Building sustainability and long-term vision for your farm and family

Michael Travis
As stewards of land within a community, farmers recognize that they have a responsibility to manage land so that their neighbors have clean water or clear air.

Sustainability has been defined as the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability encompasses economic, social, as well as environmental benefits. The day to day decisions we make can have lasting effects.

Within indigenous societies the seventh-generation principle teaches that in every decision, consideration must be made of how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future.

A sustainable farm or home makes a difference today for you and your community. Its positive impact will also extend far into the future and well beyond the borders of your property. Although sustainability is complex, its principles are not difficult to understand. There are four key sets of drivers of sustainability, with focus that is either internal or external, and a time frame that is either today or future. By incorporating these drivers into your daily decisions, you will build sustainability and long-term vision for your farm and family.

Pollution prevention and waste reduction

The first set of sustainability drivers includes pollution, consumption, and waste. These drivers are typically viewed as internal to your farm or business and short term. They offer potential immediate reduction of risks or costs. For example, soil erosion and nutrient loss directly affect your land’s productivity and the cost of production. Excess fuel or fertilizer are unnecessary expenses. Implementing pollution prevention strategies and reducing resource use (for example, protecting soil from erosion, or applying fuel and fertilizer saving measures) can provide short-term payoff for your operation.

Resource stewardship

The second set of sustainability drivers is also short term, but externally focused. They extend to the community we live in and involve connectivity and transparency regarding societal concerns. These drivers create value by stewarding the land and other resources, not just for production sake, but also for their larger role in society.

For example, as stewards of land within our community, we recognize that we have a responsibility to manage land so that our neighbors have clean water or clear air. As stewards we practice neighborly citizenship, and transparency and connectedness within our community.

The payoff here is reputation and continued legitimacy. Though it may be tough to put a dollar amount on it, we are all aware of the value of reputation within the communities we work and live.

Innovation and repositioning

As we move from short term to long-term drivers of sustainability, we recognize that both how we farm and the role of our farm in the environment and community will change and expand over time. Long-term problems such as climate change, air and water pollution, or even unforeseen problems will require new sustainability skills.

Sustainable competency for the future will require ongoing innovation. Consider, for example, the rising cost of fuel and fertilizer, or the increasing water pollution by nitrates or phosphorus environmental, or the rising demand for clean technology. What innovations need to be considered to meet these future needs? Addressing the future needs innovation will pay off by putting our farm in a position to excel for many generations.

Sustainability vision

Lastly, we consider external, future-oriented drivers. Sustainability vision creates a shared roadmap for providing the greatest good for the greatest number for the long-term.

Practical vision is more about what it does than what it says. Sustainability vision recognizes the impact that each of us has globally, not simply on our local environment and community. Vision helps us make decisions today that will lead to long-term solutions to difficult problems. Sustainability vision connects us to the needs of the world and helps us to meet those needs concretely and effectively.

So, when you hear the word “sustainable” ask yourself: What am I doing today to reduce pollution, consumption, waste? What innovations can I make to increase those reductions into the future? What stewardship principles is my reputation within my community built on? How will my farm contribute to a vision of sustainable living for the world far into the future?

Michael Travis

Micheal Travis is the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator for Pepin and Pierce Counties

Extension University of Wisconsin-Madison