Soul-less agriculture is a myth

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I’ve had it.

Just when I thought I could stop preaching about the importance of food and agriculture and sharing our message, another slanted, “we’re going to hell in a handbasket and it’s all farmers’ fault” piece came out in a major magazine.

Time published its article, “Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food,” Friday, Aug. 21.

And I was just digesting its drivel when another serving landed on my plate. Influential New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof waxed nostalgic for an agriculture lost in his column, “Food for the Soul,” Aug. 23.

The central problem with modern industrial agriculture is not just that it produces unhealthy food, Kristof writes. “More fundamentally, it has no soul.” The Time article was more of the same.

Along the way, Time author Bryan Walsh singles out agriculture as the root of the U.S. obesity epidemic, high health care costs, contaminated foods, and a “hollowed-out countryside.” We’re poisoning the soil with all our chemicals, blatantly disregarding basic animal care, and polluting our air and water.

Americans, he adds, need to “radically rethink the way they grow and consume food.”

He suggests “A transition to more sustainable, smaller-scale production methods could even be possible without a loss in overall yield, … but it would require far more farmworkers than we have today.” Walsh suggests that in today’s bleak economy, needing more farmworkers isn’t a bad thing and is certainly doable.

Certainly, an author so knowledgeable about agriculture has hand-hoed an acre or two of sweet corn and hand-picked green beans or lettuce, and is willing to do so as his full-time job today. (Sorry, I just can’t write this without sarcasm. Where do these people come from? They obviously haven’t tried to hire a milker lately, let alone someone who is going to pick raspberries or harvest apples or detassel corn or catch chickens for eight hours and still show up for work the next day.)

One of the tenets of both the Times article and Kristof’s opinion piece was that greed has consumed agriculture, leading to “industrialized agriculture”, whatever that means (no one ever seems to offer a definition).

Is it greed if a farmer adds cows so he can bring a son or daughter into the business? Is it greed to mechanize planting or harvesting of your peppers or carrots so you can raise more product in response to demand? Is it greed when a farmer stops one enterprise, like hogs, so he can focus resources and management and skills on another enterprise, like corn? There are economies of scale realized on even the smallest of farms.

We can’t have it both ways. While we certainly can, and should, continue to seek and research and implement environmentally friendly practices, we need to realize that somewhere, someone has to produce a lot of food to feed the world. Economically. Practically. Sustainably.

There’s a reason it’s called small-scale farming. It’s small.

That doesn’t mean it’s not important, because it truly is, and it’s exciting to see the development of more marketing avenues to link producer with consumer. But we cannot feed this country and this world from small-scale farms.

One of Kristof’s readers from Oregon posted this online comment: “I, too, long for the days of ‘real farms!’” Well, I haven’t been on any fake farms, so I’m thinkin’ there are still lots of real farms out there. It’s just too bad that too many people haven’t been on one lately.

And there’s still plenty of soul on those farms, too. If writers like Kristof and Walsh would just care to look.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

2 Comments

  1. Bill Bakan says:

    Ok so I regisered my Blackberry w/N.Y.Times + read the article. Don’t know the man but he bemoans the loss of soul on the farm. But I guess he was not as smart or tough as his friend Bob to figure out how to keep his own soul on the farm? People vote with their choices and dollars how their food is delivered it is really that simple.

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