Me, after way too much time spent gathering sources:
Sure! I won’t just send you organic farming stuff though, because I don’t think the current large-scale industrial organic farms are getting it right either. They’re really just chemical-free copycats of the unsustainable agriculture system we know and love, and they won’t hold up any better in the long-term. I’d love to see an even more sustainably-minded system, and (through my research for this email; thanks lol) I have learned that what I’m thinking is pretty close to permaculture, or maybe “beyond organic.” The idea is to design a biodiverse web of plants and animals that work together to produce lots of food with less (human) work and (approaching) zero external energy inputs. And I also think that personal gardens are much more important for the future of food production than most people give them credit for (think Victory Gardens during WW2, which were producing 40% of America’s fresh veggies by 1944!), Any degree of independence from the industrial food system can only be a good thing for one’s budget and health. So don’t focus totally on “farms” when you’re thinking about sustainable agriculture!
But first off, organic farming. In a 30 year side-by-side study of organic vs. conventional farming (corn & soybeans) in Canada, organic outperformed by leaps and bounds. Organic matched conventional yields (and exceeded them in years of drought) while using 45% less energy. So it can be done. I’ve attached the full text of the study.
I came across this blog post last week and thought about our conversation. Not an academic article by any means, but pretty much what I was saying in my earlier email. At the end of the post is a list with a lot of examples of very successful organic / beyond organic / permaculture ventures. The first link, about “greening the desert” in Jordan, has a broken embedded video on it, but I found the organization’s website and it’s got lots of info… interesting concept that could help a lot of people in arid climates. And of course the list includes Polyface Farm, (that link is to a different article, interview with the farmer) made famous by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (read that, if you haven’t, that’s what got me started on all this hippie-dippie-real-food business in the first place). Definitely worth a watch is the BBC documentary… the old lady in the second part of the video is adorable! And it’s a good primer about agriculture’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel, and about concepts like soil health and permaculture. One dude with a permaculture “forest garden” claims a similar setup designed for maximum yield could feed twice the people per acre as current conventional farms.
Nice piece about the importance, and endangerment, of dirt… He loses me at the composting toilet, though
Nutrient decline in modern crops; doesn’t really mention it, but this is a great argument for growing your own veggies from heirloom seeds.
Another problem with heavy pesticide use: pesticide-resistant superweeds. Yay!
“The American Farmland Trust estimates that farmland is disappearing at a rate of 2 acres per minute.” This means that we must produce food more efficiently, and we must encourage more biodiversity, to reduce the risk of a large percentage of our food supply being wiped out at once. We also must become less dependent on cereal grains, which require large open spaces, in favor of more space-efficient crops like climbing varieties, tree nuts, and even well-managed livestock (which should also become less dependent on cereal grains, for many reasons), which can use different levels of the same space. Grow upwards, not just outwards!
We can do meat better, too… “A cow that weighs 1150 pounds live will produce a dressed carcass weighing just 715 pounds. From that 715 pounds, 146 will be discarded as “fat, bone, and loss.”“ Much of that 146 pounds is far from inedible; organ meats are far healthier even than muscle meat, fat can be rendered and used for cooking, and bones can be used to make bone broth. We need to relearn how to enjoy eating “nose to tail.” (I’ll admit, I’m still working on that one. I started making bone broth – delicious and easy, by the way – and then stalled out when I discovered that I don’t like liver.) My source for that link is this MDA article that’s talking about the global feasibility of his Primal diet in particular. Good points, with a focus on livestock rather than plant foods.
Yeesh, I can go forever on this stuff. I should start a blog or something, I apparently need an outlet.
Okay, in response to your resources… As for the first and second ones, it doesn’t seem to me like an argument against organic agriculture in general, just an argument for continuing to introduce industrial agriculture to developing countries. My concerns are concentrated at home, and I’m far from an expert on third-world agricultural situations. So I’ll just say that this guy is probably right, when it comes to feeding developing nations. No one system will work for every environment, and there are many places that need high yields NOW, faster than the time it would take to develop an organic solution that’s both sustainable AND high yielding in that specific part of the world. Organic agriculture is far from perfected, so anyone who thinks that we should try to export our current organic system to starving countries is simply myopic. But that doesn’t mean that we should abandon the concept of organic here, where we are far from starving (on the contrary, Americans waste 40% of our food). Develop organic / perma / sustainable agriculture in the first world, then bring it to the rest of the world. But anyways, I’ll also say that I remain suspicious about the long-term cost of this technology for the farmers, both financial and environmental. And I remain confident that there is a “green” solution for these places, it just might take a lot of smart people to figure it out and teach them how to implement it. But we’re not funding that, and lives take priority over “sustainability” and “greenness.” And his calculations about mass devastation occurring if everyone converted to organic rely on livestock being fed cereals from off-site, which is absolutely a bad and unnecessary idea. Also, I love to hear about conventional farming’s strides toward sustainability, but I just don’t think it will ever be enough without a significant mindset shift. But yeah, I definitely support farming aid over food aid any day. Teach a man to fish, etc.
As for the third one, I am aware that an industrial organic apple will have the same nutritional value as an industrial conventional apple. They’re both bred for traveling well rather than nutrition or taste – in fact, they’re probably the exact same variety of apple – and they’re both probably about a year old by the time you buy them from a supermarket (I would have a source for that, but I can’t find it. I’m not just making that up though. Yuck, right?). And I’m not even all that concerned about pesticide residue in non-organic produce because yeah, it’s minuscule and probably not all that harmful compared to the toxic load we encounter throughout our day – car exhaust, personal care products, coworker with the flu, etc. (although I might still err on the side of caution if I were pregnant or in poor health, or for feeding little kids). If I buy organic, it’s because I feel like I’m voting with my dollar for a system that’s ever so slightly better than the one we have now. I should really vote with my dollar for farmer’s markets and humane meat directly from the rancher and such, but I’m lazier with my actions than I am with my words. The rest the third article highlights the fact that the current large-scale organic model (which is really just a slight tweak to the current conventional model) is flawed. I absolutely agree! As I’ve said, we’re not getting it right with organic right now, either; we need a massive, radical shift in how we approach food production if we’re going to get to where we need to be. But I think organic made its slight tweak in the correct direction so I’m more willing to give them my money.
BONUS: Yeah, I tend to suspect that global warming is not the terrible problem that some people think that it is. This is one of my non-hippie views (I do have both, promise lol). If you look at planetary climate trends, they’re up and down all the time. I’m sure we probably are contributing to the current rise, but I doubt we even have the capability to affect any catastrophic damage. I’m not concerned. I don’t think we need to make reducing emissions or finding alternative energies a priority because of global warming, but hey, if we figure out some truly efficient alternative energy because of all this panic, that would be great. All the “green” energies that we’ve got now are pretty crappy though. Like ethanol, it’s idiotic; we need don’t need to pay subsidies to farms that grow more corn, and if we must grow more corn, we might as well eat it instead of wasting a bunch of fossil fuel to make it into “green” fuel
Me again, about an hour later:
Ooo, this is a good one about meat, too
Brosepph, having either decided that he agrees with me, or that it’s too much trouble to keep talking about this:
Yep, using 5% of the corn crop for corn ethanol just means we’re starving folk in third world countries b/c we’re a net exporter of corn (which is also why you can’t argue that America should accept reductions in crop yields for organic produce, b/c we feed the world).
Glad to hear you’re on the skeptic side of the AGW debate–earns you a pass in my book for your lefty views on ag policy. The more I’ve learned about the issue, the more I think the warmists are full of it. Not a good sign for society when you come to the conclusion that practically the entire scientific community is doing nothing but confirming their biases and engaging in groupthink…
So I never really got much of a satisfying response to my rant. But I had a lot of fun formulating it!
What do y’all think about permaculture, sustainability, and beyond organic? Is it the future, or is it a pipe dream?