Farming Forward: Sustainable Farming's Contributions to a Better Tomorrow

Editor's NoteThe Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Meredith Seiberlich is a sophomore at American University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Solving agricultural problems may not be on the top of everyone’s to-do list. However, when we look closer at widely discussed issues like hunger, community health, and the environment, it's clear that farming is relevant to a number of industries.

Sustainable farming balances equally high crop yields with more environmentally friendly methods, whereas conventional farming methods rely on chemical solutions to fertilization and pest control.

Although sustainable farming is widely associated with the organic food movement, incorporating some of its practices into conventional farming—like crop rotation or natural alternatives to pesticides—has the potential to update antiquated farming methods into the 21st century.

Source: Allam Farms Partnership

Source: Allam Farms Partnership

The environmental benefits of sustainable farming include retaining soil moisture (critical during droughts), improving water efficiency, and preventing erosion. While conventional farming can deplete soil of important nutrients, crop rotation ensures that farmland will remain arable for years to come.

There is no shortage of research suggesting the negative effects of pesticides leaching into groundwater. Sustainable farming uses natural pest management to avoid water contamination (and possible health consequences).

Source: ETC Group, 2012

Source: ETC Group, 2012

Perhaps most importantly, sustainable farming consistently helps those less fortunate: Initiatives can economically enrich struggling rural farm communities, and the increase in food supply could also contribute to feeding the hungry.

Fourteen percent of American families were food insecure in 2014, disproportionately affecting children and the elderly. A sustainable food program ensures that our generation and those that follow will be equipped to tackle hunger in our communities.  

Although green efforts are usually associated with liberal causes, sustainable farming has benefits across the political spectrum.

Increasing food security invigorates local economies, reducing the need for welfare or other governmental support. Encouraging greener farming also creates a healthier economic environment for people to generate a sustainable form of income. Incorporating more sustainable farming methods has benefits across the board and should be able to garner support outside of party lines.

Initiatives like the Conservation Stewardship Program provide financial incentives for farmers to adopt methods that conserve water and other natural resources, but these programs often struggle to have the intended effect. There is a lack of agricultural research across the country, and the Farm Bill, which is the primary piece of agricultural legislation, makes it more difficult for non-profit research groups to win federal funding.

Expanding farmer outreach and increasing public research would not only improve sustainable farming methods today, but it would, in effect, protect our health and food supply for years to come. Millennials are demanding answers to hunger, health problems, and environmental destruction, and politicians must recognize the salience of farming to conquer these problems.

Meredith Seiberlich is a sophomore at American University majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. She serves as an ambassador for the School of Public Affairs, the president and program coordinator of Step Up AU, and a mentor for underprivileged DC elementary school students. She is passionate about otters, Lyndon B. Johnson, falafel, and recycling.

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