Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Vegetable-Industrial Complex

In my world view, the E. coli outbreak of a few weeks ago was another signpost along this rocky road of food centralization and mass production of what goes on our tables, that we are going the wrong way. It seems that in the name of "cheap" organics or choice to eat whatever, whenever, if you can only justify the cost in dollars at the cash register, we are getting way too far from our food source. Michael Pollan had some very interesting things to say about this in an article in today's New York Times titled The Vegtable-Industrial Complex

When I started gardening about 12 years ago, I quickly learned a few priceless things:

1) The food I grew drank the same water, breathed the same air, was nourished by the same sun and stood in/on the same ground as I did. And wouldn't how a vegetable transformed this same water, air, fire and earth magnificently nourish my body and be compatible with how my body transformed these same elements?

2) The love and care I put into these plants returned to me tenfold in how they nourished me back.

3) I can't get any fresher than walking outside and picking it right before I eat it.

4) The work of planning, planting, growing, loving and harvesting a garden is one of the ways I keep connection to the Earth and that is good for me.

And to this list, I can now add:

5) I know what goes into the ground to feed and water what I grow. And that has become important in these days of centralization, of the watering down of organic standards by the lobbiests of agra-business in Washington DC, of the cost of lives and misery of so many over the oil and gasoline that fuel the trucks that come from Goddess-know-where so I can have my watered-down USDA organic standard with its pretty label.

Someone who responded to a recent blog entry on The Accidental Hedonist said, in reference of the quoted article by Mark Morford that appeared last week in the San Francisco Chronicle, "I feel sorry for Mark Morford. He doesn't know the difference between evolution and death. The megaproducers have recognized the demand for more-natural products, and are putting not-as-organic but reasonably-priced products on the shelves. We now have an official definition of "organic," and though it isn't as comprehensive as purists would like, it's a good start. There's no reason individual producers can't follow stricter standards and by advertising that attract a more-demanding clientele.Those of us who can afford "true" organic food (whatever that is) can still get it. Here in the Northeast, it's easier than ever. And relying solely on barefooted hippies isn't going to feed 300 million Americans."

Well gentle writer, I don't think you know any small farmers. I know many and they usually wear some kind of foot if "barefoot hippies" were anathema to something good. When the end of centralization hits you square between the eyes, I hope you can tell the difference between evolution and death. That difference may be the small scale local organic farmer that offers CSA's to your community.

I see the mass production of food under a pretty label with an agra-giant behind it, sporting the USDA organic stamp to be the beginning of a disease that can likely end in death for what CA Certified and Oregon Tilthe had worked so painstakingly to create. But organics have become big business and I for one know that when "Big Business" gets its paws onto something beautiful and precious, not good things usually happen.

All this to say, I think what Mia and Beo are attempting, what I am attempting, what anyone who takes a piece of Earth to steward and dance with, to grow food, draw bees and birds and insects into, midwife the miracle of the cycle of life: seed, sprout, flower, fruit, seed, compost is healing the planet, their bodies and their own spirits. The Earth teaches me so many things that could be found in some form or other in books or by another's teachings, but there is great power and great magic in what I learn directly from my little piece of Earth, from those mysterious, tiny seeds, those tender sprouts, those fragrant, sexy flowers, those vulnerable baby fruits, that overwhelming harvest, the saving of seeds for next year, the midwifing of the dying and the composting of the summer garden, the living of and not just conceptualization of the cycles of life that no one else's analyzations or philosophies can really give me in nearly as complete a way.

And that's why all the hours and all the work is irrelevant to me in the pricelessness of learning to be more and more and more self sustaining, to be closer and closer to source. I learn. I grow. I change.

The spirit of the organic food movement cannot be killed. While the machine of big business co-opts the very standards of organic and turns it into something unrecognizable, it's spirit will rise again. It does rise again in local CSA's, in farmers who grow their crops biodynamically and bring them to local Farmer's Markets, and it rises in me, in Beo and Mia and everyone else who puts a seed in the ground with a hope and a prayer that it will grow. And we will dance with the cycles of life and teach this precious knowledge to our children, who will know where some of their food came from and by virtue of that learn about where all their food comes from.

And to me, that is evolution.


Blogger Beo said...

Thanks for the post!

About the idiotic hippie comment. Us Hippies (I know I missed it by a generation, but I am there in spirit) farm BETTER. A 'well' managed (meaning doused in chemical) corn field will earn 200-220 bushels of corn per acre. At today's very high close of $3/bu (50% over the 2 year trend)that is about $700 an acre and humans can't eat it until it is processed by a chicken or steer. This means one Iowa farmer must farm 1000+ acres of corn to make ends meet. Speaking to a local WI CSA owner who farms 8 acres of a 10 acre farm-if he can't get $20,000 in vegetables off ONE acre per year he said he needs to reasses his planting rotations. Granted this is exceptional returns, but so is 220 bu/acre of corn. The same acreage under intense organic maintenance would support 35 farmers at the same (but much better due to lower equipment costs)income level and provide over ten times the palatable calories per acre while reinvigorating the local economy of our Rural Midwest.

Ignorant people irritate me.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Mia said...


7:35 PM  

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