Follow posts tagged #generation food in seconds.Sign up
How Big Pork Screws Small Towns
I’ve argued often that the food system functions like an economic sieve, draining away wealth. Imagine, say, a suburb served by a handful of fast-food chains plus a supermarket or Walmart or two. Profits from residents’ food dollars go to distant shareholders; what’s left behind are essentially low-skill, low-wage clerical jobs and mountains of generally low-quality, health-ruining food.
But the food system’s secret scandal is that it’s economically extractive in farming communities areas, too—and especially in the places where industrial agriculture is most established and intensive. I first learned about this surprising fact from the Minnesota-based community economics expert Ken Meter, specifially this 2001 study on a farm-heavy region of Minnesota. And now Food and Water Watch, working with the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, has come out with an excellent new report documenting the food industry’s effect on several ag-intense regions, with the main spotlight on the hog-centric counties of Iowa, the nation’s leading hog-producing state.
FILM: Generation Food
Can Farms Bounce Back from Superstorms Like Sandy?
What does the rise of a hyper-volatile climate mean for farms—and our food supply? As it developed over the past century, industrial agriculture promised to dampen the inherent risks of farming. For soil fertility, farmers no longer had to rely on the process of recycling nutrients—they could merely buy fertility in a bag or a barrel, in the form of nitrogen synthesized with fossil fuels and mined potassium and phosphorous. Got an insect infestation or a plague of weeds? Turn to toxic chemicals. These innovations, leveraged by the rise of genetically modified crops in the 1990s, dramatically simplified farming and made it more efficient: farms got bigger and bigger, requiring less and less labor. Diversification gave way to specialization; biodiversity, on which farms had relied on for millennia, gave way to monocrops.
But there’s nothing you can buy in a bag that can protect a crop from flood or withering drought. During the great floods of June 2008, Midwestern farm fields were losing nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of 4 percent per day. And during this summer’s drought, neither all the fertilizer in the world, nor GMO crops, could save the Midwest’s vast corn fields from severe losses.
As the great Iowa State University agricultural thinker Fred Kirschenmann observed earlier this year, we have for decades been designing agriculture for “maximum, efficient production for short-term economic return,” based on the assumption of relatively stable weather and cheap fossil resources. But now weather has turned chaotic and energy prices have become volatile. Kirschenmann made the obvious point that we need to develop a farming system that’s “more resilient and productive in unstable conditions.”
FILM: Generation Food