Sustainability on Michigan farms: Part 6

Michigan's sustainable farms enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

In this six part series, we are discovering what sustainability on Michigan farms means, looking at examples of how farms are demonstrating that sustainability and how exploring how MSU Extension is working with producers to become even more sustainable.

As a reminder, the definition that is used by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program for sustainable agriculture is: 

“Sustainable agriculture is defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term: satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and the natural resources base upon which the agricultural economy depends, make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls, sustain the economic viability of farm operations, enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

This sixth article’s sustainability topic addresses the “enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole” portion. 

If there is anything that is as hard to get an agreement upon as the definition of sustainability, it would be the definition of quality of life. A quick internet search will show you a variety of methods that researchers and organizations have used to try to quantify and rate both individual and country quality of life. These indexes often include areas such as: financial well-being, job security, health, freedom, family, safety and community. 

You don’t have to look hard to find farms and farmers that improve many of these areas for the communities that they live and work in. Farmers provide food security for their communities and the state of Michigan as a whole, to the point that most of us do not have to worry about whether we will be able to go to our local grocery store and find the food that will nourish our families and us. We often do not recognize them for this and many do not make the connection between what is bought in the grocery store and the farm that produces the food or the ingredients for the food products we buy.

Through producing the food that is then marketed across the state or prepared in local restaurants, farms also provide much needed employment to our rural and urban communities. In addition, many businesses, and therefore jobs, rely on agricultural supply and equipment purchases by the farms that are part of the local community.

Finally, farmers have traditionally been very active members of their local communities. Farmers serve on school boards, community non-profits, volunteer fire departments, church boards and many other civic organizations. Considering farmers make up less than 2 percent of the general population, they do more than their fair share of community service.

One way farms show their community involvement is through volunteering to be a host farm for one of Michigan State University Extension’s Breakfast of the Farm events. These consumer education events provide an on-farm opportunity to learn about modern agriculture. Visitors learn first-hand how farmers care for animals, protect the environment and produce safe and nutritious food.

MSU Extension brought the first Breakfast on the Farm event to Michigan in 2009, and since that time over 85,000 children and adults have attended Breakfast on the Farm events throughout Michigan to learn about where food comes from. At these events, attendees have a chance to learn how cows are milked, pet a calf, take wagon rides, see tractors and enjoy a farm-cooked breakfast complete with ice cream. Questions about farming and food production are encouraged. Exit surveys from the events show that consumer’s trust levels go up for both how farmers care for food producing animals and the good housing they provide for their animals. The surveys also indicate that 17 percent of individuals increase the amount of dairy products they purchase each week, proof of the increased confidence they have in dairy farms as a result of the tours.

Through this article series, I hope that you too have increased confidence in the sustainable farms that we have right here in Michigan and that you have a better understanding of how MSU Extension is working with farmers to continue to improve upon their sustainability.

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