Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, Politics and Profits)

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paranoid's picture
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Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, Politics and Profits)

I asked Chris Hedges to look into the rise of local, organic farming and he wrote a great story on it here:

Food Is Power and the Powerful Are Poisoning Us

Posted on Sep 6, 2009

By Chris Hedges

Our most potent political weapon is food. If we take back our agriculture, if we buy and raise produce locally, we can begin to break the grip of corporations that control a food system as fragile, unsafe and destined for collapse as our financial system. If we continue to allow corporations to determine what we eat, as well as how food is harvested and distributed, then we will become captive to rising prices and shortages and increasingly dependent on cheap, mass-produced food filled with sugar and fat. Food, along with energy, will be the most pressing issue of our age. And if we do not build alternative food networks soon, the social and political ramifications of shortages and hunger will be devastating.

The effects of climate change, especially with widespread droughts in Australia, Africa, California and the Midwest, coupled with the rising cost of fossil fuels, have already blighted the environments of millions. The poor can often no longer afford a balanced diet. Global food prices increased an average of 43 percent since 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund. These increases have been horrific for the approximately 1 billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—who subsist on less than $1 per day. And 162 million of these people survive on less than 50 cents per day. The global poor spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

There have been food riots in many parts of the world, including Austria, Hungary, Mexico, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Yemen, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Russia and Pakistan have introduced food rationing. Pakistani troops guard imported wheat. India has banned the export of rice, except for high-end basmati. And the shortages and price increases are being felt in the industrialized world as we continue to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs and food prices climb. There are 33.2 million Americans, or one in nine, who depend on food stamps. And in 20 states as many as one in eight are on the food stamp program, according to the Food Research Center. The average monthly benefit was $113.87 per person, leaving many, even with government assistance, without adequate food. The USDA says 36.2 million Americans, or 11 percent of households, struggle to get enough food, and one-third of them have to sometimes skip or cut back on meals. Congress allocated some $54 billion for food stamps this fiscal year, up from $39 billion last year. In the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, costs will be $60 billion, according to estimates.

Food shortages have been tinder for social upheaval throughout history. But this time around, because we have lost the skills to feed and clothe ourselves, it will be much harder for most of us to become self-sustaining. The large agro-businesses have largely wiped out small farmers. They have poisoned our soil with pesticides and contaminated animals in filthy and overcrowded stockyards with high doses of antibiotics and steroids. They have pumped nutrients and phosphorus into water systems, causing algae bloom and fish die-off in our rivers and streams. Crop yields, under the onslaught of changing weather patterns and chemical pollution, are declining in the Northeast, where a blight has nearly wiped out the tomato crop. The draconian Food Modernization Safety Act, another gift from our governing elite to corporations, means small farms will only continue to dwindle in number. Sites such as La Via Campesina do a good job of tracking these disturbing global trends.

“The entire economy built around food is unsafe and unethical,” activist Henry Harris of the Food Security Roundtable told me. The group builds distribution systems between independent farmers and city residents.

“Food is the greatest place for communities to start taking back power,” he said. “The national food system is collapsing by degrees. More than 50 percent of what we eat comes from the Central Valley of California. What happens when gasoline becomes $5 a gallon or drought sweeps across the cropland? The monolithic system of food production is highly unstable. It has to be replaced very soon with small, diverse sources that provide greater food security.”

Cornell University recently did a study to determine whether New York state could feed itself. The research is described in two articles published in 2006 and 2008 by the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. If all agricultural land were in use, and food distribution were optimized to minimize the total distance that food travels, New York state could, the researchers found, have 34 percent of its food needs met from within its boundaries. This is not encouraging news to those who live in New York City. New York once relied on New Jersey, still known as the Garden State, instead of having food shipped from across the country. But New Jersey farms have largely given way to soulless housing developments. Farming communities upstate, their downtowns boarded up and desolate, have been gutted by industrial farming.

The ties most Americans had to rural communities during the Great Depression kept many alive. A barter economy replaced the formal economy. Families could grow food or had relatives to feed them. But in a world where we do not know where our food comes from, or how to produce it, we have become vulnerable. And many will be forced, as food prices continue to rise, to shift to a diet of cheap, fatty, mass-produced foods, already a staple of the nation’s poor. Junk food, a major factor in obesity, diabetes and heart disease, is often the only food those in the inner city can buy because supermarkets and nutritious food are geographically and financially beyond reach. As the economy continues to deteriorate, the middle class will soon join them. 

“It is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land,” Wendell Berry observed in “The Unsettling of America.”  “Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our ‘marginal land’ because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.”

Berry, who lives on a farm in Kentucky where his family has farmed for generations, argues that local farming is fundamental to sustaining communities. Industrial farming, he says, has estranged us from the land. It has rendered us powerless to provide for ourselves. It has left us complicit in the corporate destruction of the ecosystem. Its moral cost, Berry argues, has been as devastating as its physical cost.

“The people will eat what the corporations decide for them to eat,” writes Berry. “They will be detached and remote from the sources of their life, joined to them only by corporate tolerance. They will have become consumers purely—consumptive machines—which is to say, the slaves of producers. What … model farms very powerfully suggest, then, is that the concept of total control may be impossible to confine within the boundaries of the specialist enterprise—that it is impossible to mechanize production without mechanizing consumption, impossible to make machines of soil, plants, and animals without making machines also of people.”

The nascent effort by communities to reclaim local food production is the first step toward reclaiming lives severed and fragmented by corporate culture. It is more than a return to local food production. It is a return to community. It brings us back to the values that sustain community. It is a return to the recognition of the fragility, interconnectedness and sacredness of all living systems and our dependence on each other. It turns back to an ethic that can save us.

“[The commercial] revolution … , ” writes Berry, “did not stop with the subjugation of the Indians, but went on to impose substantially the same catastrophe upon the small farms and the farm communities, upon the shops of small local tradesmen of all sorts, upon the workshops of independent craftsmen, and upon the households of citizens. It is a revolution that is still going on. The economy is still substantially that of the fur trade, still based on the same general kinds of commercial items: technology, weapons, ornaments, novelties, and drugs. The one great difference is that by now the revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water. Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution has imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.

“The inevitable result of such an economy,” Berry adds, “is that no farm or any other usable property can safely be regarded by anyone as a home, no home is ultimately worthy of our loyalty, nothing is ultimately worth doing, and no place or task or person is worth a lifetime’s devotion. ‘Waste,’ in such an economy, must eventually include several categories of humans—the unborn, the old, ‘disinvested’ farmers, the unemployed, the ‘unemployable.’ Indeed, once our homeland, our source, is regarded as a resource, we are all sliding downward toward the ash heap or the dump.”

Cloudfire's picture
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Re: Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, ...

Hi, Paranoid;

That is the most powerful, truth saturated article I've read all year . . . . This particular statement nails it: 

“It is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land,” Wendell Berry observed in “The Unsettling of America.”  “Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our ‘marginal land’ because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.” 

-- Wendell Berry

If that doesn't wake people up, they're already dead . . . .

. . . Thanks! 


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Full Moon
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Re: Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, ...

     HI  Paranoid and CI,  

     Some things that work locally here are that   our local grocer will sell our produce and take a little cut .  Always home grown sells better .   $.25  a  home grown cucumber  vs.  $.75 for one that comes from  who knows where,   is a no brain-er .   Who can beat  home grown "maters !      Now  about every town in the county has a farmers market ... where you would not believe what people will pay for banana or zucchini  bread  and homemade pies $8 !!  Anything left over is taken home and frozen or canned up. some  is offer to the local food pantry or fed to the chickens .     We also sell  or trade eggs,honey,  jams, , jellies.etc.  

    In our town  there is a plowed up an area for  garden spots for any one who wants to put one in. A small fee is charged for water .   Many have taken the offer. Our local feed and seed  buys bulk seed that we can then buy so much cheaper than by the little envelope .

  My next hope is that the local greenhouses  would see the bonus and grow veggies instead  of strictly flowers.  Then we would have more vegetables year round .   I would also like to see  that vacant lots be filled with fruit trees .     I have noticed that the fruit trees in the abandoned yards have been picked clean this year .  Also one gentleman takes peoples extra fruit and makes it into wine for them  .... he gets to keep a few bottles for himself .

We do this with the meat also .  If you do not have money for a whole beef , four families will go together to buy  one locally grown .  The locker processes the cow for around  $.35 a pound .   This is a bargain if you can afford it because it would take 4-6 people a couple days to do, and  most  people do not have the equipment or set up . your ending price would be $2.40  total . The Locker will also rent you freezer space for $9 a month .   Some families even trade butchered chickens for violin lessons.

   Maybe this is  easier out here because the communities are small  from 3000  to 300 ,and  I am sure we would loose much profit if we had to ship it to far , but some will take their produce 40 miles to the city  .  I personally like to barter so I do not have to have a tax ID.   Example   my cucumbers did not do well this year but I am able to trade for tomatoes and peppers.    Be sure to know approximately how much to save  to put up for your own family before you  get rid of extra. Also I  doubt anyone is making their whole income on this .

 When  I got a glimpse  what some  school lunches have become( right off the sysco wagon) I had little hope that  many children were eating any vegetable, but  the 6 extra boys that came out to the house for  last  weekend  ate everything I put in front of them .  Even tomatoes and spinach  with their omelet for breakfast !   The schools revolve around their sports programs , they are suppose to have health class  yet many kids are overweight .  I still  think  that it is the high fructose corn-syrup as second ingredient in anything that comes packaged  and many moms lean on these to feed their families.    I will also tell you these town kids do not know how work  and  I  have to keep mine on task or they would  stray away to go with them . No one likes to work with others sitting and watching .  There  aren't any   horticulture classes  people are going to have to teach these on their own  little time left .

   I hope I have not offended anyone here but  I think things are  going  to change for the better  in this area .    I would like to hear from other communities..... what is working and what is not .    What more can we be doing ?  Maybe there are helpful books out there? Is "the Unsettling of America " one ?    My personal favorites are "Ten Acres is Enough"  oh and "The Have More Plan "  but these are just  doing for ones own family.

 I also hope I have not side tracked the intended purpose.

strabes's picture
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Re: Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, ...

Wendell Berry is the most profound modern day prophet around.  Too bad the controlled media doesn't pay attention.  He was writing this stuff 30 years ago.  Of course back then I was a young pup getting my daily dose of community-destroying corporate brainwashing through the TV tube and dreaming of ways to run away from home, make money, pursue affluence, neglect my community.  But now Berry is helping deprogram me from all those years.  Reading "citizenship papers" "jayber crow" or "sex economy freedom community" is amazing.  It's literally like reading a prophet who predicted everything that has come to pass and the situation we're now in...the end of community, the loss of meaning, destruction of earth, the danger of military empire and fear mongering politics, the inability to provide sustainable life for ourselves...

Cloudfire's picture
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Re: Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, ...

Hi Harvest Moon;

I'd say your post was very apropos . . . I really enjoy hearing your accounts of foraging and gardening, bartering and sharing . . . . It's far more inspiring than wringing one's hands over the economic news . . . .

ckessel's picture
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Re: Great New Article on Local Farming and Food (Poison, ...

Thanks for the thread paranoid,

I appreciate the article and references. This is just what I need for the next Crash Course discussion period following the "What should I do?" event!

We have three different CSA's in my area and quite a lot of agriculture, forestry and farming so there is a diverse group of people who bring a lot of talent to the community.  I have found the challenge of switching gears from a "business mentality" to an organic gardening -eat what you grow approach to life very intersting and rewarding. This weekend we have planned to pick all of our pears and ripe apple varieties and can them up. That will be a first for me!

Lately I am finding that having time to read and keep up with everything on this site is also difficult but I really appreciate all of the information and your efforts to contribute are fantastic!

And this quote by Chris Hedges will keep me in stiches for many days!!!!!LOL ....priceless!!

"After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.”


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