What does “sustainable agriculture” truly mean—and what should it look like? The outlines of this long-running debate will be familiar to many. One side argues that modern, industrialized farming, for all its flaws, has mostly been a force for good, vastly improving yield, reducing food-borne illness, and saving the world from Malthusian disaster. Building upon this foundation, modern farming should be science-based and highly capitalized, employing the arsenal of innovations in chemistry, biotechnology, and satellite systems—from biotech seeds to laser-leveled fields. The other side rebuts that given the enormous environmental and social costs of intensified agriculture, a paradigm shift is needed: one that takes a whole-systems approach based on traditional knowledge, alternative agriculture, and local food system experience.
Thankfully, the two sides in Seed’s debate have gotten beyond these vast generalizations towards a more nuanced discussion.