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.