Protecting the health of people, animals, soil, air, and water

By Jim Chamberlin, President, Sustainable Farming Association Board

The Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) has long advocated for a just and equitable food system.  Since its inception 25 years ago, our farmer-to-farmer network has focused on growing food in a manner that protects and restores our soil and water resources. And we’re good at it. However, the field we’re working in is not level. Throughout much of the agricultural landscape, farm practices that degrade our soil resources have been the norm, with terms like “tolerable soil loss” dominating conservation and policy.

From a social aspect, the same applies. Many agricultural workers, those who harvest our fruits and vegetables, slaughter and process our meat, and milk our cows, are underpaid and disenfranchised. Family farmers face volatile markets and increasing competition from industrial-scale farm operations that make it difficult to earn a living and carry on their agricultural heritage. SFA farmers who have been able to make a decent profit have most often done so by selling to premium markets, not to the hungry and those who can’t afford healthy, nutritious food.

With a recent focus on soil health, SFA has been able to move the needle of conservation on large-scale farm operations. To improve the health of the soil, farmers must follow principles that diversify their farming system, keep the soil covered and living roots in the ground, and minimize soil disturbance. Adding livestock, properly managed through rotational grazing, fuels the biological system and accelerates soil restoration. Food grown in this manner requires fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and contains more nutrients and health building compounds. SFA farmers and other farm professionals are finding that following these principles can reduce costly inputs, increase farm profitability, and keep consumer prices low.

We see the Minnesota Food Charter as a means to support sustainable agriculture. Minnesota Food Charter Strategies such as “creating incentives for Minnesota farmers to grow affordable, healthy food for nearby institutions” and “encourage farmers to use farming practices and technologies that protect the health of people, animals, soil, air, and water” can help to support our work. SFA is proud to be a Food Charter Champion. We’ll keep our focus on farmers sharing with farmers about how soil health and diversity can make our farming systems more sustainable, and keep costs affordable so all people have access to safe, clean, and nutritious food.