Conventional agriculture relies on massive application of pesticides, fertilizers, and fossil fuels. It tends to be very large-scale, use large quantities of water, and depend on a handful of highly competitive crops. It results in significant levels of soil erosion, as well as the contamination of groundwater and ecosystems.

An orchard at Fullbelly Farms near Davis, California.

Long-term, more reliable forms of agriculture eliminate the use of pesticides and hormones and largely maintain Soil Services by application of on-farm residues and rotation of nitrogen-fixing crops. Any external fertilizers must themselves be sustainably produced. It minimizes soil erosion through crop choices, cover-cropping, and low-till methods. It emphasizes crop diversity — both of species and varieties — which provides inherent resilience in the face of pests, disease, and weather extremes. Better forms of agriculture are extremely Resource Efficiency and avoid any water withdrawals which impair habitat. They provide buffers of native vegetation along streams to maintain favorable water temperatures and water quality. This form of agriculture also requires that plant and animal wastes be carefully contained and treated to avoid any contaminated run-off.

With reliable agriculture, there are Buffer Zones, and farms and ranches are managed with special attention to maintaining Connected Wildlands and quality. For instance, in some areas, ranchers are accepting full compensation for livestock losses rather than opposing wolf reintroduction efforts. Agriculture can be profitable on an extremely small scale, and backyard gardens and small urban farms contribute greatly to the self-sufficiency and character of Human-Scale Neighborhoods. Agriculture can be practiced at the scale of thousands of acres, on the whole it tends rebuild Local Assets. Its reliance on local labor rather than expensive imports (seeds, pesticides, fertilizer, fuel) greatly contributes to Local Economies and Productive Rural Areas. Reliable agriculture emphasizes the health and safety of farm workers, providing a living wage and contributing to Social Equity. Farmer’s markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements, and relationships with restaurants and stores help to establish Rural-Urban Linkages.

This form of Product Labeling is well-accepted in the marketplace, and can attract a price premium of 50 percent or more. The organic food market is the fastest growing sector of the food industry, with a growth rate of 20 percent per year over the last two decades. Processors, handlers, marketers, and restaurants can also receive organic certification, creating a wide range of opportunities for Value-Added Production.

Farms and gardens should maintain their own soil fertility, avoid pesticide use, and prevent erosion. They should be planted in a wide variety of crops, and maintain their genetic diversity over time. They should use water efficiently, maintain the health of nearby riparian zones, and provide as much wildlife habitat as possible