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paul wheaton
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I was reading a thread on a farmer forum and came across a thread where a farmer sold organic produce and then mentioned to someone that he used roundup on some ditches.  A woman then became terribly upset and hollered "that's not sustainable!"  So the farmer was thinking that he should brush up on "sustainable". 

Lots and lots of discussion.  Some a bit on the angry side. 

I think that both of these terms have been used to mean so many things that they are damn near useless.  Maybe it is time to come up with some new words so we can communicate about this sort of thing effectively.

Or maybe we could have terms like "Organic level 1" and "Organic level 8" etc.

Sustainable is a term that can talk about one property, or about the whole planet.  Context makes a lot of difference.  To some folks, "sustainable" can mean not losing organic matter in the soil.  To others, it can mean being able to live on their property with zero interaction with anything off of their property line.

I read something recently (in permaculture circles) about how trying to be sustainable was a weak goal at best:  a good land steward would influence the land to become richer without human input.  (Granted, these recipes are usually about spending a few years getting some new eco-system to take root and then you walk away and the land becomes more abundant every year without further input)

When I buy my food, there are certain things that are really important to me.  If I were to buy from a farmer that sold me some organic produce and then later mentioned that he used roundup on ditches, I would be upset.  I would feel that this person plays the organic game to harvest money from people that believe in organic principles.  But that person doesn't really understand why I choose to buy organic.  I would choose to not buy from that person in the future.  I would choose to buy from a farmer that has agricultural philosophies closer to my own. 

What do you think "organic" means?  Or "sustainable"?

 
                                
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Here are the definitions I use and by the way i think I remember seeing that post on another forum I may have responded there as well.
You can be organic without being sustainable under my definitions. But it would hard to be sustainable without also being organic.

Organic - Means foods or crops produced without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Naturally grown foods or crops. Before World War II all farms and crops were organic. But the use of pesticides like Agent Orange found their way into the Agriculture uses on farms after the war.

Certified Organic - The same as Organic only you are certified by a certifying organization that makes sure you meet all of the USDA rules and regulations. Becoming a Certified Organic Farm means your farm and your practices on your farm meet strict regulations. It also allows you to use the words Certified Organic in your advertising. A uncertified farm is not allowed by law to use Organic or Certified Organic in their advertising under the USDA law. Because of the cost of becoming certified and the strict rules and regulations that have to be adhered to Certified Organic Foods often sell for higher prices.

Permaculture - Originally started in Australia, its a term that means much like being self sustainable and organic and green wise all in one Permaculture can best be described as a moral and ethical design system applicable to food production and land use, as well as community building. It seeks the creation of productive and sustainable ways of living by integrating ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture, and agro-forestry.

Self Sustainable -  means you or your farm are able to sustain itself without outside needs. Being able to grow your own crops and produce on your farm and sell them to make enough money to pay for themselves would help you be more self sustainable. Saving seed, having animals that create manure for fertilizer, growing enough for yourself and enough to feed your animals. These would also be ways of being self sustainable.
 
                    
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sustainable maximizes minimal resources.

organic is one of the resources maximized. organic is a minimal resource, although it seems inexhaustible, it is in fact heavily dependent on a number of highly variable factors. we cannot control those factors and would be wise to stop trying to do so but that leaves us vulnerable so resource depletion.

we are also organic. and organic can also mean "intrinsic." both concepts are relevant to "sustainable."

politically speaking organic is a selling point that appears on a label and sustainable is political stance that includes the labelling of certain consumables as organic in order to distinguish between "them" and "us."  Politically speaking sustainable means in compliance with regulation regarding the production of organic; sustainable community as a concept of balanced exchange among participants has barely got off the ground in the thirty years or so it was introduced, mainly because the ideals were immediately whisked away into advertising and political slogans and from there into regulatory limbo.

"we" are all us who are also all of "them" in my opinion so ranchers and vegans have a relationship even though they appear to have nothing to do with one another. With that in mind, I dislike the campaign to isolate them from one another while we try to pretend we can get sustainable community going without one or the other. there is the dead end we have reached regarding a solution we can all live with, it seems.

l
 
                        
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Organic means no GMO's .. no chemical spray or chemical fertilizer .. and then you add all the city boy stuff.
 
Brice Moss
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unfortunately as soon as we pin down a definition for terms like organic someone will come along to make them meaningless by following the letter of the definition to become certified like all the organic farmers who drive a hundred miles 5 days a week attending different farmers markets cause they get three times the price they would at a local market and truck in their favorite organic soil amendments from hundreds of miles away.

the only real solution is to get to know people who are growing food and decide one by one if you want to do business with them of course who has the time for that with a 9-5 job?
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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DustyTrails wrote:
Organic means no GMO's .. no chemical spray or chemical fertilizer .. and then you add all the city boy stuff.


Agreed, but I can go further.

Organic, IMO, means NO GMO, No Chemicals of any kind. I.E. No Pesticides, No Herbicides, No Chemical Fertilizers.  ((Then again, I don't even use Organic fertilizer)). 

Organic farming is a sustainable method, Permaculture / Food Forests being the best method of long term, beyond 7 generations of sustainable farming.  For example, I believe on YouTube there is a 300 year old food forest in Vietnam that geoff lawton visits.

Current USDA Organic classifications and rules IMO are too lax or just absurd.  For example, there is a man who goes around and checks compost!

I will add to this later, I need to get back to the food forest! 
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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"Organic," originally, means keeping to the principles of the vitalist school of chemistry. That is to say, maintaining an intellectual firewall between the chemistry that living things do as they go about their biochemical lives, and the chemistry done by technicians using nonliving substances.

Old-school methods, like distillation and fermentation, are OK, but gene splicing is an artificial method applied to an organic chemical. Same goes for the acetylation that Bayer used so profitably on old herbal remedies: it can be performed on, say, willowbark tea to produce Aspirin, or on poppy extract to produce Heroin.

Synthesizing an organic chemical outright is just unthinkable. Vitalism holds that such a thing isn't possible, and so thinking within that system, there must be a chemical difference between these synthetic chemicals, and the truly organic chemicals produced by nature.

Interestingly, there are markets where commodity price fluctuations cause chemical companies to shift back and forth between ag-derived, fermented products, and the fossil-derived synthetic chemicals of the same name and structure. Ethanol is a prime example: it's very easy to make it from sugar or starch or from oil or natural gas; the hard part is removing the water after it's synthesized/fermented, and that process could be driven by burning stover or burning waste gasses.

There are characteristic impurities from each mode of production, and I think that can be really important. Even more important, in my opinion, are the consequences of large-scale synthesis operations on the total system, in terms both of ecology and economy. I part ways with vitalists, though, where I begin to think that the difference isn't essential to the chemical identity of the substance, but rather a difference that is historical, contingent, and a lot more complicated than a typical person is willing to bother with.

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Sustainable is often used to mean a way of life that can be continued indefinitely. I don't think there really is such a way of life today, but I'd like to make room for any grandkids of mine to live sustainably. It really bothers me when products are sold as accessories to the dream that mid-century style consumerist culture might go on forever.

A better goal right now might be systems that grow toward sustainability. Such systems can't and shouldn't grow as quickly as industrial systems, but the current capacity for non-industrial production isn't enough to take over should industrial systems fail. I've seen a brief mention, elsewhere, that John Seymour has written about this as a conflict between "sustainable" and "regenerative."
 
                        
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pixelphoto wrote:
  Before World War II all farms and crops were organic.


well, this is perhaps slightly misleading.  Nicotine sulphate  (from tobacco) for example was widely used as a pesticide (and still is) and it is as WIKI says, as organic as cyanide and arsenic. There are others as well. I'd sorta prefer to know exactly what was being used; organic doesn't always mean healthy and good for you.
 
                  
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What do you think "organic" means?  Or "sustainable"?

"Organic" is a practice that is more "sustainable" than industrial agriculture because of it's reliance on recycling amoung other things. In this sense "organic" is the thing we do and "sustainability" is a benchmark for evaluation.
"Sustainable" is a very easily defined term (it's definition has been published in a dictionary for quite some time).
If there is confusion or mis-understanding over the term "sustainability" then it is probably because someone has either accidentally or purposely mis-used the term. "Sustainable" is not synonymous with "green".
I recently abandoned use of the term "green" because of it's inherent vagueness. "Green" is an umbrella term that describes -loosely- consideration for ecology or environment while leaving -too much- room for interpretation. Consequently "green" has become a very popular marketting term since it's meaning is vague enough to be moulded into almost anything.
In my mind, "sustainability" avoids the trap that "green" falls into precisely because it has such a well established and simple definition (if one takes the time to read it).
Context makes a lot of difference.

It certainly does, but that is not a strike against "sustainability". Almost anything in human experience (knowingly or not) is subjected to contextual evaluation. All this means is that there is not a "one size fits all" solution to living sustainably.
It really bothers me when products are sold as accessories to the dream that mid-century style consumerist culture might go on forever.

I agree completely. From this point of view, "sustainability" might be the only good benchmark there is.
Our global society derives somewhere on the order of 40% of it's entire energy requirement from oil and 95% of our transportation systems require the use of oil. The use of oil is by definition unsustainable and so is any aspect of our civilization that requires oil as an input. The same can be said about any non-renewable resource: Coal, natural gas, phosporus, copper, rare-earth minerals, the list goes on and on.
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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Joel, my problem with synthesization is that it doesn't do it properly, no matter how hard any chemist tries.  For example, (gulp) when a chemist makes synthetic marijuana for medical use, due to the fact the atoms do not spin naturally like they would the actual plants chemical make up.  As a result, the spin of the atoms actually changes how it works, and it hasn't been in any remote way found to work as well as the organic plants chemical active ingredient.

With that said, I have issues with any chemicals approved for use with USDA Organic rules.  IMO, the USDA needs to have every single employee read One Straw Revolution, Gaia's Garden, and the Permaculture Designers Manual in that order. 
 
                          
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Why can't we start using "Regenerative Farming" It regenerates the land, the body and the soul.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Pakanohida wrote:the fact the atoms do not spin naturally


It sounds like you're referring to "chirality," the fact that most chemicals have mirror-image equivalents. This can sometimes be a real concern, but it isn't as absolute as you describe.

The film "Awakenings" hinges on the technological development of synthetic L-Dopa, which had previously only been available as a mixture with its mirror-image. It had only just become possible to separate the two commercially at that point in history, and the drug is still important to the treatment of Parkinson's. Michael J. Fox takes it, for example; there are drawbacks to using it, but these have to do with drug resistance, not with the purity of the chiral compound.

Polymer chemists have excellent control of chirality, when they need it. Many of the same methods would apply to the synthesis of smaller molecules, but my studies have focused on polymers.

The problem with synthetic THC in my opinion is not with the compound that results, but with the terribly wasteful practice of building a factory, buying extremely pure chemical feedstocks, and hiring highly-skilled technicians, when digging in some compost and planting a seed would serve the same purpose. I've also read that there are other compounds in cannabis that can be therapeutic, which would add a tremendous expense to synthesize and mix with THC. Speaking with nurses, I've heard that the clinical needs of patients suffering from nausea are much better-served by inhaling vapors than swallowing a pill.

All this to say: I reach many of the same conclusions about synthetic chemicals, but I begin with a very different set of premises than most other participants on this forum.
 
                              
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Terms are so fixed and what we try to do is dynamic, changing and fluid. So good luck picking a term.

I have no idea why one would not want plants growing in a ditch, much less use roundup, but I would still buy off the farmer because he is at least somewhat pointed in a closer direction. I call this tolerance, after all we are all growing at different levels. For that matter I would also buy from a traditional farmer but having the choice I would pick the farm closest to permaculture. I would NOT buy from a farm that mistreated animals.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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puffergas wrote:I have no idea why one would not want plants growing in a ditch


Masanobu Fukuoka, of all people, makes the strongest case I've read against allowing plant growth in water-containing earthworks.

His reasoning is that plant growth builds up organic matter, which supports a population of earthworms, which leads to mole damage and breaches of the earthworks. He includes instructions for regular, laborious re-digging, and points out that every tool in a traditional Japanese farm setup is required to do it correctly.

This all had to do with dams used to flood rice paddies, though. I understand vegetation along the banks of irrigation ditches can be a tremendous help in reducing erosion, and can provide very valuable habitat for beneficial insects.
 
                        
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"I have no idea why one would not want plants growing in a ditch, much less use roundup"

I have a waste water ditch that I clean out every spring with a V shaped ditcher behind my tractor. If that ditch plugs up .. the water will spill out .. usually in the middle of the night .. and wash out a seed bed and could cost me thousands.

If I try and ditch later with the weeds in there thick .. it clumps up and I have to go back and lift them out with my front end loader .. if I have room on the ditch bank to come in sideways with the tractor and not run over the crops.

I have used a burner and torched them .. but I have almost torched my dog several times. If I don't see the funny wave of the weeds and cut off the burner .. burned dog.

We live with super bugs that die with herbs .. but all doctors treat with drugs with side effects. I've taken my wife through six drug induced heart attacks that my Dr. didn't tell me could happen. She is on herbs only now.
 
                              
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Could the drainage ditch be lined with plastic?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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DustyTrails: Is there an appropriate plant that might produce a low ground-cover, helping to reduce the height of other growth and limiting the risk of obstruction? Perhaps something in the mint family?
 
Mekka Pakanohida
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puffergas wrote:
Could the drainage ditch be lined with plastic?


After seeing the plastic in the NW gyre, I hate and loathe plastics.  What can I say, I am a nut for the ocean.    And yet, I fully realize I am a typical human saying one thing doing another as I type this out on a plastic keyboard.

I think some earthworks, & planting might be in order over plastic, but that's just my 2 cents.
 
Brenda Groth
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Well I agree that I don't think someone can call their property organic if they use any chemicals on their property such  as herbicides and pesticides..some organic products are out there, but are they really safe? Some people consider round up safe, some do not.

I think if they are going to say they are organic then they darn well better be organic.

if not, then don't claim it.

as for sustainable..hm...that is a little harder to define. I think this might be a personal definition type situation.

for me, i think sustainable kinda relates to "self sustaining"..or a type of landscape that doesn't have to be redone every year, but will provide it's own seed, divisions, etc ..mainly perennial or self seeding annual with wildlife on the property, and that is kinda the way I lean.

I think for me it means putting in trees that provide people and animal food and firewood, that will renew itself such as coppicing, etc.

Allowing wildlife such as deer, wild turkey, bear, etc..to browse the property and occasionally harvest them from the property for human food, but only in a way that maintains balance.

Putting in as many perennial type shrubs and herbaceous plants, espcially vegetables, that will renew themselves each year and be expanded from division or seed.

I also believe in using annuals that can be allowed to self seed to continue to feel people and critters.

I believe in bringing things on the property only if you feel it will be a real benefit to the property, such as compost, gravel, clean soil, bark, leaves, sawdust from clean sources, etc..esp if they will go to waste if you don't use them..I believe that you should leave some dead wood on your property and brush piles and rock piles to provide habitats for inhumanity, and remove trees or vegetation only when it begins to choke out the property in such a way that it is no longer a benefit to the property or the people and critters..such as removing a swath of brush for access to the p roeprty or removing weeds if they are threatening your crops (mainly  the quackgrass here as we eat most of our other weeds).

I feel that there may possibly be a use for an herbicide in some situations, but i don't believe it is the best idea for my property, i prefer to attempt to dig out the invasive weedy plants rather than to spray them, however in some situations that might not be possible..then other measures may have to be taken, so i won't be the judge of someone having to use an herbicide, however, i don't believe they shoud claim that they are organic if they do..
 
                              
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In regards to the ditch. Maybe wood could be used. Slab wood could be edged for the bottom. Should last 5 to 10 years. When it gets too far gone fill it in some with more wood and cover with dirt from the new ditch next to it, Hugelkultur.

Just a hair brained idea.....
 
tel jetson
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Sustainable is often used to mean a way of life that can be continued indefinitely.


hard to live up to this definition if the sun boils away all the water on the planet, nevermind that entropy is nipping at our heels.  still, we may as well shoot to make the next billion years as pleasant as possible.
 
                              
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If entropy gets a head start our boiled water will turn to ice.....


tel jetson wrote:
hard to live up to this definition if the sun boils away all the water on the planet, nevermind that entropy is nipping at our heels.  still, we may as well shoot to make the next billion years as pleasant as possible.
 
                  
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hard to live up to this definition if the sun boils away all the water on the planet, nevermind that entropy is nipping at our heels.  still, we may as well shoot to make the next billion years as pleasant as possible.

I think entropy is more than nipping at our heels. I think we're up to our nostrils in it.
 
tel jetson
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Old hammy wrote:
I think entropy is more than nipping at our heels. I think we're up to our nostrils in it.


true enough, I suppose.  there's more to the story, though.

there's more than enough energy circulating on the planet and arriving here from the sun constantly to fight back entropy locally for a good long while (by "local" I mean on this planet) even if there's no hope on a wider scale in the (very) long run.  granted, our species is not exactly doing a bang up job of this, but the possibility is there if we get our act together.

puffergas wrote:
If entropy gets a head start our boiled water will turn to ice.....


would that it were so.  a planet of ice sounds much more appealing than one burnt crispy.

and with that, maybe we'll let the discussion get back to more reasonable time frames and scales.
 
paul wheaton
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bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
 
                                          
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i was watching perma-videos on youtube the other night adn there is a guy in brooklyn last-named faust.  he was talking about how sustainable is a pretty low bar to set.  he was saying that if we only wanted "Sustainable" marriages or jobs or relationships, then we would pretty much be dissatisfied.  what we should be looking for is vibrancy, productivity, and high-value.

it seemed like a good point to me. 
 
Scott Strough
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I have to agree with you here Paul. Who would want to sustain what we have now in industrial agriculture? It seems to me that back when the government got involved and began to define and regulate "organic" they missed something. Sure it helped prevent outright fraud by the industrial marketers. But they really didn't define what we farmers in organic had been doing for decades.

I have my own pet definition. It isn't official or anything, but it fits in my crazy head.

There are 2 main models in current science based agriculture. One is modeled on a mechanistic industrial reductionist view. The others use a regenerative self regulating biomimicry model. Industrial models are complicated, but biology is complex. It is a subtle difference, but the resulting systems are radically different. Here is why. Any mechanistic model is subject to entropy as was noted earlier by another, they wind down over time. But complex biological systems are self regulating, self healing and regenerative, they build up over time.

Best analogy I can give to explain it is this. A car is complicated. It breaks it cant do anything until repaired. As time goes by more and more repairs are needed. Eventually you reach a diminishing return and junk it. But a biological system? Cut a tree down and another takes its place. Burn the whole forest and a succession of weeds grasses shrubs, early trees and finally peak successional trees will eventually repair the forest. This is the difference between complicated and complex.

So how does this apply to Organic and Permaculture? Or any agricultural model for that matter? If the model of agriculture is based on an industrial model, it deteriorates, like all complicated systems. But if the methods are modeled by using biomimicry, they are regenerative, like complex biological systems.

What happened when the regulatory agencies got a hold of organic is they failed to understand this difference. So there are a few industrial "organic certified" producers out there. But honestly to a guy like me that was growing organically decades before "organic certified" was a thing, they are missing the whole point by a long shot. You can't really have an organic and industrial model simultaneously. It is mutually exclusive. I mean what's the point of feeding a dairy cow organic grains? It still isn't pasture! To me it is ridiculous. That's where permaculture has the advantage. It is defined by biomimicry. That doesn't mean it is impossible to scale it up to as large a scale as any industrial grower, as long as it still uses biomimicry successfully and avoids the mechanistic reductionist view it could still be permaculture.
 
Peter Ingot
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:"Organic," originally, means keeping to the principles of the vitalist school of chemistry. That is to say, maintaining an intellectual firewall between the chemistry that living things do as they go about their biochemical lives, and the chemistry done by technicians using nonliving substances.



I thought it came from Steiner's concept of the farm as organism?
 
Peter Ingot
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Pam Hatfield wrote:
pixelphoto wrote:
  Before World War II all farms and crops were organic.


well, this is perhaps slightly misleading.  Nicotine sulphate  (from tobacco) for example was widely used as a pesticide (and still is) and it is as WIKI says, as organic as cyanide and arsenic.


Arsenic is not organic by any interpretation of the word. ......although I think copper sulphate is still permitted in organic farming
 
Peter Ingot
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pixelphoto McCoy wrote:
You can be organic without being sustainable under my definitions. But it would hard to be sustainable without also being organic.


you can be organic without being sustainable.....but not for very long IMO

 
Peter Ingot
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paul wheaton wrote:

I read something recently (in permaculture circles) about how trying to be sustainable was a weak goal at best



To me sustainability means not depleting your own soil or otherwise diminishing your land, but also not relying on unsustainable external inputs (e.g. a garden fed solely with chicken manure from chickens fed entirely on non organic grain is not organic or sustainable). Assessing the sustainability of a system means looking at the entire system, including parts external to the farm itself, such as the sources of animal feed and manure.

Many modern farms are greatly enriching their soil with fertilisers and manure from animals fed on imported grain, but they are part of a larger system, that includes vast topsoil-depleting grain monocultures and petrochemical powered fertiliser factories.

Some organic and permacultural farms heavily use byproducts of industrial agriculture such as straw from fertiliser fed cereal monocultures, compost from industrially grown vegetables or grass clippings from fertiliser fed golf courses. This is better than letting these materials go to waste, but these techniques also cannot be considered entirely sustainable. Modern food production is highly wasteful, but we cannot become dependent on its waste. Sustainable organic farms are usually (rightly) reluctant to give away straw, they have their own uses for it. A cereal farm which treats straw as waste is almost certainly not sustainable. If all food production was sustainable, there would be much higher demand for compost from waste food so it would have to be spread more thinly than it is now. Currently the few farms that participate in composting schemes. Even cardboard for sheet mulch is only freely available in a wealthy throwaway society. In poorer countries, cardboard is scavenged by people who make their living from selling it for recycling. Ultimately large scale use of cardboard mulch in agriculture would make waste cardboard scarce and expensive. These are solutions for now, not sustainable solutions for the future.

The most unsustainable thing about the modern food chain is IMO the consumers and their toilets, not the farmers.
 
David Livingston
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Peter
Organic predates Steiner http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/books/reviews/march04/origins.shtml

David
 
R Scott
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The most unsustainable thing about the modern food chain is IMO the consumers and their toilets, not the farmers.


Truth. Toilets are great for disease control, but WOW they are resource hogs.
 
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