1. Keep farm size reasonable
Big organic farms operate a lot like conventional farms. They use less sustainable practices than smaller farms. Liebert et al. 2022 surveyed organic fruit and vegetable farmers about eight agroecological practices. These practices increase sustainability by leveraging ecological processes and providing ecosystem services. This study also asked about crop diversity, mechanization and focus on whole sale or high volume cropping.
They found that bigger organic farms tend to more closely resembled conventional agriculture. The large farms used fewer agroecological practices than the small ones. Big growers were more likely to solve problems by using the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers permitted in organic production.
On the other hand, smaller growers were more likely to redesign their farms to integrate a broader range of sustainable agroecological practices. For example, smaller farms were 3 times more likely than big farms to use plantings to attract insects.
2. Increase biodiversity
Biodiversity increases pollinators and beneficial insects. You can increase biodiversity by planting different varieties of crops, using crop rotations, using cover crops, and adding organic matter to soil. Healthy soil increases diversity by supporting more microbes.
3. Plant field edges in pollinator plants and/or grasses
Flowering plants attract pollinators to your farm which increase yield. Grasses provide homes and food for beneficial insects which can protect your crops.
4. Manage wet areas
Poor drainage kills soil organisms and plant roots. Make sure fields are adequately drained and/or designate official wetlands.
Keep a safe zone around streams and wetlands to protect wetland plants, insects and fish. It also provides home and food for wildlife.
5. Use integrated pest management
Don't go for overkill when it comes to pest and disease problems. Know when and how to treat problems. This will save you money and help protect the environment.
6) Work towards having a living wage for yourself and your family
Part of having a sustainable farm is being financially stable yourself. If you are having to borrow money to keep farming year after year this is not sustainable or good for your mental health.
Your farm may be profitable and you may just have poor spending habits. Likewise, money from other sources may be subsidizing your farm. You need to find out what is going on.
If you don't understand budgets and/or how to determine if your farm is profitable or not you need to look into taking classes on financial literacy. There are classes available for free on YouTube and the web. Here is a great list of places to look from Virginia Extension.
You should also brainstorm ideas on how to make your farm profitable. This may mean diversifying into new crops, specializing in a niche area, or switching up your marketing.
7) Have sustainable hours for yourself and other family members
You are a valuable person not a working machine. Working 20 hours a day is not sustainable. Have fun while working to keep spirits up.
8) Train the next generation of farmers
If you love what you do share that love with others! Teach other people to play in the soil, appreciate a heirloom apple or tell a weed from a carrot.
9) Keep informed about regulations that may affect you and the way you farm
Make your voice heard on issue that affect your farming.
10) Make time for yourself
We care about you! Don't work yourself to death. Make time for things and people that really matter.
Reference: Liebert, J., Benner, R., Bezner Kerr, R. et al. Farm size affects the use of agroecological practices on organic farms in the United States. Nat. Plants (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01191-1