Force Feeding: The Ultimate Power Diet

April 4, 2014

Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.” – Rudolf Steiner

123120_103319_wave_LAlthough of immense interest to millions of people – inspired in part by the continent-wide community food movement  –  the vitamins, minerals, calories, protein and carbohydrates of our sustenance are but material factors. Libraries of books have been dedicated to these material aspects. Mostly overlooked are the forces at work upon the land, the plants, and the animals that yield the food upon which we feed. Yet these forces – the energetic spiritual aspect of our victuals – are key elements of a true power diet.

The UN’s global food bureaucracy, Codex Alimentarius, has a horde of committees, commissions, and task forces to evaluate and to proclaim stipulations upon everything from agrochemicals and GMOs to spices, microbes and meat. But Codex – heavily biased toward industrial agriculture – has nothing whatsoever to reckon with the light forces (biophotons) embodied in and conveyed by food. Apparently, forces are considered too esoteric a factor, and possess no directly exploitable connection to profit.

Farmer_John_CookbookThis abstruse reality came into focus for me again this week as I paged through Farmer John’s Cookbook: the Real Dirt on Vegetables (2006). It’s a marvelously motley buffet of insights, essays, observations, illuminations and recipes from the famed Angelic Organics CSA in north central Illinois. Farmer John’s book does not confine itself to food in isolation, but also – of necessity – explores farms as living organisms, the foundation upon which civilization rests. It also embraces the reality of the forces at work on farms, and in the food that comes from farms.

Author John Peterson, accorded agrarian celebrity in the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, takes farms and food to a rarefied level of discussion. He transcends materialist, reductionist attitudes towards food, approaches that often lead to fetishistic obsession on physical properties such as vitamins, minerals and calories. Peterson offers instead a banquet for the soul of people who recognize that the way we produce our food, fiber and ethanol fuel is perhaps the greatest destructive force extant upon our wobbly planet, and paradoxically also the most effective pathway to heal the damage.

“As a natural extension of our use of Biodynamic farming practices,” Peterson writes, “we have come to see our vegetables and herbs not only as ingredients to be washed and chopped and tossed into stir-fries but also as plants with life forces that can enhance health on many levels.”

“Food is more,” Farmer John posits. “Food is a potential carrier for the forces that build up our thinking feeling, and willing…Food imbued with these forces can contribute immensely to the task of bringing healthy social impulses to humanity.

HumanFieldFarmer John’s Cookbook endorses no particular food regimen or discipline: neither omnivore, vegan, low-cal, low-fat, Mediterranean, Paleo, Flexitarian, nor any of the other myriad of dietary permutations and possibilities. Rather, it presents information and encourages readers – growers, cooks and consumers – to make their own informed decisions out of their own intelligence and free will. In that sense, the cookbook represents what one of the book’s essayists, Dr. Thomas Cowan, identifies as a “middle way.”

A lifelong farmer, Peterson understands that the farm is not just a local production unit for food, not just an economic engine, and that there is soul-deadening danger in regarding them in that mechanical, materialistic fashion.

Farms are, rather, organisms at the very center of earthly existence for every human being. Farms stand between heaven and earth, distinct, particular force-mediating organisms with biological and spiritual qualities that – for better or worse – impact the essential quality our existence and transfer to us forces of varying quantities and qualities when we consume the food they yield. This Mystery is one of the unacknowledged benefits of authentic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which has the potential to bring human beings into direct conscious support with the farm organisms which make life in the modern world possible.

Plant and animal life is intimately bound up with the life of the soil. The more light force a food is able to access and store, the greater the vitality, clarity and will force it conveys to the consumer. Farmer John’s Cookbook conveys a feast of understandings about this spiritual energetic dimension, and also a wealth of practical and delectable recipes that can help bring the understandings (and the forces) together on the end of a fork – a genuine power diet.

123120_103319_wave_L

 


Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices

March 14, 2014

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a major new two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices (Macmillan). My chapter on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is among the many elements of this comprehensive resource.

Achieving Sustainability coverSustainable development is essential to our future.

Designed to increase understanding, inform actions, enrich academic assignments, and enhance research, Macmillan’s Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, And Practices is a reference work intended to meet the needs of students and educators in high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges, as well as the interested layperson.

Aimed at readers who are not experts in the field, the material is relevant to courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

This title presents and analyzes the underpinnings of the multi-disciplinary concept of sustainability. A two-volume encyclopedia containing more than 130 signed entries, Achieving Sustainability covers economic and environmental ideas, as well as governance, demographic, and socio-cultural aspects of the concept.


CSA Farm Book Goes Global

February 3, 2014

Höfe der ZukunftA pioneering book that helped spark the CSA farm movement in the United States has now been published in a German-language edition.

Farms of Tomorrow, the first book on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), authored by Trauger Groh and Steven McFadden back in 1989-90 when they were neighbors in New Hampshire, has just been published in a German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

Journalist McFadden, a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska for the last several years, is the author of 12 other nonfiction titles including Profiles in Wisdom, and The Call of the Land. The various editions of the farm book he co-authored with farmer and philosopher Trauger Groh have helped to catalyze the development of CSA in America.

CSAs are farms and food distribution systems that directly unite farmers and consumers in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet. Consumer households invest in shares of a farm’s harvest in advance, and the farm reciprocates with weekly supplies of fresh, clean locally grown food.

By now there are well over 8,500 CSAs in the USA, and many thousands more in other nations, including Canada, France, Australia, Israel, and China. The steady growth and development of these new farms in the USA has come through an era beginning in the 1980s when traditional family farms have continued to decline for a host of reasons, and to be swallowed by increasingly larger operations.

farmscover.thumbFarms of Tomorrow was published by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association in English since 1990; the 2nd edition of the book, Farms of Tomorrow Revisited was published in 1998, with many new chapters including one by Marcie Ostrom on CSA coalitions. The book has also been published in Japanese, and Russian translations. Now, nearly a quarter century after the CSA farm book first came out, it’s available in a handsome new German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

German farmer and scholar Wolfgang Stranz worked for over a year to translate Farms of Tomorrow, and to write a special new chapter for readers in Germany and Austria.

As Resurgence Magazine noted in a review, “it is rare to come across any practical farming guide that sets out, from its inception, a set of principles that embrace social, spiritual, and economic concerns on completely equal terms. The wisdom and clarity of philosophy are striking throughout.”  CSA is a dynamic movement at the heart of agricultural renewal.

The German-language edition of the book, Hofe der Zukunft, is available here.

The English-language edition of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, published by the Biodynamic Association, is available on Amazon.com and through Steiner Books.

 


To My Old Brown Earth

January 31, 2014

R.I.P. Pete Seeger  (1919-2014). These are the lyrics to a song Pete wrote in 1958 for a friend’s funeral, courtesy of his musical compatriot Paul Winter.

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

Pete Seeger (1919-2014). Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

To My Old Brown Earth

To my old brown earth
And to my old blue sky
I’ll now give these last few molecules
of “I”

And you who sing
And you who stand nearby
I do charge you not to cry

Guard well our human chain
Watch well you keep it strong
As long as sun will shine

And this our home
Keep pure and sweet and green
For now I’m yours
And you are also
Mine

— Words and music by Pete Seeger, 1958

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4YwKPOgz5o


The Future of Food is Local

November 19, 2013

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln (author photo)

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln
(author photo)

Michael Brownlee stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska on Monday evening and gave a talk about local food. Detailing the systemic weaknesses in the juggernaut of industrial agriculture, which now provides about 98% of our food, he commented: ”food is the one area where we are all most vulnerable, and where the need is most urgent.”

Brownlee and his partners at Local Food Shift are out to catalyze the national movement in local food helping to take it to the next level — from a culture of consumers, to a culture of contributors. He considers their efforts in the Front Range of Colorado to be a Whole Systems Demonstration Project.

“The way we feed ourselves is the most important social, environmental, health and economic undertaking of our times,” he said. “Food is going to come soon to the forefront of emerging human calamities.”

Brownlee cited the draft report leaked earlier this month from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In blunt language, that report spells out the trend: “climate change will seriously damage the world’s ability to feed itself in the coming decades. The report confirms previous studies’ findings that climate change could exacerbate poverty, strain water supplies, make extreme weather more common and increase conflict around the world.

Local food is a core response to impending catastrophes, accentuated by climate change. The world’s agricultural areas will shift, causing an overall decline in agricultural production. The movement toward local food comes at the juncture of a troubling array of global environmental and economic crises, he said, and responds to them in a healthy and positive way.

The Local Food Shift campaign is designed to empower communities to marshal their efforts in beginning to shift their food systems towards the local. They are creating and making available tools and processes to empower the local food movement.

“The global food system is now teetering on the edge of collapse,” Brownlee asserted. “The future of food is local – as close to home as possible. Local food production helps to reverse the wide spiral of damage caused by industrial agriculture and the industrial growth society.”

Brownlee concluded his talk with a quote from economist Herman Daly, author of several books, including For the Common Good (1994).  “If economics is reconceived in the service of community, it will begin with a concern for agriculture and specifically for the production of food. This is because a healthy community will be a relatively self-sufficient one…The most fundamental requirement for survival is food. Hence, how and where food is grown is foundational to an economics for community.”


Sacred Land: 400th Anniversary of 1st Treaty

July 30, 2013

Our ancestors made this great agreement on our behalf 400 years ago. Now is the time for us to think about the people living in the next 400 years.”   – Hickory Edwards (Onondaga Nation)

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

Long ago when the colonial peoples were seizing possession of the land they would come to call North America, they entered into sworn agreements with the human beings who already occupied the land. The Two Row Treaty, the first of those solemn agreements, is as of 2013 now 400 years old.

To serve as a permanent record of the treaty, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people wove a belt of beads from wampum sea shells, their traditional way of recording sacred agreements, a means more elegant and enduring than the fragile sheets of paper marked with ink that the colonial settlers used.

Commemoration of that treaty is reaching a crescendo late this summer with an elaborate series of lectures, concerts, celebrations, historic enactments, and collaborations planned by The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.

The intention is to polish this centuries-old covenant chain of friendship, to protect our shared environmental inheritance, and to build support for resolution of various land rights actions.

The call to honor the treaty comes in the context of perfect faithlessness. The USA has broken or violated every single one of the nearly 500 legally binding treaties it has entered into with various Native nations.

Thus, the Two Row Wampum campaign has resounding karmic implications for peace, friendship, environmental responsibility and justice.

In recent years, Native peoples have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a fundamental necessity for this continuing friendship, for a more just peace between peoples, and for a sustainable, shared future in parallel on the land we inhabit together.


Humane Husbandry: Nebraska Tries to Blaze a Trail

July 22, 2013

“Nebraska leads the nation in organic livestock numbers and is one of the leading producers of grass-fed beef. In time we will lead the nation in producing and marketing humanely raised livestock.”

- Kevin Fulton, rancher

Out of the smoldering rhetorical and legislative rubble of recent years, a band of farmers – the Nebraska Farmers Union – has stepped forward in a joint venture with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in an effort to blaze new, cooperative market trails that lead to increased opportunities for small and mid-size farmers, as well as to more humane livestock care.

Photo © 2013 by Heather Blanchette

Photo © 2013 by Like a Cup of Tea

Most Americans eat meat of one kind or another (96% of us). Questions about where our meat came from, how the animals were treated when alive, and how they were killed and prepared for our tables, are fundamental. They matter a lot, and in a lot of ways. Thus this joint venture between two groups that might well stand in opposition to each other is a model of national and perhaps international significance.

Nine billion animals are raised for the table each year in the USA. The experience the animals live out on a farm or endure in mass, industrial confinement has economic, environmental, health and moral ramifications.

Meat has of late been engulfed in ferocious conflicts of law and rhetoric, pitting livestock producers head on with animal welfare and animal rights groups. As one of America’s premier meat-producing states, Nebraska is a critical forum for these debates to play out.

sowGestcrate1For over a decade HSUS had been waging a general campaign to get livestock and poultry producers to abandon various industrial-scale livestock management practices that they consider inhumane. In particular, HSUS helped push successful ballot measures in several states to restrict or prohibit sow gestation crates – enclosures that keep female pigs pregnant and all but immobile.

Pretty much all HSUS needed to do was show pictures of the sow gestation crates to the public. The pictures told the story, no narrative necessary. People did not like what they saw. Thus, ballot initiatives prohibiting sow gestation crates were being enacted into law in states around the nation. This engendered rancor among many livestock producers. They felt the crates were safe and efficient, and that science and economics were on their side.

 “Our American Way of Life”

While HSUS was advancing legislatively and in the court of public opinion, industrial agriculture was, and is, coming on strong in state after state with so-called Ag Gag laws, which make it a crime to photograph or film how livestock is managed in industrial settings.

The moral stance of HSUS — the idea that it regards itself as working toward a civil society that “triumphs over ignorance, convenience, and archaic tradition” — was rubbing salt in the wounds of frustrated livestock industry movers and shakers.

Several years ago HSUS considered Nebraska as a possible state for another effort to render sow gestation crates illegal. Because HSUS already had a winning track record in other states, the Nebraska animal agriculture establishment was on red alert. Several large producer and insurance organizations formed a trade organization, We Support Agriculture, to promote their point of view and – pointedly — to thwart HSUS initiatives.

A November 2010 town hall meeting in the capital city of Lincoln to discuss animal welfare wound up as a heated confrontation that produced less than a wisp of understanding on the core issues around livestock-meat. Hot words continued to fly in the aftermath.

americanwayThen about 18 months ago things went nuclear when Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) blasted HSUS from a national stage near Washington, DC. He spoke before a conference of lawmakers who chair agriculture committees in their respective states. Heineman, a West Point graduate and a former Army Ranger, sought to rally the troops. He called on lawmakers from across the country to join him in fighting HSUS.

Echoing the position of We Support Agriculture, Heinemann said he did not trust the Humane Society. He described it as an organization bent on destruction of Nebraska’s top economic engine, agriculture.

Then he dropped a bomb: “This is about our American way of life,” he said, “and HSUS wants to destroy the American dream for America’s farmers and ranchers. This is about jobs for American families, and HSUS wants to destroy job opportunities for our sons and our daughters and our grandkids.”

In the aftermath of this verbal nuke, the state of affairs vis a vis livestock-animal welfare-meat appeared intractable, a heavily mined legal, economic, environmental and ethical battlefield. Matters seemed destined for an ugly finish. At just about that time, though, the market asserted itself in the debate.

The Market Speaks

Bowing to overwhelming public opinion many food industry giants — McDonald’s, Burger King, Krogers, Johnstown Sausages, ConAgra, Smithfield Foods, and leading Canadian retailers – began notifying their pork suppliers that they wanted sow gestation crates phased out. The market proved swifter, more powerful and more effective than any political resolution

As the market reality was emerging, HSUS abandoned any consideration of a ballot initiative in Nebraska, or elsewhere. The issue of sow gestation crates was becoming moot.

trailTrying to turn a negative into a positive, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) began to talk with HSUS about ways to collaborate, to look for a trail forward, and to develop new, profitable, consumer-driven markets for livestock producers, rather than pursuing various statewide ballot issues to regulate livestock production.

“Statewide ballot campaigns polarize the situation,” explained John K. Hansen, President of  NeFU. “The campaigns are designed to get a visceral reaction. When that happens, and people on both sides are getting hit in the gut, then folks are not open to changing their positions.”

Hansen has held the elected office of President since 1989. Although he encountered  resistance from fellow Union members in state and around the country, he stuck his neck out and agreed to sit down with HSUS and talk. After exploring the possibilities, together in a joint venture they created the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

In a phone interview, Hansen explained: “In other states HSUS was getting into bruising battles with groups representing ag producers. I called the Farmers Union presidents in all of the states that had dealt with ballot issues on livestock, and I talked with them about this. They told me it had been a very painful process for them and their states. The livestock debates were extremely polarizing and creating long-term damage in the industries that produce the various meats most Americans eat.

“The battles were deeply destructive for everyone, especially livestock producers, and that’s not good. So that’s when Nebraska Farmer’s Union agreed to talk with the Humane Society to see if we could move things forward.”

Confab at the Cornhusker

Regarding livestock animal-welfare issues as crucial and Nebraska as pivotal, the President and CEO of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, returned to the state a second time early this summer to represent his 11-million member organization, and to participate in a second public forum concerning HSUS’s joint venture with the Farmers Union — the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

chPacelle visited the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in the capital city of Lincoln, the night of June 27, 2013 to help articulate the ideas behind the initiative.

As noted by the Lincoln Journal-Star, when Pacelle made a public appearance in Lincoln three years ago “the mood was tense…” and the proceedings were contentious. This time, knowing the vehement opposition that had characterized Pacelle’s visit to Nebraska in 2010 a contingent of security guards was posted at the door. They warily inspected everyone approaching the conference room.

This time there was no opposition. Opponents chose, at least publically, to ignore the Nebraska Agriculture Council. Thus, the forum was quiet, orderly, sparsely attended.

With 6,200 farm families as members, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) is the largest family farm and ranch group in the state. The union was formed 100 years ago in 1913, when Nebraska farmers perceived that independently they were consistently at a disadvantage. They banded together to stand up against monopolies that controlled the railroads, agricultural processing, farm supplies, and large grocery businesses. Over the last century the Farmers Union helped found 436 farm cooperatives across Nebraska.

At the Cornhusker forum, after farmers and union members spoke, HSUS’s Pacelle took a turn at the podium. “The history of this country is an expanding sphere of moral consideration,” he declared. “That sphere is now expanding to include the animals who are part of our lives, and who so many of us depend upon for food.”

“We are here to celebrate forward-thinking farmers who make animal welfare a priority and to appeal to the increasing share of consumers concerned about the values of humane treatment and sustainability,” he said.

The Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS is the first of it’s kind in any state, but is a model that will be replicated elsewhere.

A Good Business Partnership

A Nebraska native, Farmers Union President John Hansen told the forum he wants to create opportunities for people to return to animal agriculture, and for family farmers to make a living. He said he wants to see farmers moving product through supply chains.

NeFU.logo“Instead of continuing a knock-down, drag-out fight, we have to find a way to move forward,” Hansen said. “We have to find a way to reward people in the market for improving their standards of livestock care. We want to create new opportunities for new producers. We want to do value-added to create a premium product that will reward farmers and ranchers in the market for the ethical treatment of their animals.”

“This is a good business partnership.” Hansen said. “American agriculture can produce quality products with high standards of livestock care, and then be rewarded in the marketplace. The key to this is being open and transparent. We believe the market will reward us for doing the right thing in the right way.”

“Before this approach came forward,” Hansen said, “we were basically in a shin-kicking contest, and those contests were tending to go in favor of the pet owners, who are in the majority. Two-thirds of Americans own pets – and that majority tends to apply their own pet ethics and pet standards to livestock.

“That’s where the trouble starts. The two – pets and livestock – are related but different. In these conflicts ag producers are going to lose most of time because they are outnumbered by consumers, and that’s not good. We need them to live and they need us to make a living.”

“It’s pretty clear what local consumers want,” Hansen said. “They want meat from animals that are free of growth hormones and non-essential antibiotics. They want animals that have been properly and respectfully cared for, and allowed to express their basic animal nature.”

Building a More Humane Economy

When he took his turn speaking at the Cornhusker forum, Kevin Fulton said “animal welfare” outranks “organic” and “local” as an issue of concern for consumers. Fulton is a founder of the new council, and also the operator of Fulton Farms in Litchfield, Nebraska, a 2,800-acre diverse, multispecies livestock grazing operation for grass-fed beef, lamb, and pastured poultry.

“Farmers and ranchers should be at the forefront of the animal welfare issue, Fulton said. “Animals are not production units, but living creatures.”

Fulton cited a 2011 poll by the University of Nebraska. The poll shows that most rural Nebraskans (69%) agree that animal welfare means more than providing adequate food, water and shelter; but also includes adequate exercise, space and social activities for the animals.

As Fulton interprets the results, an overwhelming majority of people – these are rural Nebraska people, not seaboard city dwellers – are of the opinion that animals should be in an environment where they can express their natural behaviors.

“If they have legs they should at least be able to walk and turn around,” he said, “and if they have wings they should be able to flap them.”

Farm to Fitness

One component of the NAC marketing effort is a variation on the by now well-developed array of “farm-to” models. The US and farm2fitlogoCanada already have many farm-to-school, farm-to-church, farm-to-hospital, farm-to-office, programs, and more. As of late 2012, Farm to Fitness adds to the array of possibilities by using gyms as a focal point for connecting health-minded consumers with local producers of nutritious, humanely-raised meat, poultry and other foods to support their fitness goals.

According to Ben Gotschall, who hails from a cattle ranch in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and is Market Development Coordinator for the Nebraska Farmer’s Union: “The idea is for gyms to promote local livestock to their members, and to provide a distribution point for humanely raised and cooperatively purchased food orders.”

“I think this partnership is progress in the right direction,” Gotschall said. “Legislation can only get you so far. If you try to legislate problems away you run into other problems. The arguments we were having were not really getting anyone anywhere. The fight was demonizing producers and villainizing HSUS in the eyes of the agricultural community, and not really changing the way animals are treated in industrial systems.

“Taking a market approach is more constructive. That’s the nature of the problem anyway, because the marketplace dictates the system. Now with the new technologies, the market has the potential to take livestock care in a different direction, to make it better for animals, producers and consumers.”

“There is consumer demand, for sure, but that’s not a market,” Gotschall said. “You need a market system with production, processing, distribution, and so forth. That’s all been destroyed in the last 30 to 40 years. There is no way to go back to how it was. But that’s OK. It’s a different time and a different world.”

“We need to create a better world. Small-scale and mid-size farmers and ranchers now have the Internet, smartphones, and other information tools. The whole concept of knowing your farmer and where your food comes from is a lot more nuanced. It’s not the same as a first-person visit to the farm and farmers, but it is a connection and it works. We have many exciting new technologies.” Those technologies make it simpler for people in a supply chain to communicate and do business.”

Local, sustainable, value-added producers have the facts on their side, Gotschall asserted. “The research shows their product is healthier for people,” he said. To support his claim, he emailed me an Excel spreadsheet listing 58 relevant studies, including this sample.

Moral Evolution

Nebraska’s Governor proffered some incendiary rhetoric when he identified the matters of livestock and meat as a core issue, and then condemned the Humane Society as attempting to destroy the American way of life. Yet the “American way” the Governor so ferociously attempted to defend has, alas, long ago been generally overwhelmed.

Farmer’s Union President John Hansen laid out the familiar, grim facts: “Because of vertical integration and consolidation, in the years since 1980 we have lost 91% of independent hog producers, 80% of all dairy producers, and 40% of all beef producers. That is a massive shift. It shoved a lot of farm people out the door. They didn’t want to go. They were pushed out. No wonder we now are down to just 1% of the population farming today.”

“No animal welfare group drove these farm families out of business. It was, rather, a market dominated by vertically integrated multinational food corporations with mass industrial approaches, and little if any transparency about what they are actually doing.”

The population and character of Nebraska — and many other places in rural America — began altering markedly in the shadow of the relentlessly efficient advance of industrial models of food production and livestock management.

Even before the Governor’s damning words about HSUS ceased reverberating, his premise about the “American way of life” was further assaulted. Shuanghui International, a colossal Chinese conglomerate, surged forward in 2013 in an effort to purchase Smithfield, the world’s largest hog producer and pork packer. With three large ham and sausage plants in Nebraska, Smithfield is a major-league player.

Meanwhile, JBS Swift & Company, which also has a substantial presence in Nebraska, has for years been a wholly owned subsidiary of another multinational, a corporation based in Brazil.

Neither of these foreign entities – or the other multinational corporations behind industrial feedlots and confinement operations across America – necessarily match the down-home, patriotic profile conjured by the Governor’s volley. They are, for better or for worse, global institutions in an era of global commerce and communication. Multinational corporations, with their pluses and minuses, are but the latest permutation of the very forces that have so profoundly impacted, and continue to impact Nebraska and American farm families.

Governor Heinemann’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

the-thinker-224x300Through a sophisticated focus on efficiency and profit, large operations tend to spawn coldly rational mechanistic systems and dynamics that are well suited to machines, but not — as HSUS sees it — to living beings such as cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys. Here lies an enormous philosophical divide.

“What we are seeing is a major consumer reaction that was predicted back in the 1960s,” Hansen explained in our phone interview. “It was known even back then that when the corporations took over the farms, as has happened, that then the system would become less competitive and more homogenous. All of this stuff, it was known. They are reaping the harvest of what they sowed.”

“As I see it all of the things the Humane Society has been responding to are directly tied into the vertically integrated, industrialized corporate agriculture,” Hansen said. “It all comes out of this. The corporate takeover of livestock production has resulted in these conditions.

“The reason HSUS has influence in the debate,” Hansen said, “is because they are giving voice to legitimate consumer concerns. What do consumers want? You have to listen to that and respond. How do we create a value-added market that responds to this desire and expands the possibilities? The answers to those questions are the way forward.”

Leading a ‘Hungry Army’ along a Market Trail

It appears in the aftermath of the rhetorical battles and tectonic market shifts that have taken place around animal welfare, the troops that rose up in response to the Nebraska Governor’s call to arms included not just legislators wielding meat cleavers on the public’s right to know, but also consumers wielding forks, knives and authentic marketplace clout.

As the Lincoln Journal Star put it in an editorial, the “hungry army” that has been aroused is a growing network of consumers who want meat that is more humanely raised, that does not pollute the environment, that is healthy, and that is free of synthetic hormones, and chemicals.

humane,logoNext that “hungry army” may march on growth hormones, or excessive antibiotics, or any number of industrial practices that hold the stage as issues of common concern. Most citizens feel that the basic right of knowledge and choice is theirs and should remain theirs, an essential element of the American and Nebraskan democratic tradition.

The agriculture industry group We Support Agriculture apparently remains distrustful of HSUS. They did not respond to a request for comment. According to press releases on their website, they remain convinced that  animal welfare groups intend ultimately to terminate all livestock husbandry, and to convert everyone to vegetarianism.

In talking with members of the Nebraska Agriculture Council, I heard no one speak about eliminating animal agriculture. They spoke rather about creating more opportunities for small and mid-size farmers. I heard them speak, also, about their cooperative effort to pioneer a way forward with healthy, local humane husbandry using a robust and sophisticated network of 21st century technologies to help blaze the trail.

Jocelyn Nickerson, HSUS state director for Nebraska, had this to say: “This is all about protecting family farms, and that extends well beyond Nebraska. Nebraska is a tough state, but we’ve made strides in relationship building, in getting our message out about protecting family farms, and in improving conditions for animals on the farms. That’s a good thing, no two ways about it.

“Our ultimate goal is not to stop livestock production, but to promote humanely and sustainably raised products. We’re doing it because it’s important, because it’s the right thing to do, and because that’s what consumers are demanding.”

- end -

Author’s Note: Along with several producer coops, Open Harvest consumer coop grocery in Lincoln is a partner in the newly formed Nebraska Agriculture Council. I serve on the Board for Open Harvest, which does business with over 110 Nebraska farms. I’m also on the Advisory Board for Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, and a member of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.


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.


The Roots of Good Health Are Anchored in the Land

March 2, 2013

grass-roots

“Let food be thy medicine,
and medicine be thy food.” -
 Hippocrates

Healthy land is the key to healthy food; thus, inevitably it’s also the key to healthy human beings.

The famous Greek physician of antiquity, Hippocrates – often called the father of western medicine – drew attention to this health key over 2,000 years ago when he authored On Airs, Waters, and Places.

Hippocrates argued that disease was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental factors: diet, habits, and the land where you live.

As observation over time shows, clean, vibrant land that is intelligently, organically cultivated constitutes an oasis of health on the face of the earth. The land’s health radiates to everything around, as well as everything that banquets from the land’s bounty arising. Conversely, unhealthy, polluted, chemically saturated land — and  the food raised from it — trend health on a numbing downward spiral.

roots-silhouetteIn a time of increasing impact from climate instability and swiftly rising food prices, we can no longer leave the care of the land that sustains us, and the production from it of our food  – to less than 1% of the population. That’s how few of us are active farmers — the human beings who serve as ambassadors to the earth for all of us.  They touch the land on our behalf. Depending on how we have invested our money to secure our food, the ambassadors work either great good or great harm upon the land.

The land is calling out with thunder as we approach planting season 2013. We are called to listen now and to respond creatively by establishing thousands more networked oases of clean, organically cultivated land, or by directly and actively supporting the farmer ambassadors touching the land for us via the many thousands of 21st Century agrarian initiatives already at work to sink the roots of good health deep into the land.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 98 other followers

%d bloggers like this: