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NAL Alternative Farming Systems Information Center Informs Sustainable Agriculture
by William Thomas, National Agricultural Library
(As originally submitted for publication in the Beltsville News June 2006.)

farmThe USDA National Agricultural Library (NAL) is more than a building full of books. A big part of what makes NAL the largest and most accessible collection of agricultural information in the world is the Library's several specialized Information Centers.

There are eight of these Information Centers at NAL, each specializing in subjects such as: alternative farming systems, animal welfare, food

& nutrition, food safety, invasive species, rural, technology transfer, and water quality. Each of NALís Information Centers provides Web access to comprehensive information resources focused on specific topic areas. The centers have staff available to serve customers on-site, as well as by phone, fax, or email.

I work in NAL's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC), which was created in 1985 in response to the growing demand for information on organic farming and sustainable agriculture. In the 21 years since, AFSIC has evolved into a noted collection and distribution center which specializes in information about sustainable food production systems and practices. Sustainable agriculture is considered to be farming that provides a secure living for farm families, maintains the natural environment and resources, and supports rural communities. The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center is staffed by a service-oriented team of librarians and subject specialists who facilitate rapid access to information resources on alternatives to conventional agriculture. AFSIC and the information it provides are critical elements in the overall USDA effort to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and farmers worldwide.

The Centerís staff--two full time librarians and an information specialist -- work together to identify, organize, and distribute information on alternative farming practices and markets. They respond to thousands of inquiries on an array of topics, including sustainable cropping systems, alternative crops and livestock (including goats!), organic farming, and aquaculture. AFSIC also produces publications on specific topics; for example, one recent publication on "Organic Marketing" has over 1,000 live links and is being distributed on mini-CD.

AFSIC has developed and maintains a web site ( which provides publications, databases and links to evaluated relevant content. A recent special project created an "Organic Roots" database containing nearly 200 USDA documents published before 1942 that pertain to organic agriculture.

If you would like information on any of these subjects mentioned in this article, or on sustainable agriculture, visit the AFSIC Web site or contact the Information Center (301-504-6559 or by email at Tours and presentations about the NAL may be arranged through the public affairs office by calling 301-504-6778.

Last Modified: Oct 31, 2012
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