Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Abby Hickcox

Second Advisor

William Travis

Third Advisor

Sharon Collinge

Abstract

It is an essential goal of conservation biology to find a way to sustainably meet the food needs of an exponentially increasing population without damaging the environment and the ecosystem services it provides us. The difficulty with “sustainable agriculture” is that there is much disagreement as to what it entails and how to approach it. Thus far, the organic movement has dominated practices and perceptions in the realm of alternative farming practices. Proponents of organic food production claim that it is more beneficial for the environment, as well as the humans and animals that inhabit it. However, some research has shown that organic food production can be more resource intensive and have a larger effect on the environment than conventional methods. At its conception, the organic food movement was associated with a production process that was small scale, environmentally friendly, and socially conscious; but, modern organic food production has been industrialized and now involves many of the same processes as the conventional food production system it set out to oppose. The consensus among the literature is that organic, as it is defined in any regulatory or certification system, is not inherently sustainable. The sustainability of organic depends on factors other than specific processes defined by organic legislation, including regional climate, pre-cultivation soil conditions, distribution techniques, access to fresh water, topography, and other site specific alternative farming practices used in a given organic system (zero tillage, crop diversification, closed nutrient cycling, local sourcing, these are practices not defined or prohibited in organic laws). Most scholars agree that farming techniques must be specific to land conditions, regional culture, and related factors, and that many practices must be combined with organic to achieve the highest degree of sustainability. This thesis evaluates the sustainability of organic based on environmental and social impacts in the existing policy context.

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