Resilient Farmers, Ranchers and Communities: Social Sustainability in Agriculture


Author(s): Andy Zieminski and Diana Friedman

Organization: Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education Program, USDA

Planning Step: Adaptation Options

Resilient Farmers, Ranchers and Communities: Social Sustainability in Agriculture draws special attention to social sustainability as an important part of managing for farm resilience. This resource describes how we can think of social sustainability, outlines some of the most pressing personal and social challenges facing all of us who are engaged in agriculture, and offers some suggestions for how we can begin to make ourselves, our employees, our families and our communities more prosperous, resilient and sustainable. Over the years, most sustainable agriculture research has focused primarily on environmental stewardship and profitability. As a result, farmers and ranchers now have many well-established practices such as grazing, cover crops, crop rotation and conservation tillage to address environmental and economic concerns that gave rise to the sustainable agriculture movement. During this time, however, quality of life and social sustainability issues have received considerably less attention, in part because it’s long been assumed that quality of life is implicitly tied to stewardship and profitability. It was assumed that if farmers and ranchers meet environmental and economic goals, a high quality of life for themselves and their communities would naturally follow. At the same time, many people simply don’t want to talk about the personal, household and family issues that affect quality of life. Yet, trends in agriculture reveal that quality of life issues require special attention. Farms and ranches that we may consider economically and environmentally sustainable can be threatened by many structural challenges such as aging farmer populations, consolidation of farms, shrinking rural communities, personal isolation, long-standing inequities for farmers of color and those with limited access to resources, and disruptions brought on by changing weather patterns and extreme weather related to climate change, pandemics and market fluctuations.

Relevant Region(s): All | Farm Scale: All | Farm Type: All | Markets: All