We have an agri-culture that is not just unhealthy for humans (pumped full of toxins), but unhealthy for the planet (those toxins run off, and intsensive monoculture planting strips topsoil of its nutrients, turning it into dust), unsustainable (highly dependent on oil) and untasty (ever eaten a decent tomato grown in a family farm?). But I always assumed that the economics of agriculture in America—with huge, super-efficient factory farming—were unbeatable. It's just cheaper that way, and in America that's the only justification you need. This week The Washington Post told me I was wrong.
[...] the modern industrial farming process has destroyed the organic cycle between produce and pastured cattle, creating entirely new problems of feedlot bacteria that are to blame for the deadly strains of E. coli that have been circulating lately.
[...] The federal government and Big Spinach "treat E. coli 0157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture."
[...] factory farming no longer uses organic fertilizer (cow manure and compost) to maintain the highly complex ecology of nutrient-rich topsoil.
Instead, it relies on an energy-intensive process of producing nitrogen-rich fertilizer from oil and cattle feed from natural gas. It requires about 10 calories of oil energy to produce every calorie of corn grown in the United States. Meanwhile the process, combining nitrogen with toxic chemical weedkillers, is literally destroying the soil that our food grows in. The chemically-enhanced crops we grow in monoculture, like corn, are sucking all the nutrients out of the topsoil, turning it into dust.
[...] small farms selling their produce to their own foodshed (i.e., their local surroundings) instead of shipping them halfway across the world can have a positive impact on community wealth as well as community health.
[...] We need to confront the facts of our agricultural policy: It harms Americans, makes us more dependent on foreign oil, warms the planet and hurts our economy. We need a policy that encourages small, labor-intensive farming over oil-dependent production as part of a local foodshed that reduces the need for shipping and brings money back to farming communities.
It's possible. Over in Castro's Cuba, the collapse of the Soviet Union doomed an economy based on energy-intensive industrial agriculture and cash crops. The Cuban government responded by mandating an agricultural revolution. Organics replaced industrial, and now Cuba is almost entirely self-sufficient when it comes to food—the country is actually de-industrializing and becoming more agrarian. In 1999 the Swedish parliament awarded the Cuban Organic Farming Group its Right Livelihood Award, often styled the "alternative Nobel."
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