Feeding billions of people is a very difficult task. My hat is off to the people who have been doing it and keeping pace with explosive population growth. We have big problems with how we make our food, though.
Most importantly, the industrial way we make food right now is simply not sustainable. Organic or not, industrial agriculture ultimately leads to wastelands and deserts. There is no question about this — every year we lose arable land to topsoil loss, salt buildup, and etc. We literally cannot keep doing things the same way or we will run out of land.
And this does not even mention all the other problems like the abuse of harmful chemicals, ensuing collapse of honeybees, the economic strangleholds exerted on farmers by the multinational chemical and ag companies, the dependence on fossil fuels for equipment and fertilizer, disappearing aquifers, etc.
But the problems (and solutions) go a lot deeper than new tricks for growing and harvesting things. We need farms that can *sustainably* produce food, yes, but also farms that can pay livable wages to workers. We need a lifestyle and workstyle such that more people will *want* to have those jobs. And even then, most modern people won’t want to do farm work. So we need agriculture that is de-industrialized but still efficient enough that the work of a few people can feed many, many others. We need grain and vegetable cultivars that fit this, and we need to embrace currently uncommon crops.
I could go on, but I will stop there.
I do not see the industrial system addressing it’s fundamental problems until it reaches a breaking point. And while alternative agriculture has come a long ways, there is still a ton of work to do figuring out how to deliver those things that I just said we need. Market gardens and CSA programs and the like are an important and necessary step in rebuilding agriculture, but few of them are successful businesses, almost none of them provide affordable staple crops, and they don’t produce enough food for the labor input. There are critical pieces that are still missing.
I do not claim to have those pieces, and maybe they do not exist. Maybe the agriculture we have now is the only kind that we can have with the culture and society and economy as it is. I honestly don’t know. But I’d like to try my hand at putting the pieces in place.
I haven’t been able to articulate it quite like this, but this is on of the very core reasons that I’ve become so obsessed with “gardening” lately. Now that I’m coming to understand more what it is I’m trying to do, I intend to start getting serious about it. Starting with the little garden we have, I’m going to start learning to farm.
Exactly what that means will be the subject of future posts…