Thursday, May 8, 2008

Our Food and Farms: Let’s Take a Long-Term View

By Lisa Sedlar
I’m a pretty happy go lucky kind of person, so it’s somewhat unusual for me to rant (my husband would probably dispute this however, so too would my daughter, friends, boss and well everyone who knows me, but that’s beside the point.) The point is that the time is ripe to rant about the future of our food and farming systems! In the past few weeks I have heard some of the most alarming and short-sighted thinking regarding our food system. One example includes encouraging farmers to stop growing organically because conventional (read: pesticide-laden) crops have a higher yield and are cheaper to grow. Well, first of all organic crops have been proven to yield as much or nearly as much food as their pesticide-laden counterparts.

Secondly, why would we want to go back to dumping chemical pesticides on our food when we are trying to reduce our impact on the earth? The more chemicals we put into our land, the less healthy our land and food and our bodies. On average, the earth is covered in about 3 feet of topsoil – this nutrient-rich dirt sustains most of our food and plays a huge role in supporting life on Earth. If we continue to farm using conventional Big-Ag methods we will deplete our topsoil to the point that it won’t be farmable.

We have to consider future generations when deciding how best to feed our growing population. The natural products company Seventh Generation gets their name from an Iroquois saying that says “In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”. It seems like we can’t as a nation think beyond the next seven days, let alone seven generations.

Another short-sighted food proposal I heard of late comes compliments of the U.S. Department of the Interior who recently announced plans to open Alaska’s Bristol Bay—which provides us with the world’s largest salmon run—to drilling for oil and gas. They also have plans to move forward with a two-mile-long open-pit copper and gold mine – the largest in North America. What’s at stake here is 40 percent of our nation's wild domestic salmon catch, and the survival of a region whose ecological diversity is enormous and mostly pristine.

A few weeks ago, I read in the NY Times that Japan and Europe, who up until now have said no to genetically modified crops are now considering lifting the ban on GMOs because of the current shortage of food.

Again, this is incredibly short-sighted thinking. GMO seeds have not been proven to help our food supply, nor have the health effects of Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready seeds been studied long enough to know if they might present any health issues for humans. The problem is that once GMO seeds are in the food supply or once the cloned meat is in the food supply there is no going back.

Buying locally produced and grown foods is definitely the way to go. Not only is local food fresher and better tasting, it also doesn’t have to travel as far and therefore reduces our on dependence on fossil fuels (although this is a complicated issue). The more we support our local farmers the more likely it is that family farms will remain in our communities. Did you know that the average age of the farmer in Oregon is 55 years old? That means that 50% of our farms will change hands over the next 10-15 years. If we don’t actively support local farmers, what will happen to these farms? I for one don’t think we need more strip-malls or condos (Yikes!).

Look, I know that food is more costly now and it’s a hardship for people and families but what will food cost if/when we don’t have local options anymore? It pains me to think that our Oregon blackberries, hazelnuts, dairy-farms, lamb ranches etc., could go away because we didn’t take a long term view of our food and farming systems. In the United States people on average, devote about 9% of their income to food. Compare that to European countries, where the norm is closer to 15% (in Italy it’s almost 25%). Good and healthy food costs more, there’s just no way around it and in the long run it’s going to cost a lot more if our treasured farm resources go away.

You may think that I’m preaching to the converted here, but last year in Oregon we lost 1000 farms, so it’s clear we aren’t doing enough. What can we do about it? We can vote with our dollars and buy local. We can buy from our local farmers markets and co-ops. We can go out to the U-Pick farms this summer. We can __________. You fill in the blank.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Lisa, I do believe I heard you
rant at least "once" and I still have the box on which you stood to
do so.
Living the good life in this country, many take for granted the value of the family farmer to our
quality of life. Keep preaching/ ranting to spread the word to support local family owned and operated farms, and to take care of mother earth now for future generations. Love you, Dad

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this rant. I totally agree which is why I've switched over from Freddies to New Seasons even though things cost a bit more. I'm voting with my wallet! Not to mention eating a lot healthier!

Anonymous said...

A great video resource, avaiable on the web, is "The World According To Monsanto". I recommend everyone make a copy and burn one for everyone that may not agree with Lisa's statements above.

Ethan said...

I enjoy shopping at New Seasons because of their purchases from Oregon Beef farmers who are world leaders in sustainable beef raising. Its good food for my family, good business for Oregon, and good for the planet.

EA and M said...

thank you so much for the information on the proposed drilling and mining in Bristol Bay. this is a terrible idea! i worked in Bristol Bay for 3 summers and can tell you that it is an amazing natural resource that should continue to be protected. I urge everyone reading this to follow the link in this blog to the New Seasons page about this, and then contact your senator. Thank you.

ccpdx said...

Lisa,

You and your readers might want to let candidates for congress (that would represent the north Willamette Valley--where much of our food comes from!) know that local food and family farms are important to you:

On Wednesday, September 10th, Friends of Family Farmers, OSALT, Oregon Tilth, Slow Food Portland and People's Coop will host a forum on local food and farm issues with candidates for Oregon's 5th Congressional District--and you're invited to join us!

The Local Food & Farms Forum will provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions of the candidates on topics pertaining to food and agriculture. Such topics could include, but certainly aren't limited to: barriers to local farm production, processing, and distribution; public participation in the siting of industrial farms in rural communities; farm legislation; development pressures felt by farming communities; farmers markets; roadblocks for the next generation of family farmers.

All candidates officially on the ballot for the 5th Congressional District (north Willamette Valley) will be there. This is your opportunity to engage with these candidates about our local foodsystem. Come join us and make your voice heard!

This event will be held September 10th in Canby at the Canby Adult Center (1250 S. Ivy) from 6:00 to 8:30pm. A "Meet the Candidates" Mixer with candidates for Oregon legislature will be held prior to the forum from 6-7pm.

For more information, please visit www.friendsoffamilyfarmers.org

* Friends of Family Farmers is not a political organization and does not support or endorse any one candidate running for office.

Cuisine said...

(I just left this same comment over on www.portlandfoodanddrink.com)

I feel very strongly about this the more I look at the facts and issues behind it, I have come to the conclusion that Whole Foods is engaging in unethical business practices. New Seasons, I and countless others in the Portland Food Community will support you through this and do what we can to call attention to this matter, as well as continuing to call Whole Foods on their BS.

Here is my comment from Portland Food and Drink:

Ms Brady, in all due respect, this is what gets my goat about Whole Foods and is the clincher: (From New Seasons’ above comment) “In their press release Whole Foods says, “It is important to understand that no competitor will be disadvantaged by complying with the subpoena . . .”

Sorry again, but that’s incorrect. Aside from the issues we’ve already talked about, our lawyers are telling us that it may cost us between $250,000 and $500,000 to comply with all the requirements of the Whole Foods subpoena. That may not be a huge amount of money to a company the size of Whole Foods, but to us it is a fortune.”

Whole Foods, by pursuing this (and the other) subpoenas you are unfairly punishing at least one smaller locally owned business through the cost incurred to them, thus affecting their bottom line of profit margin and possibly affecting labor and product costs at New Seasons stores. That in essence absolutely does put New Seasons at a disadvantage in a competitive market, and ultimately harms the consumer, and a whole bunch of people in our community who are reliant on Whole Foods for their paychecks. (and the City of Portland who are reliant on existing income tax revenue).

Your actions are punitive, unfair, unethical and harmful to Portland.

Sorry, Whole Foods, I’m not buying your PR spin. You might see targeting New Seasons as a necessity, but I see it as unethical black hat business practice. I simply can not support your position given your actions on this, nor will I further support your stores. In essence, stop being corporate bullies. At the very least, if you want the information from New Seasons and others, then you should pay for the costs incurred to those stores.