If all politics is personal, as is widely held, then ultimately not much is more political than our food, and the farms which produce it. Everyone must eat, thus everyone has a vested interest in food.
Just now, early in the 21st Century, foods and farms are emerging as a leading-edge political movement. Thousands of college students are awake to the crucial importance of food and farms, and more are awakening.
With food poisoning scares, the ongoing onslaught of genetically modified food products being surreptitiously introduced to our diets, and the mounting evidence of the health and environmental consequences of large-scale, chemically dependent industrial agriculture, the list of reasons is growing for people to become active and take a direct part in ensuring food quality and food supply.
According to a May 23 story in The New York Times, a new wave of students is heading to farms this summer, in search of both work as interns, and social change. The interest in summer farm work among college students has never been as high, concurs the growing organization Organic Volunteers.
According to the Times, the students come armed with little more than soft hands and dog-eared copies of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. They are acutely aware of the gross environmental problems caused by mass-scale industrial agriculture; they want to help bring about change, and to know they are doing something to better the world.
Meanwhile, the dietary forces impelling people to recognize foods and farms as a key political issue are mounting in strength and credibility. According to stories in both Time Magazine and Mother Earth News, we now have solid, scientific evidence that industrial farming is giving us less healthy food. Produce in the U.S. not only tastes worse than it did in our grandparents’ days, the evidence shows it also contains fewer nutrients.
Both articles cite a February, 2009 study entitled “Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition,” by Dr. Donald R. Davis published in the journal HortScience, 2009.
Davis reports that the average vegetable found in today’s supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals than those harvested just 50 years ago.
Because of widely used chemical fertilizers and pesticides, modern crops are harvested faster than ever before. But quick and early harvests mean the produce has less time to absorb nutrients either from synthesis or the soil. Meanwhile, monoculture – another hallmark of the Big Ag industry – has also led to soil-mineral depletion, which, in turn, affects the nutrient content of crops.
What can we do? Follow the examples of the new agrarians of the 21st Century. They continue to respond intelligently, creatively, and innovatively in backyards, neighborhoods, and with community gardens and farms across the land.
Changing economic conditions represent yet a third force making it likely many more people will be looking for the practical and political pathways being trailblazed by the new agrarians. For example, a May 24 story in The Hartford Courant told of how – in the face of drastically changing economics – local growers have begun offering CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares as a survival strategy to keep their farms alive..
CSA describes an emerging agrarian form that has swept the country since the first two CSA farms were established in 1978. The number of CSA farms is barely keeping up with demand. As reported elsewhere on this blog, CSA farms have increased dramatically in recent years, with more than 13,000 now operating in the USA according to a census taken by the US Department of Agriculture.