Walk Your Talk – A Crunchy Post about Agriculture and Culture

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Society is intrinsically flawed and constantly compensating for its failures. While the changes are inevitable, the unexpected and unintended responses and reactions can be beautiful or devastating. The change in itself is not a problem for society, but the refusal of people to change can be problematic. When the status quo is questioned or rebuffed chaos begins to thrive and society falls. Society collects what has worked from the remnants of each previous civilization. We take what we like, and throw out what we do not. Thus, creating a patchwork of many facets that are interwoven and interconnected until society fails again.

The inevitability is that social change will occur and as such humanity will evolve. Historically humanity is relatively young, and as such, we are still learning what is and is not appropriate. In the blink of an eye, the majority of humanity has evolved from nomadic hunter gatherers to agrarians. The current evolutionary state of humanity is that of a sedentary mechanical industrialist with TV’s, couches and smart phones; having no clue where mankind’s resources are coming from and a general sense of apathy.

The current mechanized agrarian system harms the planet’s ecosystem, has been linked with the population booms, famines and with the violent uptick of cancer rates. The “Big Ag” way is to use high levels of petroleum based pesticides that have been routinely labeled as carcinogens. Some of these chemicals have even been used for chemical warfare. These “fertilizers” when used poison and over salt the soil, in time (15-50 years) this will cause catastrophic crop failures, leading to famine, as has already been seen in many parts of Asia and Africa.

Each crop that is produced and must be transported more than one hundred miles uses a significant amount of fossil fuels. The cost of transportation can account for up to three quarters of the cost of produce. The cost of transportation also detracts from the amount of money that stays in the community. Food that is produced away from where it is consumed depletes the soil and more chemicals must be applied to maintain the fertility.

Water usage is also a problem in conventional agriculture. Monoculture crops are notorious for high water consumption and the irrigation that is needed to allow these plants to flourish is very high. The problem is that when the soil is bare, it does not retain moisture as efficiently and water will not only flow away from the crop, but this also depletes the soil and causes erosion. The water runoff pollutes the native streams and waterways with pesticides and herbicides, killing local flora and fauna.

In recent years, seed stock has been patented. These seeds have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the pesticides and herbicides needed for mass monocultures. The pollen from these plants have contaminated other non-engineered crops, allowing patent holding corporations to sue farmers for illegally growing their plants. This has put many small farms out of business and the land has been bought up by the corporations.

The seed stocks have been engineered for a longer shelf life, engineered to not rot and engineered to look “perfect”. How is a consumer going to know if the food has spoiled? Food is supposed to rot so we don’t make ourselves sick, it is also part of the plants reproduction process. The seed stock that is currently being used in commercial agribusiness does not reproduce new seed. This adds to the financial drain on the farmers because they cannot save their seeds, which cuts into their bottom line, reduces locally adapted plants and perpetuates the cycle of debt.

In many cases, the government subsidizes certain crops such as grains. Certain farms are paid to not grow a crop, while other farmers are paid to grow a crop. The subsidies are also used to help make up for the cost to grow certain crops. Some of the crops that are grown, are not even for consumption. These crops are produced for commercial uses such as biodiesel. Ironically it takes more energy to produce biodiesel than it will create. While this system is one of the few ways small farmers keep their farms, it is an unsustainable practice because it causes more debt for the government and taxpayers. These subsidizes also cause a major problem for consumers since they don’t know the true cost of the product that they are buying. Cheap grain production and a system that has systematically decreased the nutritional value of the foods being eaten is causing a plethora of chronic health conditions.

Commercially produced livestock is also problematic. Cattle, pigs, chicken, turkeys, ducks and fish all are produced commercially, using many of the same principles of commercially produced produce. Large monocultures of livestock are crammed into small pens, usually walking around in their own feces. These animals, with the exception of chickens, are pumped full of antibiotics to keep them healthy in the filthy, over crowded conditions that they live in until they are slaughtered. Growth hormones are also used for a lot of commercial livestock.

Some cattle are grazed in pastures, but the grazing methods that are used contribute to the erosion of the pasture. The ground cover is usually a monoculture of one type of grass which is grazed down to the roots. This is because the pastures are overgrazed and the rotation pattern is not frequent enough. Grain and hay are supplemented for the cattle to increase the marbling of the meat. Dairy cattle are kept perpetually pregnant to produce the huge quantities of milk that the American populace demands. The conventional veal industry is by far the worse, the new born calf is taken from its mother, put in a crate to prevent the connective tissue from forming, it is gavaged until it reaches anywhere from 18 to 36 months depending on the type of veal being produced, then slaughtered.

Pigs are routinely kept in small cages, they are almost never outside. The pigs get almost no exercise, because of this, pork is incredibly fatty. Male pigs have their tusks cut off as soon as they start to show. Pigs are fed grain, and almost anything put in front of them . As such when hungry or stressed they will result to cannibalism. For this reason their ears and tails are cut off when they are only days old and their teeth get pulled after they come in.

A similar practice is done to chickens, their beaks are burned off shortly after hatching, this is to reduce cannibalism and the stressed chickens from killing each other. Chicks are sexed within days of birth, most of the males being killed immediately. Laying hens are confined to cages that are so small they can not move at all. Meat chickens have been bred to grow so fast and large that their legs can not handle their own weight and as such are extremely sedentary. These conditions lead to considerable issues with hygiene and safety. Other fowl are kept in similar conditions.

One thing that all of these commercially raised animal have in common is that they all produce large amounts of refuse. This refuse is polluting the waterways around the factory farms and causing havoc to the ecosystems. There are so many way to grow and manage these animals in sustainable ways, however agribusiness only seems to be willing to produce in large scale monocultures.

Slowly, more people in society are wanting to know where their food is coming from. Permaculture devotes and many “Green” activists are verdant believers that the greatest change needed is in food production. If the Green agenda is implemented, it could collapse the industrial “Big Ag” monopoly that is currently in place.

The proposed solutions range from eliminating the monoculture crop system currently in use, to building greenhouses in space. Using crop management techniques that mimic nature seem like one of the best solutions. Most agree that as a society we need to move away from the uses of fossil fuels, genetically modified seed, and man made chemicals as quickly as possible. The desire is to instead focus on a horticultural approach, reintroduction of natural predators and the rehabilitation of natural ecosystems.

America is one of the breadbaskets of the world and as such our responsibility is to sustainably manage and curate the soil and seed stock. If we fail to cultivate this land in a manner that feeds our current population, we are doomed to starve. Planting in a responsible manner that properly adds to the nutrient mass of the soil will cultivate stronger food security. Growing food for a local community allows the local culture to flourish and thrive.

In a horticultural society, local folk ways are preserved and richer cultural diversity can be accomplished. The dependence on fossil fuels is greatly diminished when food is produced locally without pesticides. The best description of a society based on this method was written about by J. R.R. Tolkin, The Shire. A place where food was never lacking and the larders were always full. A place where beauty reigned and the ecosystem flourished.

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When was the last time you drank a glass of fresh clean water?

Can you imagine a world where every neighborhood had a surplus of food, every child slept with a full belly and adults felt secure in their food supply?

What actions can we as individuals make to a sustainably curate our food supply, water, air and soil?

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