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I'm watching a PBS local show, fella is farming a 1 acre plot, garden veggies it looks like. Organic.

Looks kinda neat.

But he keeps talking about how we need to be sustainable.

Then he describes his place, and it is a hoop building made of synthetic materials, he waters the crop with a garden hose which is pumped water not from the sky, and he says he is on miserable clay (I can relate!) and so he had truckers bring in all the compost he could find, 25 tons that year.

What parts of this operation are sustainable, really, and how is it different from other farming operations?

I like what he does, be happy to buy or eat what he produces, encourage others to do much the same if they want.

where I get lost is the constant, every other scene of the documentary, mention of how we all need to be more sustainable, need to be better farming like his is doing.......

I'm just lost on what 'sustainable' means here? It doesn't look like it is, any more than any other farm, when he builds a greenhouse, pumps in water, hauls in many tons of compost? Where is the sustainability?

Its a neat farm, cool, but?

Paul
 
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He is most likely starting is a blank canvas, so to speak. Land that was not attended to in any manner and it has lost its ability to support anything. Around here, that was done a lot. Farmers stopped feeding their fields when they knew they were doing to sell out to a big subdivision developer.

It is nothing more than what all the old farmers already did. They had to reuse and recycle everything, they invested in their land and they were quite self-sustaining.

Here in Da Big City, I had kitchen worms for a year making me some compost, before I broke ground on a teensy plot of dirt for tomatoes... Then I had to BUY sand to mix in, and ORDER some lush peat, just so the dirt was somewhat useful. Oh, and we aren't allowed to have a well, so I have to water, with city water. :-/
Now that I have a starter - I can compost and till in the expiring veggie tops to help for next year's rotation.
Water, I am probably screwed, but I am going to try to grab water off my shed and get rain into a cistern of some sort - but it won't be enough for a year of garden. Not here. We don't get much rain. But it'll be a start...

Not all of us are able to start out with the family land, or even decent dirt. We just make the best of what we have...
 

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I always connected the word "sustainable" with the idea of not having to have outside inputs from off the farm / homestead in order to maintain productivity indefinitely. Not an easy thing to do, if possible at all. But it's something worthy of striving for.

I honestly don't know how one would make greenhouse coverings from anything you'd grow or produce on the farm but for most people, they could still grow many of the crops they'd grow in a greenhouse during other seasons. Might not be as plentiful or as spaced out time wise.
 

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He is most likely starting is a blank canvas, so to speak. Land that was not attended to in any manner and it has lost its ability to support anything.....

......
Not all of us are able to start out with the family land, or even decent dirt. We just make the best of what we have...
Good way to put it Traci !

Sustainable is a goal, but probably not attainable 100%. If one starts with a sorry piece of land, then yes, you will have to 'import' a lot of ingredients to get going. The goal, IMHO, ought to be to lessen the need for imported anything as much as possible.

I look at what we raise to feed us, and how we've done it, as making use of cheap imports as they ARE cheap right now. Down the road, they either may get prohibitively expensive, or just not available at all.

For example, our soil is heavy to clay.....so I've had 100 tons or more of sand trucked in to mix in an acre of garden. Chicken litter (poop with sawdust) from a local commercial raiser is $400 for a 20 ton load. You combine couple loads of that with the sand, and stir it well in the clay, and you have a pretty good garden soil that won't need amending for a long time. Throw in some rock phosphate, some pelletized lime, and you're good to go. NOW, from that, you can turn under green manure crops (winter wheat/rye), add your own chicken litter, and worm bed castings, and almost never need to 'import' again. My goal is to wean off the commercial fertilizers and pest controls as much as possible.

Water, I'd agree, I want to control. From my own spring or well ( we have both).

Greenhouse plastic....I've given in....every 4 years I'm gonna have to replace the cover, or not use it. Going with glass isn't practical, and polycarbonate panels do go 10 years, but cost wise, 4yr roll plastic is the cheapest. (right now)
 

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I wouldn't say sustainable means nothing from outside, but I think it has to be something that you can continue doing all the time, so really a tractor would be unsustainable. slightly less so if you had it running on fuel produced on your land, but it still has to be made. of course the argument over whether we should use crop land for bio fuel is an whole different kettle of fish!
With a polytunnel it really would depend on what the plastic is made from I would say that it's most likely to be a petrochemical, but it doesn't have to be, it could be plant or bacteria based. You would imo be better off using glass, a, becasue sand is not in short supply and b, becasue it lasts so much longer, before you have to replace it.
Really at no point in time were we every totaly self contained, look at the distances we traded items over, even stone age man traded over huge distances. We have trade from the north of Scotland to the Med. SO I don't see a problem with brining in compost, though perhapse he should have used horses for it if he truely wanted to call it sustainable.

Sustainable is going to be different things to different people, even oil is sustainable if you look at it over a long enough time period and a small enough use :p (yes yes not practical I know!)
 

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There is no way to be completely internally "sustainable" with any kind of farming. Nutrients that are removed, whether as meat, as produce, have to be replaced with nutrients to maintain your soil. If you are bringing in nutrients from elsewhere, it is not internally sustainable.

The only thing even close to sustainable on my farm is the moose that browse in the woodlands. Not the elk, because they eat grain, not the deer or the bear for the same reason.

The garden sort of is, we use manure from our sheep and hens to replace most of the fertility. But then that manure was produced by feeding the animals grains and hay raised on our land, which removed nutrients from our soil, which I replace using fertilizer according to soil tests.

Legumes do not make k, p, s, or micronutrients; they remove all of these, and to sustain yields, and build or at least maintain soil, they need to be replaced from outside the farm. Green manure takes nutrients from the soil, which break down to become available to following plants. BUT the crop is still using the nutrients, and the soil is being mined if nothing is added back.

Sustainability is impossible in the real sense.

Depends how literally one takes it, and how strict one is with giving guys like that a break when he says he is "sustainable". Importing 25 tonnes of compost is about as sustainable as the democrats in the senate these days. For both the provider of the compost, who is exporting nutrients from his soil, and for the importer, who is replacing nutrients he is producing and exporting off his land.

Actually, even the moose I shoot on my own land that browse in the trees, are using more nutrients than they replace, so I don't know.

More sustainable, sure. There are different levels of "sustainable"...
 

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Whenever I see that word I think Agenda 21. It gives me chills down my spine. To me it's nothing more than lip service. A buzzword to get people to feel good when the gov't comes in and takes over the land for the good of mankind.

Yuck. I need a shower now.
 

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I'm just lost on what 'sustainable' means here? It doesn't look like it is, any more than any other farm, when he builds a greenhouse, pumps in water, hauls in many tons of compost? Where is the sustainability?

Paul
Ok, I'll take a shot at this. Worst case scenario, I get crucified. I've been through worse! LOL I'll start with the legal definition of "sustainable agriculture":

http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/ag_systems/in_focus/sustain_ag_if_legal.html

I know, I know - it's from the damned government! Now, please feel free to argue/point out where you think I'm missing the boat, but it seems to me that he is 'sustainable' because of the greenhouse(allows for longer growth periods/growing out of season due to the concentrated sunlight outside of a normal growing season, thus improving his life and the life of the people who buy/benefit from what he grows), the compost(a natural, non-chemical, longer lived amendment to his clay soil which will continue to improve the soil and allow for better, more abundant crops, as opposed to simply using chemical fertilizers or putting in a raised bed), garden hose - especially if it's on a timer or he is paying attention - allows for adequate watering without wasting water. Personally, I would prefer soaker hoses rather than a garden hose because they would cut down on the flow and do more to prevent evaporation, but that is just me. Just my .02. :)
 

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Whenever I see that word I think Agenda 21. It gives me chills down my spine. To me it's nothing more than lip service. A buzzword to get people to feel good when the gov't comes in and takes over the land for the good of mankind.

Yuck. I need a shower now.

I think I see where you're coming from, but I have to disagree with you on this one. There are a lot of things that people can do to improve things, as opposed to using things up and moving on to the next area. It's nothing new, and a whole lot of farmers have been doing it for hundreds of year. It has simply become 'politically correct' lately - God, I hate those 2 words!
 

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While I wouldn't try to argue that any given tract of land can be entirely sustainable if sustainability is defined as "no imported materials across the border whatsoever" I do question the notion that any plants and animals on the place are somehow USING more resources than they give back to the soil. The lost nutrients are either sold off-farm in the form of meat/produce or shipped to the waste management facilities or locked underground in a septic system.

The grain that is fed to the cow doesn't disappear if the cow continues to poop on the land and dies there. If the cow is eaten on site and the human's manage their waste properly, those nutrients return to the soil as well. They may not be creating more nutrients but they're not being lost either. There is plenty of evidence that poor soil can be not only maintained but improved when wholistic/aggressive composting and animal use is employed without the need to import chemical additives. I've seen it happen on my own nutritionally barren sand lot.
 

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Legumes 'fix' nitrogen from the air and hold it in their roots, thus improving the soil.
Hence I pointed out they only fix n, and do not add any of the other 16 or so nutrients needed for plant growth. If the other nutrients are not replenished, and the nutrient balance gets out of a good ratio, plant growth suffers, and the soil is not aided. It takes more than a legume fixing nitrogen to replace and build soil over time. The other nutrients have to be added somehow as well.
 

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To me sustainable means to be putting more into it to start with than what you take out of it, and from then on to continue improving and putting back in more than what gets taken out so it never falls behind and becomes stale or depleted. In example - if you take out one tree, you put back two or three trees, one of the same kind and one or two of different kinds for diversity. Always replenish with more than is personally needed whatever kind of farming you're doing
 

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The word "sustainable" is like the word "toxins". People now use it to mean basically whatever they want. I'm avoiding "toxins" by being a "sustainable" farmer. Makes me sound very hip and on the cutting edge of nutrition and agriculture.

In reality, these words do have actual meanings which may have very little to do with how they are being used. I think the term 'sustainable' as related to farming first started out as relating to the individual farmer. Is what I'm doing "sustainable" for ME? In other words can I ( as a farmer ) continue to do it indefinitely? Or will I eventually run out of my resource or have to truck something in from outside. Then it was used in a broad sense, like 'can we continue to burn oil for fuel, is that sustainable" or is that practice unsustainable FOR HUMANITY. This is where the political idealists sort of started hijacking the word.

So then I think sustainability was used to mean any practice that helps to maintain the soil, like if you compost you are practicing 'sustainable agriculture". Now I think it is just applied to anyone who is farming on a small scale. As small scale farming is considered "greener" and therefore more 'sustainable' as a way to meet the increasing food demands of mankind. How you use the word seems to reflect somewhat on your political leanings. "Self sustainability" seems to be the territory of libertarian/republican type people ( though they are more likely to use the term "self reliant" ). While the term 'sustainable agriculture' is almost exclusively used by people on the left as they usually lecture us on what we all need.
 

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....... How you use the word seems to reflect somewhat on your political leanings. "Self sustainability" seems to be the territory of libertarian/republican type people ( though they are more likely to use the term "self reliant" ). While the term 'sustainable agriculture' is almost exclusively used by people on the left as they usually lecture us on what we all need.
That might be true where you are and because of where you are because that is a uniquely American way of thinking. But I think it's not the case in other countries in the world where agriculturists couldn't care less about some other countries' political leanings ..... where republican and liberal, right and left, conservative and progressive are meaningless words and non-existent ideals to them, foreign concepts that are the very last things on the mind of any small farmer who's just trying to survive and make a living.

As far as I'm concerned there are no political leanings and no left or right in sustainability. They're some other country's political ideals, not mine, and they shouldn't and don't factor into my sustainable practices at any time. I think foreign concepts about political leanings probably don't factor into the sustainability practises of 99 % of the world's agricultural population.
 

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To me sustainable means to be putting more into it to start with than what you take out of it, and from then on to continue improving and putting back in more than what gets taken out so it never falls behind and becomes stale or depleted. In example - if you take out one tree, you put back two or three trees, one of the same kind and one or two of different kinds for diversity. Always replenish with more than is personally needed whatever kind of farming you're doing
Just to continue the discussion, if you haul away a tree you are taking some something away. There is going to be less stuff in your soil.

If you plant 2 or 3 seedlings in place of the one you removed, are you still not depleting the soil?

Obviously not such a big deal in the lifespan of a tree or your or my lifespan; but just for the discussion, are you really replenishing what is there by planting 2-3 trees, or are you decreasing what is there by hauling away a tree? And the 2-3 new trees have that much less nutrients available to them?

Different ways to look at it?

Paul
 

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Just to continue the discussion, if you haul away a tree you are taking some something away. There is going to be less stuff in your soil.

If you plant 2 or 3 seedlings in place of the one you removed, are you still not depleting the soil?

Obviously not such a big deal in the lifespan of a tree or your or my lifespan; but just for the discussion, are you really replenishing what is there by planting 2-3 trees, or are you decreasing what is there by hauling away a tree? And the 2-3 new trees have that much less nutrients available to them?

Different ways to look at it?

Paul
I don't ever plant things that way. Remember I said "To me sustainable means to be putting more into it to start with than what you take out of it, and from then on to continue improving and putting back in more than what gets taken out".

Before I ever plant anything I amend the soil first, I will do that even when the soil might seem to not need any supplements.

If I take a tree or any other plant out of a given location I will supplement the soil that it came from before I put anything else back into that same location.

When I'm transplanting anything into previously untouched ground I dig a hole or trench in the ground that is much, much bigger than what is normally called for for the size of the root ball of the plant being transplanted. The soil that is taken out will be set aside and transported away to be screened and amended for future use elsewhere. I'll then fill in that big hole/trench with other enriched medium that I've already prepared in advance, plus if necessary I'll throw in a few hands full of earth worms. I'll leave or dig a much smaller hole the right size to accomodate the root ball when I put the new plant into that location.

I'm not suggesting everyone should do that, that is just the way I do things and it works for me. I want the new plants to start off with much more than what was there to begin with and I will continue to feed both new and old plants with my home cultured supplemental teas and newly amended soils.
 

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In the truest sense, a properly 'sustainable' system would be indefinitely self-supporting, without need for intervention...

...meaning that a system like this would never truly be entirely sustainable: a 1-acre parcel simply doesn't contain all of the essential elements necessary.

Closing all the required ecosystem loops would require a much bigger footprint - just try to think and graph all of the necessary interrelationships up through the trophic levels and the systems they require... your head will implode.

it is precisely because it is such a small closed loop that it cannot ever be sustainable
 
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