Beautiful and Abundant

Publisher Bryan Welch on philosophy, farming and building the world we want.

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The Dangers of Industrial Farming

11/14/2008 1:41:43 PM

Tags: agriculture, agricultural economy, monoculture, green revolution, modern farming, Rachel Carson, Wes Jackson, National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health, industrial agriculture, health

Dry Seed
  PHOTO BY BRYAN WELCH

The first “green revolution” has not been an unqualified success. It’s had its downsides. Farmers have generally stopped raising their own food as production has shifted to “monocultural” crops with global market value. So, when economies decline and geopolitical structures teeter, farmers are in the same dire straits as everyone else. They have, largely, surrendered their ability to live off their land or to supply their own communities with a balanced diet. The visionary scientist Wes Jackson[1] describes modern agricultural economies as “brittle.” When an entire region depends on a single product — say corn — and an unusual weather pattern devastates the corn crop one year, the region’s economy is also devastated. Most modern farmers don’t even raise their own vegetable gardens.

Pesticides, herbicides and industrial fertilizers pollute water supplies and destroy wildlife. Even as the White House and the Ford Foundation were trumpeting industrial agriculture’s achievements, Rachel Carson was taking note of the sudden decline of wildlife around the world where pesticides were used. New health problems proliferated in farming communities around the world. According to the National Cancer Institute within the U.S. National Institutes of Health, farm workers face unusually high incidence of leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma, soft tissue sarcomas, and cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain and prostate.[2]

The bare earth between the rows of corn or soybeans erodes in the absence of the root structures and decomposing plant matter that enrich undisturbed soils. Plant varieties are developed to maximize the nutrition derived from every square meter. As that nutrition is pulled from the soil and trucked away to feed human beings and livestock, the soil is depleted and the crops are increasingly dependent on artificial fertilizers. Those fertilizers are specifically designed to benefit the crops immediately, and have no lasting positive impact. The soil is, gradually, robbed of its natural assets.

Furthermore, there’s good evidence that, as we’ve increased the productivity of our farmland, we’ve also made our food less nutritious. Some studies suggest that up to 75 percent of the natural minerals we would expect to find in a piece of fruit or a bowl of spinach may be missing if our fruits and vegetables are grown with aggressive industrial agricultural practices. [3]


[1] Jackson, Wes. Natural Systems Agriculture: A Radical Alternative. 2002. Reprinted from Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment Volume 88, pp. 111-117, 2002, with permission from Elsevier Science.

[2] National Cancer Institute. Agricultural Health Study. Ongoing.

[3] Lawrence, Felicity. 2004.  Kate Barker: Not on the Label. Penguin.



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Post a comment below.

 

Haoleman_3
4/29/2009 6:36:45 PM
We own Mrs B's Historic Inn in Lanesboro, MN. I have removed the existing garden and replaced it with a design by John Jeavons using the French Biointensive gardening method. This will be my second garden venture like this and with two beds, we will be able to grow enough vegetables to use not only for ourselves but for our restaurant. Not only is this a much easier way to do a garden but the production is unbelieveable!

Shirley in NC_2
4/29/2009 10:56:17 AM
foodchoices, The web site you had in your message was interesting. Can anyone really know what is going to happen to the worlds food crops with all the genetic modifications done to the crop seeds themselves? Is this the reason for the increase of food allergenic cases? Are heirloom plants endanger?

Shirley in NC_2
4/29/2009 10:38:20 AM
As a small farmer in NC my family raises food for the extended family unit of Great grand parents, grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins. We give away the food in exchange for work in the garden. We rely on the sale of the animals to pay the taxes on the property. I have worked hard to turn my parents farm back into a homestead. We have all types of fruits, berries, nuts, small grains and vegetables. We under plant and mulch with leaves in our garden. Every fall we plant winter crops in our garden space for animal feed (I.e. turnips, rape, kale) and then turn them under for spring planting. Many people have forgotten how to grow or found it easier to purchase products like flour grain or oats for oatmeal. I found that when I came back here to help out my parents their equipment needed replacing was the reason some of the crops started disappearing from the farm. And I can see why in this economy that some family farms cannot replace the equipment. I had to rebuild and equip varies outbuildings in the last few years. Another aspect of the small farmers lives is that big business has run a lot of our retail outlets out of business. I have watched many general stores close in my area since our little growth spurt in the 70's. These big stores don't rely on the area for product support and supply. They go to a business that can service their store locations statewide or nationwide. And for 'new farmers' many of the older seed varieties 'non hybrid' are not easily found in today's marketplace. I had to search for many of the seeds I purchased to return the farm to a heirloom plants. I ordered a number of seeds outside of the U.S. to ensure this. As food allergies started running ramped though our extended family unit I choose this path to see if it was the food itself or the company grown hybrid seeds for these plants. I realised some time ago when I became allergic to foods I had eaten all my life, that with todays plant b

foodchoices
4/27/2009 9:19:58 AM
Does anyone know what the "real" truth is about over-population and food shortage? There are many different theories in circulation,some put out by Multi-Nationals like for their benefit.Have written more on this here: Monsanto:wooing the public. http://foodchoices.wordpress.com/

George Works
4/27/2009 8:01:38 AM
The 'green revolution' had one astonishing result: it allowed the world population to double in one generation. Most of the world is now dependent on factory agriculture and synthetic fertilizer for food. Small organic farms can't feed 6.7 billion people. America is still has a choice because of its good land and relatively low population density. If we could get world population under control, the rest of the world could have this choice as well. If we can't, the world is headed down a very dark road.

mandy lozano
11/24/2008 11:16:17 PM
absolutely right on the nose! thank you for writing about this. it truly keeps me up at night! we are so vulnerable with our current food production. i am thankful i understand how to grow my own food, but i doubt i could survive more than a few weeks doing so. we need a solution and we need one quickly. people are working dilligently in places that may surprise you. the most i can ask is that we all be more sentient of this and understand how our dollars cast votes for practices we can't even see.

SBLACK
11/17/2008 7:58:12 PM
Great article!! I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. This is one book anyone that questions industrial farming and what it is doing, not only to our land, but also to our food supply should read. Living in a farm state, I've seen rows and rows of corn and soybeans all my life and never really thought twice about it until recently. We need a change in the way the land is farmed and the way our livestock is raised.







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