The Sustainability of Organic Horticulture

Madelyn Huang

Organic agriculture is widely accepted to be better for the environment than conventional agriculture, reducing harmful chemical inputs and encouraging biodiversity, and rightly so.  As such, the term “organic agriculture” is often used synonymously with “sustainable agriculture.”  While organic may appear to be sustainable in its environmental benefits, is organic agriculture truly sustainable for the planet?  This paper investigates the sustainability of organic agriculture and the role it should play in developing a sustainable food system for our planet.                

Why Organic?

Sustainable agriculture encompasses a variety of farming practices; organic is but one of them.  The production and sale of organic produce has grown over the past couple of decades and continues to flourish.  Public interest in organic agriculture has steadily increased, making organic a potentially influential contributor to our current food production system.

Organic Agriculture

The foundational philosophy behind organic is farming with the earth, aware of the complex connections that make up the ecosystem.  As consumer interest and demand for organics increased, it was necessary for governments to develop regulations in order to preserve the integrity of the market and protect the consumers.


Organic increases soil biodiversity in the form of microbial biomass, generating resilience against potential future environmental threats.  The reduction of synthetic fertilizers eliminates the need for energy-intensive nitrogen production.  Organic farms also involve practices that encourage a greater sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide back into the soil.


Organic farms generate higher gross incomes for farmers, though not without additional labor and financial costs.  With improvements in policies that encourage conversion and maintain the integrity of the organic label in a free-market economy, organic agriculture can become as economically viable as conventional farming.

Social Sustainability

Sustainable agriculture should support the growth of healthy people and a healthy community.  Particularly in developing nations, organic has the realized potential for enabling food security, women empowerment, community empowerment, and economic stability.


Implementing agriculture that is continually concerned about being sustainable becomes an ever more important goal because how we produce food will affect our environment, the air we breathe, the society in which we grow, the ways in which we live.  Organic agriculture is well on its way to becoming an integral building block in the construction of such a food system, one that is truly sustainable for us and for those to come.