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sustainable agriculture and the slow food movement

By taking an interest in sustainable agriculture in their regions, ICJW’s affiliates and members can become involved in a movement that protects the environment, while also enhancing their own health and that of their community.

Sustainable agriculture is the production of plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, as well as public health and animal welfare. It provides wholesome food while maintaining healthy ecosystems and building a fairer world. 

Sustainable agriculture contributes significantly to creating a healthy global environment (www.sustainabletable.org/246/sustainable-agriculture-the-basics).

As sustainable farms shun toxic chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified seeds, and practices that degrade soil, water and other natural resources, they produce foods that are safer and more wholesome. They protect biodiversity by growing a variety of plants and use techniques such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and pasture-based livestock husbandry.

Sustaining Vibrant Communities

Sustainable agriculture depends on a local distribution system, rather than a national or international one. Food is grown and harvested close to consumers' homes and is distributed over small distances. Its local or regional nature is in contrast to the global industrial food system based on industrial agriculture, which uses monocropping (not biodiversity), pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, and factory farming of animals, all of which degrade the environment.

Sustainable agriculture aims to be economically viable, providing farmers, farmworkers, food processors, and others employed in the food system with a livable wage and safe, fair working conditions. Sustainable farms also bolster local and regional economies, creating good jobs and building strong communities. Unlike large industrial farms, small family farms are more likely to spend their income locally on products they need for farming. Food grown, processed and distributed locally generates jobs and helps stimulate local economies.

How can we support sustainable agriculture?

Movements such as Farmers’ Markets, Community- supported Agriculture and the Slow Food Movement all support sustainable agriculture and regional food production.

Farmers' Markets
Farmers' markets are communal spaces in which farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers' markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers' markets positively affect the business surrounding them, while also providing significant sources of income for local farmers, thus maintaining the viability of many small, local farms.

Community Supported Agriculture
In Community Supported Agriculture consumers buy a "share" of a local farm's projected harvest. They often pay for their share up front, an arrangement that distributes the risks and rewards of farming among both consumers and the farmer, and makes sustainable farming affordable.

The Slow Food movement has grown from the grassroots organisation founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 (http://www.slowfood.com). With supporters in 150 countries, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and farming practices, to support sustainable foods and promote local small businesses. It links the pleasure of wholesome food with a commitment to community and the environment, raising awareness about sustainability and social justice issues surrounding food and farming.

Earth Markets is one of the projects developed by the Slow Food Movement.
Like Farmers’ Markets they provide a social meeting point where local producers offer healthy, quality food directly to consumers at fair prices, and guarantee environmentally sustainable methods. They also aim to preserve the food culture of the local community and contribute to defending biodiversity.

Earth Markets focus on small-scale farmers and artisan producers, covering a wide range of fresh produce, preserves, meat and dairy products, eggs, honey, sweets, bread, oil and beverages. All produce must reflect the Slow Food principles of good, clean and fair:
  • Good: fresh and seasonal, healthy, tasty and able to stimulate and satisfy the senses.
  • Clean: environmentally sustainable cultivation and production processes, no genetically modified crops, local.
  • Fair: accessible prices for consumers and fair compensation and conditions for producers.
Consumers as Co-Producers

The Slow Food movement coined the term co-producer – a consumer who goes beyond the passive role of consumer by taking an active interest in the producers and the production process. Co-producers maintain close relationships with farmers, fishermen, breeders, cheesemakers etc., not only purchasing from them but also seeking information and advice.

These relationships are strengthened through regular farmers’ markets.
When direct contact with producers is not possible, consumers can seek out retailers with a close relationship with producers. With more aware and informed consumers involved, farmers and other producers become more motivated to use techniques that safeguard food diversity, the environment and food quality.

The ICJW Environment and Sustainable Development Committee would love to hear from any of our affiliates about their interest in, or connections to, sustainable agriculture, farmers’ markets and the slow food movement.

SUBMITTED BY DR ANNE MORRIS, CHAIR, ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT