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Last week we gave a brief definition of sustainable farming. This week we want to show you a few of the differences between sustainable farming and organic farming.

We know it can be very confusing to walk through the grocery store and try to determine which foods REALLY are healthier and safer for you and which foods simply meet the minimum requirements for adding certain key words to their labels. It can also be confusing to keep track of the different food production labels floating around (like organic, sustainable, free-range, natural, vegan, kosher, etc.).

Some people think “organic” and “sustainable” can be used interchangeably to describe natural and eco-friendly farming practices, but that’s not the case.

Andy Clark, Communications Director at Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, says not to confuse organic agriculture with sustainable agriculture. “Organic agriculture is different and must comply with very specific standards that are developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to achieve their organic label,” said Clark.

So what’s the difference between sustainable farming and organic farming? As a little introduction, we’ve decided to give you a crash course on the TOP 5 differences between sustainable and organic farming practices.

Sustainable is Unofficial

The official label of “USDA Certified Organic” is achieved by following certain standards. The label “sustainable” is not official. Most sustainable farmers consider it a philosophy or way of life that encompasses all aspects of how they operate, from natural resources to human resources. A sustainable farmer’s overall goal is to cultivate a system of economically viable, socially supportive, and ecologically sound practices that can be maintained over a long period of time. However, while sustainable agriculture may not be “official,” it can be measured through economics, social benefits, and environmental conservation.

Sustainable is Small

Sustainable farmers normally own smaller pieces of land, producing smaller BUT more diverse crops that enrich the soil and allow a much longer use of the soil for crop rotation. In other words, sustainable agriculture helps to sustain the land. In contrast, organic farmers may use excess land, because the size of the land being farmed is not regulated by National Organic Policy (NOP).

Sustainable is Water Efficient

NOP policy does not demand that organic farmers practice water conservation. A crucial part of sustainable agriculture is water conservation. Sustainable farming uses methods like re-claimed water and buried drip irrigation systems, which limit water flow and ensure that water isn’t wasted to evaporation or crop competition.

Sustainable is Energy Efficient

Most 21st century farms are powered by petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource. Once petroleum is all used up, that’s it. Sustainable farmers recognize this and incorporate renewable resources like wind, solar, or water power in all of their processes. Remember, sustainability by definition is about longevity and endurance. The key is finding ways to efficiently use your resources without depleting them.

Sustainable is More Humane

The USDA does not make it mandatory for farmers to treat their livestock in a humane manner. Sometimes farmers who are technically allowed to call their product “organic” will keep their livestock in confined areas or subject them to other less than ideal conditions. Farmers who use sustainable practices give more thought to the well-being of their animals and provide more space for their livestock to roam as they would naturally in the wild. This not only creates a better life for livestock but also a better ecosystem and more natural food for humans.

For more information on specific USDA standards required in organic culture, please visit their website HERE.

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