Guest Blog: Stop Feeding the Beast and Start Feeding the People

GardeningBY COACH MARK SMALLWOOD OF THE RODALE INSTITUTE

Follow Coach’s blogs posts at Maria’s Farm Country KitchenEcoWatch, and Rodale Institute

Have you ever wondered how anyone makes any money on a $2.00 bag of nacho-cheese–flavored corn chips or a $0.25 apple? Economists and policy wonks have been talking about how we privatize profits and socialize loss here in the U.S. for at least a decade. If your eyes glazed over when you read that, you are not alone. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to ignore how this big picture idea affects each and every one of us. What does it mean for Main Street America?

The way we grow our nation’s food is the perfect snapshot of this concept. Organic activists and locavores have also been talking about the same concept for just as long, if not longer: the hidden costs of cheap, industrial food.

We have a system of predatory agriculture in which corporations (aka Big Ag) pursue private gain relentlessly, regardless of the social consequences. To bring it closer to home, social consequences can be defined as anything from polluting our water, land, and air to impacting the health of our families to rendering the business of farming economically unsustainable.

Costs such as environmental degradation, declining health, and economic insecurity aren’t reflected in the price tag because they aren’t included in corporate budgets. This is one big reason why there are plenty of profits to be made in toxic agricultural chemicals, junk food, and GMOs. But these costs are in fact a burden on us all. And, as every parent tries to teach his or her children, actions have consequences.

All the garbage that allows Big Ag to make obscene profits is left to our communities to clean up. Take, for example, the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico’s dead zones. Although caused in part by the overuse of synthetic fertilizers and poorly timed applications of raw manures and biosolids, the negative effects and the “tab” for cleanup are picked up by the American public.

We are what we eat, and we are carrying the costs of corporate greed. In the private profit/social loss equation, farmers lose, consumers lose, and communities lose.

But life cycle or true cost accounting when it comes to our food system is a numbers nightmare. How do we weigh and measure things like erosion, chemical leaching, and run-off, or loss of pollinators like the honeybee and other biodiversity? How do we make a solid connection between food production/consumption and the insidious health impacts of chronic, low-dose exposure to agricultural chemicals and our obesity epidemic?

Coach Mark

In a global summit last December whose goal was to “investigate why our current economic system makes it more profitable to produce food in ways that damage the environment and human health, instead of rewarding methods of production that deliver benefits,” world leaders recognized that not all agricultural systems are created equal. Farming that not only sustains status quo, but also creates a healthier environment is possible. “Some farming methods have public benefit,” wrote Dan Imhoff in his coverage of the summit.

Luckily, it doesn’t take a global summit or a panel of researchers to figure out what to do: We need to support the organic farmers who are creating a public benefit. It isn’t just about growing more, bigger, faster. It’s about nourishing ourselves and our families, our communities, and the farmers who choose to feed all of us rather than feed the corporate beast.

Coach Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency, and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to the institute’s 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced its research efforts, and launched Your 2 Cents, a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore’s Climate Project, presenting to more than 15,000 people on the effects of global warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a longtime organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs, and driven a team of oxen.

Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet.

Reposted with Permission from the Rodale Institute.
Original Article can be found at: http://rodaleinstitute.org/2014/stop-feeding-the-beast-and-start-feeding-the-people/ 

Comments

  1. To whom it may concern: It would be nice for a change if the writers to this website instead of talking in generalities on a global scale would discuss their own individual efforts at conserving resources i.e. how much electricity do they use, how much propane do they use, how many gallons of water they use per month etc. It is difficult for me to give credibility to statements made by people who do not practice what they preach. In regard to the words of Coach I don’t know if he is the exception to the rule so to speak and I hope that he is. Given my belief system I will provide my conservation efforts; my home is energy neutral with electricity from PV Panels (Grid Connected System), hot water from Solar Collectors, five gallons of Propane per month, and with use of 1800 gallons of water per month for my wife and myself which is all reused in our gardens as we have a Composting Toilet and a Grey Water System utilizing a “Trickle Filter” for aerobic metabolism such that it is permitted for above ground discharge. My dome is only 15′ in diameter as we live on the side of a hill but we use it year round as we have a Solar Hot Water Collector that pumps glycol through a coil of 200′ of copper tubing in the water tank to heat it during the cold months. At night we pump the tanks hot water into a radiator to provide heat at night in the dome. During the hot months we pump the cooler water into the radiator during the day to cool the dome. Power is from a PV Panel during the day but we are still using electricity for the water pump at night. We are exploring use of a battery to run the pump at night but thus far have not solved that problem. We enjoyed ripe tomatoes through the winter. Joe Fagan

    • Hello Joe, Thanks for your candid feedback and for the opportunity to show off what Growing Spaces does for the environment! We most definitely practice what we preach. Our manufacturing facility is run on solar power. We produce 90% of our own electricity! For a list of all the ways we Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle visit this page https://growingspaces.com/green-company.htm. We have been the winner of the Green Business Award here in our county every year since 2010. This year we are one of “50 Colorado Firms on a Greener Path”. Most notably, we are a “Green America Gold Certified Business” this is the highest level of certification and is granted only to “Green businesses showing leadership in their industry, that embed social responsibility into the DNA of their company.” The certification is very extensive. They look at all aspects of our business. To learn more visit: http://www.greenamerica.org/greenbusiness/certification.cfm. As far as Coach Smallwood and the Rodale Institute go, we partner with them because we so admire what they do. We’ve been to their facility over the years to help build two Growing Domes and attend workshops. We can’t say enough about what great strides they are making for organic food production and education. You can learn more at: http://rodaleinstitute.org/about-us/mission-and-history/

  2. Greetings, Joe,
    On a personal note, and since you ask, I have lived off the grid here for 19 years, using only PV and a backup generator I fire up once a month for 4 hours. I have a similar plumbing arrangement as yours with a water catchment system also. I haul about 250 gallons a month to supplement the catchment, as CO can be very dry. Propane: we have a propane fridge so we use about 20 gallons a month, as we also have an on demand propane water heater. We have 2 solar powered hot boxes to give extra heat on sunny days in the winter.
    When I lived on my remote farm in Scotland (no Road, and a one mile sea crossing, hairy at Times or a 5 mile hike round the side of a mountain if it was too rough to cross) we had chickens, cows, goats had fresh eggs and milk, made cheese and butter and grew all our own vegetables. The Aga cookstove with a back boiler was our oven, cook stove, hot water supply and space heater. We burnt wood, peat, which we dug in the spring, dried in the summer and burned in the winter and occasionally coal.
    We had no electricity or telephone for 7 years, and lived a pure vegetarian diet, never been healthier.

    I like your heating/cooling system for the dome. We have 2 demonstration domes with Solar Hot Water Collectors. Just installed a solar powered swamp cooler for summer so we can talk about it with our customers. it works great!
    I think you have to be pretty much a mad scientist to live like we do. But we enjoy it, but it’s not everyones’ cup of tea (English habits are hard to let go of)
    Thanks for your post. Udgar

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