Professional Development Program






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Unit 1: Conceptual Framework and Historical Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture


Where and when did the term “sustainable agriculture” originate?  What are its roots, so to speak? We won’t spend a lot of time on these questions, but it is interesting to dig a bit into the past and see what we can learn from history.
When do you think the term “sustainable agriculture” first appeared in print?  Check out all the years to learn about other significant events.
(click on a year to learn more)

1940 1948 1962 1976 1980 1985 1989


No, although this is the year that two books were published that many consider to be instrumental in the start of the organic farming movement:

  • An Agricultural Testament by Sir Albert Howard (1940, Oxford University Press).
  • Look to the Land by Lord Northbourne (1940, Dent) in which the term 'organic farming' was first used.
  • Look them up in your local or university library.


No, but a very important work was published this year that greatly influenced the development of ideas about sustainable agriculture:

  • A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1948, Oxford University Press). More about Aldo Leopold:

There is also a land-grant sustainable agriculture program named after him:


No. However, this is the year in which Rachel Carson’s controversial work Silent Spring, was published. The book was one of the first descriptions of the negative effects of pesticides on the environment.

More about Rachel Carson and Silent Spring is available at the following web address:


Correct! The term sustainable agriculture appeared in the proceedings of an international conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

The term “sustainable agriculture” encompasses all types of farming and ranching, however, some of the initial discussion and debate involving the use of the term occurred amongst those involved in organic farming.

More about IFOAM:


No, the term had already appeared by 1980. In this year, however, two other important publications were released that addressed sustainable agriculture:

  • New Roots for Agriculture by Wes Jackson (1980, Friends of the Earth in cooperation with The Land Institute). More about The Land Institute:
  • Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming (1980, USDA).


The term sustainable agriculture had been in use about a decade by this date. This is the year that legislation was passed authorizing the creation of the USDA SARE program.


“Sustainable agriculture” was used widely by 1989, although the definition was still evolving. Another key work was published this year, Alternative Agriculture (1989, National Academy Press), and the first land-grant university program specifically focused on sustainable agriculture (and with sustainable agriculture in its name) had been in existence for 3 years.

More about University of California SAREP is available here:

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