This week I attended the Keystone Center’s Field to Market (FtM) Plenary meeting in Durham, NC. I have had the pleasure to be TFI’s representative for this sustainability group for over two years now. FtM is one of many sustainability groups on the horizon today. Although I personally feel like there is a surplus of these groups that can result in the duplication of sustainability efforts, FtM separates itself from the crowd by having concrete deliverables and a diverse membership that collaborates well with each other.
FtM has developed the Fieldprint Calculator which is an educational tool relying on peer reviewed scientific algorithms to determine a producer’s fieldprint, or impact, on the environment. A producer inputs their management decisions into the calculator and the calculator outputs their fieldprint in five environmental resource categories and then compares them to the state and national averages. This can prove useful in multiple ways: it provides a benchmark of comparison for farmers, allows farmers to quantitatively see how their management decisions affect the environment and in turn can influence a farmer to change their management practices. This quantitative output that can influence a farmer’s management decision is the crux of sustainability because it encourages continuous improvement in agricultural management. As new technologies are developed, the sustainability needle will continue to move forward and the Fieldprint Calculator will provide farmers with information on ways to be more sustainable. Unlike many sustainability groups, FtM has a solid deliverable that is outcomes based and doesn’t scare farmers with mandates in order to be considered sustainable.
Another strong point of FtM is the diverse representation of growers, food processors, NGOs and food companies all collaborating to promote sustainability. Many sustainability efforts are weighted with a singular type of representation such as growers, conventional agriculture, organic agriculture, etc. In my opinion, this does not foster solutions to achieve sustainability, rather it generates “solutions” that are as biased as the group. FtM does not have this problem. When I attend a FtM meeting I am collaborating with unlikely partners, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, and the best part is, we are agreeing! This diverse representation ensures a fair characterization of sustainability and increases the organization’s credibility.
These two aspects of FtM ensure it is a major player in the sustainability dialogue and is here to stay. Using peer reviewed science in the development of their tool while finding consensus amongst organizations that are not always in agreement has led to their success. As a testament to their presence, other sustainability groups at the global level have reached out to collaborate with FtM because of these qualities that separate FtM from the rest.
FtM recently released a short video that explains its purpose and achievements. I encourage you to check out this rather catchy video and spread the word to promote sustainability.
by Matt Kastner
March 29, 2012