Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Where I'm Coming From

Below are links to some of the books that have influenced my thinking and planning for Dogs Run Farm. What has been particularly striking in these books is the common theme of the lack of sustainability of industrial agriculture. Kingsolver in particular makes the point with great effectiveness that growing food has moved so far from the actual growing part that it no longer resembles farming, just as mountain-top removal does not resemble mining. Both industrial agriculture and mountain-top removal are more efficient than their predecessors, but both are vastly more destructive and are irresponsible. She notes that most people are so removed from where and how their food is produced that they no longer realize that seeds grow into vegetables and that they do so in dirt; they no longer know what to do with a bag of flour or rice or dried beans; they can't feed their families except by purchasing what the industrial agriculture conglomerate tells them they should buy; and that this conglomerate has maximized its output and divvied it up on a per person basis, so that each of us is targeted with a specified number of calories of food. Too many calories, I need to add. Excess calories. It is as if someone sat down and asked how the most food calories could be produced at the lowest cost and fed most efficiently to the populace, with regard only to how much money can be made in the process. /naïveté

There is even a disconnect between what food looks like when it's grown and what it looks like in the grocery store. The carrots we buy don't even look like actual carrots, they are whittled down mini-carrots; our vegetables and fruit are sold already cut into bite-sized pieces; you can buy pre-made mashed (pre-mashed?) potatoes and frozen hamburgers in the bun ready to microwave. People are taught to accept these things, and in the process, they are losing their connection with basic food-stuffs and their preparation.

If even a moment of thought is given to these statements, when one considers the history of, for example, the tobacco industry, the coal industry, or the liquor industry, it is not that much of a stretch of hypothesize that the same forces that told us in the 1960's that smoking was healthy, those who fought the Surgeon General's warning that cigarettes cause cancer, and those who today proclaim coal to be carbon neutral or that global climate change is a hoax, are involved in strategy development for marketing industrially produced food to consumers. And that they are doing it in the same manner and for the exact same and single reason: money. They are paying off the same politicians to vote for subsidies for industrial agriculture or to redefine the term "organic" as those who are paid to vote against the clean energy industry. There is no reason to believe that industrial agriculture differs in the least in its motivations, goals, and methods from any other macroscale industry. Think high fructose corn syrup and its method of production. HFCS is only viable financially because there are tariffs on sugar imports and there are government subsidies for growing corn. Should "our" government remove both of these benefits, HFCS would have to actually compete on a level playing field. What these companies are doing is not in the best interests of consumers, and "our" government is facilitating HFCS being fed to us. I know you are shocked at this fact. /sarcasm

So how does a person stop having literal crap stuffed down our throats? Are we all supposed to run out and buy an acre of land and grow food and raise chickens? No, but it isn't a bad idea. Many people raise chickens for eggs in their backyards, and certainly backyard gardening is common. Every little bit helps. Are we expected to completely switch to only local foods, to stop purchasing California wine or Italian cheese or Maine blueberry jam? Not at all, although it helps if some thought is given to the matter. There are plenty of local products available, good cheeses, beef, pork, poultry, milk, honey, vegetables, etc. Ask at the meat counter where they purchase their beef or pork. Buy something at a locally owned business that makes their own products (e.g., ice cream, bread, cookies, pasta). More and more people are doing this, and businesses are learning. Spend some money at a farmers market.

However, these issues are not the point. The point is whether or not we will willingly participate in the consumerism literally forced upon us in the form of apples in February, asparagus in November, or strawberries at any time other than May? It is an absolutely unsustainable proposition that raspberries should be available every month of the year throughout the United States. Yes, we have the wealth to purchase apples grown in New Zealand or asparagus from Chile. For that matter we have the money to buy water produced in Fiji. Seriously, this sounds unbelievable when given some thought, but water comes out of the ground in Fiji and is bottled in plastic bottles and shipped to the United States by boat, truck, rail, or whatever, using a lot of fossil fuel in the process. Water that has travelled over 7,500 miles so that we can drink it? Under what set of circumstances can that be considered a reasonable or responsible use of natural resources?

The absolute antithesis of shipping water from Fiji can be found near the town of Davis, WV. Just outside of town on WV32 there is a 3' tall cement wall with 2" iron pipe protruding from the middle of it. A stream of pure spring water flows from this pipe. The water flows 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, at a constant rate, day or night, rain or snow, always. The water runs onto a grate and through a culvert under the road and drains onto the ground. People bring bottles and other containers and fill them up by the gallon for drinking water. For free. Although the people may use plastic bottles, they use them repeatedly. They will fill cases of empty water bottles. Reuse of plastic bottles and recycling them are similarly antithetic because recycling requires the input of vast amounts of energy.

Pure water isn't available everywhere in the world flowing out of a pipe, but inexpensive water filters are available that provide pure, uncontaminated drinking water without consuming tons of plastic. When we remodeled our kitchen, we installed a permanent water filter on our sink, and for about $100/year, we have pure water to drink and to cook with. Why do people in the United States buy bottled water when the vast majority have access to safe drinking water? Is there any evidence that bottled water is significantly less contaminated than tap water? Most bottled water is just that: filtered tap water. Now a bottle of Perrier for a Mojito is one thing, but buying multiple cases of Costco brand bottled water is another. How have we let ourselves be convinced this is a good idea? How can this be justified?

Common sense has eluded us. We are being psychologically conditioned to accept something as good, which if we thought about it, we would find to be wrong, unjustifiable, and irresponsible.

If you're interested, these are three really good books. I've linked them to Amazon.com.

"Homegrown and Handmade," by Deborah Neimann

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