Update on Sustainable and Organic Agriculture in the US
Throughout March, farmers, ranchers, and advocates of sustainable agriculture flew to DC from around the country to discuss the benefits of sustainable agriculture with Senators and Representative of their home states. Supported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, these “farmer fly-ins” focused on four key issues: sustainable agriculture research and education, farm bill conservation programs, outreach to veteran, socially disadvantaged, and minority farmers, and food safety outreach and training. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research, helped Montana rancher, Jodie Pauley and her family raise cattle, sheep, hogs, and hay on their ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. Other initiatives, like the Conservation Stewardship Program helped farmers Mark and Melanie Peterson of Stanton, Iowa prevent soil erosion and improve the fertility of their land. The farmers benefiting from such programs went to Washington to offer information about their success, and to advocate for the maintenance of government support.
Across the country in Jackson, Wyoming, Vertical Harvest churns out 100,000 pounds of fresh produce annually from their 3-story hydroponic greenhouse on 4,500 acres of downtown lot. Rather than trucking in produce from California and Mexico where the climate and soil conditions are much more favorable to agriculture, Vertical Harvest employs the relatively new practice of vertical farming. The company puts community first, employing 15 people who have conditions such as Down Syndrome, autism, seizure disorders and spina bifida who share 140 hours of work per week under a customized employment model. Functioning through a public-private partnership with the city of Jackson, Vertical Harvest uses a low profit business model, which means investors see a profit in the long term. There are 30 vertical farms in the US and hundreds worldwide. Japan leads with 160 vertical farms.