Farmers and Farming

The efforts of plant explorers, plant breeders, and farmers have freed most people from the never-ending and onerous task of gathering food. The result being that we now have time to devote to other labors and leisure. As Dylan sang, "[not] having to be scrounging your next meal." Essentially, plant domestication has permitted civilization as we know it, yet farmers and farming are taken for granted. Worse yet, farming, farmers and an agrarian lifestyle are often denigrated. We deify sports stars and other pop celebrities but consider how important entertainment is to your survival compared to farmers and farming? How long would you last on the food you produce or could forage yourself? Moreover, I am referring to agronomy and farmers who grow plants. I will save for later my utter disgust with the practice of factory farming, the common inhumane treatment of animals grown for food.

Farming is a type of gardening and farmers are a type of gardener. Do understand, the kind of farmer I am exhalting is the wise one. A farmer who appreciates the land and farms in an environmentally responsible way -- a breed that is rare and endangered. I am NOT referring to corporate farmers, those farming thousands of acres using futuristic machinery with massive reliance on synthetic compounds and on farmland that, bereft of fencerows, extends almost to the road's edge (see pic). Farmers who are beholden to the industrial-agricultural complex. That kind of land use is not a good thing, but it is what the disciples of corporation farming feel they must do to turn a profit. They may succeed in profiting, but at what real cost? It is a long-term losing proposition because that kind of farming is destroying the soil, especially the vital component therein, and impoverishes wildlife via destruction of habitat and corridors -- the often tree and shrub lined perimeters. And without soil, what do we have? All one need do is study history. Unsustainable behavior regarding the environment has led to the collapse of more than one civilization.

Corporate farming (i.e., large scale monoculture) is not sustainable!!! Short-term greed is causing our land to be depleted. The soil in many locations has become so degraded (now often merely dirt) due to farming practices such that in my lifetime many historically common agriculture weeds now have trouble growing in the fields. We are essentially creating a novel habitat. This is not good. We must reject the path set by the behemoth agrochemical corporations like Monsanto, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and DowAgro/Corteva. We may need (because of overpopulation), but should we want, that kind of agriculture. Perhaps good for the individual farmer, shareholders and executives, but not the environment. The only sensible way forward is smaller and more local -- more cooperatives, more farmer's markets, and citizen farmers. We need to diversify, we need to produce more locally, and we need to employ practices that are environmentally sound. The change I suggest is doable but it will take will power. We would do well to follow the practices of Wes Jackson and Gabe Brown. And this is not just a message for the farmer and non farming gardeners. It is as much or more for the average citizen, the consumer. We need to change our buying and eating habits. We should utilize local small scale producers more, thereby reducing the fossil fuel used to transport food. We especially need to be involved more with some of the food we use to reconnect with the land and nature. Literally, to reground our culture. But time is short. The opportunity is fleeting. Pouring or spraying synthetic nutrients and biocides on the fields and relying on genetically narrow crops are NOT sustainable practices and do not address the real problem. But, as I tell anyone who will listen, people DO NOT like to be told they are wrong, that we (Homo sapiens) are responsible, and we need to change our habits. Alas, out of sight, out of mind. As Aldo Leopold stated, "The modern dogma is comfort [convenience] at any cost." Not my problem you say. You're right. It is OUR problem. But unless or until we acknowledge that WE are the cause for most of our troubles WE WILL ALL, in the short-term, pay a terrible price. Something far worse than economic decline. We MUST find sustainable solutions and this MUST include dealing with human overpopulation which is increasing every 45 days by approximately 10,000,000, equivalent to the population of the 16 counties that comprise greater Chicago, non stop! The plant scientist Norman Borlaug, the so-called Father of the Green Revolution, who won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to increase crop yields thus preventing impending mass starvation around the globe, and who's efforts have been criticized by some due to the environmental degradation associated with the new agricultual techniques, stated "If the world population continues to increase at the same rate we will destroy the species." Actually, we may succeed in destroying most of the other species, too, unless we change course. This change will need to involve politicans, religous leaders, businesses, and especially individual citizens. Moreover, know that the actions (behavioral modification) will be only partial fixes. Because of our ignorance, we are too far down the road. The time to act with less than severe long-term consequences was several decades ago. We must act, but we will not! Tellingly, we will continue to choose the Pollyanna feel good temporary reactionary dressing, denial and ignorance, rather than prevention and sustainability. Deluding ourselves into thinking that some meager long overdue gesture like a new law or regulation will address/correct the problem. Why? Because it is an easier choice, because we have no stomach for doing what really needs doing, and because we have allowed ourselves to be ensalved by the corporate business model. Unfortunately, not everything broken can be fixed.

Related, I gave a talk entitled What Are We Doing? Botany & Beyond at a recent plant conference I organized. The presentation contains more dialog on the environmental situation and our predicament. As I suggest, waiting for techno salvation or divine intervention to fix our plight, then you are both foolish and delusional. The video will be posted for viewing soon and linked to the homepage of this website. .

Finally, I will take issue with our Land-grant schools -- the university in each state designated to receive the benefits of the Morrill Act of 1862. That is, the schools with a focus on agriculture, but supposedly not to the exclusion of other scientific studies. For example, Michigan State, Ohio State, University of Illinois, and, in Indiana, Purdue; although the history behind how Purdue get the nod over Indiana University involves some shenanigans and makes interesting reading. Sad to say, big universities are mostly now part of the corporatocracy. In biology and agriculture, blinded by the allure of grant money and playing god with Frankenstein science. Largely ignoring the cause -- too many people -- instead focusing on the symptoms. Profitable short-term bandaids addressing the result of how we behave, which often makes the situation worse. Kicking the can down the road. Consequently, while not that long ago one might be thinking or talking about centuries before the cupboard is bare, the well is dry, the bill is due, or the landlady is at the door (i.e., atonement), now the time frame is more likely decades, or perhaps just years. And there is no reset or quick fix! Designer crops, biocides, and synthetic fertilizer are not the answer. In fact, they are part of the problem. I find it exasperating that the ag schools are NOT utilizing more of their resources (money and brain power) investigating potential "new" crops, more crop diversity (species and genetic variability), and improved (sustainable) production methods. Why not? Agrobusinesses are in control. It is all about profit and the status quo. Corn and soybeans are special, but what about lambsquarters or other amaranths? Potential super crops, a source of greens, grain, and fuel all in one plant. Prolific and easy to grow (i.e., tolerates clay and does not require fertilizer). I imply "new" but we have known about and been using some of these plants (unimproved) for centuries, just not the preference of agronomic corporations -- not the species or methods they hitched their money wagon to and perhaps more difficult for them to control. You should also consider reading my previous rant, Taking Food for Granted (Aug 2021).

I just realized that what I do and say is a lot like what activist and syndicated commentator Jim Hightower does with his The Hightower Lowdown and radio spots. Hightower, who was formerly the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, was/is also an advocate for alternative crops. Not familiar with him? You should be.