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Local Organic Farming: A Sustainable Alternative To Industrial Agriculture

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posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:55 PM
this is something i have been working on for a number of years and thought i would share with the ats 'fragile earth' community. i know it needs work but i think it is rather informative and worth at least a casual read! i know it is a LOT of information but hey information never hurts.

As a student who has studied conservation I have become increasingly familiar with the many impacts human beings have on the natural world. Impacts such as tropical deforestation, the logging and fires in our northern forests, the pollution and depletion of our fresh waters, the over-harvesting and pollution of the marine habitats, and urban sprawl quickly consuming the remaining natural habitat, which is already dangerously fragmented by our transportation systems. All of which are only symptoms of symptoms. Obviously there is something about the way we operate as human-beings that has dangerously skewed the balance between us and the planet Earth. Evidently there is a problem but putting a finger on it is difficult, like when you’re young and have been sent by your mother to clean a horribly messy room and you stand, as a child, dumbfounded, not knowing where or how to begin. That is where the whole of humanity is today, knowing there is a problem, and frantically yet unsuccessfully attempting to address all the symptoms. However, the time to address the cause of the symptoms by making fundamental changes in the way we function has come.

Again as a student who has studied the ecological, anthropological, and social issues surrounding conservation, I have realized that at the root of our interactions with the Earth exists the Earth’s identity and place within our cultural function. As part of my studies I was studied the foundations of modern ethics, and no where in this study was there any attention paid to humanities responsibility towards nature, only towards one another. This is representative of our current relationship with the Earth; it is no surprise that we do so much harm because culturally we have lost any earth based ethics—we have become totally detached from nature. It is only by reconnecting with the natural world, and giving it a place within our cultural lives, that humanity will begin to balance itself with the Earth. It is my belief that food has the potential to become the catalyst for humanities next great transmutation—towards living sustainably on the Earth.

Because food is basic to life and it is produced by the natural world it serves as the most natural and lasting Human-Earth connection. Today however, the state of agriculture also suffers from our lack of Earth-ethics. Agricultural production is now a major component of the national industrial complex; indeed, it accounts for as much as $240 billion of our countries annual GDP. Herein the crux of this paper created, human cultural and social machinations destroying the Earth, the most basic connection between humans and the planet—food—is currently incorporated into the socio-cultural systems that exacerbate our ecological predicament, what to do?

It seems that often such troublesome situations turn out to be excellent opportunities to devise inventive and progressive solutions to serious problems; because, as they say, sometimes the best way to learn is by getting burnt. It is an educated guess, on my part, that the solution to today’s ecological crisis could largely be solved by reincorporating the Earth into our daily lives by adopting a new form of agricultural production that encourages the connection between people and place; giving birth to a sustainable balance of scale between man and the environment. I believe that first; the industrial agricultural system is unsustainable and inefficient. Second, because agriculture represents the most fundamental link between humans and the environment it is the best socio-cultural mechanism that can be redefined to balance humans with the planet. Third, local organic farming is an ideal sustainable alternative to the industrial model that is capable of transporting human-kind through such needed changes.

My argument in support of these beliefs is comprised of two main parts; first, a critique of the negative impacts of industrial agriculture; and second, an argument for the inherent benefits and solution in the local organic system. To validate my argument I believed it necessary to further divide these two main sections into three subsections, which I call the three confounding aspects of agricultural production; comprised of the economic, social, and ecological realities surrounding agriculture. By addressing each of the three confounding factors in agriculture in both the organic and industrial sections I intend to prove that first, industrial agriculture is an unsustainable practice; second, the local organic farming is indeed a sustainable alternative to the industrial model. Again, this will be accomplished by outlining the negative impacts of the industrial system and the benefits and solutions inherent in working system.

The Woes of Industrialized Agriculture

The first section of this paper deals with the realities surrounding industrial agricultural production. It begins with economics, as economics are the motive behind industrial production, then moving onto the social and ecological impacts.

Industrial Economics: Comparative Advantage, Specialization & Free Trade

The main operational thesis driving industrial agriculture in every country is the specialization of production into areas in which each country has a comparative advantage within the global, free trade market. As Herman Daly, the former head of Economics’ for the Environmental Department of the World Bank says, “No policy prescription demands greater consensus among economists than that of free trade based on international specialization according to comparative advantage…that presumption is the corner stone of [free trade]” (Daly 1996, p50-57).

In order to understand the motivation for specialization and global trade it is necessary to understand the theory of comparative advantage and its application in a global market. David Ricardo first presented the theory of comparative advantage in 1817 in the book, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. He introduced this theory in this manner,

“To produce the wine in Portugal, might require only the labor of 80 men for one year, and to produce the cloth in the same country, might require the labor of 90 men for the same time. It would therefore be advantageous for her to export wine in exchange for cloth. This exchange might even take place, notwithstanding that the commodity imported by Portugal could be produced there with less labor than in England. Though she could make the cloth with the labor of 90 men, she would import it from a country where it required the labor of 100 men to produce it, because it would be advantageous to her rather to employ her capital in the production of wine, for which she would obtain more cloth from England, than she could produce by diverting a portion of her capital from the cultivation of vines to the manufacture of cloth” (Ricardo 1817, 7.16).

What Ricardo is stating in this archaic passage is how a country may choose to specialize its production to products that it produces more efficiently than other products. By adopting a mode of specialized efficient production a country may trade these efficiently produced products for necessities and economic profits. To enact this principle globally would to increase global efficiency and wealth. This economic model is more clearly stated within the context of the modern era by Karen Lehman and Al Krebs as, “in its simplest form comparative advantage dictates that countries should buy low and sell high regardless of a products importance to the local culture and economy” (Mander, et al 1996, 125). They illustrate this point by saying if corn in Mexico can be bought globally for less money than it costs to produce it locally, regardless of the corn’s local cultural and economic importance, then that is exactly what Mexico should do. So, rather than producing corn, Mexico can focus on producing a good, such as tomatoes, which It can produce more efficiently, and trade those tomatoes for corn and economic gains (Mander, et al 1996, 125). It is this principle of comparative advantage that is responsible for the shift from producing goods largely at a local level for local consumption to producing massive yields of high-yield varieties of staple crops to be sold globally as a commodity.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:55 PM
Specialization and Global Free Trade

The implications of implementing an agricultural system of specialized production in a global free trade market are currently perceived as advantageous to all countries involved. It is an opportunity for the industrialized regions to expand their already flourishing markets as well as create opportunities for the developing nations to create an industrialized production base with which they can develop their own economically lucrative markets. Such a system is believed to insure the continued prosperity of the industrialized nations and allow the, so-called, third world to rise to the standards of the north. Because of this widespread belief the pressure to adopt the values of specialized free trade agriculturally “came from politicians, economists, and corporations that strongly believed in open borders as the means to prosperity. Opening domestic agricultural markets, economists typically argue will help reduce hunger and poverty by stimulating investment in developing world agriculture and generating new export revenue through greater access to first-world consumer markets” (Halweil 2002, 25). Because those who possess most of the influence over the policy of our country were those in favor of adopting the industrial system, the industrial system is what we got.

The strength of these proponents belief in global specialized free trade can be seen throughout the modern era. The World Bank’s head economist, Hollis Chenery, “defined ‘economic development’, in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, as the ‘set of structural changes required to sustain the growth of output and respond to the preferences of society’” (Rich 1994, 194). What Chenery is basically saying, echoes Dr. Griswold’s philosophy, that to continue to earn economic profits the modes of production will have to undergo an industrializing process to increase productivity, as well as the development of a value-added industry to increase the profitability of products. This is a startling point of view whose values can be seen as

“rooted in the Western Enlightenment, and include an eagerness to apply scientific, technological methods to increase material production as well as a desire for institutions and cultural transformation that embody values right out of Max Weber—efficiency, frugality, orderliness, diligence, punctuality, and above all, rationality in decision making liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiances…Driving this project is the allure of technology, the midwife of salvation through economic growth; growth in turn would be the foundation of national power and prestige” (Rich 1994, 201).

The zeal with which these proponents took to adopt industrialized agriculture can be seen in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s efforts to force structural adjustment loans on to the developing nations, loans which essentially require “the recipients to relinquish important parts of national sovereignty, basically agreeing to revamp their economies into foreign exchange earning, export-oriented machines” (Rich 1994, 110). This is essentially the developed nations operating through powerful multi-national economic institutions, which are “liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiance”, to open all nations borders to the free flow of trade, with the ambition of generating unprecedented economic gains, to fuel the worlds progress via modernization.

Specialization Policies Favor Corporations over Communities

Although the struggle to balance the opposing needs of agro-corporations and rural communities is still apparent in modern political discourse, American policy adopted views, between 1920 and 1960, which grossly favored the corporations over the communities. The paradigm that was created in this forty-year period regarded agriculture as part and parcel of the industrial economy (Thompson 2001, 220). This philosophy echoes the ideals set forth by the former Yale President Dr. Griswold in his 1948 book, Farming and Democracy, in which he stated, “the promotion of a special land tenancy and democratic or personal virtue [is] regressive, and [will] entrench a pattern of low productivity and poverty in rural areas”. What Dr. Griswold is stating is that allowing the rural agricultural populations to continue to exist in the context that they did was unsuitable for progressive economic growth. It was this mentality that small-scale sustenance farming was “regressive”, and that industrialization was progressive, which shaped agricultural policy in the United States for the next 35 years (Thompson 2001, 220).

According to the USDA, between the years of 1985 and 2000 gross farm income grew from $161 in 1985 to $241 in 2000. (USAD 2004, 1). This is good for those in favor of industrial agriculture because it serves as a justification that industrialization has the ability to stimulate economic growth and growth in a countries GDP is considered to be the ultimate sign that a country is continuing to progress. So, this growth is cited as proof that specialization is a progressive movement within agriculture. With this the argument for industrializing becomes utilitarian in nature, as was stated in the Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Ethics, “industrial society is justified in light of its impressive capacity to generate benefits for the majority” (Thompson 2001, 221). However, despite this economic growth that industrialization offers there remain many negative impacts that are not fully accounted for. All of the impacts industrial agriculture has had in the United States are the result of the specialization according to comparative advantage, which feeds the economic growth of the agribusiness corporations, at the expense of community level economics.

The scale of industrial agricultural is titanic in its proportions. There are many factors in the agro-economy that must work cumulatively to allow industrial agriculture to perform its overriding function, which is first, the generation of massive commodities (food) for trade and Profit, and second, the corporate consolidation of the agro-economy at large. Of these agro-economic factors four of are the most importance, they are: the specialization of production, the energy-input industry, the processing industry, and government subsidies. Each of these aspects of industrialized agriculture builds upon one another. Beginning with the specialization of production and ending with the support of government subsidies, creating a system which farmers are drawn into, which eventually consolidates the profitability and control of their operations to the control of corporations.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:56 PM
Specialization & Mechanization Prove Profitable at the Expense of Community

The decision to switch to an industrialized agricultural system was believed to be a utilitarian decision. There was strong belief within the elite community that such a switch would not only increase the production of food to feed the world burgeoning population, but would also greatly increase every participating countries economic growth. This economic growth would in turn fuel each countries progressive development. Such a claim can only be made if the economic impacts at the community level are disregarded. Although there is ample proof that specialization and global trade generate massive productivity and profits, these profits are consolidated by the corporations. This consolidation bars utilitarian benefits by disallowing the fair and even distribution of wealth. It is through specialization and the following agro-economic factors through which the corporation consolidation of profits and the creation of corporate hegemony can be traced.

Farms Lost

The adoption of the new principles of industrial agriculture have has serious economic consequences on small-scale farmers and thus rural communities. Although there is proof industrialization increases profits, the historical farmer and his community do not share in these benefits. This economic consequence is generally ignored by the elite regardless of the importance of maintaining economic stability in rural areas.

Statistical data, gathered by the USDA, holds ample proof of the economic destruction of small-scale farms resulting from the specialization of production. This can be seen in the loss of 59,000 individual farms and 102,945 partnership farms between the years of 1978 and 2002. This is a cumulative loss of 161,945 farms. During this same time period corporate farm numbers rose from 50,231 in 1978 to 73,752 in 2002, an increase of 23,521 farms. The number of farms earning a median income of $50,000 to $99,000 yearly dropped from 263,092 farms to 140,479 farms, a stunning 47 percent loss. The number of farms producing corn for grain dropped from 883,309 in 1974 to 348,590 in 2002. This 61 percent loss in farms is accompanied by a 15 percent increase in the land dedicated to producing corn and a 50 percent increase in the amount of corn produced (USDA 2002, 1). This trend clearly highlights how the industrialization process has increased yields and profitability at the expense of farm communities.

This highlights a key issue, which is farmers switching from producing food for eating, to farmers producing commodities for trade. While the switch to this system has proven its ability to produce economic profits, it does not account for the massive losses carried by the small shareholder who can no longer operate in a specialized market. Because of this trend “farmers throughout the world are abandoning their traditional forms of agriculture…in order to grow high-yields…using capital intensive methods” (Conservation Biology, 255), with results such as in, “Idaho, where over the last twenty-five years, it has lost about one half of its potato farmers. During the same period, the amount of land dedicated to potatoes has increased. Family farms are giving away to corporate farms that stretch for thousands of acres, these immense corporate farms are divided into smaller holdings for administrative purposes, and farmers who have been driven off their land are often hired to manage them” (Schlosser 2002, 118).

The end result is that at the local level producing specialized crops for an export/import market results in small shareholder operations inability to earn adequate economic profits stemming from the specialization of production and markets. The enormous economic returns generated cumulatively are thus generated at the expense of economic stability at the local community level.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:56 PM
The Mechanization of Agriculture

The energy-input industries associated with industrial agriculture are built upon the foundation provided by specialization and exacerbate corporate dominance in the industrial agro-system. Because industrial agriculture is constantly confronted by limitations humans have had to adapt. As Richard Manning says, “expansion ran up against the limits of the planets supply of plowable land…almost all the increases in production have had to be achieved by increasing yield—by harvesting more bushels per acre. This shift set the terms of modern agriculture, and it is almost as important as the development of agriculture itself” (Manning 2004, 86). Indeed, there is an endless list of “advancements” made in terms of agricultural mechanization that served the purpose of increasing the productivity and profitability of agriculture (Schueller 2000, 3). However, these increases were achieved through the innovations conceived and implemented by agricultural corporations. Corporations who acted in true Weberian form, with “an eagerness to apply scientific, technological methods to increase material production as well as a desire for institutions and cultural transformation [built upon] —efficiency, frugality, orderliness, diligence, punctuality, and above all, rationality in decision making liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiances” (Rich 1994, 201). The fact that corporations are openly operating “liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiances” results in their ability to exploit farm communities for their own profitability with the rationalization that the resulting profits are a utilitarian benefit to society. In reality the increased mechanization associated with the adoption of specialized production is another factor of the industrial system that effectively eliminates the small-scale operations profitability leading to corporate hegemony.

The justification is that by mechanizing agriculture corporations can efficiently and cost-effectively replace human laborers, increases profits, and supply the world with a more abundant and affordable food supply. The truth of this belief can be seen in, “the productivity gains from many improvements [that] have advanced grain harvesting from 10Kg/ per man-hour to as high as 60,000Kg/ per man-hour today” (Service to Abundance, 4). As a result of such massive improvements in productivity, “at the start of the 20th century, a U.S. farmer fed about 2 ½ people. Today, that farmer feeds about 97 Americans and 32 living abroad” (Schueller 2000, 2). Agro-corporations argue that this improved efficiency will free the farmer from his unpleasant labor so that he may peruse a more meaningful life in a leisurely urban setting. As the journal Mechanical Engineering exclaimed, “This revolution has eased the rest of the population to peruse the intellectual, cultural, and social development that has resulted in our modern society” (Schueller 2000, 2). Because of the widespread belief that the increased mechanization was in fact achievements the mechanization of agriculture was announced as one of the twenty most outstanding achievements of the 20th century. As Mechanical Engineering stated, “Agricultural mechanization, like manufacturing can be viewed as an enabling technology that made possible the other advances of the 20th century”, a demonstration of just how ignorant the majority of society is of the actual impacts of industrial production (Schueller 2000, 1).

The list of the inventions that mechanized farming is endless. What each one of these advancements has in common is their effect on the historic systems of agricultural production. Some individual technologies such as the wheat thresher alone generate enormous increases in productivity, others have less of an impact, but taken cumulatively, the mechanization of agriculture allows production on a massive scale. As Richard Manning states, it is the creation and “the success of the high-yielding varieties of the three main grains, along with attendant technologies like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and sophisticated machinery, which exploded the production of those crops at the expense of all others” (Manning 2004, 94-95).

What are not addressed in terms of agricultural mechanization’s great abilities are the economic problems that negatively impacts society at the local community level. “Agricultural mechanization has made many rural farmers and farm employees redundant”, not to mention created incredible costs to maintain production, “and has even decimated some rural towns” (Schueller 2000, 5). Despite the devastating impacts that have been seen, the agro-engineers of today exclaim, “Empirical data might contradict this pessimism”. Certainly, “the U.S. economy has absorbed the labor released over the last century to generate today’s standard of living” (Schueller 2000, 5). Despite this optimistic view held by many today, the reality of the industrial system is that rural communities have been reduced to impoverished and politically impotent lower class citizens.

The Energy-Input Industry

The list of negative economic factors stemming from the energy sector of industrial agriculture is undoubtedly as long as the list of agricultural mechanical innovations. Prime examples of these negative factors are the seed industry, the fertilizer and pesticide industries, and the oil industry.


At the root of this switch to producing monocultures of specialized crops and the corporate consolidation of agriculture lay the seeds of industrial agricultural production, literally the seeds. As the focus of production became more specialized there was an increased interest in maximizing productivity. One of the most influential advancements made in terms of increasing productivity was the creation of the high-yield varieties of the major agricultural commodities. The creation of these high-yield strains not only signaled the dawn of increased yields, but also were the first step in corporate consolidation, signaling the beginning of the end for small-scale farmers.

Throughout time it was the farmers themselves who produced the seed that they used to grow their crops. As farmers became forced to participate in a specialized global market they were not only forced to produce monocultures of food, they were forced to begin purchasing their seeds from agro-businesses who owned the exclusive rights to the high-yield strains. This situation is a major step towards impoverishing farmers as they now at the mercy of corporation for seeds. Brian Halweil notes that only five companies own 75 percent of the global market in vegetable seeds, and 30 percent of the entire global market in seeds in controlled by only five companies (Halweil 2002, 24). This situation not only makes farmers dependant on out-side sources for their seeds but also begins a system where farmers become dependant on a vast number of industry produced inputs that become essential for the successful production of high-yield crops.

The seriousness of the charge that the creation of patented seeds that are the basis of specialization increases farmer’s cost of production and creates a dangerous dependence on corporate products can be seen in the growth in the amount of money spent on seed by farmers. In 1985 farmers bought approximately $3 billion worth of seeds (USDA 1995, 1). Over the fifteen years leading up to 2000, this amount grew to $8.5 billion (USDA 2004, 1). These figures detail how the overhead cost associated with production continue to increase in the industrial system, and create a dangerous dependency on high-cost inputs which jeopardizes farmer’s ability to remain profitable. The creation of the high-yield verities was a fundamental step, taken by corporations, to consolidate their control of agricultural markets.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:57 PM
Chemical Inputs

“Since the 1950s the use of petroleum-derived pesticides, fertilizers have vaulted the U.S. into the biggest farming economy in the world” (Hatherill 2004). In 2002 the pesticide and fertilizer, or chemical industry, sold $7.6 billion worth of chemicals to U.S. farmers. Over twenty-three percent of farms pay $100,000 or more each year for the necessary fertilizers and pesticides, and another thirty-eight percent pay between $25,000 and $99,000 (USDA 2002, 1). This need for expensive chemical inputs is the direct result of switching from a diverse mode of production to the production of specialized monocrops, and represents the second stage in agro-corporations effort to consolidate control of agriculture. Because mono-crops have replaced diverse crops, U.S. farmland has become increasingly susceptible to pests and other environmental factors.

Thus the rational behind such spending on chemical inputs is the typical mantra of those in support of industrial agriculture. Specifically that by adding this specialized input farmers’ will be able to produce greater amounts of food more efficiently. The truth of this statement can be seen in the fact that, “pesticides make a significant contribution to maintaining world food production. In general, each dollar invested in pesticide control returns approximately 4$ in saved crops” (Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use, 1). This is an interesting reality especially because, “to the contrary, are loosing twenty percent more of our crops to insects today than in 1945, but because of increasing insect resistance to pesticides and mechanized farming techniques, the pesticide industry has economically addicted many farmers to their product” (Hartman 1998 ,56).

Because the use of chemical inputs is inline with the dogma of industrialization, in its ability to increase productivity and profits, it is also inline with its tendency to have serious economic impacts on the small shareholder and local communities. In 2001, “Senator Pat Roberts, a republican from Kansas, warned that farmers faced an ‘economic and energy powder keg’ because of rising production costs” (Affiliated Press 2001, A5). Steve Eberspacher, a Nebraska farmer, agrees with the seriousness of this crisis, “Anything it seems like we have to put into a crop is costing us more money. We’re getting some of the same prices for things that our parents farmed 20 or 30 years ago. That’s the thing that isn’t fair about the whole thing” (Fountain 2001, A10). What Mr. Eberspacher is addressing is that he is becoming increasingly dependant on expensive chemical inputs to maintain production, increasing costs while his income stays unchanged. What this results in a farmer’s inability to remain economically productive stemming, directly, from the structural changes implemented by the agro-corporations.

This reality makes is apparent that the capital generated by the chemical input industry is not evenly distributed throughout the agricultural economy. In fact the majority of profits generated by chemical inputs go directly to the chemical industry. It is the farms that are paying the chemical bill, with no personal economic gains, creating a system within which the small shareholder farms suffer the most. Because they are working smaller plots of land thus producing smaller yields and at the same time selling in the same specialized market as the large corporate farms, small-scale farmers are unable to make the profits necessary to purchase the necessary chemical inputs and remain economically productive.


The second major factor contributing to the massive economic growth and corporate consolidation of industrial agriculture is the oil industry. As the scale and mechanization of agriculture have grown, so too has agricultures dependency on fossil fuels. This dependency can be seen in the increased agricultural spending on fossil fuels between 1995 and 2000, where spending increased by as much as 38 percent, from $5.4 billion to $7.2 billion (USDA 2004, 1). For example, in Minnesota farms that produced specialized crops, such as, corn use an estimated 62,000,000 gallons of diesel each year. Farms producing soy use approximately 45,000,000 gallons per year.

Once again the specialization and subsequent mechanization of production is a major catalyst for the high dependence on petroleum energy in agricultural production. As the crops become more specialized and farm size increases the scale of mechanization needed to be productive directly increases the need for petroleum products, as gas is the main driving force behind the majority of farm technologies.

In terms of energy the oil industry’s profits play a major roll in the over-all gross income of farms. However these profits benefit the oil industry at the expense of farm communities. The increased use of oil run machinery on the farm results in higher operational costs and a decline in farm profitability.

An example of the amounts of gas used in agriculture can be seen just in its use to power irrigation; Irrigation also exacerbates the use of fossil fuels for powering irrigational pumps. “The dollars quickly add up. Mr. Bunger runs his irrigation system 24 hours a day. Each irrigation-well burns 125 gallons of diesel fuel a day. With five wells that amounts to 18,750 gallons a month…” (Fountain 2001, A10).

The Processing and Transportation Industries

The processing and transportation industries have the least to do with the production of food but under the industrial system have become integral aspects of modern agriculture. Both of these industries produce massive profits on their own, but can also be considered as aspects of the agricultural economy because of the import roll each plays in either the final production of food or its distribution.


Processing has become an immense and necessary part of the agricultural industry because of the colossal quantities of food produced under the industrial agricultural regime. Because the production of staple monocultural commodities has so drastically increase productivity the processing industry was created to preserve the value of food. The processing industry’s roll becomes transforming raw commodities into processed preservable food products. “In the year 2000, 85 percent of the countries crop land was planted in four crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay. Of the four, only wheat is even close to what we think of as food—something people eat directly—and even that must undergo processing to become flour. The corn is grain corn, not sweet corn, and must be processed. It is the same with soybeans” (Manning 2004, 98).

This brings to light the issue that the food produced by farmers today is only a raw input of little value. It is only after commodity crops have been processed that they assume the value of food as it appears on the shelves of grocery stores today. This is essentially the creation of a middleman in terms of food trade. The farmer is only the producer of a raw input to be use by the processors to make foods that have any real value in trade. The creation of this industry is a direct result of policies that favor specialized production, which is the motivation to produce monocultural commodities, which seals corporations’ consolidation of economic gains and reduces rural communities to poverty.

The important point here is that the profits generated by the processing industry are illusionary in terms of increasing agricultural profits. “It is worth remembering that the corporate [processors] were simply occupying a niche, taking advantage of cheap surplus commodities to turn a profit. (Manning, 2004, 170). So the industrialization of agriculture and the subsequent narrowing of production resulted in massive quantities of food generating massive surpluses. One of the “biggest asset[s]” to the corporate domination of the food industry “was the surplus of commodities, especially corn and wheat, which were simply raw energy, a blank culinary slate or platform. Properly reduced, then fortified with flavorings, preservatives, sweeteners, and packaging, these commodities could become anything manufacturers whished them to be” (Manning 2004, 178). Lori Ann Thrupp, in her book, Bittersweet Harvest, remarks, “in most export oriented agriculture the main beneficiaries are large companies involved in the processing, packaging, and marketing of these crops, including a growing number of international firms” (Halweil 2002, 26). This is the answer to the question “how is it possible, that ten cents of every dollar spent on food in the United States winds up in Phillip Morris’ coffers” (Mander 1996, 122)? So in terms of the expectation that industrial agriculture would increase economic productivity, “The strategy worked”, at least for corporations, “The value added to food by manufacturing increased 45 percent between 1939 and 1954. Almost all the increased spending on food went towards manufacturing costs” (Manning 2004, 178). Indeed, “the American flavor industry now has annual revenues of about $1.4 billion” and all this industry does is produce chemical flavors for the processed foods. “Approximately ten thousand new processed food products are introduced every year in the United States. Almost all of them require flavor additives. And about nine out of ten of these new food products fail” (Schlosser 2002, 124).

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:57 PM

The exportation and importation of foods is also another gargantuan aspect of industrialized agriculture. As a result of the rise of global free trade and the industrialization of agriculture “the value of international trade in food has tripled, and the tonnage of food shipped between nations has grown fourfold, while population has only doubled. In the United States, food typically travels between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometers from farm to plate, up to 25 percent further than in 1980” (Halweil 2002, 5). This reality could be called the “global vending machine” where the “long-distance food system offers unprecedented and unparalleled choice—any food, and time, any where” (Halweil 2002, 5).

The actual amount of energy used in the exporting and importing in the industrial system is staggering. “Already in 1991, four billion tons of freight were exported by ship worldwide, and this required 8.1 exajoules of energy, which is as much as was used by the entire economies of Brazil and Turkey combined. Seventy million tons of freight that year was sent by plane, and this used 0.6 exajoules, which is equal to the total annual energy use of the Philippines” (Mander 1996, 85). To be more specific “one exajoule is equal to 45 million tons of coal or 170 million barrels of oil” (Anonymous 1995, 25), so 8.1 exajoules costs society 1.4 billion barrels of oil a year. Although this system is generating massive profits it is based upon the ability to transport goods with a non-renewable energy source. The massive energy requirements for long-distance trade effectively removes any possibility that any farm, save for large, corporations, are able to participate in the global market. The small shareholder is thus forced to sell his product to a large corporation first to be processed and then to be traded. This effectively removes any possibility that a traditional, small shareholding farmer will be able to earn increased profits in an industrialized agricultural economy.

The Governments Overt Roll

The many factors shown to comprise the agro-industrial-complex, which deprive American communities to feed the corporations greed, are all inexorably bound to the specialization theme of industrial agriculture. However, even with the ability to produce commodities on the scale which we do does not make our cost of production competitive enough in the global market. In order for the corporations to be able to sell and profit off of industrial production the US government has had to subsidize agriculture.

An organization known as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiled all US subsidy data between 1995 and 2002 and noted that “Sixty percent of all farmers and ranchers do not collect government subsidy payments, according to USDA, mostly because the crops and livestock they produce do not qualify for subsidy programs” (Environmental Working Group 2004). Not surprisingly the farms the government chose to support more often than not are the large corporate-producers who grow the staple commodity crops. EWG noted that “Nationwide, ten percent of the biggest (and often most profitable) subsidized crop producers collected 71 percent of all subsidies, averaging $34,800 in annual payments between 1995 and 2002; the bottom 80 percent of the recipients saw only $846 on average per year” (Environmental Working Group 2004). So even in the governments attempt to aid agricultural producers their preference for the large producers, who make up the agro-industrial-complex, is evident and is largely due to their ability to fuel economic growth.

The top four recipient crops for government subsidies between 1995 and 2002 were corn at $1,981,564,489, cotton at $1,669, 746,908, peanuts at $1,092,846,187, and rice at $1,073,167,886. Wheat and Soy followed close by and were at $975,272,805 and $670,801,852 (Environmental Working Group 2004). The reality here is that the government is actively supporting the industrial agricultural system, by pumping in billions of dollars and subsidies to keep such production competitive and profitable. Essentially this is corporate welfare because most of the money goes to the large corporate producers. Adding insult to injury in that the crops and producers who the government supports tend to be the most inefficient and unproductive members of the agricultural community. As Bruce Babcock of the University of Iowa notes “rice is the most heavily subsidized crop, receiving 5 percent of U.S. subsidies but contributing only 0.7 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural production. Cotton is next, with a 13 percent share of subsidies and a 2 percent share of value. Corn is the tenth most subsidized commodity, with a 27 percent subsidy share and a 10 percent value share; in 1999, soybeans received relatively low subsidies, with a 10 percent subsidy share and a 7 percent share of value” (Babcock 2001, 3).

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:57 PM
The Ecological and Social Impacts of Industrialized Agriculture

Although there is ample proof of industrialized agricultures ability to produce products and profits at record levels a closer analysis of these profits reveal that the profitability is not shared with more than a select few. The economics of industrial agriculture are essentially the domain of the wealthy and powerful corporations. The small shareholder is unable to compete with the corporate farm, and is generally reduced to poverty through participation in a system that requires massive amounts of inputs in many forms. Unfortunately the negative impacts of industrial agriculture are not limited to the economic factor alone. Many of these concerns spill over into other areas creating even more reasons to be concerned with the practice of industrialized agriculture. The two most important factors besides the economic factor are the social and ecological.

Specializations Ecological Repercussion

In terms of ecological impacts industrial agriculture is a monster. There are not only a variety of ways that this system impacts the planets ecological functions, but the impacts are in proportion to the size of this agricultural organization, colossal. Vandana Shiva expertly describes the dangers surrounding the production of commodities or monocultures in agriculture, “While most environmentalists can recognize that converting a natural forest into a monoculture is an impoverishment, many do not extend this insight to industrial agriculture. A corporate myth has been created, shared by most mainstream environmentalists and development organizations, that industrial agriculture is necessary to grow more food and reduce hunger. But in agriculture, the growth illusion hides theft from nature and the poor, masking the creation of scarcity as growth” (Shiva 2000, 1). Vandana is addressing the reality surrounding industrialization. In order to produce the monoculture crops the fields must be cleared of all other plants, which eliminates all diversity on agricultural fields. Regardless of how devotedly the proponents chant the industrial dogma of how “monoculture farming saved much of the world from starvation due to overpopulation—[it came] at the expense of diversity.” This sacrifice can be seen in how “The first farmers chose from 200,000 species of wild plants and 148 wild animals, but today only 100 plant varieties and 14 animals are routinely cultivated. Orderly expanses of a single crops like wheat or soy are convenient to plant and reap, and make big profits” however such a system has created serious ecological concerns (Margolis 2003).

This loss of diversity due to industrialization has serious impacts on the land used for agriculture. The fact that ecological systems are enormous in the scale of their complexity is undebatable. Therefore, it is acceptable to assume that narrowing the diversity of plants and animals in any given area will directly influence the subtle ecological systems of that area. A study published in Science noted “The reduction in plant species richness that accompanies agricultural intensification leads to changes in the community composition of the pest complex—herbivorous insects and their natural enemies (predators and pathogens). [Thus] the low planned diversity of monocultural agricultural systems typically results in greater crop losses from an insect complex that is less diverse but more abundant” (Matson 1997, 505). Generally the most pressing issue is considered to be the health of plants we grow, “blight, bunt, blast, and bugs rip through fields like fire through kindling. In the united states, pests and diseases devour $90 billion worth of food crops a year” (Margolis 2003); however, the real issue is the health of the ecological systems that we are using to produce our food.

Another example is how monocultures also reduce the soils ability to produce nutrients in the same way it reduces plants resistance to pests. “In natural ecosystems, soil nutrient cycling, soil structure, and other properties are substantially regulated by the activity of a highly diversified soil community of microbes and invertebrate animals. The composition of, abundance, and activity levels of the soil community have been shown to be markedly different in agricultural systems from those in the natural systems from which they are derived.” For example, “studies of keystone organisms such as termites, earthworms, N-fixing bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and nematodes, it is evident that reduction in diversity of soil biota under agricultural practice may profoundly alter the biological regulation of decomposition and nutrient availability in the soil” (Matson 1997, 505-506).

Ecological Impacts of Industrial Chemical Inputs: Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a commonly used fertilizer whose use as an industrial chemical input has had serious impacts on the planets ecology. “Nitrogen figures in problems as diverse as red tides, fish kills, marine mammal deaths, shellfish poisoning, loss of sea grass habitat, destruction of coral reefs, and acid rain. Beginning in about 1950, the use of nitrogen ballooned from less than five million tons annually world wide to eighty million tons today, the result of employing chemical fertilizers…” (Manning 2004, 98-99).

To begin with “In an environment absent of human influence, [the] conversion [of nitrogen] occurs only through fixation by plant- and soil-associated bacteria and lightning strikes” (Driscoll 2003, 8). Because of the complexity of the nitrogen cycle the earth’s plants, historically, were competing for a limited supply of fixed-nitrogen. This scenario, where the supply of nitrogen was limited, has drastically changed as nitrogen pollution has dramatically risen following the introduction of nitrogen fertilizers.

A study done on the impacts of nitrogen fertilizers in the northeast United States discusses how its use has four major impacts on the environment, “ground-level ozone, acid rain, forest effects, and costal overenrichment” (Driscoll 2003, 8). “Ground-level ozone” has dramatic impacts on both human and plant populations. This form of pollution causes either the unusual or damaged growth of leaves and needles or educes more subtle physiological changes; including, “the reduction in the ability of the plant to convert sunlight to energy that is needed to fuel plant growth. The net effect of this change is a decrease in biomass production, or growth” (Driscoll et al 2003, 9). The impacts ground-level ozone has on humans will be discussed in a later section.

Nitrogen fertilizers have also been documented to increase the acidity of rain in this region between ten and fifteen times (Driscoll, et al 2003, 10). The range of effects stemming from this pollution is stunning, and includes impacts upon the soils, forests and streams. This high level of nitrogen depletes high levels of calcium and magnesium from soil. The study states that at one study site 50 percent of the available calcium had been lost to acid rain over the last 60 years. The loss of calcium and magnesium cause the release of inorganic aluminum from the soil into the water system poisoning even aluminum tolerant fish and aquatic organisms. “Approximately 41 percent of lakes in the Adirondacks of New York and 15 percent in New England are chronically or periodically too acidic to support fish and other aquatic life” (Driscoll, et al 2003, 10).

Forests are mainly affected either through their foliage growth or in reduced ability to cope with stress caused by a change in soil composition, which main results in an inability to weather cold temperatures and a decrease in tree productivity. This change triggered the loss of approximately 36 percent of the red spruce in the mountains of Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire. These forests also act a sinks that absorb high levels of fixed nitrogen, creating a constant source of nitrogen pollution of native water systems.

The release of nitrogen from the forest-sinks into the areas water system combined with other pollution sources also has serious impacts on costal ecozones. The increased levels of nitrogen “overenrich” the northeast costal areas causing massive algae blooms. The increased levels of algae consume large amounts of oxygen from the costal waters causing a condition known a “hypoxia”, which essentially suffocates the biotic communities of the coastal waters.

Another serious risk involved with the use of fertilizers and pesticides is revealed in Duff Wilson’s book Fatal Harvest. This book is the story of the mayor of a small town in Washington named Quincy. They mayor of this town discovered that the fertilizer companies routinely use toxic waste that contains any trace amount of any active element in fertilizer as the bulk inert ingredient. The book details how there is no regulatory body in the United States or any other country, save Canada, that oversees the quality and safety of agricultural chemical inputs. Patty Martin, Quincy’s mayor, tells of how the land, people, and livestock in her community suffered greatly from pollution resulting from the use of chemical inputs laden with toxic wastes.

Considering that there are hundreds of chemicals used in agriculture, the total implications of agricultural chemical pollution are staggering. The reality is that the use of chemicals at this level is unsustainable and can be undeniably seen in the ecological changes that nitrogen alone has had on our planet in only 60 years. There is no possible way humans can continue to use these inputs at this level indefinitely. This is one critical point in the critique of industrial agriculture.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:58 PM
Irrigations effect on Natural Ecology

Irrigation mainly has three effects on the environment, which are water consumption, erosion, and pollution. In the journal Agricultural Research Dale Bucks states “agriculture uses 65 to 70 percent of the total fresh water resources in the United States” (Bucks 2003, 12). This is an astonishing figure, as Vandana Shiva says, “by failing to identify water as a limiting factor in food production, industrial agriculture has promoted waste” (Shiva 2002, 108). The waste is largely a result of industrial agricultures use of chemical inputs on monocultures that reduces the organic content of the soil and thus its ability to retain water. This is known as a soil moisture drought.

Two impacts related to the overuse of water in irrigation are “water-logging” and “salinization”. Water logging is produced when irrigation water discharges into a ground water basin, filling it faster than it is able to drain. This is not an uncommon occurrence as approximately 25 percent of the United States agricultural land is waterlogged (Shiva 2002, 108).

Salinization occurs mostly in more arid regions and is a direct consequence of irrigation. Basically the arid land is watered and as the water evaporates it pulls salt to the surface causing the topsoil to develop high levels of salinity. It is estimated that today over 70 percent of all agricultural lands suffer from salinization resulting in decreased productivity (Shiva 2002, 110).

Today, as the human population continues to grow by 80 million a year, the availability of water for irrigation continues to diminish, threatening our ability to continue to use water for irrigation in the amounts we do today (Davies 2001, 19). This can be seen in the case of the world’s fourth largest body of fresh water, in India where, the sea “has been ruined by unsustainable agricultural activity. Rivers that recharge the lake are increasingly diverted towards the irrigation of 7.5 million hectares of cotton, fruit, vegetables, and rice. Over the past few decades, two-thirds of the water has been drained away, salinity has gone up six-fold, and water levels have dropped by 20 meters” (Shiva 2002, 111).

Ecological Consequences Stemming from Processing

The processing industry created by the rise of industrial agriculture produces wastes in many forms. According to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control there are eight main pollution sources in processing, they are process waste-water, sludge, off-spec product, waste oils, spent and dirty filters, empty raw material containers, out dated inventory, and damaged pallets (Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources 2004).
Of these one of the most ecologically damaging sources is the wastewater produced at processing plants. An example of the scale of this problem can be seen in a $4 million dollar fine Tyson Food Inc. was forced to pay in 1998. This fine was imposed at the behest of the EPA, which claimed Tyson Foods had released “illegal amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen and other chemicals into a creek that feeds the Chincoteague Bay on Maryland's lower Eastern Shore” (New York Times 1998, A9). Another processing industry ripe with examples of how processing wastewater damages the planets ecology is the fast food French-Fries industry. The majority of this processing takes place in the Columbia River Valley of the Northwest. This area processes about 300 million pounds of French-Fries yearly. Studies done on 500 wells in the area revealed that one third of each is contaminated with pesticides and phosphorous at levels that make the water not only unsafe to drink but unusable in agriculture as well (Anonymous 1994, 7).

Ecological Degradation and the Oil and Transportation Industries

The ecological impacts of the oil and transportation industries associated with agriculture are enormous. The cumulative scale of these industries is monolithic in is proportions; combined, these industries are truly the driving force behind modern society. Each independently plays a major roll in industrialized agricultural production, and the use of either has direct impacts on the environment.


Oil has played a major roll throughout the industrialization process of agriculture. The increased mechanization of farming in the industrialization process is one major aspect of the size of oil use in agriculture. Another aspect is the transportation costs associated with participating in a global free trade environment, where the focus is on exportation and importation. It is within this system that the majority of food, in America, travels 2,500 miles on average to reach a consumers plate (Halweil 2002, 18-19).

Oil use has increased 4.7 times since 1950 and is the source for 77 percent of all energy consumed. These numbers are expected to continue to increase at the rate of 1.7 percent a year until the year 2030 (World Watch Vital Signs, 34). In his book, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartman notes that human are currently producing more than six billion tons of air-bound CO2 emissions a year, and that CO2 levels in the air have increased from 280/ppm to 370.9/ppm in just 20 years. Thom states that if the CO2 levels continue to increase as expected it will reach 500/ppm within another 20 years (Hartman 1998, 67-68). Indeed, “the scale of today’s fossil fuel based human economy seems to be the dominant cause of greenhouse gas accumulation” (Mander et al 1996, 210).

The oil industry affects the planet in many ways, but the most pressing issue is in regards to CO2 emissions, a greenhouse gas, as a major catalyst of global warming. As Bill McKibben so eloquently states, “human beings are ending the very idea of wildness—that as our cars, factories, and burning forests filled the skies with greenhouse gasses, we had finally become large enough to alter the most basic vital sign of the planet, its climate. Only the outermost fringe of scientists now doubt the reality and power of global warming and other large-scale environmental damage. For the first time humans are altering the most fundamental phenomena. We have grown so big that we literally overshadow the earth” (McKibben 1995, 11).

Although industrial agriculture alone is not responsible for this situation, the massive scale at which it operates makes it a major contributor to this human-made phenomenon. This contribution is unacceptable, as the impacts of global warming will directly affect any form of agricultures ability to produce food. The effects global warming will have on the planet are diverse and a complete list is hard to create because of the complexity of ecological systems coupled with human variables.

Again, Thom Hartman does a excellent job of describing the most serious of known impacts in, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. First he notes that the increased global temperature will likely cause a pole ward shift of ecological zones up to as much as 250 miles. Such a shift of climatic zones will devastate regions that rely upon for the majority of our food production. Although humans may move to a new region to escape the unpleasant ecological changes where they live, plants cannot. The reason places like the Midwest and California are so highly productive agriculturally is because of existing ecological conditions beyond climate alone. Humans will not be able to simply pick up U.S. agricultural systems and move them to where the present climate zones move to in Canada because Canada does not have the same ecological conditions that made farming so productive here.

Another devastating repercussion of global warming noted by Hartman is related to the increase in temperature increasing the energy and moisture yield of the atmosphere. An increase in these factors will increase the volatility of the earth weather systems. This increase in weather volatility will produce effects similar to those in the recent movie The Day After Tomorrow, where various super-storms include tornados, hurricanes and cyclones, cause droughts and floods, and a host of other violent actions bringing about the cataclysmic earth changes. Although it is unlikely the changes that will occur will be as cataclysmic as the movie the scale of the changes and their impacts will undoubtedly be catastrophic. Such changes will not only alter the shape and size of livable habitats on earth it will also impact the size and shape of land we can use to produce food. As we are already experiencing limitations in terms of production, climatic changes that decrease our ability to produce food will undoubtedly prove to be ruinous for the human race.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:58 PM

Transportations most pressing impact is its use of oil as its energy source and thus its contribution to global warming. However, the infrastructure of transportation systems requires the reshaping of the earths surface, on a massive scale, to allow our current means of transportation to move about freely. Upon investigating the actual scale of such a system quickly becomes enormous. It includes, and is not limited to, roads, train tracks, airports, ports, and intermediary facilities. Such activity is not only underway in America but also globally. “The U.S. government predicted that after the signature of NAFTA, cross-border trucking would increase sevenfold. The ratification of GATT at he Uruguay Round can only increase the world-wide transport of goods even more dramatically—which means that a vast number of highways, airports, harbors, and warehouses must be built, which in itself can cause serious environmental destruction” (Mander, et al. 1996, 86).

A dramatic example of the ecological consequences of transportation is the Polonoroeste project in Brazil. This project began in the early 1980’s and was focused on paving a 1,500 kilometer road connecting Brazil’s pristine northwestern rainforest, about two-thirds the size of France, to the densely populated areas of brazil. The consequences of this project were directly related to the increase population in this region leading to dramatic habitat fragmentation and ultimately destruction. Polonoroeste was the catalyst for an eight-fold increase in deforestation between the late 1970’s and the early 1990’s. Increased logging and human activity caused the deforestation. The new settlers moving to this region began to burn the forests to make room for agricultural projects, which ultimately failed due to the depletion of nutrients that in rainforests are found mainly in the litter on the forest floors. The scale at which these fires burned became the largest visible human activity monitored by NASA from space as early as the mid-1980’s (Rich 1994, 27-28).

The Polonoroeste project in Brazil is not a fully relative example of the impacts of transportation in the United States because there it was the first introduction of such infrastructure. The impacts here do not stem from the creation of one road through pristine wilderness, but are the impacts of what the U.S. DOT calls “at least 3.9 million miles of public roads crisscross the United States” (USDOT 2004). These roads have created a grid-work of habitats isolated from one another by our endless road-systems. The largest impact of this can be seen in hundreds of scientific studies on the impacts on various bugs, insects, birds, and mammals stemming from habitat fragmentation. The conclusion of many of these studies is that the fragmentation of habitat results in the creation of habitat isolation resulting in dramatic losses in species diversity and genetic richness with an end result of increase susceptibility of many species to extinction.

The ecological impacts of industrialized agriculture are divisible into two parts; those impacts directly stemming from agricultural production, or those impacts resulting from indirectly related agricultural industries. The direct impacts include monocultures impacts upon site biodiversity, which increases pest activity and reduces nutrient availability. The indirect impacts are the result of the industrialized processing and transportation industries.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:59 PM
Industrial Agriculture’s Social Realities

The most devastating social impacts of industrialized agricultural can be documented at the local-community level; however, they are not isolated to this aspect of society. These impacts involve the deterioration of quality of life stemming from the rise of an industrialized modern society; including the deterioration of rural communities, impacts on health, the cumulative loss of food security and ultimately deterioration of democracy.

The Deterioration of Rural Communities

The specialization of agricultural production is also the catalyst for many of the social impacts associated with the industrial system. It is the devices of industrialization that whittle away the diversity and independence upon which a farmer and his community are dependent, built upon specialized production and the elimination of the need for human labor, resulting in the loss of small-scale farms and the community structures. “Corporate agribusiness has sought to first diminish the roll of family farmers in the production of our food. Second, it has sought to relegate the farm community to a small and select group of economically and politically impotent raw material producers serving a nation wide food manufacturing system. Such a system can be controlled from afar by a select number of corporate giants and economically powerful individuals” (Mander, et al. 1996, 124). This is where the reality that specialization according to comparative advantage applied in Weberian fashion—“liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiance”—ultimately serves corporations in their goal of maximizing profits at the expense of traditional farm communities.

The initial impact of agro-corporation’s efforts to consolidate the agro-economy is the takeover of small scale farms by the corporations resulting in the loss of the economic base of farm communities—food. Just as farmers were traditionally dependant on producing a diversity of farm products, so too was the local community dependant on those products for both nutritional and economic sustenance. The realization of this modern agricultural ideal reveals that “local communities suffer as farmers replace fields growing [diverse] crops for local consumption…with export crops for distant mouths. As has been seen, ‘in many cases farmers do not make enough money from the venture to produce food’”. Farmers are not only unable to produce food for their communities; they become unable to produce food for themselves. Wendell Berry describes what has been lost from experience, “Farms were generally small. They were farmed by families who lived not only upon them, but within and from them. These families grew gardens. They produced their own meat, milk, and eggs. The farms were highly diversified. The farmers grew tobacco, corn, wheat, barley, oats, hay, and sorghum. There were also minor products, and one of the most important characteristics of that old economy was the existence of markets for minor products” (Berry 1997, 39).

What was essentially the sustainable subsistence of a large portion of our population, a culture that even Tomas Jefferson believed to be a cornerstone of democracy, is what Dr. Griswold called the potential “regressive” and “entrenched” “pattern of low productivity and poverty in rural areas” (Thompson 2001, 220). The loss of which has hade devastating impacts on the decimated communities.

As the farmers switch their mode of production, first the community’s subsistence vanishes, leaving them only the processed commodities sold by the corporations. Then eventually the farmers who use to represent the heart and soul of the community begin working as hired laborers on corporate farms. And with this any hope within the community that someday the security and quality of days past will return, disappears. So “by embracing this industrial model of agriculture—one that focuses narrowly on the level of inputs and outputs, and that encourages specialization in just one crop –[results in,] every increase in productivity [driving] more American farmers off the land” (Schlosser 2002, 119). And as the farmers disappear so too does the vary foundation of rural communities.

The scale of this degradation can be seen in the fact that historically in our country, “60 percent of the working population was employed in agriculture. Today, less than 2.7 percent of the workforce in engaged directly in farming” (Mander, et al. 1996, 110). The remaining 57.3 percent are now likely employed in processing factories, turning the raw commodities into food, or as hired-laborers on giant corporate farms—a reality that is much less than was promised in the modernization stemming from the revolutionary increases produced by industrial agriculture. It was believed that reducing the need for human labor would free the farmer from his unbearable toil in the dirt; however, in hindsight it seems that the farmers had it better on the farm than they do in the factories. This reality can also be plainly seen in the statistical data that shows as commodity crops flourish, so too does the corporate farms, while the farm-base of the rural communities withers away. So it seems the specialization of production to fit in an industrialized system has eliminated this localized sustenance lifestyle and replaced it with impoverishment. As a result today “there are currently more than nine million persons living under the poverty line in depressed rural areas across the united states—all casualties of the great strides in farm technology that have made the United States the number-one food producer in the world and American agriculture the envy of every nation” (Mander, et al., 110). If Dr. Griswold is alive today, let this serve as a lesson to him, that what he saw as rural poverty was in fact the sustainable subsistence of a vast number of American citizens. As Harland Hubbard wrote in 1953, “the dignity and grace of farming steadily vanishes. The countryside grows less and less beautiful and interesting, less country. The old country houses are being replaced by modern boxes, which do not if in the landscape, and somehow machine-grown crops have little character. The strain, unrest, and dissatisfaction show up in the appearance of the country side” (Berry 1990, 52).

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:59 PM
The Life and Health of Agricultural Production

At the root of all of industrialized agricultures negative effects lies the consequence it has on society itself. All of which stem from the specialization and mechanization associated with industrialization. Agriculture is merely a tool or subsistence strategy employed by a cultural group to provide sustenance. It seems foolish and intolerable that the system we choose to employ to provide us with our food would in any way diminish the quality of our lives. Despite this ideal, that is exactly what the industrialization of agriculture has done. This idea is in harmony with Richard Manning’s statement that there was a “fundamental dehumanization that occurred with agriculture” (Manning 2004, 8). Although Manning is referring to agriculture in its entirety, the industrialization process alone has had devastating impacts on the human condition. This brings to mind my favorite quote of Wendell Berry, “And it is clear to anybody who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land. Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our “marginal” land because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and few employable mussels back and forth to work” (Berry 1997, 108).

Agricultural Chemicals and Human Health

This agricultural system has been shown to be heavily dependant on chemical inputs to compensate for the problems surrounding the production of monocrops. Billions of pounds of chemical inputs are used in agriculture every year mainly in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. Human health is the main social impact of the chemicals used in agriculture.

The book Fateful Harvest is the storey of a small town in Washington, Quincy and how the mayor made startling discoveries concerning the agro-chemical industry. The book tells the story of how the local mayor began investigating the possible use of toxic materials as inert ingredients in both pesticides and fertilizers. Indeed she discovered that the vary same materials that must be stored and treated as toxic wastes can be used as the inert ingredient in agro-chemical inputs as long as the toxic material had any trace of ingredient used in the agro-products, for example nitrogen. Many members of her community were suffering serious health impacts directly stemming from the use of toxic additives so she began to take steps to try to solve the problem. However, what she discovered is that the U.S. government has no regulations set up to monitor and regulate the ingredients in agro-chemicals. On top of that, she learned that the EPA actually encourages agro-chemical producers to buy these toxic wastes as inert ingredients to help the toxic producers to more efficiently discard of their wastes.

There is a section that discusses the results of hair samples taken from various local farmers and family members in Quincy Washington. The hair samples were sent to a company named “Doctor’s Data” which had been in analyzing hair samples for over twenty years. The results of the hair analysis were stunning “Aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, uranium—all of them unnaturally elevated” (Wilson 2001, 120). The biochemist that reported these finding fearfully noted that some of the people whose hair was sampled were critically poisoned by heavy metals and they were likely to die at any time. A study of 52,000 agricultural workers who apply farm chemicals, published by the University of North Carolina, reported that the children of these workers are up to 36 percent more likely to develop cancer in their lives (Hatherill 2004, 1). While these situations are extreme examples of direct contact with the use of agro-chemicals, it is not uncommon for these chemicals to contaminate the environment and affect humans. Because these chemical inputs are used in such massive quantities it is not surprising that they contaminate our environment. While those who work directly with these chemicals have a much greater risk of acute poisoning, those of us who are not in direct contact are still susceptible to long term exposure to traces of these chemicals resulting in many chronic illnesses. In the article Hidden Dimensions of Damage: Pesticides and Health Monica Moore lays out the various health impacts of such exposure. She begins with talking about chemical inputs and the rise of cancer. She states that there are currently 119 agro-chemicals that are known to cause cancer. She notes that in the last 30 years the rate of childhood leukemia has increased 27 percent, and the rate of childhood brain cancer has increased by 33 percent. She further states that according to U.S. government estimates that around 20,000 farm workers suffer from acute poisoning annually. The developing nations in comparison experience approximately 3 million cases a year (Moore 2002, 245).

Another study done on the effects of agro-chemicals revealed a startling discovery, that chemical use has altered our crops ability to take up necessary minerals, significantly lowering the nutritional value of our foods. Dr. Williams of the University of London, who ran this study, notes that this is affecting 1.5 million people world wide, and that in India 55 percent of school children are learning impaired because of these new deficiencies. Dr. Williams calls this phenomenon environmentally mediated intellectual decline. (Bhatia 2000, 3).

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 29 2009 @ 11:59 PM
Processing and Health

The food processing industry has had an amazing impact upon health by drastically changing the food that we eat in this country. Just by walking through a grocery store one can see that the majority of food on the shelves is processed, packaged, and thus, assembly ready to eat. Although the processing industry is a large source of pollution, its effect on humans is largely a result of the quality of food that they process for us to eat. The issue of obesity is a classic example of the impacts processed foods have had on our culture. Making the link between processed foods and obesity was difficult because there is a serious lack of information that will actually make the claim that processed foods are in any way dangerous. Both the USDA and CDC were lacking any such stance as far as I could tell in my research. However, McDonalds stepped up to bat for me when they made this statement, in their own defense in court, “It is a matter of common knowledge that any processing our foods undergo serves to make them more harmful than unprocessed food” (Spurlock 2004). If feel that this statement, made by a processing expert, goes a long way in making my point for me. While they are not saying flat out that processing causes obesity, they did use this statement in their own defense against two girls who were suing because they claimed McDonald’s food made them obese. Therefore I will assume what they were actually saying, is “yes our food makes you fat”.

In the U.S., obesity has become so serious that in 2003 the government was forced passed a bill, referred to as “Healthy People 2010”, to appropriate funds for the purpose of improving “nutrition, physical activity, and obesity prevention” Healthy People 2010 states that over the last 29 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity among all age groups. Rates among children and adolescents have increased 2 to 3 times. Over all in the last 29 years, 61% of adults and 13% of children have become overweight to obese. The bill estimates that each year there are approximately, 300,000 obesity related deaths and the annual “direct and indirect” costs are approximately 117,000,000,000 (Congress 2003, 4). The author Eric Schlosser in his book Fast Food Nation talks about the fast food industry’s roll in this epidemic. He claims another CDC document puts the annual health care cost of obesity at $240 billion. And at the root of the issue he places the blame on the emergence of processed fast foods. He tracks the rise of fast food in our nation and others a draws the connection between the presence of fast food and the rise in obesity. Some might argue that processed food doesn’t have to be fast food; but the issue isn’t where you buy the food its what is in the food that’s making the industrialized world fat.

Richard Manning makes the point that as industrial agriculture increased productivity and the U.S. began to accumulate massive surpluses of commodity crops food processors took to the task of processing the commodities to preserve the food and increase its value. This is what some call a value-added industry. Manning talks about how ADM processes most of its corn into syrup and that it account for more than two-thirds of its total profits. Corn syrup is a major player in the alternative sweetener market and is a common ingredient to most processed foods, as Manning says, “Just read the label on most any processed food, especially fruit juices. Look for high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient, right behind water. It’s in scalloped potatoes, barbeque sauce, salad dressing, ketchup, oatmeal cookies, wheat thins, Campbell’s Chunky Soup, granola bars, canned fruit, SpagettiO’s ice cream and virtually every carbonated soft drink” (Manning 2004, 138). It is this ingredient, corn syrup, Manning claims, that is at the root of America’s obesity.

The wide acceptance, and even love, for processed fast foods, can be traced to the industry’s effort to indoctrinate our culture during adolescence. An article published in the journal of School Health discusses how the fast food industry has become present in our school cafeterias and classrooms. In 1999, 9 percent of elementary schools offered “brand name” fast food to student. The companies also sponsored reading incentives to earn free food and offered coupons to teachers to distribute as rewards (Levine 1999, 290-292).

Another study published in the journal Nutrition and Food Science explains the dangers of adultered or fraudulent processed food being sold at market. Adulteration takes many forms such as in 73 different U.S. produced olive oil only four were pure, the rest all contained other oils. This situation appears to be harmless but it exposes a dangerous flaw in processed foods, that they ready to eat in a box, yet we have really no good idea exactly what is in it or where it’s been. The very same reasons my mother always scolded me for putting things like loose change in my mouth (Barnes 1996, 23).

Deterioration of Democracy

This loss of agricultural independence, where communities were built around the presence of local farms producing for local needs, impacts not only the rural communities but society at large. As society adopted industrial agriculture the historical agricultural foundation of our country was lost. This has been shown to be a direct result of the specialization and mechanization of agriculture, which led to the corporate dominated food industry that feeds us today. Wendell Berry addresses this when he says, “the modern use of complicated machines and systems, and the consequent divisions of work, character, and responsibility, involve a dangerous simple-mindedness” (Berry 1990, 28). This simple mindedness is dangerous in that as we become integrated into an industrial system such agriculture we loose our own personal ability to provide for ourselves. Although we feel secure in this industrial world, that provides for us all we have, we become increasingly dependant upon it for our survival. If tomorrow all modes of transportation broke down how long could we survive in our modern cities, how long would the canned foods last until we began to starve, and if we were confronted by such a catastrophe, who has the means or the skills to begin producing what they need for themselves?

Even without the rise of catastrophe the agro-corporations and their backers in the political system have systematically dismantled the privilege and right to produce food at the local level. Specialization in a global trade system and the rise of free trade regulations has made it increasingly difficult for anybody to attempt to bypass the industrial food system.

Thomas Jefferson believed that farmers were an important part of a democratic society, and warns of the deterioration of this community as a threat to the democratic liberties of a people. As he said, “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, and the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bonds. I consider the class of artificers as the panderers of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned” (Berry 1997, 143-144).

In our time Vandana Shiva has become a major supporter of the preservation of appropriate agricultural practices as a fundamental means to preserving democracy. She believes that we are currently threatened by “the emergence of a food totalitarianism, in which a handful of corporations control the entire food chain and destroy alternatives so that people do not have access to diverse, safe foods produced ecologically. Local markets are being deliberately destroyed to establish monopolies over seed and food systems. An overall trend in which trade rules, property rights, and new technologies are used to destroy people friendly and environmentally alternatives and to impose anti-people, anti-nature food systems globally. The notion of rights has been turned on its head under globalization and free trade” (Shiva 2000, 17-18).

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:00 AM
Organic Farming as an Ecologically Based System

Local organic agriculture is an ecologically centered practice in that it regards itself as an extension of the Earth’s natural cycles and services and seeks to balance the impacts of its methods with the ability of the Earth to generate raw materials and absorb wastes. Therefore, unlike the industrial model it does not focus the majority of its attention on out-put, but balances its focus between optimal input and optimal output. Thus, unlike the industrial system, which views its capacity to create outputs as determined by its level of specialization and mechanization, organic farming views its capacity to produce outputs as determined by the Earth’s capacity to sustainably generate energy. Essentially this means that the ideology of the industrial method believes its productive capacity is infinite in scale, limited only by the ingenuity of humans, where organic farming believes that its productive capacity is finite in scale limited by the Earth’s capacity. It is this critical difference upon which organic farming builds its sustainable methodologies.

“Diversity Equals Stability”

The negative impacts of industrialized agriculture were the result of direct agricultural activity and second by the surrounding industries. The direct impacts were the increase in pest activity and the reduction of nutrient availability both of which are no more than symptoms of the impact of monoculture on site biodiversity. As the prestigious Dr. Pimentel of Cornell University stated, “Neither humans, their crops, nor their livestock can exist independently from species in the natural ecosystem” (Pimentel 1996, 43). Because organic agriculture works to maintain a balance between itself and the earth’s natural systems it relieves both of these symptoms by removing the source of the problem—the decreased diversity within monocultures is replaced with the diversity found within polycultures.

There is simple ecological principle that explains the relevance of utilizing polyculture which is, “’diversity contributes to stability’, implying that ecosystems that contain many different kinds of species are more stable than those containing only one, such as monoculture” (Mohawk Trust 1979, 10). As Alejandro Argumedo of the Association for Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development of Peru says, “polyculture requires a highly sophisticated and intimate knowledge of the land—something small-scale, full-time farmers can more readily provide than can the proprietors of large, highly mechanized farms” (Halweil 2002, 29). In a small-scale organic system the farmer integrates a variety of crops each selected to balance the others impact upon the soil-systems. In addition to this organic farms have much higher levels of weed activity and diversity. While I worked at Beneficial Farm outside of Santa Fe New Mexico I became familiar with both the inter-cropping of plants and the abundance of weeds. While planting during July I became aware that as we filled the rows with plants Steve Worshower had us switch species at length no longer than 100 feet, and that it was a general rule that species of the same family were separated. The explanation for this was that it prevented the soil be overly depleted of any given nutrient by a monoculture and that by separating the family members pests were unable to grow to the level of infestation, if they occurred at all. Weeds were also very common, and the majority of my time working every day was clearing the sown rows of weeds. This was an endless task because by the time we would finish weeding the last row the first would be full again.

A study published in Science in 2002 documented organic farming’s impact on soil quality and biodiversity in organic farms. The study stated, “a fertile soil provides essential nutrients for crop growth, supports a diverse and active [soil-biotic-community], exhibits a typical soil structure, and allows for undisturbed decomposing” (Mader, et al. 2002, 1694). The study analyzed the organic systems ability to maintain these functions. The study’s overall findings showed that organic systems showed “greater biological activity” and the “soil aggregate stability was 10 to 60% higher in the organic plots”, with stability directly linked to the microbial and earth worm biomass levels (Mader, et al. 2002, 1695). Mycorrhizal, which are microbes that live in root structures and assist plants in nutrient consumption, were 40% more abundant in the organic plots and earthworm biomass was 1.3 to 3.2 times higher. The microbial biomass in particular was found to dramatically increase soil activity related to the production of soil biomass. The conclusion of the study is that the diversity found within an organic system is more efficient in resource utilization” (Mader, et al. 2002, 1694); Meaning, the organic system maintained soil activity that produces nutrients in the form of biomass at a much higher level than conventional, industrialized agriculture.

Goodbye Chemicals

This begins the build the foundation of the key differences between the industrial and organic systems. At this point in the industrial system the monoculture is actively decreasing the biotic diversity of the soil resulting in increased pest levels and reduced nutrients. Because of these symptoms industrial agriculture requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Although organic farming is free of chemical additives, it still requires inputs to help maintain these natural functions. During the time I worked at Beneficial Farm I discussed the practice of adding compost to the garden rows at the beginning of each growing season with Steve the farmer. Because the area is arid the soil is already deficient in terms of nutrients therefore compost-biomass is essential to produce crops. In addition to mixing compost into the rows, all the plants that were sown where planted within their own pocket of soil containing compost at a ration of 2 to 1.

This addition of compost increases the organic matter content of the soil which “not only harbors large numbers of arthropod and microbial species but, equally important, sustains the productivity of the soil by increasing its water-holding capacity, providing a source of nutrients, and improving soil tilth” (Pitmentel 1996, 179). On Beneficial Farm chickens are raised not only for eggs but also as producers of manure, which is added to the compost increasing its nitrogen content. This practice is the organic replacement for nitrogen fertilizers. Animal manure is an excellent alternative replacement for the chemical fertilizers used in the US. It is believed that the total fertile content of all manure in the US is equal to the amount applied in a chemical form (Pitmentel 1996, 180).

Organic farming thus has the capacity to reduce, if not entirely remove, the use of agricultural chemicals. Through practices such as crop diversity, crop rotation, staggered planting, composting, and fallowing organic farming balances its impacts upon its locational ecological system drastically reducing impacts which require expensive energy inputs. This is a result of the care organic systems take to balance their impacts with the natural environments ability to cope.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:00 AM
Cleaning Up the Processing and Transportation Mess

Building a local organic agricultural system will have a dramatic affect on the processing and transportation industries. As will be discussed in the economic section, local organic farming will limit its activity within the global market economy. Its focus will instead be upon producing diverse products for local consumption. Although this will not eliminate processing and transportation it will drastically reduce their implementation.

Bye-Bye Processing

The processing associated with the industrial system is largely the result of the large quantities of commodity crops produced annually. The products, including corn, soy, and grains are essentially harvested in an unusable form that must be processed to be edible. So in terms of processing it is the lack of diversity that is the catalyst. Local organic farms can dramatically reduce this need simply by producing a diversity of food products that are readily edible. For example, Beneficial Farm produces a nice diversity of food for forty family members. These foods include chard, collards, beans, corn, kale, broccoli, peas, asparagus, carrots, garlic, onions, mixed-greens, summer and winter squash, Mai King Choi, spinach, radishes, beets, strawberries, apricots, mustard, and many more. These foods are ready to eat without any processing outside of the consumers kitchen.

This situation does not mean that there would be an absolute absence of processing, local organic farming would create the potential for the creation of small-scale local processing, a subject that will be covered in the social section. Still processing on this scale would dramatically decline the impacts of the industrial processing system. Just the difference in the amount of goods that would be processed in the small-scale operation would decrease the production of waste materials. Although processing is not directly related to agricultural production, a local organic system still works to adopt processing practices that seek to minimize ecological impacts. Whether they composting organic wastes, reducing the use of non-biodegradable materials, or using alternative energy sources.

Local Food Doesn’t Travel
The amount of transportation in a local organic system would also decrease the use of fossil fuels used in transporting goods. Again the issue is not eradicating long-distance trade, but drastically reducing it. Brian Halweil presents this issue in a chart comparing the distance food has to travel in the industrial system compared to in a local system. The chart shows that a meal made from Iowa only foods travels a maximum of 74 miles, within Iowa. In comparison those items would travel between 1,080 and 2,720 km. The chart states that locally produced goods use 4 to 17 times less gas and reduce CO2 emissions 5 to 17 times (Halweil 2002, 18). Another survey, whose findings are quoted by Daniel Imhoff, states that food in the average CSA, like Beneficial Farm’s, travels on average 200 miles, which in addition to conserving energy and reducing emissions, also reduces the need for processing and packaging (Mander, et al. 1996, 429).

In addition to reducing the direct impacts of transportation, local food systems also reduce the need to further expand the transportation infrastructure that would be required with the exponential growth of the industrial system. As was mentioned the continued increase in transportation needs requires the creation of new road-ways, the creation of new airports, and ports all of which are known to have direct impact as they require the alteration of habitat. This is yet another example of how a localized organic system looks beyond agricultural production alone to balance its activities with the planets abilities to cope with physical alteration or its ability to act as a sink for pollution.

The result of such forethought would be beneficial in situations like the case of CO2 emissions, nitrogen pollution and trees. As was stated nitrogen pollution deforms leaves and stunts trees ability to photosynthesize. Around two thirds of CO2 emissions are absorbed by trees, which deposit the CO2 into the ground as they photosynthesize. So, the nitrogen pollution is currently decreasing trees ability to photosynthesize, therefore their ability to act as a CO2 sink for the massive use of fossil fuels to transport food. This situation is completely avoided in an organic system because nitrogen fertilizers are not used, and in addition CO2 emissions are drastically lower because of the local distribution.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:01 AM
Local Organics Society and Community Health

Local organic agriculture also has the potential to decrease, if not eliminate, the negative social effects of industrialized agriculture. The outlined effects of the industrialized system include the deterioration of rural community structure, the deterioration of quality of life and health, and the deterioration of democracy. Again, the organic systems ability to relieve these impacts is the result of the care with which it balances its actions with the local environment. In an organic system the idea of environment goes beyond the ecology of place to include other factors. In the book Environmentally Sound Small-Scale Agricultural Projects the author states, “Each agricultural project takes place within a complex system of social attitudes, cultural patterns, economic structures, and physical, chemical, and biological factors. This total systems is the environment in which a project occurs, and every agricultural projects, no matter its size or scope, affects and is affected by these factors—its environment” (Mohawk Trust 1979., 4).

Maintaining Healthy Community Structures

Unlike industrialized agriculture, which destroys community structure while it empowers those of the corporations, local organic farming is a strong foundation upon which healthy communities may be built. The difference between this system and the industrial is that local organic farming replaces the specialized monocultures with diverse polycultures. In the ecological section the organic system demonstrated how using diversified cropping systems promoted the health of soil systems. Local organics maintain the health of community systems in a very similar way. By producing a diversity of products local communities are able to develop local markets that are dependant upon local food production. In the World Watch article, Home Grown, the author Brian Halweil calls such a structure a “local food-shed”.

The idea of diverse production fueling the growth of “local food-sheds” is stated in simple terms by Katy Mamen of the International Society for Ecology and Culture, “crop diversity not only makes a diverse diet possible, but it also guarantees the existence of local farmers and a range of food related businesses” (Halweil 2002, 28). In the industrial system the farmer produces commodities that have no value until they are transformed by the food processing industry into the foods that are sold in the corporately owned groceries.

Historically however, this was not the case. In the past communities that were supported by local farms had a diversity of locally-owned and operated food-related businesses, these businesses included butchers and bakers as well as local groceries that sold locally produced goods. The re-creation of these businesses, which support—and are supported by local farms, is the corner stone of “local food-sheds”. An excellent example of the reemergence of these local food networks is the growth of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations around the world. The concept of today’s CSA’s was initially created in Japan and known as “Teikei” meaning “partnership or cooperation” (En, 2004). Teikei’s were founded about thirty years ago by a group of Japanese women who were angered by the potential risks posed by the use of agro-chemicals as well as at the loss of traditional small-scale farms (Boltwood 1999, 44). In 1985 Jan Vander Tuin and Robin Van En brought the idea to life in Massachusetts. Since their founding of the first CSA the number of CSA farm operations is now ell over 1000 (En, 2004). Beneficial Farm (BF) is an excellent example of a local CSA, which currently produces food for forty local families.

Another example of the reemergence of local food networks is the growth in the number of Farmers Markets around the world. This is another way in which local producers can market their diverse products directly to local consumers. During the 1960’s there were as few as only 100 farmers markets in the US, since then that number has climbed to over 2800 in 2000 (Hinrichs 2004, 34). Farmers Markets are an invaluable means by which local communities can begin to regain their control over their food production as well as recapturing the agro-economy or market in their region. As was stated in Rural Sociology “Farmer’s markets provide a relatively low-risk, supportive social context for small business development (Hinrichs 2004, 36). The growth of farmers markets really came after Congress passed the “Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976” (Brown 2001, 658). This bill essentially allowed USDA county agents to begin working with local farmers to develop direct marketing strategies and begin building local –agro-economies.

Here in Santa Fe New Mexico the Market Place Natural Grocery buys a considerable portion of produce and eggs from local producers including Beneficial Farm. All three of these are examples of the creation of local food networks that strengthen local communities by building a localized system of food production, processing, and distribution.

What each one of these examples represents is the creation of a community level agro-economy. These local markets work to create economic security for farmers as well as by creating opportunities for local citizens to participate in a localized system of production that promotes community structures. The potential inherent in these local markets can be seen in statistics which seek to explain the economic consequences of shopping at the national or international level in comparison to shopping locally. Essentially, every time you shop at a store that is not locally owned which is selling goods not locally produced or manufactured every dollar spent generates approximately $o.79 within your community. On the other hand, every time you shop at a locally owned business, which is selling locally produced and processed goods; every dollar you spend generates about $2.39 of wealth within the community. This fact works because it allows a community to produce a product, locally, which can then be processed and sold locally generating wealth for the community. In the industrial system the goods produced by farmers are no more than inputs for industries and stores far off, the produce in this system has no value until its been reformed and shipped great distances to be sold.

Local Organic Agriculture and Quality of Life

In the section that covered the social impacts of industrial agriculture the first issue that was raised was the negative impacts upon the health of farmers and citizens stemming directly from the use of agro-chemicals, be they pesticide of fertilizer. Once again organic framings ability to solve a problem presented by the industrial system is accomplished with ease, simply by seeking to adopt a balance between its actions and those of nature. As was explained in the organic-ecological section organic farming works to maintain the diversity of soil biotic communities and the nutrient availability in the soil. Because of this the need for chemical inputs is basically eliminated. This removes a major threat to the health of those living in the farm community.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:01 AM
Replacing Processed Foods

Local organic systems also alleviate the social impacts generated by processed foods by removing the source of the problem—that is replacing processed foods with fresh, locally produced foods. Just as McDonald’s believes that it is a matter of common knowledge that processed foods are dangerous, I believe it should be a matter of common knowledge that fresh foods are healthier than their processed counterparts. Through the creation of local markets selling locally produced goods local consumers have a growing variety of choices of what kind of food they eat and where it comes from.

The importance of this growing alternative market can be seen in the efforts of government agencies to encourage consumer participation as well to promote the success of the marketers—farmers. Such efforts are designed to increase the consumption of fresh foods to reduce high levels of chronic diseases associated with the modern diet. The CDC states “Higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with lower instances of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers” (CDC 2004). The Mayo Clinic agrees with this ideal and states “Eat[ing] more unprocessed, fresh foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish and unprocessed grains” can dramatically reduce the excess consumption of sodium associated with consuming processed foods. (Mayo Clinic 2004). Because of the growing acceptance that fresh is better than processed government agencies have begun to promote the consumption of fresh foods.

The first example of such initiatives is the creation of the CDC’s 5-A-Day Program. This is a project where the CDC is trying to promote the consumption of five fresh fruits and vegetables every day to maintain public health. The research section of the 5-A-Day website gives a list of the potential benefits offered by the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The summary first states that the daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables can reduce the possibility of bone loss in older men because fresh foods have high magnesium and potassium contents as well as the alkalinity of the fresh foods help balance the build up of acids in the body. Another study reveals that the consumption of 5.1 or more servings of fresh food dramatically reduces the possibility of ischemic stroke especially when cruciferous plants like broccoli, chard, and Brussels sprouts are often eaten. These plants have high contents of Flavonoids, foliate, fiber and potassium, which help prevent strokes. Another study notes that the consumption of fresh fruit also increases the life-span of men. On the other hand another study says that the consumption of fresh veggies also reduces the incidences of prostate caner among men. Yet another study reveals that the consumption of fresh foods also contributes to higher intake of antioxidants, micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber which is hypothesized to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Finally, the site notes that the daily consumption of fresh foods also lowers the risk of developing lung disease (5-A-Day 2004).

The strength of the growing conviction that fresh foods are better for health can also be seen in recently created and promoted programs run by the USDA. An excellent example of the strong belief in the health of fresh foods can be seen in two related programs known as W.I.C. and Seniors F.M.N.P., which stands for Seniors or Women, infants, and children Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This program offers services to pregnant, breastfeeding, postpartum women, infants and children who are at risk for nutritional deficiencies. “The program is available in all 50 States, 33 Indian Tribal Organizations, America Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, these 88 WIC State agencies administer the program through 2,200 local agencies and 9,000 clinic sites” (USDA 2004). The average rate of participation in 2003 was 7.3 million persons. The FMNP seeks to offer locally produced veggies, herbs, and fruits. The intention behind serving locally grown fresh produce is to improve the over all nutrition of the recipient. The regulations surrounding how food is distributed in the FMNPs and to who is generally specified by the program managers. Each individual allowance is tailor made to complement existing diets, focused on raising certain deficient nutritional elements.

Local Organics Foster Democratic Virtue in US Communities

“The transformation of commons and basic needs to commodities is ensured through shifts in governance with decisions moving from communities and countries to global institutions, and rights moving from people to corporations through increasingly centralized and unaccountable states acting on the principle of eminent domain -- the absolute sovereignty of the ruler”—Vandana Shiva (Shiva, May 12, 2002.). In this passage Dr. Shiva is expressing her feelings on, what is undoubtedly one of her greatest concerns concerning the rise of industrial agriculture, the loss of democracy attributable to the corporate consolidation of the worlds food supply. Any entity that can operate in a Weberian fashion, “liberated from tradition, custom, and group allegiance” is bound to infringe on the traditional rights of those who that entity affects. As the industrialization of agriculture according to the theories of specialization according to comparative advantage have grown, so too have the agro-corporations grown in wealth and power—while at the same time the independence and prosperity of the world’s rural populations has declined. While some believe any suffering farmers and their community members have endured as a result of industrialization are their own fault, they could have done more to adapt. However, the impacts on these communities were unavoidable because the corporations were allowed, even encouraged, to forcefully consolidate agro-economies in the name of economic development and progress.

The recreation of community level agro-economies through the adoption of a local organic system not only restores economic stability to communities, it rebuilds the foundations of independence and subsistence—the vary roots of democracy. By creating strong and vibrant community level food-sheds it is possible to wrestle the control of our food supply away from the corporations. As Wendell Berry points out that Thomas Jefferson believed “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds” (Berry 1977, 143). Jefferson’s saw farmers as independent, dedicated, honest men whose personal worth was directly related to their imamate connection to and understanding of the earth. They are “wedded to its liberty” in that they are bound to respect and preserve it because they know it is to preserves them. This reestablishes the farmer as the foundation of culture, the bridge between the natural world and the human world; A foundation upon which an entire people are dependant for the provision of sustenance and for the commitment to procure goods from the earth in balance with the earth’s integrity.

As Vandana Shiva notes “Globalization at the most fundamental level, is rewriting our relationship with the earth and her species, alienating land, water and biodiversity from local communities, transforming commons into commodities to be traded freely for profits—with total indifference to the ethical, ecological and economic impacts of this commodification of life” (Shiva, May 12, 2002). By focusing on building our communities upon the foundation of local organic agriculture society is once again directly linked to the natural world; what was once seen as mere commodities to be traded for profits becomes the wealth of ones community; to be respected and never squandered. Such a system not only protects the local natural environment, which is full of new significance and meaning, it protects local cultural identity, and economic stability.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:01 AM
Agricultural Economics—Touched by the Organic

Just as specialization is the central theme of industrial agriculture, diversity is the central theme of local organic agriculture. The approach local organic agriculture takes toward the production of food not only influences its ecological and social environment it also dramatically influences the economic structures surrounding agricultural production. As was shown the industrial system focuses on the maximization of production and profits based upon industrialized specialization. A high cost—high yield system that favors large operators over community based agriculture leading to the creation of a global agro-industrial complex. The organic system dismantles the industrial simply by replacing specialized monocultural production with diversified—diversity equals stability—polycultural production.

Addressing the Issue of Growth

This radical change in the approach to production encourages, if not demands, a new economic philosophy that is in line with its own beliefs. Specifically the belief that local organic production is an extension of the environment in which it exists and that it is therefore essential its actions are harmoniously balanced with the environments to ensure maximum efficiency and sustainability. As Herman Daly points-out free trade, and industrial agriculture as a subunit of free trade, “run afoul of the three basic goals of all economic policies: the efficient allocation of resources, the fair distribution of resources, and the maintenance of a sustainable scale of resource use” (Daly 1993, 51). While the first two principles are essential in the local organic systems approach, the third serves as the theoretical economic foundation upon which the other economic principles and devices are constructed within an organic system.

Achieving a sustainable scale of resource use can only be accomplished through the creation of a direct, yet sustainable, connection between human cultural activity and the natural world. Local organics as a wholistic agricultural approach seeks to balance its actions with its entire environment, which is again, “a complex system of social attitudes, cultural patterns, economic structures, and physical, chemical, and biological factors”. This approach would foster the adoption of an economic practice that would maintain efficiency and sustainability by rebuilding the bridge between humans and their environment, reaffirming our place within the planetary system fostering the ideals of stewardship and responsibility. As Helen Norberg-Hodge stated, “Our society at large has much to gain from the development of local land-based economies. They would carry us far toward the ecological ideal of local adaptation. They would encourage the formation of adequate local cultures (and this would be authentic multiculturalism). They would introduce into agriculture and forestry a spontaneous and natural quality control, for neither consumers nor workers would want to see the local economy destroy itself by abusing or destroying its resources. And they would complete at last the task of freedom from colonial economics begun by our ancestors more than two hundred years ago” (Mander, et al. 1996, 417). Adopting a localized organic agricultural system is an excellent catalyst for such a cultural shift, as the production of food is undoubtedly one of the most fundamental cultural pursuits and direct connections to the natural world.
Herman Daly masterfully defines a system that seeks to balance its actions with its environments as being focused on the fact that “the growth of the economic subsystem is limited by the fixed size of the host ecosystem, by its dependence on the ecosystem as a source of low-entropy inputs and as a sink for high-entropy wastes, and by the complex ecological connections that are more easily disrupted as the scale of the economic subsystem (the throughput) grows relative to the total ecosystem” (Daly 1996, 33). Daly continues by stating that “The biophysical limits to growth” are subsequently defined by “three interrelated conditions: finitude, entropy, and ecological interdependence”. In such a system economic activity must be conducted as “an open subsystem of our finite and closed ecosystem” which is dependant on the natural system for raw material goods as well as a sink for our wastes (Daly1996, 33).

Once our economic paradigm is changed and embraces the reality that “the macroeconomy is an open subsystem [of the ecological parent system], rather than an isolated system” it quickly becomes apparent that we must consider how the economy interacts with the parent system. Daly believes the obvious issue is “how big” should the economic subsystem be in its relative scale to the ecological parent system (Daly 1996, 48)? Meaning that in this alternative economic system the reality that economics are dependant on the ecosystems ability to produce and absorb the materials of production is crystal clear, and that society must actively work to balance the ecosystems maintenance abilities with the actions of their economy.

Diversified Local Trade

The first step in developing an agro-economic system that assumes an appropriate scale in relation to the scale of its host environment is to gear its production to focus on providing for local markets. Because local organic agriculture produces a diversity of staple and fringe crops to maintain a balance with its environment it also produces a niche for the creation of diverse local markets that may distribute goods more efficiently. The author Satish Kumar promotes the creation of such markets and draws a direct correlation between these and Gandhi’s vision of Swadeshi, or home-market. “Swadeshi avoids economic dependence on external market forces that could make the village community vulnerable. It also avoids unnecessary, unhealthy, wasteful and therefore environmentally destructive transportation. The village must build a strong economic base to satisfy most of its needs, and all members of the community should give priority to local goods and services” (Mander, et al. 1996, 419). So with the goal realized the first step is to begin developing local markets to stimulate economic stability.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:02 AM
Farmer’s Markets and Beyond

An article recently published in the journal Rural Sociology studied the roll of Farmer’s Markets as a foundation for the creation of a “civic agriculture” economy by providing an arena for “social learning” and “innovation” as catalysts for expanding the local agro-economy. The authors of the study cite that such “customer oriented, direct marketing approaches…may be essential innovations if small farms are to remain viable” (Hinrichs, et al, 32). They note that in such a system the producers are forced to turn their attention from the quantitative production of commodities to the qualitative production of food guided by direct producer—consumer relations (Hinrichs, et al 2004, 32). The study itself focused on farmers markets in Iowa, New York, and California. The study notes that on average full-time farmers account for 33.9 percent of participants, where part-time farmers accounted for 37.7 percent, and food business vendors for 10.8 percent (Hinrichs, et al. 2004, 38). The over all average earning at farmers markets was approximately $5,000-$9,999; however, California with its larger markets averaged between $10,000 and $19,999 annually. In comparison to this the smaller markets in Iowa and New York averaged between $2,500 and $4,999. The larger and more profitable California markets also had more claims that “social learning” and “innovation” helping them expand their markets and increase their profitability.

The study also noted that “farmer’s market increases vendor’s sales in other outlets, another measure of innovation…we argue that more use of innovative marketing practices at a farmer’s market enhances the likely hood that a vendor will expand beyond the farmer’s market” (Hinrichs, et al. 2004, 40). They state that although this is a modest trend, it exists and therefore is a positive sign that farmer’s markets can serve as a catalyst for local agro-economic growth. As the authors of the study note “just as ‘new economy’ firms may develop, bring to market, and even patent their high technology products, some farmer’s market enterprises may produce and sell specialty crops or unusual value-added products. However, innovation in this study equally emphasizes new approaches to exchange and distribution. Direct marketing by small food and agricultural enterprises represents a marked departure in practice and spirit from conventional commodity marketing by structuring closer relations between producer and end consumer” (Hinrichs, et al. 2004, 41). A relationship that fosters the creation of the “land-based economy” mentioned before, which founds a cultural system of sustainable interaction with the earth’s natural systems.

There are other local market systems that are employed today that represent a similar departure from the standard markets of the agro-industrial-complex. Community Supported Agriculture, or Teikei, organizations are an excellent example of these other alternatives. A CSA is a farm or group of farm cooperatives sell a number of equal shares of their farm produce to members of the community. These members each get an equal share of the harvest and other farm products, which is generally distributed once a week. An article printed in 2000 in the journal Human Organization by Cynthia Cone and Andrea Myhre documents the author’s study of eight CSAs exploring the validity of CSAs as a potential sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture.

The benefits that result from CSA operations are two-fold, including both benefits for both community members and farmers. For farmers the financial support they receive at the begging of the year in payments from the members allows them to run their operations without having to depend on bank and government loans. Cone and Myhre’s study of CSA’s noted that during one year 5 of the farms between 110 and 140 members, with each member paying, on average, $387.50 such farm’s are receiving between $42,625 and $54,250 (Cone and Myhre, 2000, 192). Beneficial Farm outside Santa Fe, New Mexico only has 40 members; however, just the annual income from membership dues pays for the year’s garden operations. This, at the very least, sustains perennial farm activities. This not only creates a sense of security on the farm it also increases their earnings because they are no longer loosing money on interest payments for their loans. It also works a buffer through bad years, where the farer and his community share the risks associated with growing food. By buying into a CSA each member is taking a willing risk to support the farm through bad years. So if a farmer’s harvests fail due to external factors he still has not lost the farm.

However bad years are not the norm in farming and as a general rule CSA membership saves the members money on food. The Cone and Myhre’s study cited another studies claim that “the retail prices of comparable produce distributed by three farms found that the value of CSA shares exceeded that of both organic and conventional produce, as priced in a national supermarket chain (Cooley and Lass 1998)” (Cone and Myhre, 2000, 187), a claim which Cone and Myhre believe is proven in their study.

Beneficial Farm where I worked as an intern operates as a CSA. It currently has about 40 members whose contributions each year pay for the entire garden operation. Like most farmers who run CSAs are only part-time farmers. Some only work in the winter, others like Steve and Barbara work part-time most of the year. Although membership pays to run the farm it does not pay to maintain the family. The farm also has other ways of making extra income made possible by the diversity of farm production. Some of this extra capital comes from the sale of chickens, eggs, and extra-produce to local markets. This is another increasingly growing local market system where local businesses such as groceries and restaurants are buying up produce and other farm products strengthening local farms and economics. In his article The Argument for Local Food, Brian Halweil tells the story of “The Farmer’s Diner” in Barre Vermont, and the vision of its proprietor Todd Murphy. Todd began the restaurant to create a market for local farmers and consumers. In 2003 the Farmer’s Diner was supplied by 35 local farmers with plans to add another 20. The idea was to go beyond the diner and incorporate processing into the system to further diversify the local agro-economy (Halweil 2003, 24-25).

Regardless of the methods employed, developing local markets to distribute local products is a major step towards balancing us humans with our environment. Just as it goes in life, there is no direct path towards the future; it is simply by beginning where you are at with the means you have that possess that we may begin to move forward. The adoption of any farm of local marketing to promote the growth of local food independence and wealth that the change will be made.

The Dispossession of the Industrial in Agriculture

Regardless of how the change is made, the adoption of a localized organic system systematically destroys the corporate agro-industrial-complex. Because the organic system replaces the specialization of the industrial with the stability of diversity many of the factors of the industrials economy become redundant, and those that do not, are useless because they do not adhere to the ideology of the organic system.

Industrial Inputs

In the industrial system the most fundamental additional economic factors are the dependence on high-cost inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides which are all necessary in the industrial system because of the factors of monocultural production. Breaking away from this specialized system alleviates dependency on these high-cost inputs that dramatically increase the over-head cost of operating a farm. For example farmers in 2000 spent $8.7 billion on seeds alone. Because organic farms use traditional varieties of food plants that produce useable seed, local organic production could have saved farmers the $8.7 billion in 2000. This is a form of insurance for future operations and save large amounts of money. It also is a factor in lowering the cost of food and helps to build economic wealth.

The organic system also relieves farmer’s dependence on chemical inputs in that its diversified method of production preserves the quality of the soil, naturally limiting pests and maintaining soil nutrient availability. In 2002 organic production could have saved farmers an additional $7.6 billion dollars. Cumulatively the reduction in seed and chemical-input costs alone would free farmers from depending on loans and interest, on massive scale, allowing them to focus more on the quality of production over the quantity of production.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:02 AM
Replacing Mechanization

Mechanization is another aspect of the industrial systems economic structure that, although it is abstract, still has subsequent economic impacts. Undoubtedly the greatest impact can be seen in how machines have replaced human and animal labor, not only increasing costs, but eliminating the largest potential employment opportunity in the country. As was mentioned in the industrial-economic section, the decreased need for human labor can be directly seen in the rise of technological innovation where “the productivity gains from many improvements [that] have advanced grain harvesting from 10Kg/ per man-hour to as high as 60,000Kg/ per man-hour today” (Schueller 2000, 4). Such a massive increase in productivity has reduced what use to account for employment for 60 percent of the population now accounts for around 2 percent. The argument that mechanization is necessary to fairly and efficiently produce and distribute food to an ever growing population is proven false when one incorporates the external costs that the industrial system has not incorporated into it accounts of efficiency and profits.

Once local organic markets begin to solidify there will be increased incentives for farmers to adopt small-scale, localized agro-systems; as more and more farms begin to appear communities will find growing employment opportunities in the local agro-market, a benefit to local employment and wealth generated by the organic system. As Colin Tudge recently wrote in the New Statesman that first, “the root cause of Africa’s misery is extraordinarily simple: the almost absolute failure of people in high places (government, industry, academe, science) to understand agriculture; what it is, what it is for, how it needs to be done, and what it can do” (Tudge 2004, 25). Tudge continues saying that this lack of understanding has not only caused ecological and social damage, it has also overlooked potential benefits. This is the core of his article, and his point is clearly stated, “There will never be any other industry that can employ as many people as farming. Certainly, no other industry could employ people usefully, because agriculture at bottom is a craft (or was until very recently) and crafts benefit from more skilled hands on deck” (Tudge, 2004, 27). Tudge illustrates a key issue, that farming is beyond being merely a business, it is a craft, and the most basic and necessary craft possessed by humankind. The world of agriculture is not a culture unto itself but the foundation of all culture, save for those who still remain of the “original affluent society”. Farming is a cultural system that can provide more than food; it has the potential to define the lives of the majority of those living today, as farmers or farm related workers.

Reshaping Food Processing

The processing of food in the industrial system was shown to be one of the largest aspects of the agro-industrial-complex, where in the year 2000 85 percent of all US crops planted were only four major staple crops. This stunning lack of diversity is the major catalyst for the processing industry, indeed as Richard Manning stated, “It is worth remembering that the corporate [processors] were simply occupying a niche, taking advantage of cheap surplus commodities to turn a profit. (Manning, 2004, 170). The organic system breaks down this system, once again, by simply shifting its production focus from quality to quantity; specifically, by replacing monocultures with polycultures. Of course a local production system still requires processing to help with the storage of food through the non-growing seasons. However, a local system would seek to remove corporate control of the processing business to minimize transport costs as well as part of building stronger local food economies.

Another critical step in the creation of strong local food economies is for local business to rise to the task of processing local foods. Brian Halweil’s article “The Argument for Local Food” talks about the efforts of Todd Murphy, not only to create a local restaurant dependant only on local food, but to extend his operation beyond that to include the processing of food to raise farmer’s profitability as well as to strengthen the local food economy. Halweil also addresses this in his article “Home Grown” where he cites examples of such local processing in “cereal milling in Peru, snack food production in Bangladesh, and fruit and vegetable drying in Sudan” (Halweil 2002, 42). He then continues talking about how the adoption of these practices here at home can fulfill food processing needs, “relatively simple drying, canning, pickling, and other processing techniques allow farmers to ‘put up’ food for a later date—a form of insurance against crop loss or the seasonal dip in food availability between harvests, and a potential solution to large quantities of food currently wasted around the world due to poor transportation and storage” (Halweil 2002, 43). Such a system seems odd in today’s modern world, but not too long ago such activity was the norm. I personally can still remember my grandparents spending weeks at the end of each summer canning and pickling and packing their cellar full of food that they ate during the winter. These are cultural traditions that have been lost in the modern world; traditions that maintained our food security as well as created a fuller sense of cultural life.

Again, Local Food Doesn’t Travel

Another major component of the industrial-agro-economics is the oil and transportation industries. This Component has been shown to have serious impacts which are solved by the adoption of a local organic system. The massive transportation associated with the industrial system undoubtedly uses the most oil of any industrial component. As was stated, food in the industrial system travels between 1300 and 2400 miles from farm to plate; a system that uses approximately 8.6 exajoules of energy, on shipping alone, every year. The local organic system does not seek to end all long-distance trade, but it does seek to eliminate any and all unnecessary long-distance trade. As Helena Norberg-Hodge notes, “the most urgent issue today, however, isn’t whether people have oranges in cold weather climates but whether their eggs, or milk should travel thousands of miles when they could all be produced within a 50 mile radius” (Mander, et al. 1996, 394). A very salient point, that highlights how the adoption of local organics is not a retreat from the global community, it is merely the adoption of cultural machinations that promote community level sufficiency and independence. As Norberg-Hodge continues, “The goal of localization would not be to eliminate all trade but to reduce unnecessary transport while encouraging changes that would strengthen and diversify economies at both the community and national levels” (Mander, et al. 1996, 394). The author Brian Halweil points this out in his journal article Home Grown; where he notes in an all Iowa produced meal each item travels approximately 74km in comparison to between 1,080km and 2,720km. He shows the same figure for England where all food could travel only 48km in comparison to 2,447kn to 21,462km (Halweil, 2002, 18-19). This is essentially the type of economy Gandhi envisioned in his idea of Swadeshi, where local communities are self sufficient and independent because they take care of their own needs at home rather than outsourcing.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

posted on Jul, 30 2009 @ 12:03 AM
How can the Government Help?

As was shown the government currently engages in dumping billions of dollars into industrial agriculture in the form of subsidies. If the government decided to embrace the virtues inherent to the local organic system and began to reduce the amount of money spent on subsidizing industrial production methods many small scale, locally based form operations could benefit from the government's interest in maintaining an efficient food production system. Beyond merely maintaining the production system, government funding for locally based food programs could also have serious benefits book ecologically and socially. Indeed the greatest obstacle to building strong, independent locally based organic food production systems is the expense of operations.


The end result of my practical and scholastic study of agricultural production, which focused on the problems of our current industrial model and the solutions and benefits inherent to a local organic system, is an affirmation of my belief that local organic farming is indeed a much needed sustainable alternative to its industrial counterpart. This study clearly defined the negative impacts of industrialized agriculture upon the three confounding factors of agricultural production—society, ecology, and economics; as well as, thoroughly outlined the benefits of a local organic system upon the same three confounding factors. The industrial system is founded upon the economic principle of specialization according to comparative advantage. This specialized system manufactures and perpetuates a system which methodically degrades rural communities and simultaneously fuels the corporate consolidation of agriculture. This system is perpetuated with the unfailing support of leaders in government and academia. Issues, such as rural impoverishment, as well as ecological and social degradation are seen as no more than the price that must be paid in a utilitarian effort to feed the world’s “burgeoning” population. They also hold to the belief that the wealth generated by an industrial economy will fuel the ingenuity needed to want to the damage we have done.

Despite these proponents belief in the abilities of wealth and ingenuity to solve the most pressing issues of our time, industrialized agriculture has inadvertently begun to define the limits to which we may be able to invent solutions for, or pay to rebuild, that which our actions have destroyed. Because of the far-reaching implications of the impacts of the industrial system, as well as the simultaneous transmutation of our culture, many of the symptoms produced by this system are incredibly difficult to alleviate individually. As was shown in the industrial section all of its negative impacts stem directly from the adoption of specialized production. This first, begins with specialization intended to produce enormous national wealth; then second, in how specializing to produce wealth drastically narrows the crop base; followed by third, with the rise of mechanization as an efficient replacement for human labor; and fourth, how the specialized--monocultural crops are incompatible with natural ecological systems, drastically altering their biological makeup; and then fifth, in how this biological alteration increases agricultural dependency on energy inputs in the form of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, water for irrigation, and fossil fuels for power. This creates a high yield high cost system in which only large agro-corporations can afford to produce; a reality that has led to the creation of an agro-industrial-complex and the ruin of our rural communities.

The creation of the agro-industrial-complex itself has led to many other negative impacts, beyond the economic, which stem indirectly from industrialized agriculture. The most pressing social impacts are undoubtedly the dislocation of farmers who used to comprise approximately 60% of our population and the destruction of rural communities. As the farmers are displaced the foundation of rural communities disappears. At the heart of these disappearing rural communities was the independence and sustainability offered by traditional, diversified agricultural production. Beyond merely losing a bastion of democratic virtue and ecological sustainability, humanity has lost a direct connection to the most vital element of life itself—food.

Food forms the base of proper health and nutrition. When the industrial agricultural system was adopted our traditional foods were replaced by the processed foods that are made from the world's specialized, commodity crops. Because processed foods now account for approximately 95% of all the food sold in grocery stores today most modern citizens consume less and less fresh foods. This is also a result of the corporate consolidation of the agricultural market. Because of the enormous yields produced under a specialized régime the creation of food processing and transportation industrial middleman became necessary for a producing and distributing edible foods. The social impacts of this trend are clear and can first be seen in the veracious spread of obesity in our country. Beyond this scientists have even begun to identify what they call “environmentally mediated intellectual declined”; where they are able to track the decline in the intelligence of the human race as a result of poor nutrition. The entire scope of issues surrounding industrialized production is un-imaginable. What is completely clear is that it is an entirely unsustainable mode of production; which can be seen in the enormous impacts it has had in only the last 50 years.

Local organic agriculture is presented in this study as a highly adaptive and sustainable alternative to the industrialized system. In comparison to the industrial system, local organic farming focuses upon achieving a harmonious balance between itself and the natural world rather than upon production and profits and in this becomes ecologically focused over economically focused. This ecological focused leads to diversified, polycultural production and because the industrial system focus is mainly upon the specialization of production adopting a system of diversified production systematically dismantles the agro-industrial-complex.

Again, polycultural production is an attempt on the part of local organic farming to balance its actions with its host natural systems. The most fundamental result of this is the maintenance of soil quality including the preservation of the natural biotic communities. This simple task is the first stop in dismantling the agro-industrial-complex. Simply by maintaining the quality of soil and its biotic communities through the use of diversified production reduces, if not eliminates, farmers dependence upon fertilizers and pesticides. This reduction in the use of these chemicals is the first major step towards balancing agriculture with nature. Beyond directly maintaining ecological conditions on the farm local organic agriculture also acts directly to solve the other ecological problems presented by the industrial system. It is an opportunity to reduce or replace the presently required amounts of processing and transportation which also lead to environmental degradation.

In addition to addressing the ecological consequences of industrialized production local organic agriculture can also serve to eliminate the impacts industrial agriculture has on society. The most pressing impact the industrial system has on society is the displacement of rural farmers and the deterioration of rural community's. A local organic system is intended to re-place farmers upon the land to rebuild the foundation of rural communities. As more and more localized, organic farms appear rural communities will be able to begin building strong and sustainable local communities. The production of a diversity of crops serves not only to feed community members but also creates an opportunity to start reinventing local culture.

Because the products that these organic farms would be producing for exchange are largely fresh foods this is also a major step towards curbing many of the health issues surrounding the over-consumption of processed foods. As was shown in this study, even government agencies such as CDC and the USDA currently have health programs actively working towards educating and encouraging citizens to consume more fresh foods in another attempt to address the symptoms of our industrial agriculture dis-ease.

Finally, local organic agriculture also has the potential to fuel the growth of sustainable community level economies. In conjunction with the creation of independent sustainable local communities local organic farming can also build local market economies. As localized organic farming spreads, with each farm producing a diversity of products for distribution, suddenly communities are presented with the possibility of protein local markets based upon the distribution of these locally produced foods. House was shown in this study such localized food systems have been developing and the fringes of society and can be seen in institutions such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs. Organizations were small-scale farmers produced for local community members who either pay up front for a share of the harvest or for local consumers who shop at local farms stands.

[edit on 30-7-2009 by Animal]

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