A Way Forward

2 05 2010

Last night I took up the screening of Fresh, the movie, at the Yoga Shala. Dana, those movie nights are great, thanks for hosting (and the popcorn) and thanks to the Sunnyside Natural Market for providing the beverages.

Like Food Inc., Fresh does a good job showing the result of the factory and industrialized farm. More so than Food Inc., it focuses on opportunities for change. We meet our friend Joel Salatin again, but there is more of his operations, his thoughts and how his practices are more than sustainable, they are economical!

“Americans fear one thing, inconvenience.” (Fresh, the movie)

We meet John Ikerd, and agricultural economist who reminds us that building efficiency in production is a good thing, but when we “apply it to everything it doesn’t work”. He reflects on the fact that the goal of productivity is the same for all types of industry and systems. “We need to shift our paradigm (in agriculture to look at productivity differently)”. I’d add that to move adaptively, we need to first understand what got us to where we are today. Shifts in paradigm are good, but what if they are in the wrong direction? We could end up with the same result by a different path.

“Monoculture is a lot of the same species grown together and it needs a lot of antibiotics and pesticides to keep it healthy” (Michael Pollan). As one of the inherent issues of the factory farm, lack of diversity in our species is putting us at great risk. “The more species you have in the field the less shock you are venerable to” (Michael Pollan). Consider this. The threat of super strain bacteria and viruses is real. When there is a concentration of viruses and bacteria, the drugs we use to kill them kill the weakest, leaving the strongest to multiply. This applies to both animals and vegetables. Industrialized farming is teaming with disease, we know this to be true. In the movie, Ross Kremer experienced this first hand, almost dying from an infected wound he got from a hog. Drug resistant bacteria riddled his body. When it became obvious to him that “when you concentrate biological organisms…you are going to have problems” he exterminated his herd and started over, with free range, sustainable farming with no disease in 15 years. Huh.

We also meet Will Allen, a passionate farmer who not only farms vegetation, hens and hogs but tilapia in which he has engineered a river system, using the waste water as fertilizer. He runs a program called Growing Power helping other people learn to farm their own food referring to composted soil as ‘black gold. He does great work.

Favorite Joel Salatin quotes:

On how he decided to feed his cow herd: “A herbivore doesn’t eat dead cow. As stewards of the earth we need to respect the design of nature.” “If you treat the herbivores like herbivores things will fall into place.” (Why is this so badly misunderstood in our food industry, argh.)

“There are no boundaries to creativity.” (When speaking about how maladaptive our creativity can be, like serving dead cows to cows. We need to think deeply about this and engineer our creativity to meet the threats and opportunities we face, not create more!)

“We’re not farming animals we’re farming grass. If we take care of the grass, it’ll take care of the animals.”

“…marrying technology of today with indigenous and heritage knowledge.” (Describing what sustainable agriculture needs to be.)

If you know people that farm share this movie with them. If you don’t have your own garden, do what my friend Mariette does, ‘borrow’ your neighbours yards or what Joann did, start a community garden. Make the choices to support family farms and sustainable agriculture. Most importantly, learn about where your food comes from and understand how we got here, it is not enough to just make ‘better choices’. Draw the parallel of ‘bigger, better, cheaper’ to other parts of your life as this is part of the story. With that I leave you with what John Ikerd said about shifting our ways of farming, “It’s not an impossible dream.”

Be well,

Nat

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2 responses

8 08 2010
Michael

Actually it is the chance of cross species disease that is the most dangerous. The H1N1 virus formed where people live in close proximity to animals. It is actually easier to control disease when you only deal with one species. That is why so many animal farms are off limits to visitors, to protect both the animals and the people. Pigs at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair actually got sick from people.
What is sustainable? Are they what actually works, or only “sustainable” if they fit into someone’s preconceived ideas. If the current form of agriculture in the U.S. will feed the most people why is it not sustainable?
What are “a lot of antibiotics and pesticides?” It may interest you to know that antibiotic use actually decreases when animals are treated with preventative doses over treatment only after they become sick. Modern biotech, GMO’s, have decreased the need for farmers to use herbicides and pesticides.
Many of Pollan’s conclusions are based on data that are out of date, or sensationalized. You need to get out on the farm and find out how things are really being done.

17 08 2010
Natalie

Again, thanks for your comment. I pondered ‘sustainable’ into another blog entry. Frankly any pesticides and antibiotics in my food horrifies me, maybe for other people it is okay. We thought DDT was an okay pesticide at one time too, boy were we wrong. We (humans) have lived among animals for thousands of years (including my family), in harmony not in forced environments, without illness. I wish I could say my food is free of all of these ‘additives’ but I can’t, I can’t be sure 100% of the time. It is my goal to do the best I can though and I do appreciate the conversation.

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