World Food Production & Local Food Production

June 21, 2013

StalkWhen I heard about the historically feeble wheat crop of 2013 I began to look around again in the realm of world food production, and once again to connect dots. The sad state of the wheat crop in America’s Central Plains is happening right in my back yard of Nebraska, so that’s what captured my attention again. But the wheat tribulations of the Heartland are but part of far larger story about world food production with far greater implications for local food production.

Anyone paying attention to news about world food production should have snapped to attention by now, and should be motivated for action to promote, develop and expand local food production systems. That’s just common sense. The pattern of the news about food and farms is a steady concerning drumbeat, a thumping call to attention.

Yet further rigorous international studies released this week declare that the world is lurching towards an agricultural crisis, with crop production falling behind rates needed in coming decades.

stormIn one case, in a follow up to the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Risk Assessment, a just released official report stated that climate change abroad would have a more immediate effect than climate change at home. Taking the most reasonably optimistic view possible, the report states that the UK is likely to be hit by increasingly volatile prices of many food commodities as the climate is disrupted.

Global production of many key foodstuffs is concentrated in a just few countries. Those countries are likely to suffer increasing episodes of extreme weather. As a consequence, the report states, the biggest threats are shortages of particular items, increased volatility in food prices in general, and constricting protectionist measures over food.

Threats from climate change overseas appear an order of magnitude higher than domestic threats, the report’s authors told BBC News.

Those same events would, naturally, also impact the economy, food supply, and the cost of food in North America, and elsewhere. Like it or not, we are all one planet. That’s an inescapable fact of life in 2013.

The paper regards climate change not only as fact, but as a multiplier of other threats. “Already price volatility of resources is the new normal,” the authors told BBC News. “This only looks as though it will get worse.”

Meanwhile, arising from the Southern hemisphere, another report warns that famine and its ancient, aggravating companion, war, are becoming an increasingly likely part of Australia’s future as the world struggles to feed itself.

“Clearly, the world faces a looming agricultural crisis, with yield increases insufficient to keep up with projected demands,” according to authors of the report. ”We have no time to waste.”

Shortages and rising prices are creating a double whammy: families struggling to put food on the table, while at the same time governments in the US, Australia and elsewhere are cutting back on food support and other social welfare programs.

tpIn concert with obvious climate concerns is the political-corporate context. America’s Green Shadow Cabinet has just formally opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an assault against food sovereignty. According to the Cabinet’s analysis, the trade agreement – now under secret international negotiation — places the profits of multinational companies ahead of the food security needs of individual nations.

One corner of our backyard garden in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One corner of our backyard garden in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Access to food is a basic human right, the Cabinet asserts. The TPP, however, expands the cold, materialistic notion that food is just another commodity subject to financial speculation and exploitation to increase the profits of multinational corporations.

TPP promotes not local, but rather export-oriented food production. In its analysis, the Cabinet found that  passage of the trade agreement would increase global hunger and malnutrition, alienate millions from their resources of land, water, seeds, and technology and, thwart generations of accumulated cultural knowledge.

“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to control their own food and agriculture…to guarantee the independence and food sovereignty of all of the world’s peoples, it is essential that food is produced though diversified, community based production systems.”

* * * *

Open Harvest food coop in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Open Harvest food coop in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In the context of all these dots of information about world food production, and many others, local food production emerges as not just wise and beneficial for a host of reasons, but also imperative.

In my own life I think not just of my backyard vegetable garden as one wee element of local food production, but also of our local food coop, Open Harvest, which is now nearing 40 years of operation. Open Harvest is an active market agent buying food from over 110 organic, sustainable farms ranged around Nebraska’s capital city of Lincoln, and then selling that food at reasonable cost. Just participating in a local food coop as one of thousands of member-owner makes a huge difference in the push to develop local production systems.

There are hundreds of other proven pathways open now for the development of our local food systems, ranging from local farms, CSAs, coops, farmers markets, community kitchens, farm-to-school programs and other community agrarian initiatives. If you are paying attention to world food production, you will recognize that it is time now to be active in local food production, something both wise and increasingly imperative.


The Mounting Imperatives of 21st Century Agrarianism: Farms & Food Face Fundamental Forces

May 20, 2013

co2The elemental wherewithal of our farms and our food is in motion. Whirlwinds of change bear upon our land, air, water and climate. Fundamental forces have shouldered their way front and center. The land calls urgently.

As reported worldwide this month, scientific evidence shows that the level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide (CO2), has mounted far beyond the danger zone. Heat is rising. Consequences are evident.

CO2 has now reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million, a level the Earth has not experienced for three million years. That was during an epoch called the Pliocene.

The overwhelming majority of scientists understand that this current rise in CO2 portends epic changes.

“Our food systems, our cities, our people and our very way of life developed within a stable range of climatic conditions on Earth,” former Vice President Al Gore observed in the wake of the CO2 report. “Without immediate and decisive action, these favorable conditions on Earth could become a memory.”

Following the front-page news about the rapid deterioration of the earth’s climate, came two other hard news stories that underscore the matter of food vulnerability: news of the disease-driven collapse of the staple food crop for more than 500 million human beings in Africa, and news of grave troubles for citrus fruits in America and around the world.

Climate change and crop disease are serious business. Here the land is not just calling, it’s shrieking.

Cassava root

Cassava root

In Africa the cassava plant – which produces a large, edible root – is succumbing to brown streak disease. Africa already suffers debilitating food shortages. Because casava is the staple food for the continent, this plant disease is calamitous.

Meanwhile, the citrus industry is grappling with an infernal bacterial disease that has now killed millions of plants in the southeastern United States and is threatening to spread across the entire country. The disease has also been found in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Citrus Greening, also called Huanglongbing or Yellow Dragon Disease, is fatal. The bacteria devastate trees, rendering bitter, misshapen oranges, then death for the entire organism. There is no known cure.

“This year (2012-13) was a real kick in the gut,” Florida’s agriculture commissioner told The New York Times. “It is now everywhere, and it’s just as bad as the doomsayers said it would be.”

* * * * * * * *

When I absorb this short stack of climate and food news — just a fraction of the farm and food factors in flux — I realize that we must dig in now more resolutely to build a clean, respectful, sacred and sustainable foundation for civilization. That is the direction forward.

Many thousands of local, organic agrarian farm-and-food initiatives have arisen across the Americas in the last 25 years. They offer a wide array of working models. Those models can and should be replicated and emulated far and wide. They represent intelligent and promising responses to the imperative call of the land.

buccolicOrganic farms and the cooperative food systems they are entwined with (the whole, broad range of 21st century agrarian initiatives) have manifold positive responses to the central issues, and a track record of evidence. They sequester carbon in the land and thereby mitigate CO2, helping stabilize climate. They offer clean, fresh food directly to people who live near the source. They provide dignified work in nature. They knit together healthy webs of relationship, both personal and digital, around concerns of a foundational nature to every human being. They teach essential ethical values. They establish oases of radiant environmental health. And they bring large numbers of people into a more direct and equitable relationship with the human beings who grow their food, and the land it is grown upon.

21st century agrarian initiatives also provide wholesome anchoring points (network nodes) for the brittle high-tech, digital-wave culture emerging so dynamically in our world. We are just at the beginning of that, really.

This 21st century agrarian initiatives – the many thousands of urban farms, CSAs, co-ops, community kitchens, church farms, and city gardens of all sizes shapes and descriptions – constitute core elements of a more wise and respectful human response to the imperative call of the land.

The cooperative development of clean local food systems is in no way a boutique idea or a passing fad. It is a key element of modern food security, and it is emerging not just as prudent but also as essential. It is also about the renewal of our overall human relationship with the earth that sustains us.


Rivulets of Revelation Flow from Tales of Two Farm & Food Conferences

May 17, 2011

© 2011 by Steven McFadden

White Shell Woman, sculpture by Oreland C. Joe, Sr.

Eight years ago I was among a band of pilgrims privileged to set out on the annual Journey of the Waters, traveling the ancient route north from pool to pool along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. In this manner I learned something of the teachings of White Shell Woman and the sweet waters she is said to nurture.

As with the teachings of classical Greece and Rome, so in North America and in most traditions around the world, the elementals of water have predominantly been personified in feminine-yin form: Sirens, Jengus, Melusine, Yami, Morgens, Nereids and Naiads, the Lady of the Lake, Swan Maidens, and White Shell Woman, to name a few.

Whether dwelling in still pools, rushy streams, ornate fountains or plastic bottles for drinking, fresh water spirits around the world have most frequently been appreciated as feminine. Everywhere the Undines, water elementals possessing voices of lilting beauty, may be heard over the sound of water, sages have long maintained, if one takes care to listen.

Thus, early in May upon entering the global Water for Food conference hosted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) — a conference “generously supported” by Monsanto and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — I was immediately struck by the overwhelming male-yang dominance of the proceedings. By approximate measure, 75-80% of the conferees were men; likewise by my reckoning, the program listed 48 men presenters, just six women.

Conference talk flowed around themes of what people — and the nations and corporations they organize themselves into — either want or need to do with water, as if our relationship with this essential resource were one way. In traditional teachings of North America it’s understood fundamentally that the elements and forces of the earth should be considered: listening to the call of the water, so to speak, as basic tenet of living in right relation.

Dance of the Undines. Beadwork by Margie Deeb and Frieda Bates

After three days at the Water for Food gathering, yin drops of consideration finally condensed and rose to the surface during the closing panel discussion. Robert Meany, Senior VP at Valmont Industries, a maker of irrigation equipment, remarked, “hydrology and the humanities need to come together.”

Moments later, in response to a question from the audience, Dr. Simi Kamal, CEO of the Hisaar Foundation in Pakistan made an emphatic point. She said agricultural policies must not overlook the human dimension. She said policies — and I took it she meant corporate policy as well as political policy — “must empower and engage the dispossessed, the marginalized, the landless, including unpaid and underpaid women laborers in the developing world.”

“The challenges for women in developing countries represent a huge issue,” Kamal said. “We need to hear from them. Let’s bring women out of the niche they have been placed in, and also begin to see agriculture as part of the larger ecosystem…Next year this Water for Food conference needs to dedicate a day to the issues of gender, water and food.”

Slamming into the Ceiling

The same week, some 1,200 miles away from the Water for Food conference in Nebraska, another conference was unfolding a different vision. The Future of Food gathering sponsored by The Washington Post featured spokespeople not from corporations or universities, but rather advocates for organic, sustainable agriculture. The program included Marion Nestle, Will Allen, Deborah Koons-Garcia, Eric Schlosser, Vandana Shiva, Senator Jon Tester, England’s Prince Charles, and agrarian patriarch Wendell Berry.

Thanks to a bicycle I could attend the Nebraska conference, and thanks to the Internet I could also see and hear parts of the Washington conference. Both gatherings of high power food and farm leaders held potential for impacting policy, and shaping real activity around critical matters of water, land, and food. They embodied the yin and yang character in the parallel universes of agrarianism and industrial agriculture: the Tao of the Land 2011. These matters are in vivid relief this spring with over a billion hungry people on the planet. As the United Nations Environment Program once again made screamingly blunt this season with yet another report: humanity is slamming into the environmental ceiling. “Global resource consumption is exploding,” their report said. “It’s not a trend that is in any way sustainable.”

This year in Nebraska, for the third consecutive year, the global Water for Food conference grappled in its way with the immediate challenges of growing more food with less water. Many a speaker uttered the by-now familiar refrain: Earth’s population will rise to nine billion people by 2050; how will we double food production by then with increasingly diminished natural resources?

Feeding a growing world population with less water is “one of the greatest challenges of this century,” said Jeff Raikes as the conference opened. Raikes is a Nebraska native and now the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is a major supporter of and investor in Monsanto and their promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as the response of industrial agriculture to global crop challenges.

Raikes said that the Gates Foundation aims to reduce poverty by helping farmers produce more efficiently and to move beyond producing only enough food for their own families. He noted that of the 1.3 billion or so of the world’s population who live in extreme poverty, about 75 percent depend on subsistence agriculture.

Agrarians actively question the corporate model of extensive high-tech farming and GMO crops as inappropriate for most of the developing world. They argue that it should not be pushed on the poorest farmers in the name of feeding the world, and that these schemes enrich only the corporations, not the people on the land.

The general thrust of discussion at the Nebraska conference, however, was that large-scale approaches and techniques such as hybrid GMO crops with fertilizers and pesticides could produce more food more quickly and with less water, including small-scale farms in developing countries. The Monsanto representative, VP for Global Strategy Kerry Preete, mentioned efforts to increase plant density, such that they could put 40,000 corn plants on one acre of land. In 2012-13 Monsanto will introduce a new GM corn variety that, despite reports showing this is dubious, he claimed would use less water. How could small-scale farmers in developing nations pay for such technology? Poor farmers can’t, Preete said, but rich farmers can and as they adopt technology, the cost comes down.

In Washington meanwhile critics vigorously questioned the claimed yields and pointed to recent studies stating that sustainable, organic farming methods use less water and could provide more food and better livelihoods for farmers in the developing world.  They cited research done by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which established that small-scale systems of agro-ecology are capable of producing enough food for the developing world while helping to preserve and replenish natural resources. A report published earlier this year by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food came to similar conclusions, arguing that more sustainable systems could double food production in certain regions.

UNL President James B. Milliken said at the conference that the university’s new Water for Food Institute aims are “fully compatible” with the aims of the Gates Foundation. “The challenges are so numerous that we can’t expect to solve them all,” he said, advocating that a “network of knowledge around the world,” as represented at the conference, is essential. He expressed UNL’s intention that the Water for Food Institute evolve to become an international pivot point for disseminating such knowledge.

UNL is just now making a momentous switch in the Land Grant universe by joining the Big Ten Conference. The key importance of the new institute and the issue of water for food — globally as well in America’s agricultural heartland — was apparent in the ongoing conference involvement of top university officials: President  Milliken, Chancellor Harvey Perlman, and Vice Chancellor Prem Paul. All participated actively in the conference, and welcomed the formal agreement UNL signed with the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. The agreement sets out the arrangements for cooperative research and education on matters of water and food. They said they intend a multidisciplinary institute mobilized to meet urgently impending matters.

In committing itself robustly to the means and ends of industrial agriculture, UNL has drawn criticism from both inside and outside the university. Critics have charged UNL with catering primarily to corporate agriculture, thereby giving only secondary support to  family-sized farms, mid-sized farms, and the far-flung rural communities of the Cornhusker state. With this emphasis, critics say, UNL is stinting in its obligation to carry out the fundamental land-grant mission — creating and applying “knowledge with a public purpose.”

New Realities: Signs All Over

András Szöllösi-Nagy, rector of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in The Netherlands, told the Nebraska conference that food is closely linked with social and political issues. As food prices go up, he said, those issues come to the forefront. There is growing vulnerability in this, he said, because humans are driving dramatic change in global water systems and food production with population growth, trade, subsidies, political upheaval, technological implementation, and the reality of climate changes.

“Is climate change accelerating?” Szöllösi-Nagy asked rhetorically. “The hypothesis is yes it is accelerating, but we have no hard proof yet. What we do know is that global mean temperatures are clearly increasing…There is lots of uncertainty, and the Precautionary Principle should hold.

“Still,” he added, “something is changing. The signs are all over: more floods, more droughts, more extreme weather events. We have new realities we need to reckon with, he said, explaining that the whole concept of a 100-year flood is outdated. We must throw out the tools we use to characterize such extreme events, he said, because “so-called 100-year floods and storms are happening all the time and becoming routine.”

The very week of the two conferences in early May, those new realities again smashed into the news: Texas and much of America’s Southwest because of an exceptional drought, the Mississippi River for impending flooding of farmland and suburbs on a scale “never seen before,” and the Arctic Circle because of newly accelerated melting due to global warming.

Meanwhile in Washington at the Future of Food, England’s Prince Charles (textvideo) was setting out a case that our current use of the land, and our systems of food production do not address these problems but rather aggravate them. He said if we are going to address the challenges of climate change, water shortages, general resource depletion, and all the other things, then the current industrial model of agriculture and food systems is unsustainable. It requires radical transformation.

The Irrigation News

The Water for Food conference in Nebraska was brimming with intellectual acuity, technological sophistication, organizational aptitude, and sincere determination to overcome the global challenges. The event, fueled by a recent $50 million gift to UNL from the late Robert B. Daugherty, attracted more than 400 participants from 24 nations.

Daugherty, a Nebraskan who died last November, made his fortune developing and marketing center pivot irrigation systems through the Omaha-based company now known as Valmont Industries, Inc. UNL used his bequest to establish the new Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute as an information distribution center in partnership with national and international agencies, including UNESCO.

The current CEO of Valmont, Mogens Bay, told the Nebraska conference that despite problems irrigation is not going away. Without it, many farms around the world would dry up and blow into the far distance. Bay said center-pivot technology — which has made vast stretches of formerly unfarmable land productive — is adapting to become more efficient. His company’s newest center-pivot rigs use a variety of sensors linked to a central computer. The computer divides a quarter section farm field (160 acres) into 5,000 zones, with specific zone control for the rate of applying water, fertilizer or insecticide.

Circles of farmland with center pivot irrigation, a familiar scene for airplane passengers above America's Heartland.

Likewise, Anil Jain, managing director of Jain Irrigation Systems, Ltd. in India, told the conference about the “transformational impact” of drip irrigation. He said more than a billion people on the planet are small holders, tending 1-5 acres. Many of them must irrigate the land to produce a crop, he said, and drip irrigation can do the job efficiently and conserve water.

Jain spoke enthusiastically about “fertigation” — applying water and fertilizer in liquid form through the systems. Fertigation, he said, is a catalyst for high-tech agriculture hand-in-hand with biotechnology because the systems deliver fertilizers and pesticides directly to plants. He said solar-powered water pumps, rain-harvesting systems, and small-scale drip irrigation could be installed for $1,000 an acre. He said that smallholder farmers could pay that investment back fast with increased crop productivity — not the first time an enthusiastic farm-profit forecast was declared in the agricultural pivot of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Industry Leader Guys: Get Bigger

Kerry Preete, Monsanto’s VP for Global Strategy, appeared on the Industry Leader panel in Nebraska. He began by posing his variation on the standard rhetorical question: “How do we double the world’s food supply on the same footprint?” The world needs to produce 1.5 billion more tons of grain by 2050. The obvious industrial implication of his question was through transgenic crops, Monsanto’s profit pony.

As with many of the other speakers in Nebraska, Preete articulated the case for agriculture to become bigger and more efficient to meet global needs. A student participating in the conference asked the panel whether transgenic (GMO) crops are a safe way to meet this projected need? As if served a slow softball over the center of home plate, Monsanto’s Preete cheerily answered “Yes. After 20 years of wide use we are confident, as are all of the regulating agencies, that our seeds and crops are safe.”

Not everyone shares that confidence. Certainly not soil scientist Don Huber, who has warned of potential catastrophe, and certainly not the authors of a new literature review into the safety studies on GM food. The review documents the reality that most studies claiming that GM foods are as nutritional and as safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates. The authors concluded “the controversial debate on GMOs…remains completely open at all levels.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Jon Tester (D-Montana), the only farmer in the US Senate, was telling the Future of Food conference, “The rise of GMOs and who controls the seed, is one that’s particularly disturbing to me as a farmer. With GMOs, farmers don’t control the seed, multinational agribusiness does…You and I have heard over and over that our only hope to feed the planet as our population grows is GMOs,” Tester said. “Well, I’m here to tell you that I don’t buy it. What it has done and what it continues to do is take away options for family farmers. And it takes away options for consumers. If we keep moving down this path, farmers won’t be able to control their seed, something they have done since the beginning of time. And no longer will you truly know what you’re eating.”

Back in Nebraska, listening to Monsanto’s Preete, I could not help but think of Earl Butz, the Republican Secretary of Agriculture (1971-76), whose infamous mantra to farmers was to “get big or get out.” Butz’s challenging remarks immediately preceded the epic farm crisis of the 1980s that drove thousands of American families off of their farms, consolidating and concentrating good farm lands in far fewer hands, a process that continues pell mell not just in the US but globally.

This harsh reality of farm consolidation was cited in Washington where Will Allen, founder and chief executive of Growing Power, told the Future of Food conference: “We need more people growing food in their back yard, side yard, community farm. We need to support those existing farmers that are struggling. Our rural farmers are struggling, and they have been the backbone of our food system for so many years. In 1960, they told us farmers to grow soybeans and corn, fencerow to fencerow; we were going to feed the world. And we have what? A million less farmers. That system hasn’t worked.”

What does it profit a land?

In Nebraska, CEO Jeff Raikes said the Gates Foundation believes that an increase in technology leads to an increase in wealth, “We need to see farmers as customers,” he observed. “We need more affordable solutions, and we need to shift the mindset of farmers toward prosperity, somehow enabling them to see farming as a business…One of the greatest challenges of the century is getting more crop per drop.”

Raikes said that countries that have been able to move out beyond extreme poverty have done so, historically, by improving their agricultural productivity. “What ultimately happens is that improvement in agricultural productivity creates greater wealth in the economy, and that opens up new opportunities.”

This point of view was widely supported by presenters at the Nebraska gathering. Kebede Ayele, country director of International Development Enterprises in Ethiopia, said that while better technology is important, it has to be accompanied by education. “We have to convince them (farmers) and make them believe they can be profitable in agriculture.” Mick Mwala, Dean, School of Natural Resources, University of Zambia, also argued that farming is a business, urging that more and more farmers need to embrace this conception.

These messages struck my ears bluntly. They are distinct from the agrarian motivations and pathways I see as leading forward for generations to come. Farming as a business to make profit and feed people, or farming as a way of life in harmony with nature and health, and serving as a clean healthy foundation to support the high-tech digital culture evolving so swiftly in this new millennium?

In Washington, agrarian elder Wendell Berry delivered the agrarian gospel with no holds barred at the Future of Food conference: “We must abandon the homeopathic delusion that the damages done by industrialization can be corrected by more industrialization,” he said. “Our fundamental problem is world destruction caused by an irreconcilable contradiction between the natural world and the engineered world of industrialism.”

“…There is no use in saying that if we can invent the nuclear bomb and fly to the moon, we can solve hunger and related problems of land use,” Berry said. “Epic feats of engineering require only a few brilliant technicians and a lot of money. But feeding a world of people year to year for a long time requires cultures of husbandry fitted to the nature of millions of unique small places — precisely the kind of cultures that industrialism has purposely disvalued, uprooted and destroyed.”

- END -



The Call Becomes a Howl

February 7, 2011

~ Food Plans Require Action Now ~

The call of the land is amping up into a howl sounded around the world, a howl that is beginning to echo down the aisles of food markets and within empty bellies, far and near.

World food prices hit a record high in January. They have continued their sharp rise through early February. By a convincing majority, observers of the global food scene expect supply to continue being pinched, and for prices to climb relentlessly upward, perhaps as much as another 40% in the Americas over the next two years, and even higher elsewhere.

“The world is now in an era where it has to be very serious about food supply.” – Josette Sheeran, director, UN World Food Program

Now is the time for action. We’re in a global danger zone. Ultimately, the Americas are entwined with all that unfolds in the realm of farms and food around the world. The UN’s acute concern is that the latest spikes in prices will spark a repeat of the deadly food riots that broke out in 2008 in Haiti, Kenya and Somalia. Just since the start of 2011, surging food prices have helped fuel the ongoing rage of citizens in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

The UN expects to see more hunger and famine, and consequently more rebellion in the year ahead. For farms, food, and famine, three powerful forces are at work:

  • Speculators are heedlessly active for profit, snapping up commodities and thereby impelling food prices upward. UN reports show that up to 70% of business on commodity markets is speculation rather than trade.
  • Economist Paul Krugman writing in The New York Times points to another monster factor, climate change:  “While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production…”
  • The third driving factor is Peak Oil. World food prices follow oil prices (93% correlation since 2000). The vast enterprise of industrial agriculture rests on the supply of oil for fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals. Fossil fuel prices are spiking upward again in earnest, boosting food prices with them

The global food situation is morphing rapidly. The potential for various levels of chaos is palpable. This critical reality calls for smart, swift response.

Thousands of pioneering households and communities, churches, and companies have already devised working, healthy, sustainable responses, and established models for taking care of the land, for producing an abundance of clean food, and of finding ways to knit themselves together around something foundational: our food and how we grow it. Those models stand out as intelligent and worthy responses to the howl of the times and of the land.

To portray a broad array of these positive, proactive models for households and communities, I teamed up with my partner Elizabeth Wolf and the skillful publishing trio at NorLightsPress.com to do something more comprehensive  as a guide for people. We wanted to offer readers an even wider and richer range of possibilities for creative responses to the urgent howl of the land. We accomplished our goal. We have completed our work assembling a greatly expanded 2nd edition of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century. You can check it out here.

Our hope is that the 2nd edition of The Call of the Land will serve as a rough guide for many as we navigate this era of change. We feel that farms, farmers markets, CSAs, schools, companies, and many other constellations of humanity will find it to be a good tool for teaching, and especially for building wider community support.

We have scheduled the official publication date of this 2nd edition of the book for April. However, owing to the global food crisis, we felt it important to make it available now.

- 30 -


The State of the Future – Keep Planting Seeds

October 15, 2010

When the UN’s Millennium Project released their State of the Future study in 2009—based on the input of 2,700 researchers, and backed by UNESCO, the World Bank, and the US Army—it set out an appallingly grim vision of what lies ahead. The study foresaw shortages of food and goods, a harsh reality that would incite widespread violence and potentially provoke much of civilization to collapse.

After reading that report I felt as if I’d just received an invitation to a dungeon of despair. But then, as if on cue, I met Joanne Shenandoah, the gifted Oneida singer and song writer. I heard her give voice to “Prophecy Song”—a musical empowerment for the ages which can be experienced at this link on youtube.com, as well as on her CDs.

We are now reminded
to be aware of our place upon this earth.
and to fulfill our obligations to ourselves,
our families, our nations,
the natural world, the Creator.
The words sing, we are to awaken.
Stand up, Be counted,
for you are being recognized in the Spirit world
.

—Joanne Shenandoah

Her message and her voice anchored me in a present tense of strength and possibility, and reminded me also of another respected friend from the Native American community, the late Leon Secatero. Formerly the Headman of the Canoncito Band of Navajo, To’Hajiilee, New Mexico, Leon had the gift of insight. Whenever he would hear pronouncements of doom, he would acknowledge the potential, then respond calmly.

The late Leon Secatero (author photo)

“The journey we are beginning now is for the next 500 years,” he told me one day. “What will be the sacred path that people will walk over the next 500 years? Even in the midst of all the changes taking place and all the things falling apart, we are building that foundation now. That’s something important for us to remember and to focus on. If we don’t do it, no one else will.

“We need to take a close look at this and then really come to terms with ourselves,” Grandfather Leon said. “To move ahead into the next 500 years we must leave some things behind or they will contaminate or even eliminate the future. We cannot go forward if we keep destroying the earth. But we must also ask, what is good and healthy and helpful? Those good things can be part of our foundation, part of our pathway into the next 500 years.”

As the economic and natural worlds continue to mutate rapidly around us in 2010, I reflect on Leon’s questions, and immediately what comes into focused response are the thousands of healthy initiatives arising in the realm of clean farms and clean vegetables, fruit, grain and meat. They are good and healthy and helpful.

I’ve come to think of the people involved with these initiatives as the Millennial Agrarians. There is a burgeoning movement in which these agrarians—representing a wide range of ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds—are taking up one of the world’s oldest professions: organic farming. For these new farmers and gardeners, going to the land is not an escape from the conventional world, but an active embrace of plants, animals, people and the future.

In the face of the grim vision described by the State of the Future researchers, these Millennial Agrarians are a living embodiment of hope. They know their work is making a definite difference in the health of the planet, and in the physical and mental health of the people. We are going to need a lot of these new agrarians—millions more—to face what is happening in our world, and to respond intelligently and effectively to the urgent call of the land. But the potential is there, and the Millennial Agrarians are demonstrating the workable models and pathways that others can follow.

Starting in the late 1980s, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) emerged as one of the initial agrarian waves of response to our sickening planet and our corrupted food supply. But many variations on CSA, and many related agrarian initiatives have come forward since then: urban agriculture, thousands of school gardens, hundreds of farm-to-school projects, municipal composting programs, and an increasingly popular amenity being offered to residents of new subdivisions: a working farm at the heart of the housing cluster, part of set-aside open space—several hundred projects like this are underway or being planned across the country. The positive, proactive initiatives just keep coming forward as more and more people grasp the reality of our environment and our economy, and as they awaken, stand up, and choose to become involved.

These agrarian initiatives are an authentic hope for the present and the future. They establish oases of radiant environmental health upon the land, they yield clean, fresh food for the health of our bodies and our minds, and they create opportunities for dignified and meaningful work in nature. Collectively, the Millennial Agrarians are establishing a foundation upon the land for the high-tech digital culture which is emerging so dynamically in our world.


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