Biting the Land that Feeds Us

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Photo courtesy sherjaca/Fotolia
Ranching can be easy to take shortcuts, but cutting corners can cause lasting damage.

Biting the Land that Feeds Us

I am a rancher. I live on the land I grew up on, in the house my father built for us. For more than 25 years, I have tended descendants of the same cows my parents bought when they married 64 years ago. I hold an advanced degree in agricultural engineering. I think I have a pretty wide view of agriculture. What I see are wonderful people doing their best to care for creation and produce healthful food. And I see practices that pollute the soil, water and air, and destroy our long-term ability to feed ourselves.

It’s easy to blame lazy, greedy farmers for destructive agricultural practices. But I believe that the economy within which farmers must operate is responsible. This economy aims only for cheap food and a quick bottom line. It forces farmers to cut corners with our soil and water, to use practices that harm the land on which agriculture depends. As our source of food suffers, so eventually do we all. For about 15 years I have been involved in various efforts to change the things in agriculture that, if not stopped, will lead to hunger in the future. Others have worked farms longer and harder than I have. Have things changed? Certainly. They have gotten worse. More fertilizer has polluted the rivers, more topsoil has washed away to the ocean and more pesticides have polluted the groundwater. Bio-engineered “Frankenfoods” have infiltrated the supermarket and corrupted the gene pool. Multinational corporations have commandeered the marketplace. And many more of those wonderful people have had to leave their farms forever.

Agriculture is the basis of civilization, and the two are inseparably linked. No wonder, then, that our agriculture reflects the rest of our economy, in which everything is simply a resource to use, profit from and discard. Our economy’s lust for resources has become so rapacious that its relationship to the agriculture that feeds us has become like that of a drug addict who is willing to rob his own mother for another fix. Farmers and ranchers are a small minority of our population. They cannot keep feeding us in an economy determined to extract every penny from every resource as fast as possible. Whether our grandchildren will eat is up to non-farmers.

Jim Scharplaz serves on the board of the Kansas Rural Center. He wrote this essay for the Prairie Writer’s Circle, sponsored by the Land Institute in Salina, Kan.