Monday, November 10, 2008

Food For Thought

This week's newspaper column:

It may be time to change from fossil fuel back to solar power – down on the farm.

Since World War II, American farming has morphed from small family farms, where the planting and husbandry of diverse crops and animals was the norm, to monoculture mega-farms where one crop per year grows fencerow to fencerow.

The federal government facilitated this transition with subsidies to single-crop farmers at the expense of diversity. Old MacDonald, bowing to financial pressure, threw out all the verses and just planted corn.

There’s no doubt that food prices have been reduced as a result of this policy, but at what cost? Most of Old MacDonald’s fellow farmers are now out of a job, and our high-fat, empty-calorie, highly-processed food supply is responsible for a multitude of health problems. Obesity - contributing to an increase in chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer – is a byproduct of our modern-day food supply.

On the traditional farm where natural methods are employed, animal waste replenishes nutrients in the soil necessary for growing vitamin and mineral-rich crops eliminating the need for petroleum-based fertilizers. Crop rotation and year-round planting keep the insect population in check so large amounts of pesticides are unnecessary. Diversity of plant and animal life, aided by photosynthesis (or solar power, if you will) is what American writer and farmer Wendell Berry referred to as nature’s “elegant solution.

Ironically, removing animals from the farm and the absence of crop diversity turned this elegant solution into two inelegant problems - depleted fertility of the land, and pollution and disease generated from the waste and unsanitary conditions in the feedlot.

Once-cheap fossil fuel fertilizers and pesticides are now as essential to farming as the tractor. So as the price of oil rises, so does the cost of food. And with the ushering in of large-scale centralized farming, food is now routinely shipped cross-country further exacerbating our dependence on fossil fuels.

As recently as the late 1800’s, more than half of the US population lived and worked on farms. Today, less than one percent of our population is involved with farming. To put that in perspective, more people are locked up in jails in this country than call themselves farmers. Traditional farm belts are losing population as children of farm families move away to find “a better job.”

Natural farming is certainly more complex, labor intensive and time-consuming than the current way of doing things. Ending Washington’s subsidy of unsustainable farming practices would be a start. What if, instead of promoting fossil fuel-based farming, we supported solar-based farming by training millions of “Young MacDonalds” how to farm the land naturally?

The benefit: a boom in green-collar jobs, a healthier food supply, less dependence on foreign oil, lower medical costs, and a greater appreciation for the land. Maybe it’s time to move from agribusiness back to agriculture.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Pollution Accumulating in Your Dinner – Bio magnification Explained

When the landmark book Silent Spring was released in the 1960s, it was the first time the public was made aware of the dangers of chemical bio-magnification. In this particular case it was birds of prey accumulating massive amounts of DDT in their bodies that resulted in their ability to reproduce because of soft egg shells.

Since then, this has been observed in nearly every higher order creature on Earth with one chemical or another. Human beings are not immune. The affinity that some of the most dangerous chemicals have for lipids causes them to accumulate in fatty tissues. Any creature that eats another can easily take these toxins into their own bodies where they are also stored in fat tissues, often causing drastically higher levels of body-toxins than are observed in simpler organisms that are lower on the food chain.