Getting back to "real farming"
By Scott Brix, via Don's Early Light, Donald J. Brix, Ph.D.
Last July we visited our son Scott and his wife Kim. They live on five acres in northern Illinois.
After moving there many years ago, they learned about tall grass prairies. Soon after, the preponderance of their five acres became a riotous olio of tall grasses and wildflowers, dozens of species of them, corniced on two sides by timber.
In a converted barn, Kim teaches a growing stream of students the art of fusion glass. Scott, seeking every opportunity to escape the tether of his day job, picks a banjo, hangs out at Bluegrass camps, and hosts a Bluegrass music show each week on community radio.
A couple of weeks or so ago I, and I’d guess lots of other people he knows, received this email. Here’s what he had to say:
Today the corn in the 80-acre field across from my house was harvested. This activity in this particular field is reminiscent of activity seen in fields these days from sea to shining sea. It is also similar to a ritual I observe every May when similar huge petro intensive machines show up to plant some GMO corn or soybean seeds.
I notice them again a month or two after that when they return to apply some petro intensive herbicide to the young crop that so far always emerges and is knee high for sure by the 4th of July. Other than these three short events each year that last no longer than three hours each, I have only seen big machines descend on this field two other times in the past decade. One time was to dig the earth and install drain tiles, which does little to prevent big puddle formation when the rains come. The other time was when a bulldozer came to prune the hedgerow of trees surrounding this field. I had never considered using a bulldozer to prune trees before that. And after witnessing how the machine ripped large chunks of tree from the main trunks of its tree victims, I don't think I will consider this method for tree pruning ever.
As I observe the brief comings and goings in this field a few times each year, including today, the following thoughts normally come to my mind. Much of this activity is an incredible demonstration in logistical efficiency, human ingenuity and engineering excellence of the mechanical and genetic types.
The old grey mare sure ain’t what she used to be. When I once lived in the near-Chicago suburbs and occasionally ventured into the countryside, the sight of the sun setting over a golden cornfield with a big green machine driving in the distance often struck me as a beautiful, if not romantic, picture. Now that my house is literally sounded by corn for as far as the eye can see, I don’t find this scene as benign as I once did before moving and becoming a child of the corn, so to speak. Instead, I am more and more seeing this as the problem and not the solution.
My thinking is far different than it was in the not too distant past about all of this. That is when I was trained to absorb and recite the mantra of sustainability as prepared by the PR departments of the Big Ag and Biotech industry that sent me a paycheck every other week. I am actually still very impressed with the awesome technologies at play here.
Like with many good things taken to an extreme, though, trouble emerges. When we plant these monocultures from coast to coast and mow down any tree that gets in the way, there might be some consequences I suppose. I dunno, maybe things like huge losses of biodiversity. Or honeybees and other species vanishing at alarming rates.
It just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do when we use our precious topsoil to grow cheap energy just to satisfy our wasteful consumerist tendencies. And last, but not least, petroleum intensive and petroleum dependent agriculture, which is a big contributor to climate change. I could go on but I won’t since you get the point.
I have come to view these machine operators that show up in my hood as just that: machine operators. They are machine-driving corn-planters who likely have more in common with Wall Street traders than they do with Old McDonald. Notice I said corn-planters and NOT farmers. There is no "real" farming going on here. There is arguably little regard for or stewardship of the land they use to make their profit. They are not my neighbors. They show up, as I said, three times each year for a few hours to do their petroleum-based things to the field across the road from where I live. My guess is that they have little knowledge of or appreciation for the
thin layer of topsoil that sustains life on top of this rock we call earth / home. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the norm in rural America these days in case you haven't been paying attention.
I do know some "real" farmers, as scarce as they may be, and some are right here in my neighborhood. Some local "real" farmers I know from our work starting the Food Shed Co-op in McHenry County. Other "real" farmers I know just because I'm old and I've been around in my time.
Today, and other days like today, convince me that we must support local agriculture and "real" farmers that have a relationship with the "real" food they grow for us and with the land from which it comes. Shop local and support your "real local farmer.”
AND A CLOSING QUOTE
“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.”
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