Creating Sustainable Wealth while Caring for Creation


The term “sustainable agriculture” is used by many actors and stakeholders to capture this notion of balance and sustenance. This has the effect of making the term pliable to the needs and purposes of many differing groups and perspectives, so much so that the term may be losing its original meaning. We wish to affirm this basic meaning of sustainable agriculture:

  • To satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • To enhance environmental quality and the regenerative capacities of the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
  • To make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • To sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • To enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. (USDA)

We assert, however, that sustainable agriculture is a meaningless goal unless it includes a consideration of human life, especially the life of the family. For as Christians, we are not called not merely to sustain some biological homeostasis. Instead we are tasked with fostering the natural conditions in which each human person may come to their full stature as a son or daughter of God. This is the noble vision we anticipate and call forth from agricultural leaders. Each one of us must honestly examine our practices and address the question: how do I give witness to the promotion and sustainability of a culture of life?

Saint John Paul II spoke of the need to respect the constituent and inter-related elements of the natural world: “One cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings…animals, plants, the natural elements – simply as one wishes, according to one’s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, §34)

The call to be protectors of the land and the earth is integral and all-embracing. As Christians, we are called to protect and care for both creation and the human person. These concepts are reciprocal and together they make for authentic and sustainable human development. Dominion over the earth can only be exercised in communion with God, among men, with all living beings and with the whole of creation. For the natural environment to be respected, the human environment and its objective moral structure must also be respected. When we ignore or neglect one, it has a destructive impact on the other. The trans-genetic modification of creatures, for example, is not merely an instance of making changes at the organic level of a particular kind of creature. Its impact includes ecosystems and social networks of food production as well. Such modifications of a creature must be undertaken only in deliberate deference to the order and wisdom of creation of which it is a part,

The principle invoked here is respect for the integrity of creation. Our technological innovations and biotechnology modifications must be carried out with utmost care and prudent circumspection, when proportionate goods are clearly identified and reasonably expected, and other reasonable alternatives have been considered, including the modification of our lifestyles of consumption. The implications are rarely clear and evident at first, so it takes wise and precautionary leadership to grasp the ramifications of our choices. As expressed in the teachings of Laudato Si:

“The precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable and whose ability to defend their interests and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited. If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.” (LS, 186)


[Continue to next section: Upholding the common good of family farms]