculture’s importance to local communities and the nation as a whole. Sustainable agriculture has become an overarching theme and, for many, it is seen more as a framework now for many types of agriculture: organic, biodynamic, ecological, alternative, holistic, and others. Moreover, people recognize the key roles farmers and ranchers play as environmental stewards, and the positive benefits they contribute to society from even incremental changes toward greater sustainability.
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