Sad Conversation

So, I tool around on the internet when I suffer from my insomnia and last night was a big winner in the insomnia department.  I adore Reddit sadly and find it a great way to kill time when I can’t sleep.  Last night this link came up:  Congress Delays Farm Bill as Drought Spreads

I am very fond of politics and sad at the state our nation is in related to politics at the same time.  I know I am terribly, terribly liberal and I feel that the Democratic party is too moderate for my tastes.  I don’t feel like there are real choices in our political system and it’s a choice of voting for who is pandering most effectively.  That is not what this post is about though.  I feel that I need to give fair warning where I stand politically though because these issues have somehow been wrapped up in Republican vs. Democrat debates and good solid science is just left to the winds.  Each person enters into this debate with different emotional afflictions though and I can’t say that I am not.

I’m frustrated at the farm bills.  I’m frustrated because with my limited understanding of them, it seems that they support all the wrong kinds of farming.  We subsidize foods that are not the most nutritious, but are fillers.   There are other problems, but I don’t want to belabor my point.  I have a degree in plant and soil science from SIU-C.  My focus was horticulture and landscape design, I don’t want to misrepresent myself.  Part of my program however was to take courses that covered the scope of American farming.  Crop sciences, Agricultural economics, etc.  I did an externship at a seed supplier who distributed seed to rural farmers in Illinois.  My father worked for my grandfather on the family farm when I was little.  I worshipped the two of them and even at such a young age would love to sit and listen to the men talk about how they were running the farm.  My grandfather always brought people home for meals and distributed Badger equipment and Purina feeds.  I remember sitting at the back of the family room during some kind of meeting about pork production and raising hogs on concrete pads.  I loved the farm and that love of working with food stayed with me.  My brother owns that farm and that family room now and I am constantly amazed at his stamina in working full time, having four kids, and producing some of the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted.

The above article lead me to respond in a sarcastic manner about our congress and the influence that big farming has over our nations farmers.  I remember watching commercials during the evening news from my grandmothers bed on all sorts of herbicides and other chemicals playing over and over and over again.  I never questioned the necessity of them.  The indoctrination started as far back as I can remember.  I went through my externship never questioning the seed production in our country.  I watched signs go up on test plots in the country and thought those test plots represented real progress in my lifetime.  Then I went to work.  I got my chemical applicators license and sincerely believed that Round Up was so harmless that you could probably drink it.  One of my coworkers accidentally drenched his clothing in it and kept working, by the end of the day he was silly and hallucinating and we all thought it was a funny incident and terribly harmless.  I hate to think of the long term effects of that.  I dutifully went out and sprayed peoples landscaping beds and trees with who knows what.  No mask.  Long sleeves, long pants, but breathing it all in as I sprayed above me.  I thought the chemicals were a god send.  It saved so much on labor.   I could make so many people have pristine yards.  I watched my now husband spray all sorts of crazy chemicals on things.  He is still breathing in who knows what to this day.  He is now an IronWorker and builds things like oil refineries.  Soon, he will be leaving to Canada to work on the pipeline coming through Alberta.  We all get up and go to work and do what we need to do to get by, but sometimes I think it deadens us to what is going on around us.  Should my husband go build a pipeline and support big oil?  Ethically, probably not, but that is a hard decision to make when you have bills to pay and children to feed.

It’s difficult to gain perspective and see what is actually happening around you and try new things.  You want your time to be most effective at meeting your needs and it is easy to walk willingly into bad ideas that are seemingly cost effective at the time.  Take Round Up ready corn for example.  This is the product that started to open my eyes.  One thing I learned in college was that nature constantly changes and adapts.  I’ve used Round Up, I’ve watched certain weeds in certain yards get harder and harder to kill after multiple applications.  I could see that weed seeds that resisted the Round Up survived my applications and inevitably, nature would find a work around if I kept it up.  Then Round Up Ready Corn hit the market and it was a wake up call to me.  I couldn’t understand how that could work.  Nature would adapt.  It seemed entirely obvious.  That was a while back, now we see this from two years agoFarmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds.  Have we done anything with this knowledge?  Why, yes:  Losing the War on Weeds.  We are often choosing to go back to tilling, more chemicals, and other practices that roundup ready was supposed to save us from.  I don’t see how things have really changed, we just keep reinventing a type of farming that isn’t proving to be viable.

Anyway, that brings  us to this:

My sarcastic comment was responded to by and earnest and hard working farmer.  I don’t want to belittle him.  He is doing what he feels is right and trying to do best by his land and his family.  The problem that I see here and was commenting about in my first comment is that sometimes, salespeople and culture get into our heads and undermine what we think we know.  This man would not intentionally harm his land, he wouldn’t hurt his profits, and he wouldn’t try to harm anyone around him.  The frustration for me comes in that we are not speaking the same language.

Part of landscaping and really the majority of my career has been sales.  I’ve been to so much sales training it’s not even funny.  There are so many seminars out there to teach you how to use vocabulary and perks to sell anything.  Part of the main goal of most is to emphasize what the product will do for you.  Save time, save money, increase comfort.  This process of sales develops a vocabulary with your customers.  Your customers learn this vocabulary and use it with each other.  They then become in the know and it increases the difficulty of discussions with folks outside your normal parameters.

This man believes he is farming sustainably.  My sustainably and his sustainably are not the same.  His definition:  “producing profit on a consistent basis and not degrading the land.”  “includes GMO crops, chemical herbicides and pesticides.”

My definition:  Utilizing nature’s own mechanisms for control of pests and invasive weeds without the use of fossil fuels or other limited quantity substances.

Here is Wikipedia’s take on Sustainable Agriculture.  I really like what it says there.  I suspect the other guy wouldn’t disagree too much with it either.  We have commonalities in our goals.  I want to make money at farming.  I want to improve my soils and provide for my children.  I’m choosing a vastly different path.

Our beliefs about this definition don’t come from our politics necessarily, but the same mechanism has created a gulf in our vocabulary that makes it difficult for our minds to meet.  How do we bridge this gap as a nation or as just humans and work past it to make a better world with better soil?  We all want to feed people, we all want to provide.  We are the nurturers and the farmers and the keepers of this earth.  How do we bridge the divide in our current culture?  I find this a monumental and sad question that I have no answers for.

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3 responses to “Sad Conversation

  1. I am so angry about the farm bill I don’t even know where to begin. Even the concept of a farm bill is wrong. I’ll try to leave my emotions out of my comments…no promises though.

    We have government subsidies making oil cheaper. That makes it cheaper for farmers to drive tractors all over creation ripping up soil, planting crops, spraying, fertilizing, harvesting, storing, drying and hauling. We have additional government subsidies that help keep the price of crops artificially low. Federal tax law strongly encourages farmers not to save their money. Instead, it encourages them to plow that money back into new equipment (trucks, tractors, 4-wheelers) each year and taxes them if they take a profit to save for a rainy day…or in this case, a dry, hot season. Now we have a government plan to give the farmers even more money because government agencies, regulations and subsidies told farmers to put all their eggs in one basket and it went bad for them. So much for government solutions.

    What if we did something else? What if we, as a nation, acknowledged that we can’t afford cheap oil? That our bodies can’t afford cheap food? That the government can’t GIVE anybody anything because it doesn’t produce anything? That the money going to farmers has to come from consumers? That it’s all a shell game to win votes and hide the true cost of food! What does industrial food cost? Industrial food costs us our freedom, our health, our money and, if we don’t begin to act soon, our planet.

    What if the current crop of farmers all went broke at once? What would happen to land prices? What would happen when 10,000 acre farms were suddenly homesteaded by 200 families struggling to learn on 50 acres…raising diversified crops (orchards, pigs, chickens, cows, timber…not just corn!) and all blogging about their successes and failures, sharing experiences, learning together? What would happen?

    I want to find out. Unfortunately we won’t.

    I know the arguments in favor of farm bills. Farmers feed the world. They have farmed the land for generations. We owe our farmers…they sacrifice so much…

    I am a farmer. I believe I am the 8th generation farming my land. I have sacrificed more than you will ever know. You don’t owe me anything. I have no right to be here other than my ability to utilize the land well and pay my taxes. I am not trying to feed the world (my ego is not that large). I am only a steward. I have not cashed in my morality in favor of immediate productivity gains. I have strengthened my moral standing and continue to enhance the future of my land. I am not here to rape the ecology. This land will be better because it supported me. I will not ask the government to give me your money. This society will be better because it voluntarily purchased my products.

    How do we make the world a better place? We lead by example. Here’s an open invitation to the whole internet: Come see my example as it changes over the next 50 years…or however long I retain the right to steward it. Who knows. The Washington party may put me in Guantanamo Bay next year for my views on domestic food production policies. If so, please find another local farmer to support.

  2. Oh, and thanks for the kind words. I think you exaggerated things but we’re moving in the right direction here. We have a long way to go and much to learn.

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