Here's Linnekin in the Baltimore Sun on getting to real agricultural sustainability:
Over the last two decades, the nation's appetite for food from "sustainable" farms has grown immensely. Sustainability is a buzzword, but at its optimum it aspires to maximize the benefits of farming while minimizing its negative impacts. Americans are starting to demand such practices — and they're willing to pay for them.
Consider the rise in organics. Organic food is the fastest-growing segment of the American food industry, accounting for an estimated $23 billion in sales in 2009. Adoption of organic farming is also on the rise. Between 2002 and 2008, organic cropland increased by 15 percent annually, on average. Three in 10 Americans buy organic products each week. Whole Foods Marketand Trader Joe's can credit some of their rapid expansion to the growing popularity of organics.
Or look at farmers' markets. When the USDA started tracking the number of U.S. farmers' markets in 1994, there were 1,755. Today, there are more than 6,000.
The upshot of such developments?
At its core, true sustainability has an essential economic component: The practices of sustainable farmers must be able in turn to sustain the farmers. In other words, sustainable farmers must be able to succeed without agricultural subsidies. Mounting evidence suggests this is possible. Maryland farmers can survive without subsidies. In Maryland, for example, nearly two in three farmers did not collect any subsidies over the 15-year period ending in 2009, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
Linnekin ends with an interesting tale of hand-grown produce and Henry Wallace, the father of ag subsidies:
I leased an organic garden plot in Washington, D.C.'s best-known Victory Garden for six seasons, beginning in 2004. Though I found the work fun and the produce delicious, I was a relatively lousy gardener. To my east, though, sat a beautifully manicured plot tended by Jean Wallace Douglas, the daughter of President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace. It was Secretary Wallace who in the early 1930s helped usher in America's agricultural subsidies — which the secretary referred to at the time as "a temporary solution to deal with an emergency." That emergency was the Great Depression.
Linnekin notes that farm subsidies cost at least $15 billion a year to taxpayers. Time to end it, not mend it.