Farmers are the owners—and environmental stewards—of large swaths of agricultural and undeveloped, natural land across rural America. Without these privately-owned, beautiful landscapes, our communities would not be blessed with the vistas of prairies, forests, meadows and wetlands that intermingle with the crops that produce our food; we have become accustomed to enjoying their beauty. Farmers have always worked to maintain these landscapes of crops and natural areas in ways that promote their environmental and ecological health, because the whole farmstead is an interacting system that is dependent not just on the individual crops that are grown but on the diversity of all its parts acting together. To survive in a competitive world and be sustainable over the long haul, our farms and rural landscapes require careful tending, and in modern times when “sustainability” has become a buzz-word, we can take comfort in the knowledge that our farmers have been doing this all along.
The potato and vegetable growers in Wisconsin’s Central Sands have long been innovators and national leaders in developing programs that measure the sustainability of their practices and document adoption and improvement overtime. For the past dozen years, potato growers have been documenting advanced farming practices, which encourage ecological restoration, reduced pesticide use, and biologically based management in their systems, through a grower- led program called Healthy Grown™. This program has demonstrated that adoption of sustainable farming practices can produce positive changes overtime, and still provide a safe, economical food supply. Growers set out initially to become more sustainable because many believed that this was the right way to go, but after a decade of investment, they are finding that they have a competitive advantage in supplying potatoes to retailers and consumers who are increasingly demanding sustainably produced food. (more…)