13 RAPID FIRE THOUGHTS ON FARMING AND THE FUTURE OF FOOD
Last summer I had a sweet job.
As far as jobs go, at least.
I was part of the “veggie crew” on an organic farm, on what might be the most beautiful island in the whole freaking world. It’s called North Haven. It sits in Penobscot bay, off the coast of Maine and … well … damn. It’s gorgeous. Every day I was absolutely floored by the jaw-dropping beauty that surrounded me.
Being there made me think.
About a lot of things. But specifically about the current state of farming and the future of our food.
So … based on my research and what I learned as a farmer, here are 13 rapid-fire nuggets of insight. Do with them what you will.
NOTE: Some of the points that follow are very critical of farming. However, I want to be clear in that I’m NOT anti-agriculture or trying to insult farmers. Not at all. In contrast, I’m extremely appreciative of the work small farmers are doing. I know how hard it is. And I applaud anyone growing healthy food and trying to move our broken system towards a more sustainable future.
1. AGRICULTURE IS NOT A NATURAL THING.
Looking out across the pastures on a farm, it’s easy to feel like “ahh…this is the way things should be.” But this is delusional. Farming is not natural. That farm land you’re looking as is not the Earth’s natural state, but a man-made ecological artifact. It’s the result of eradicating an ecosystem and reshaping it to meet our needs.
2. FARMING IS INHERENTLY A BATTLE AGAINST NATURE.
Don’t believe me? Then try keeping a plot of veggies weed-free all summer. Without pesticides. It’s all but impossible. Every time you yank a weed from the soil, ten spring up somewhere else. Why? Because nature wants to reclaim the land. It wants to heal.
3. EVEN THE MOST SUSTAINABLE FARMS ARE OBVIOUSLY UNSUSTAINABLE.
As far as farms go, “my” farm would be considered radically green. It would be considered a model farm. Something less eco-friendly operations should aspire to be like. But even this farm, when truly examined, is clearly, painfully, obviously, unsustainable. It’s a clear-cut. It destroys ecosystems. It sucks millions of gallons of water. It imports compost, fertilizer, plastic and other products. It might be a step in the right direction, it might be less-bad, but it’s certainly not an ideal way to interact with the Earth or something that will save the planet.
4. EARTHWORMS ARE NOT NATIVE TO NORTHERN NORTH AMERICA.
Despite the common belief that earthworms are a sign of soil fertility, they’re actually an invasive species that is not native to this part of the world.
5. NOTHING WE GROW IS NATURAL.
Nearly all agricultural crops are man-made creations that are the result of hundreds of years of intensive breeding. We’ve taken wild plants, put them through the genetic ringer, and finally landed on the “supermarket veggies” we eat today. Cultivated plants are the domesticated sub-species of wild plants.
6. THERE ARE REALLY ONLY 4 VEGETABLES.
Well, maybe a few more than 4. But here’s the point: while many veggies have phenotypical differences (i.e. they look different from one another) genetically speaking there is very little variation. Think you’re mixing things up by rotating kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, savoy and kohlrabi through your diet? Think again. These are all one species — brassica oleracea.
7. CULTIVATED FOODS ARE PATHETIC.
Due to all this breeding, agricultural crops have lost the defenses that allowed their wild progenitor to survive. So now, they’re pathetic. And they need constant attention in order to stay alive. This isn’t true for all species, but for the most part, it is. Without a nicely fluffed up bed, the perfect amount of water and enough (but not too much!) sunlight … cultivated plants will wilt and die.
8. CULTIVATED PLANTS HAVE LOST THEIR NUTRITIONAL VALUE.
This goes hand in hand with the last insight.
In addition to breeding the adaptability out of our plants, we’ve also nutritionally blanded them. Because we’ve selected for certain “desirable” characteristics (taste, size and sweetness) we have, in the process, reduced the phytochemical content in our plants. In short: we’ve bred the nutrition, the medicine, out of our food supply.
9. WE USE PHARMACEUTICALS TO BRIDGE THIS NUTRITIONAL VOID.
Because the plants we eat have lost many of the medicinal, disease-fighting compounds present in wild plants we now purchase this missing medicine in the form of pharmaceutical drugs (this is an inferior strategy because it doesn’t preventdisease, but rather treats symptoms once we’re already sick).
10. “ORGANIC,” “FREE RANGE,” AND “ALL NATURAL” DON’T MEAN MUCH.
Just because your food says it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Just because there’s a picture of a smiling hen on your egg carton with the words free-range beside it doesn’t mean the birds lived happily. In fact, these words don’t mean much of anything at all. As I have seen first hand, farms can say (almost) anything. But the only way to know whether [insert product claim here] means jack-squat is to visit and see for yourself.
11. MOST PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEIR FOOD COMES FROM.
We’re more disconnected from food than ever before. Ask a kid where their food comes from and they’ll likely say: “Duh … the grocery store.” We are blind to the reality of what the food we’re eating actually is and where/how it’s grown.
12. THINGS ARE CHANGING, THOUGH.
Most people are aliens to the agricultural process. But things are changing. There’s a growing counter-movement. An upsurge of people interested in reclaiming responsibility for their food, for their local ecosystem and for their health. This is promising. But I’m not sure it’ll be enough to counteract the technocratic future of food that’s looming on the horizon …
13. 3D PRINTED FOOD IS COMING.
Soon, you won’t even have to buy whole ingredients and cook them. You’ll simply buy a cartridge of “ink” (protein and other nutrients, likely derived from insects and algae), place it in your personal 3-D printer, type in some commands… and … voila! A meal! In whatever shape you desire!
This is the frightening future of food. This is the level of nutritional disconnect we can expect to see in coming years.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate you.
Photo source: Suzie’s Farm