Owing to the fact that individual specialization produces narrow-sightedness, it’s sometimes good to be able to look at situations from several perspectives. My past experience as a stock broker and a military officer; my constant life as an entrepreneur; my unique calling as a Christian minister; and my occupation as a farmer, have all contributed in part, to a broad-picture view of the state of our union.
Overall, that view is somewhat like the view of any sled dog, except the lead dog. It’s been unpleasant for a long time, with occasional glimpses of the trail ahead. And, should a sudden halt occur, it has the potential to become downright distasteful.
It appears that the whole team is about to run off a cliff, but perhaps with a clearer perspective, some of us can stop this head-long rush toward insanity. We shall see…
The state of the common United States farm has been designed around the concept of efficiency. It maximizes the production of food, using the smallest possible piece of land, at the least possible cost.
The Farms operators are no longer the third or fourth generation of a family sustaining itself from a common piece of ground, utilizing sustainable farming practices. The vast majority of our farms are Agri-Corporations, designed around profitable business models with responsibility and submission owed to shareholders.
The family farm, one hundred years, had no choice but to use sustainable farming practices. To disregard the long-term health of the soil on the family farm – or the health of your animals, or the state of your equipment, was at least fool-hardy, and probably insanity. There was no question that you had to let your land rest (lie fallow), at regular intervals. Your fertilizer had to come from natural sources. Your animals had to have their health maintained, at least as good as your own health. You had to harvest your seed for the next year, first, and preserve its integrity and assure its viability. The farming family all worked together for the common good to insure its sustainability and, as a result, also generated faithfulness and integrity and cohesiveness and love.
At that time, 25% of us lived on farms and 85% of us lived in rural areas. Our rural lifestyle included chickens and gardens and, often, a milk cow. Each farm grew enough food to feed itself and 12 other people. Our children were raised with their feet and hands in dirt. They knew where their food came from and respected the process.
In stark contrast, the farm of today is an Agri-Business, known as industrial farming. Its intent is to produce as much net profit as possible, within the shortest span of time. Profitability is their standard and its achievement comes with little, or no, regard for collateral damage or unintended consequences.
It is easy to forget that corporations are not people and, consequently, rarely employ humanitarian motives or sociability traits. Benevolence, for them, usually only comes as a facet in the quest for profitability. Larger corporations, as profitability increases, only look to get larger and more profitable. As a result, people often look at those obscene profits as a tax cash cow, again forgetting that corporations are not people and only people pay taxes. The vulnerability of Agri-Business is exacerbated by the nature of corporations. For them, when profitability reaches a pre-determined low figure, it’s easy to close up shop and move to some other venture. The family farm has no such option. When lean years come (and they always do, in farming), the family can only tough them out and keep farming.
Agri-Businesses are very likely the worst polluters in all of history. The whole industry is powered by fossil fuels – fertilizer from natural gas and petroleum powered mining operations; industrial chemical pesticides and processing; petroleum powered planting, tending, harvesting and processing equipment; additional equipment for transporting harvest to market (typically the harvest travels 1500 miles before consumption) and, perhaps worst of all, the incessant use of soil stimulants that literally drain the soil of nutrients. This latter unintended consequence is that often the soil becomes so acidic that it is unusable.
The Agri-Business dependence upon petroleum has produced a potential for unimaginable disaster. The fresh food supply in every major city turns over every 7 days or less. It’s easy to foresee the consequences of, even a minor disruption, in the oil supply; or worse perhaps, the trucking industry. An additional danger has surfaced in the last few years and it is zero warehousing. Your local corner grocery no longer has a huge stockpile of foodstuff in the back of the store. Recent natural disasters have displayed this vulnerability, with stores being completely wiped out, within 24 hours of public recognition of impending food chain disruption.
As the total number of farmers in the U.S., has dwindled to a tiny minority (perhaps 2 million) specialization has emerged and the average Agri-Business feeds thousands of people, over vast areas of the country. But they only produce one or two products. As a result, recent incidents of food-borne illnesses have the potential to reach epidemic proportions and, should some nature disaster, such as a flood or drought, hit a major production area, certain types of food quickly become unobtainable.
As world population has exploded, greater and greater demand has been placed upon fewer and fewer farms, with the result that food prices have begun to soar. The United Nations food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 2005 and 2008, food prices rose 80% worldwide. For the world’s poorest 2 billion people, it means that they are spending 50-70% of their income on food. Conversely, we, in the United States, spend about 10% of our income on food, but those days are coming to a screeching halt. The question is not whether we can just spend more money and continue with the same amount of food to eat. Every year the earth adds about 100 million more mouths to feed, with a demand that they be fed from diminishing supply.
Author Julian Crib, in his book The Coming Famine, states the situation succinctly. He says, “The problem is very complex. To sum it all up, the challenge facing the world’s 1.8 billion women and men, who grow our food, is to double their output of food – using far less water, less land, less energy, and less fertilizer. They must accomplish this on low and uncertain returns, with less new technology available, amid more red tape, economic disincentives, and corrupted markets and the threat of spreading drought. Achieving this will require something, not far short of, a miracle.”
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, at the top of unintended consequences is corn. In short, the corn we eat today is not the same corn your grandfather ate. A recently emerged science, called Bio Engineering has tinkered with corn, in the quest for industrial farming efficiency – all fueled by Federal Government subsidies. Genetically modified corn still looks like corn, but the infusion of fish genes and bacteria genes, along with hybridization, has so modified corn seed that it only produces one time. No longer can the farmer harvest his own seed for next year. He must buy new seed each year from companies like Monsanto, who co-incidentally, are buying up all the reproducible seed varieties they can find.
It would probably be impossible to find any Christian not familiar with the phrase stated by God, in Genesis chapter one, that all grasses, herbs and fruit, yield seed according to its kind. And, that its seed is in itself. Indeed, the Bible states that God observed that process and saw that it was good. A little further along, in that chapter, the Bible notes that all living things are designed to produce according to their kind. Well, of course these new genetically modified seeds can’t reproduce, they are of a variety the Bible calls mingled seed (Leviticus 19:19). Ancient Israel was forbidden to sow their fields with mingled seeds and the Hebrew word for mingled means “Having two hetero- geneities” (two things having dissimilar elements).
Indeed, our government has exacerbated the problem through corn subsidies – farmers are paid to grow it for its use as ethanol fuel. Not only are the farmers subsidized, but government grants have been given to commercial and university laboratories encouraging research into corn uses. As a result, corn (in some form) is found in almost all processed foods as a maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, xanthan gum, monosodium glutamate and predominately, as a high fructose corn syrup. Of course, the addictive properties of the latter have been debated for years, with vociferous disavowing by its producers. It’s hard to understand why we needed “high fructose corn syrup” instead of just “corn syrup, which has been around for decades.
This corn look-alike is used for flour, grits, frying oil, modified starches, wax coatings, food coloring, preservatives, as well as a myriad of non-food, industrial uses such as soap, insecticides, glues, explosives and others. The results of all this is that the common Agri-Business has no choice but to grow corn. It’s probably fiscal irresponsibility, for a farming corporation to grow any crop other than corn.
Today, our farm (Beulah Farm) is part of a small, but growing, number of meat farms raising humanely raised grass-fed beef. That statement is rather astounding, when you consider that all bovines were created to be raised on grass. Again, however, in the interest of efficiency, feed lot operations are now the lifestyle for modern cows. Thousands of cows are packed into tiny acreages and forced to stand ankle deep in their own manure and eat at troughs. Worse than that, are those who are raised on grates, so that their manure can be scooped up underneath and, after reconstituting, fed back to them again. Grass or hay causes slow weight gain, so the cows are fed corn, which creates that marbled effect from the white fat it makes.
The problem is that the digestive system of cows isn’t made to process corn and their ruminating stomach must create a highly acid environment to process s even some of the corn. That environment makes the cows sick and so they must be constantly medicated in order to keep them alive. That white fat produced in this process is a specific kind of fat and is killing us, by the thousands, with high cholesterol.
Conversely, the fat in grass-fed beef is a different chemical composition and contains 3-5 times the Omega 3, fatty acids of grain-fed beef. It’s loaded with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a proven obesity fighter that reduces the risk of cancer and diabetes, while helping maintain normal cholesterol levels. Omega 3 plays an important role in the treatment of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Although the move toward “certified organic” beef helps by limiting pesticides and antibiotics, it still doesn’t address the main problem which is the corn. Recent research is indicating that a whole host of food allergies is likely related to corn consumption – that is, rather, genetically modified corn. Some people are so allergic to it that they can’t eat anything that has been in contact with corn, in any manner.
A by-product of the unintended consequences of corn raised beef, is that we have developed strains of e-coli that are almost impossible to kill. E-coli thrives in acid environments…
There is, perhaps, some light at the end of this dark, agricultural tunnel and, this time, it is not a fast-moving train. That light is known as the sustainable agricultural movement. Sustainable – able to be reproduced infinitely, without harm to the environment – crops and animals raised in humane, healthy environments – food produced to enhance the health of humans and their animals. This is a movement started three or more decades ago, in the late hippy movement. Most of them are now older, wiser adults with more understanding. Its adherents are mostly small farmers, many raising organic or nearly organic products. It includes grass-fed beef (by its nature organic), grass-fed lamb and goat, pasture raised pork, organic chickens and ducks and turkeys and their eggs, plus a myriad of vegetables grown using natural fertilizers and reproducible seeds (heirloom seeds).
A new, young crowd of farmers is establishing itself using incredible imagination and innovation. Urban Patchwork, in Austin, Texas, is one such example. They help organize co-operative, neighborhood-based urban food networks, using a patchwork of backyard gardens for production. In New Orleans, the Backyard Gardeners Network is revitalizing the lower ninth ward, in just such a manner. In January, 2012 the Sustainable agricultural working Group (SAWG) will host a 4 day conference, in Little Rock, Arkansas. It is filled with speakers and teachers, all promoting the sustainable movement and will have attendees from all over the country.
This is the key to our dilemma. These are largely not corporations. They are not subject to massive disruptions from external sources. These are farmers who farm because it’s what they love to do. They are intimately involved with the health of their animals and the ground they till.
In short, they are the antithesis of the Industrial farming community. As such, they are experiencing the wrath of lobbyists – induced Government oversight. Truly some of the most feared words in our society are the knock on your door, accompanied by, “we’re from the Government and we are here to help.”
However, I’m confident that governments will eventually do the right thing and leave this movement alone. The only question is whether they do it to avoid an agricultural catastrophe or in response to such an event.
So, can you help? Well, of course you can – you are the main ingredient. It’s real simple. Just buy local, sustainably produced products. You may find that the products initially cost slightly more, but in the long run, it is far cheaper to buy healthy products. And these things are market driven. As more demand is created, more small farmers will appear and competition will produce better products, at cheaper prices.
Finally, now… Pay attention to this. This is important stuff – maybe imperative. Just do the right thing for you and your family!
About the author:
Dr. John Bennett is a Christian minister, author, motivational speaker and an avid fisherman. He and his wife Kathy own and operate Beulah Farm in Leicester, NC. They believe in the great health benefits of grass-fed beef and chemical free products and raise their animals in a natural and ethical manner that is harmonious with nature. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.