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Show me an ‘unsustainable’ farmer

There are certain words that seem to float around forever in this addled brain.

“Smarmy” is one. The late Marc Reisner, author of Cadillac Desert, called me smarmy in a well-crafted letter of disagreement about something I wrote. I cherish his letter.

“Curmudgeon” is another of my favorite words. Turfgrass guru Steve Cockerham, who is also superintendent of agricultural operations at the University of California, Riverside [3], hung that moniker on me many years ago. It seems to fit.

“Thwart” is another word that has rolled around in my brain for years and shows up in my writing probably more than it should. It is a funky little word that is spelled funny and pronounced awkwardly. Maybe that is why I cannot shake it.

“Serendipitous” is another one. It is used by my wife when she inquires about my driving sans GPS or a map. “Are we lost are just having another serendipitous experience?” she will inquire.

There is another word that used to have substance with me: “Sustainable.” However, it is wearing out its welcome from overuse.

It is bantered around in agriculture today far too freely for my liking. It is a buzzword that has become a dud in my dictionary.

Sustainable has come to imply that there are those who farm correctly and those who do not. When we use words, there are synonyms and antonyms. We all know the antonyms of smarmy, curmudgeon, thwart and serendipitous.

What is the antonym of sustainable? Unsustainable? When sustainable is flippantly sloshed around in a farming dialogue, the implication is unless you are “sustainable,” you are “unsustainable,” on the edge of demise. Several years ago Barry Bedwell of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League uncovered at least 27 different definitions of sustainable.

I have yet to find someone who can define and identify the dastardly “unsustainable” farmer. Presumably, he or she is the man or woman plundering and pillaging the environment for ill-gotten economic gain. I am still looking for that farmer who is even now farming in this “sustainable” age. Let me know if you find him or her before I do.

In my dictionary, if you are successfully and profitably farming today you are protecting your environment. You are a sustainable farmer.

It is puzzling to hear people talk about correcting the errors of the ways of today’s farmers, the same ones who continually improve crop yields and crop quality. You cannot do that unless you are an environmentally sound farmer.

Can farmers do better? We all can improve and farmers continually demonstrate that they are improving the way they farm. With each farmer interview, I am amazed at how far farming has advanced in California in the more than 30 years I have been an agricultural journalist here.

I would consider every farmer I have interviewed over the years a sustainable farmer. I await the opportunity to interview the unsustainable ones.