Professional Development Program






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Unit 1: Conceptual Framework and Historical Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture

A visual representation of this integration of concepts and themes is often shown as three overlapping circles.  The intersection of all three circles is our sustainability target where all three aspects are considered and accounted for equally and simultaneously:
Stewardship Quality of Life Profitability
  • Stewardship
  • Profitability
  • Quality of Life
The graphic on the right gives you an opportunity to explore these concepts further. Click an image to find out more.



Over a decade, Ralph "Junior" Upton of Springerton, Ill., worked with University of Illinois extension educator Mike Plumer to perfect his rotation of corn, beans and wheat with cover crops like rye grass, cereal rye and hairy vetch. The results, Plumer says, have been impressive.

"We're seeing corn roots down to 60 inches," Plumer said. "The corn is not stressed, water isn't pooling in the low areas like it used to, and yields are higher." He points out how the plow pan, once a very visible white layer of compacted silt, has faded dramatically. Covers crop roots and earthworms have begun remixing the A-horizon soil - the top layer - with the compacted layer, changing its appearance and structure.

"Junior has done something that most soil science students are taught is all but impossible: In a relatively short time he's changed his soil into something different than it used to be," Plumer said.

Quality of life

Skip and Liz Paul of Little Compton, R.I., farm 35 acres, on which they grow a range of herbs, vegetables and fruit for direct markets. For the Pauls, sales at the Providence Farmers' Market are key, and Skip concentrates on strategies to increase the volume and diversity of what they produce for sale there.

At the farmers' market, "I get to connect with people who live in urban areas and don't get to see much open space, trees, vegetables or flowers on a daily basis," Paul says. "They just light up when they see what we've got."

Along the way to becoming an experienced farmer and marketer, Paul became a recognized leader among organic growers in Rhode Island, as well those who market their goods directly to consumers, stores and restaurants. Considering all the many choices in life, Paul says he'd choose farming all over again because "it puts you at the heart of some pretty basic and wonderful things." He believes too many people have become removed from a basic awareness of how their food is produced and prepared, activities he sees as central to what life is all about.

Paul welcomes visits from those interested customers. "I can just see how much it means to them," he says. "Farms can be a chance for people to have real experiences, be in a real place. I think farms can offer a different experience, and I'm glad to be part of it, especially when people come around and share it with us."


With help from a SARE grant, a diverse group of Missouri farmers developed a distribution network to deliver sustainably raised products to independent grocers and retailers. Some 200 Missouri producers now work cooperatively to send their "Heritage Acres" labeled products to 42 stores throughout the state.

The farmers raise beef, poultry, pork, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and value-added products. Network leaders calculating potential farm profits for Heritage Acres farmers identified savings in production costs as well as a steady sales price. For example, the 29 "natural" pork farmers in the network should save about $10 per hog produced while netting about $45 more than average conventional prices.

Heritage Acres products have helped 32 rural groceries and 10 independent St. Louis-area retailers, which were largely left out of mainstream distribution channels, keep their doors open.

Community development has been a major focus of the network, which has created new jobs with better wages in rural communities, both at the network's three offices and cooperative grocery stores. "We believe family-farm agriculture and community-based processing are the foundations of sustainable communities," said Russ Kremer, Missouri Farmers Union president.

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