Sustainable vs. Industrial Farming

What’s the Difference?

One consideration in the quest for eating healthy food is supporting local farmers who produce sustainable food.  But what is sustainability, and why should we support it?

Sustainable food is produced with conservation and preservation in mind, promoting biodiversity, supporting animal welfare; it’s economically viable, and it’s socially just.  And, it tastes better! has a very detailed list at, and a summary at, outlining the differences between sustainable versus industrial farming broken out into sections based on health issues, environmental issues, animal waste issues, water waste issues, soil issues, pesticide issues, antibiotics issues, hormones issues, genetic diversity issues, fossil fuel issues, transportation issues, animal welfare issues, and economic development/community issues. 

Phew—that’s a lot of issues!

Some of their examples are shown below to illustrate the differences. 


Sustainable Farming

Small-Scale FarmingSheepChickensGrass-fed beef contains 2-6x more omega-3sOrganic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorusDoes not rely on pesticides, fertilizers, or hormones, and does not use GMOs!Animal waste stays within the ecosystem, and doesn’t build up and cause pollution; manure is absorbed into the land (as fertilizer) Less fossil fuels, less waterTemporally relevant (without nuclear or fossil fuels) anthropocentric energy sources in the biosphereSeedling and SoilBenefits of Sustainable AgricultureSafe working conditions and fair wages


Conventional/Industrial Farming

Large-Scale OperationsMechanized ApproachQuantity vs. QualityCattle Feedlot in CaliforniaLarge number of animals, treated inhumanely, and are crammed into confined spacesHog FarmCalf in a Veal CrateFood contains more nitrates from heavy use of pesticides (associated with elevated cancer risks)Uses pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, and GMO seeds, and supports GMO crops and cloningAnimal waste is held in open air lagoons and manure holding tanks, causing contamination to local groundwater and methane gases fill the air; chronic soil erosion, soil contamination, and aquifer depletion Factory farm pollutionCarbon deficient soil from industrial farming at left, carbon rich soil from sustainable farming at right2006 Energy flow by the economic sectorUnsafe working conditions for farmers, and unfair wages


These are just some of the reasons why you should support sustainable farms! 

So what can you do to support sustainability?

According to, you’ve already completed the first step!  Educating yourself is the most important.  I recommend reading through their site as it’s a wealth of information. 

Next, ask questions.  Depending on where you shop, you’ll see foods labeled organic and non-GMO, but you may not see “sustainable”.  Asking questions will help you to determine if your food was produced from a sustainable farm.  When you buy meat and produce, ask where and how animals were raised, the types of food they were fed, if pesticides were used, etc.—this is an important step in the process. 

Finally, learn more, get involved; buy local or direct, and even grown your own. Purchasing local foods or growing your own means less time from the garden or farm to your plate, and reduces fossil fuel waste.  Supporting sustainability also means support smaller farms and, in this economy, that’s important! 

Educate yourself, and check out these additional resources and articles that discuss both sustainable and industrial farming:

A special thanks to for the sustainable versus conventional/industrial examples, as well as their efforts in promoting sustainability and educating all of us on what we can do to support sustainability!




~ by SHendrix on December 1, 2012.

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