The Need For Sustainability

By ignoring the
principles of sustainability, our current industrial-farming model is
destined to collapse. To understand the need for sustainability in
our food policy is to make the first, crucial step toward renewal of
our farm system.

To change the way
Californians grow, process, distribute and buy their food, it will
take a groundswell of consumer support to make the paradigm shift to
local food economies. This change in mindset can only come through
educational campaigns before it comes through economic necessity. If
every Californian understood the concept of sustainable agriculture,
its importance and implications, there would not be much need for new
laws, as such information would surely invigorate sweeping change in
consumer and producer habits from the bottom up. That said, it is
important to reaffirm the costs, both plain and hidden, that we as
consumers pay to a global food cartel that is currently endangering
our chances of survival as a species. To aim away from these things,
as a society, toward sustainability in the broadest sense of the word
– vitality over an extended period of time – is to
immediately protest the status quo.

The conventional
farming model used throughout the industrialized world relies heavily
on petrochemical externalities and is not applicable to natural
systems, at least for any reassuring duration of time. And good
farming, as thousands of years of human husbandry bears testimony, is
reliant on a natural model. Such natural systems operate very
differently than our conventional, exploitive approach. The condition
of sustainability is never asked of in a natural setting, it is
demanded. Sustainability requires return of organic materials to the
earth, the maintenance of a balance between forest and pasture so the
water table is accessible to agricultural pursuits, local and
intimate knowledge of land and its terrain so as best to retain its
naturally occurring biodiversity, and so much nuanced knowledge of
particular locations and their climates that it requires a rejection
of the blanket-approach strategy of industrial Ag and its supporting
policies of food production.

The current model
degrades the nutritional content of the food we eat by relying on
toxic
rescue chemistry
” to supplant the natural
processes of living soil. Millions of tons of synthetic fertilizers
and pesticides stifle the work of beneficial microorganisms that
dwell in and sustain the fertility of the soil. Heavy machine
dependent operations further exacerbate topsoil depletion, placing
future generations at greater risk of famine. This model also
degrades the people involved in agriculture by subjugating farm
owners and farm laborers to feudalistic commodity price controls and
thus diminishing returns under increasing global competition. It
disperses rural communities as can be seen in the eschewing of
millions of small farmers and their family’s from the land into
congested cities since the mid-twentieth century. Coinciding with
this record setting forced migration was the dramatic consolidation
of these lands into the hands of fewer individuals and corporations.

Highlighting the
dangers of this corporate concentration of power over our food
system, Christopher D. Cook, author of
Diet
for a Dead Planet
, summarizes the quantifiable “hidden
costs” of global agribusiness:

Food
in America seems at first glance bountiful and, for most, fairly
inexpensive. But behind the grocery receipt, the costs of today’s
corporate-controlled food supply are staggering. Foodborne illnesses
cost more than $30 billion a year in treatment and lost work time. We
spend $78 billion annually in medical expenses for diseases
associated with diet and physical inactivity — now the
second-leading cause of preventable deaths; two thirds of all
Americans are overweight, 30% are medically defined as obese. Nearly
$20?billion in public money goes to farm subsidy payments, two
thirds of which go to the top 10% of growers. Untold millions more
are spent covering emergency room costs for uninsured food-industry
workers, tens of thousands of whom are injured on the job each year;
and cleaning up massive animal-waste spills from factory farms, which
have become the top polluter of America’s waterways.

These “taxes”
are fleecing Americans at a crucial time in our history. The only way
to right the ship and ensure that people can afford to eat is to
return to sound policy. This means incentives for producers to grow
sustainably (i.e. scaled down), sell locally and have the price
setting power that only the supranational commodity traders posses at
this time.

What this really
entails is dispossessing federal agencies and their agribusiness
allies of centralized power over our food supply by instituting local
food policies that offer incentives for the creation of more small
farms and streamlined local food distribution channels that undercut
the current international infrastructure. California, with its
already diverse yield of agricultural products and its burgeoning
local food movement, is in the best possible position to make these
policies an everyday reality and create a model Farm Bill of its own;
only, one that invigorates the countryside and keeps its participants
in good health. The result would be the economic reunion of rural
California with its suburban and urban counterparts. The goal in
facilitating such beneficial marketplace relationships is complete
food independence for California and the best model of food policy
for the rest of the nation.

In my next installment,
I will discuss policies that can be put into place immediately to
effectively establish a food system that is California’s very
own.