What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Rarely do people think about from where does their food come. If you ask a child that question, they may say, “the grocery store”. In this global economy, however, food comes from all over the world from a diverse array of farmers and producers. This provides a great advantage, because it gives us a wide selection of foods from which to choose. We can get coffee from South America, salmon from the coasts of B.C., bananas from the tropics, and so much more. Best of all, we can almost always walk into a grocery store and find shelves full of food that is relatively affordable.

If you take the time to look a littler closer, however, you’ll find that not everything is peaches and gravy. Foods from far off lands require massive resources to get them from point A to point B. People imagine the local farmer with a cute little red barn, when in fact most of the time our produce is being grown by massive corporations in a process that’s been dubbed industrial agriculture. This often involves cutting out giant swaths of land to grow enormous monocultures, and using both chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep their crops healthy.

While increased yields allow for cheaper produce, it comes at the cost of the environment. Soil degradation, eutrophication, biodiversity and genetic diversity loss, deforestation, and increased C02 emissions are all consequences of the food system to which we have become so accustomed. It also has effects on local farmers across the globe who can’t compete with these major corporations.

GMO’s are often a major cause for debate, yet with little public understanding. Big companies like Monsanto will argue that they can make food bigger and cheaper, and last longer with little negative consequences. There’s public belief that they’re untested and are potentially dangerous for human consumption or local biodiversity. There’s the side nobody talks about, when GMO’s, through natural processes like seed dispersal, accidentally end up in a farmer’s field and they are sued for patent infringement. Yet studies have shown that GMO crops have far reduced environmental impact compared to “natural” crops, notably through reduced emissions and contamination from herbicide manufacture, transport, and application (Bennett et. al., 2005). It is a complicated issue to say the least.

So how does one fight the system?

The simple answer is to vote with your wallet. Not all foods are made equal, so we have to support sustainable food systems with our dollars. Seems simple enough.

Imagine you walk into a grocery store and there’s Foodland Ontario for your local produce, but is it organic? This one says “Organic”, but it’s not “USDA Organic”, and this one only says 70% organic ingredients?!? Let’s see, for meat we got grain fed, grass fed, no antibiotics, free range, or Certified Humane. Okay, coffee we got good ole Fair Trade, but this logo doesn’t look the same as that one? I also see direct trade, Rainforest Alliance, Bird Friendly, Carbon Neutral . . .

Ahhhh, finally some comfort. Only one label for Non-GMO Project Verified.

It seems eating sustainably isn’t as easy as voting with your wallet. Like most things in life, the issues are more complex and nuanced than we would like them to be. That is why all this week we will be sharing info on our Facebook page to shed some light on the issue in Campus Compost’s . . .

Sustainable Agriculture Week!


Bennett, R., Phipps, R., Strange, A., & Grey, P. (2004). Environmental and human health impacts of growing genetically modified herbicide-tolerant sugar beet: a life-cycle assessment. Plat Biotechnol J., 2(4), 273–278. doi:10.1111/j.1467–7652.2004.00076.x



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UW Campus Compost

A student-run club that operates a small-scale composting service, while also promoting sustainability through proper waste management and Zero Waste lifestyle.