April 27, 2014

The Food You Eat Can Solve World Problems

Can we solve world problems with our local food choices?  Absolutely!  By way of example, the Rodale Institute recently published a white paper entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change.  The paper highlights a hopeful, short-term solution to climate change -
"Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices."  

In fact, more and more folks are attacking the how-should-we-feed-ourselves question. Their solutions are localized, complex, and almost everywhere. Groundbreaking Roots will share the vision and practices of those growing sustainably.  They are using organic methods to produce food without pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).  In order to reduce the transportation footprint, they sell at farmer's markets, through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and at local grocers and co-ops. The burgeoning urban farm movement taps into this desire to eat food that is grown close to home, especially in large cities and food deserts.  Land prices in these areas can be a barrier to agriculture, so some farm vertically to maximize their production per square foot. As we drain our aquifers and climate chaos increases the length and severity of droughts, hydroponic farmers are dramatically reducing their water usage.  Permaculturists mimic nature to raise soil fertility, eliminate the need for remote sources of irrigation, reduce fossil fuel use, and increase biodiversity as they produce food. Some of these are family operations, creating non-exploitative working conditions. Simultaneously, these efforts create greater community, prosperity and food appreciation.

I grow a lot of the food I eat. I don't use chemicals to control pests, viruses, or bacteria. But I am not always successful at finding a harmonious middle ground with the bugs. When the whiteflies descend, they have their way with the sweet potatoes.  Hornworms mow down my tomato plants practically overnight.  If I were supplying the world with food, we would be without tomatoes. I pick at the peak of maturity.  My papayas and star fruit are massively more tasty than those I would buy at the supermarket. But many times, I have to wait until the fruit starts rotting to get that full flavored sweetness. No shopper in their right mind would buy the fruit that I find so heavenly.  And the money I save on food might afford me the federal minimum wage, but not much more. So, I want to find out how these sustainable farmers are doing it.  Are they able to offer food at reasonable prices and make a profit at the same time? What trade-offs are involved? Will their strategies successfully scale up to feed the hungry hordes?

The spread of personal and small-scale, entrepreneurial, sustainable farming practices has occurred with only marginal support from our governments and large corporations. It appears that the federal government is too busy subsidizing large corporations to help the common citizenry and Mother Nature. The herculean efforts of environmentalists over the last forty years to keep our air, water, food, and planet safe and healthy have been dwarfed by the effects of rampant consumption. As the power elites slug it out and make little progress, sustainable agriculture is gaining ground on the sidelines. Entrepreneurs have taken up the cause of sustainable farming with zeal and ingenuity. There has been an explosion of farmer's markets, permaculture food forests, community gardens, seed savers, and brussel-sprout-lovers. Join me as I cross the country taking a peek at sustainable farms and farmers along the way.