I read a sentence last week that all of us need to memorize: “Farming without a financial motive is gardening.”
the sentence was part of a Los Angeles Times column written by Russ Parsons that should be required reading of everyone who farms, complains about farmers, makes policies about farming or eats.
Parsons rejoices that “food” — not just the eating of it, but the producing of it — has been elevated in our national awareness, but is saddened that differing philosophies are now camped on opposite sides of the fence.
On one side, you have the farmers and traditional aggies; on the other side, you have the ag reformers who say the majority of farms are ruining the world.
Is there a common ground?
Parsons, and I, say yes.
But the dialogue has to involve everyone, and Parsons suggests a list of 12 things we all can agree upon before we start.
I can’t list them all, but will start with his first point, which triggered the “gardening” reference above: Agriculture is a business.
Farmers have expenses and farmers need to make a profit to stay in business. Since we need farmers, Parsons writes, “Any plan that places further demands on farmers without an offsetting profit incentive is doomed to fail.”
No farm is an island. I’ve written those words myself, but many independent-minded producers don’t want to hear them. Everything you do on your farm affects people off your farm, too. Farmers can’t act in a vacuum, and have to understand they have a social contract to uphold regarding environmental care and animal welfare.
The world is not black and white. Again, longtime readers of this column know they’ve read that here before. “Small” does not always mean “sustainable” and “large” does not always mean “factory.”
As Parsons puts it: “The issues facing agriculture today are much more complicated than lining up behind labels such as ‘local’ and ‘organic.'”
What’s past is past. Yes, the productivity gains in U.S. agriculture in the last 50 years have been nothing short of spectacular, but today’s demands, Parsons writes, require a “system that delivers flavor as well as quantity and does it in an environmentally friendly way.”
It’s no longer business — and it’s no longer farming — as usual.
Beware of the law of unintended consequences. There’s usually an unforeseen result of any effort that’s counterproductive to the main goal, and if we were wise enough to predict these consequences, we probably wouldn’t be human.
You can say “the school lunch program should serve only organic products,” but at what expense? We can plant new forests where there once were cornfields, but with what long-term side effects?
I’m an optimist. I’m convinced that agriculture will continue to thrive and be a profitable industry, as well as a revered way of life. But now is the time for agriculture to communicate its advantages, as well as re-evaluate its traditions.
Adds Parsons: “… the issues we’re facing are not going to go away, and they are too important to be left to the ideologues.”