United States Food Production not Geared for a Sustainable World

Willard Olney warns that the United States' food production is not geared towards supporting a sustainable world for future generations.

| July/August 1979

In the United States today, only about four percent of our 218 million people are farmers. These four-out-of-a-hundred — these few food producers — constitute a lifeline from which hungry millions dangle, largely unaware, over a valley filled with the sharp stones of disaster.

And — like the rest of us — the farmers themselves are hooked into the life-support systems which supply our daily water, electricity, and oil . . . umbilical cords that pump vitality into our bodies and cities. These few lifelines are the true framework of our free press, secret ballot, education, art, and the entire long list that makes up what we like to call our rights and our civilization.

It's the same the world over. Smaller and smaller groups of men and women are responsible for the continued existence of a large percentage of the earth's people. And, while we breed our populations ever higher, we continue to reduce — in the name of efficiency — the number of supports upon which these huge multitudes depend.

What Lies Ahead?

Never before has man edged out on such a tightrope . . . blindfolded and precariously teetering toward an increasingly uncertain future. We can't foretell the outcome, because we have no historical precedents to guide our chart makers. It's much easier to look back and study how humankind used to live . . . and — when we do so — we see two facts clearly: Those were days of smaller populations, and there was less dependence upon others for the necessities of life. When we look forward, we realize how difficult and unpleasant it will be to follow our present trend . . . how impossible it will be for us to live like ants yet think like individuals.

In my garden, a number of fat, green caterpillars battle me for possession of the tomato plants. These hornworms are marvels of single minded efficiency as they eat their way along the stems and leaves . . . moving slowly but surely on their many sets of feet.

Could those multiple feet be compared with the broad base of support which maintained our ancestors in the days before water mains, power plants, OPEC, and gigantic cities? History shows that we humans have moved steadily toward greater and greater dependence upon fewer and fewer "feet".

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