‘Organic’ and ‘sustainable’ are terms often used interchangeably, but they are not one in the same. It is important to be aware of their differences, both as a farmer and everyday consumer.
The difference stems from the fact that ‘organic’ describes how a product was made, while ‘sustainable’ describes the farm specifically, and its overall affect on the environment. The two approaches also receive varying treatments from the government: farms must be government-certified to be considered organic, while there’s no formality to calling yourself sustainable.
Sustainable farms are typically smaller than organic ones. This isn’t a rule or formal requirement, but generally a necessity, due to how sustainability works. You’ll need to sacrifice productivity in order to ensure all parts of your farm are working in sync. Sustainable farms are also smaller in terms of their overall yield, as portions of their land are often kept empty in order to renew the soil.
Water is a vital resource to any farm, one that is often overlooked. Organic farms take great measures not to add artificial resources to their produce, as doing so obviously damages the environment. Sustainable farms strive to conserve as much water as possible, mostly done through the use of reduced-volume irrigation systems.
Farms of all kinds require power in order to operate. Relying on renewable forms of energy is a major goal of sustainable agriculture, but is not always a goal of organic farms.
Sustainable farms treat animals as a part of the natural cycle, ensuring more human practices in regards to how livestock is treated. Organic farms are not required to adhere to provisions regarding the humane care of animals.
There is always an issue of packaging and transporting food: practices which often affect the environment in a negative way. This is especially true when plastic and carbon-based fuels are involved. Sustainable farms take all aspects of transport into consideration, while organic farms only focus on how produce is processed.
Organic and sustainable farms are similar in their goals, but major differences separate the two. Understanding the details of each will help you to be a more responsible consumer.