Agroecology is the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems (Gliessman, 1998). The need for developing sustainable agriculture that is built upon local knowledge of ecological, social and economic conditions has increasingly been recognized worldwide. The goals of this paper are to: 1) review development in American agroecology during the last decade, and 2) discuss sustainability indicators as they apply to Japanese and California agriculture.
During the last decade, agroecology has been widely accepted among scientists and practitioners across the Americas and beyond. Recently Francis, et al. (2003) proposed a broader definition of agroecology as the ecology of food systems. A food system is the interconnected meta-system of agroecosystems, their economic, social, cultural, and technological support systems, and systems of food distribution and consumption. Toward holistic understanding of complex food systems, the definition encourages interdisciplinary research across natural and social sciences at multiple scales spatially and temporally.
Whereas California agriculture is dominated by large-scale operations with specialty crops, Japanese agroecosystems are characterized as small-scale paddy-oriented farms that are managed intensively by older part-time farmers. Sustainability of Japanese and California agroecosystems is discussed based on characteristics identified using a broader definition of agroecology.