Fields tilled and ready
Jeff and John rolling dripline
Cause and Effect: Industrialized Organic Farming
“If corporate farms continue their takeover of our food supply, then these businesses and their giant trading corporate partners can set the price of basic food commodities, dictate the wages and working conditions of farm workers, and put family farms out of business through the consolidation of landholdings and economies of scale.” (Claire Cumming)
As organic agriculture becomes more mainstream and consumer demand calls for organically produced food, corporate motivation to dominate the marketplace on a large scale results in the industrialization of agriculture, operating on a profit motive rather than a belief system of sustainable food production. Consumers looking to eat healthier foods may see organic labels from industrialized farms and assume the process of production to be similar to the small and mid-scale organic farms of our recent past. As we become more industrialized in our approach to organic food production, we could be led from the ideals of local, healthful, and ecological use of the land to growing large expanses of land of a single crop.
This monoculture approach to organic farming sets aside the notions of sustainability and produces food in an industrialized manner, relying on inputs and products from off the farm site. Inherent in sustainable organic farming is self-sufficiency and minimal reliance on fertilizers and inputs from outside sources. Large scale industrialized organic farms operate in a similar manner to conventional industrialized farms, except organic inputs are applied in much the same manner as synthetic inputs are used in conventional industrial. The industrialized approach to organic farming becomes more like a factory run for high profit margins, than nurtured farmland respectful of biodiversity and health.
The industrial organic farm is more input-oriented than process-oriented. The Material List of accepted inputs for organic farming is not meant to be used as a recipe. “…a grower who relies primarily on highly soluble mined fertilizers for fertility management and botanical insecticides for pest control may be “organic” within the letter of the law, but cannot be viewed as truly farming organically. They are merely replacing a synthetic treadmill with a botanical one.” (CCOF Certification Handbook) Although soil management is required for organic certification, much of the record keeping focuses on inputs. The mentality of the industrialized organic farm is impersonal and not intensively managed. In fact, large tracts of land in separate locations are managed by off-site “farmers” giving instruction to low paid workers who do not benefit from the high profits earned by the factory farm on which they work.
The quantity of midsized viable organic farms is shrinking as the large scale industrial organic complex grows. Small family farms may not be able to meet an increasing demand for healthful organic food choices. It is in this “disappearing middle” that the agrarian ideal may be realized. If we continue with blind faith purchasing products labeled as organic, without concern over the process by which those products were produced, we could in essence be supporting the industrial complex rather than the organic ideal which lead us to buy and eat organically in the first place. With this corporate takeover of our food supply, the term organic can be manipulated to take on meaning to the benefit of profit margins and the demise of sustainable organic farms.
“This isn’t what we meant. When we said organic, we meant local. We meant healthful. We meant being true to the ecologies of regions. We meant mutually respectful growers and eaters. We meant social justice and equality.” (Joan Dye Gussow)
Seedling parting soil
Towards the sunlight
A Memory of Last May
Are you out-standing in your field?
I am. I stand here in the midst of lush green foliage, the juice of a ripe red tomato dripping from my face, gazing at the towering peak of Mt. Shasta. This five percent south facing slope has once again produced sweet juicy fruits of our labor.
These nourishing foods did not come about easily…farming is damn hard work and takes a mind not prone to losing sight of a dream or vision of what can be. Thinking back to the way this season started, I stand out in my field and am amazed.
Following weeks of warm weather, with the fields tilled and neatly ordered into patches of twelve seventy foot rows each, the soil invited us to bring the seedlings out to plant. We set our date for May 19th. Friends came up to help plant, eat, and camp, and at the end of the weekend, we had the whole farm planted. We were on top of the world! This was the earliest we would ever have all crops in the ground. All our energies could now be focused on tending the crops…hoeing, watering, feeding, protecting. Our confidence was up and we felt we would have the first tomatoes this season.
I can’t say enough about that…protect from what? you might ask.
I’m convinced that farming is all about protecting those plants which we choose to allow life and eliminating those that get in the way. Why do we choose one plant over another? Because that plant allows us life. So, we do what we can to organically protect our potential food source from weeds, bugs, critters, and weather, for the most part.
I began each morning with a stroll along the pathways, checking the tender leaves of the melons, squash, and cucumbers, the bright green miniature elongated blades of the corn, the fragile, delicate nature of these beginnings of life being raised to sustain the life of our family and community.
Then came that sudden freeze…passed through the area for just four hours one night and cut short the life of over fifty percent of our crop. Blackened tops of the tomato plants were laid over, apparently dead. Crops spottily dotted the landscape, some black and shriveled, survivors standing green and clinging to life, reaching for the sun.
It was only a brief drop below freezing…they could still have life in them…
This thought entered my consciousness and began to dominate in my mind. I rolled over and hit the light on the clock…five am…I figured I’d get an early start to the day and walk out the door as the sun began to shed its light and warmth back over our small part of the earth. I slowly walked towards the tomatoes, the field that was entirely laid over. Could they really be dead? I knelt down and dug my fingers into the loose soil at the base of a tomato and poked my finger at the stem beneath the soil. It felt strong, unlike the withered blackened tops above ground.
They could still have life in them…treat them as though they are alive…
Although no change was apparent after a week or so of watering and weeding the tomato field, I refused to give up.
Finally after about ten days, I looked closely again at the stem beneath the surface, scratching around at the base of the frozen plant. A tiny spot of green began to show itself near the base of the plant, throwing up a lateral branch! This could take over as the main stem!
Short wire hoops placed over the tops of these delicate plants helped support the emerging branch and keep it from snapping from its own weight. Time, attention, plenty of weeding, water, and manure tea nurtured these near-dead tomato seedlings into full lush productive tomato plants.
So, here I stand, out in my field, tomato juice running down my chin, smiling at the face of Mt. Shasta in the late afternoon glow of September.
Are you out-standing in your field?