Share your thoughts on the Massachusetts Food System at this open forum at UMass

ma-food-plan-web-logoListening Sessions for the Massachusetts Food System Planning Process

Tuesday, February 3, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.

 Amherst Room, UMass Campus Center, 10th floor

Do you have a perspective on an aspect of our food system that you believe should be heard by the people who are developing a Food System Plan for Massachusetts, the first such plan in over 40 years?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, through its Food Policy Council, has engaged a partnership of four agencies to develop the plan. The plan will recommend a number of strategies to strengthen our food system, including legislative, regulatory and budget recommendations as well actions that many individuals and organizations can pursue. It will focus on increasing food production and related jobs within the state as well as on access and equity within the system and ecological resilience.

Last Fall, the Planning Partners held a number of Listening Sessions in eastern Massachusetts to seek input into the plan. Now, several groups on the UMass Amherst campus have come together to sponsor a Listening Session on campus for people from on-campus and off-campus. All are welcome. These include faculty, students and staff from UMass and the Five Colleges and all Mass. residents. Attendance at this Listening Session will be very appropriate for those who would like an introduction to the planning process and, most importantly, to provide input to the planners.

Planning Partners: Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Massachusetts Workforce Alliance, Fertile Ground.

Listening Session Sponsors: UMass Center for Public Policy and Administration; UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment; UMass Auxiliary Services.

Listening Session Co-Sponsors: UMass Department of Nutrition, the Sustainable Food and Farming Program at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, UMass Real Food Challenge.

Details about the Listening Session:

  • Date: Tuesday, February 3, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
  • Place: Amherst Room, UMass Campus Center, 10th floor
  • Admittance is without charge and RSVPs are not required. Parking is available in the adjacent Campus Center Parking Garage. For further information contact Joe Shoenfeld,, 413-545-5309.

Industrial Agriculture is Really Good at “Public Relations”

By Jonathan Latham, PhD

By conventional wisdom it is excellent news. Researchers from Iowa have shown that organic farming methods can yield almost as highly as pesticide-intensive methods. Other researchers, from Berkeley, California, have reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both findings met with a very enthusiastic reception. The enthusiasm is appropriate, but only if one misses a deep and fundamental point: that even to participate in such a conversation is to fall into a carefully laid trap.

The strategic centrepiece of Monsanto’s PR, and also that of just about every major commercial participant in the industrialised food system, is to focus on the promotion of one single overarching idea. The big idea that industrial producers in the food system want you to believe is that only they can produce enough for the future population (Peekhaus 2010). Thus non-industrial systems of farming, such as all those which use agroecological methods, or SRI, or are localised and family-oriented, or which use organic methods, or non-GMO seeds, cannot feed the world.

Dustbowl and soil erosion USA, 1935's

To be sure, agribusiness has other PR strategies. Agribusiness is “pro-science”, its opponents are “anti-science”, and so on. But the main plank has for decades been to create a cast-iron moral framing around the need to produce more food (Stone and Glover 2011).

Therefore, if you go to the websites of Monsanto and Cargill and Syngenta and Bayer, and their bedfellows: the US Farm Bureau, the UK National Farmers Union, and the American Soybean Association, and CropLife International, or The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, or the international research system (CGIAR), and now even NASA, they very early (if not instantaneously) raise the “urgent problem” of who will feed the expected global population of 9 or 10 billion in 2050.

Likewise, whenever these same organisations compose speeches or press releases, or videos, or make any pronouncement designed for policymakers or the populace, they devote precious space to the same urgent problem. It is even in their job advertisements. It is their Golden Fact and their universal calling card. And as far as neutrals are concerned it wins the food system debate hands down, because it says, if any other farming system cannot feed the world, it is irrelevant. Only agribusiness can do that.

The real food crisis is of overproduction
Yet this strategy has a disastrous foundational weakness. There is no global or regional shortage of food. There never has been and nor is there ever likely to be. India has a superabundance of food. South America is swamped in food. The US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are swamped in food (e.g. Billen et al 2011). In Britain, like in many wealthy countries, nearly half of all row crop food production now goes to biofuels, which at bottom are an attempt to dispose of surplus agricultural products. China isn’t quite swamped but it still exports food (see Fig 1.); and it grows 30% of the world’s cotton. No foodpocalypse there either.

Of all the populous nations, Bangladesh comes closest to not being swamped in food. Its situation is complex. Its government says it is self-sufficient. The UN world Food Program says it is not, but the truth appears to be that Bangladeshi farmers do not produce the rice they could because prices are too low, because of persistent gluts (1).

Chinese net food exports

Even some establishment institutions will occasionally admit that the food shortage concept – now and in any reasonably conceivable future – is bankrupt. According to experts consulted by the World Bank Institute there is already sufficient food production for 14 billion people – more food than will ever be needed. The Golden Fact of agribusiness is a lie.

Truth restoration
So, if the agribusiness PR experts are correct that food crisis fears are pivotal to their industry, then it follows that those who oppose the industrialization of food and agriculture should make dismantling that lie their top priority.

Anyone who wants a sustainable, pesticide-free, or non-GMO food future, or who wants to swim in a healthy river or lake again, or wants to avoid climate chaos, needs to know all this. Anyone who would like to rebuild the rural economy or who appreciates cultural, biological, or agricultural diversity of any meaningful kind should take every possible opportunity to point out the evidence that refutes it. Granaries are bulging, crops are being burned as biofuels or dumped, prices are low, farmers are abandoning farming for slums and cities, all because of massive oversupply. Anyone could also point out that probably the least important criterion for growing food, is how much it yields. Even just to acknowledge crop yield, as an issue for anyone other than the individual farmer, is to reinforce the framing of the industry they oppose.

The project to fully industrialise global food production is far from complete, yet already it is responsible for most deforestation, most marine pollution, most coral reef destruction, much of greenhouse gas emissions, most habitat loss, most of the degradation of streams and rivers, most food insecurity, most immigration, most water depletion, massive human health problems, and so on (Foley et al 2005; Foley et al 2011). Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that if the industrialisation of food is not reversed our planet will be made unlivable for multi-cellular organisms. Our planet is becoming literally uninhabitable solely as a result of the social and ecological consequences of industrialising agriculture. All these problems are without even mentioning the trillions of dollars in annual externalised costs and subsidies (Pretty et al. 2000).

So, if one were to devise a strategy for the food movement, it would be this. The public already knows (mostly) that pesticides are dangerous. They also know that organic food is higher quality, and is far more environmentally friendly. It knows that GMOs should be labeled, are largely untested, and may be harmful. That is why the leaders of most major countries, including China, dine on organic food. The immense scale of the problems created by industrial agriculture should, of course, be understood better, but the main facts are hardly in dispute.

But what industry understands, and the food movement does not, is that what prevents total rejection of bland, industrialised, pesticide-laden, GMO food is the standard acceptance, especially in Western countries, of the overarching agribusiness argument that such food is necessary. It is necessary to feed the world.

But, if the food movement could show that famine is an empty threat then it would also have shown, by clear implication, that the chemical health risks and the ecological devastation that these technologies represent are what is unnecessary. The movement would have shown that pesticides and GMOs exist solely to extract profit from the food chain. They have no other purpose. Therefore, every project of the food movement should aim to spread the truth of oversupply, until mention of the Golden Fact invites ridicule and embarrassment rather than fear.

Divide and Confuse
Food campaigners might also consider that a strategy to combat the food scarcity myth can unite a potent mix of causes. Just as an understanding of food abundance destroys the argument for pesticide use and GMOs simultaneously, it also creates the potential for common ground within and between constituencies that do not currently associate much: health advocates, food system workers, climate campaigners, wildlife conservationists and international development campaigners. None of these constituencies inherently like chemical poisons, and they are hardly natural allies of agribusiness, but the pressure of the food crisis lie has driven many of them to ignore what could be the best solution to their mutual problems: small scale farming and pesticide-free agriculture. This is exactly what the companies intended.

So divisive has the Golden Fact been that some non-profits have entered into perverse partnerships with agribusiness and others support inadequate or positively fraudulent sustainability labels. Another consequence has been mass confusion over the observation that almost all the threats to the food supply (salinisation, water depletion, soil erosion, climate change and chemical pollution) come from the supposed solution–the industrialisation of food production. These contradictions are not real. When the smoke is blown away and the mirrors are taken down the choices within the food system become crystal clear. They fall broadly into two camps.

Vegetables growing

On the one side lie family farms and ecological methods. These support farmer and consumer health, resilience, financial and democratic independence, community, cultural and biological diversity, and long term sustainability. Opposing them is control of the food system by corporate agribusiness. Agribusiness domination leads invariantly to dependence, uniformity, poisoning and ecological degradation, inequality, land grabbing, and, not so far off, to climate chaos.

One is a vision, the other is a nightmare: in every single case where industrial agriculture is implemented it leaves landscapes progressively emptier of life. Eventually, the soil turns either into mud that washes into the rivers or into dust that blows away on the wind. Industrial agriculture has no long term future; it is ecological suicide. But for obvious reasons those who profit from it cannot allow all this to become broadly understood.  That is why the food scarcity lie is so fundamental to them. They absolutely depend on it, since it alone can camouflage the simplicity of the underlying issues.

Soil erosion, USA, 1935

Reverse PR?
Despite all this, the food and environmental movements have never seriously contested the reality of a food crisis. Perhaps that is because it is a narrative with a long history. As early as the 1940s the chemical and oil industries sent the Rockefeller Foundation to Mexico to “fix” agriculture there. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Rockefeller scientists derived a now-familiar narrative: Mexican agriculture was obviously gripped by a production deficit that could be fixed by “modern” agribusiness products (The Hungry World, 2010). This story later became the uncontested “truth” that legitimised the green revolution and still propels the proliferation of pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs and other agribusiness methods into every part of the globe.

Yet in the age of the internet it is no longer necessary to let an industry decide where the truth resides. It is possible to restore reality to the global discussion about food so that all potential production methods can have their merits fairly evaluated (IAASTD, 2007). Until this is done agribusiness and chemical industry solutions will always be the default winner, alternative agriculture will always be alternative, if it exists at all.

The evidence with which to contradict the lie is everywhere; but in an unequal and unjust system truth never speaks for itself. It is a specific task that requires a refusal to be intimidated by the torrents of official misinformation and a willingness to unembed oneself from the intellectual web of industry thinking. (That will often mean ordinary people acting alone.)

The task requires two things; the first is familiarity with the basic facts of the food system. Good starting points (apart from the links in this article) are Good Food for Everyone Forever by Colin Tudge or World Hunger: Twelve Myths by Joseph Collins, Peter Rosset and Frances Moore Lappe.

Power, lies, and consent
The second requirement is a shift in perception. The shift is to move beyond considering only physical goals, such as saving individual species, or specific political achievements, and to move towards considering the significance of the underlying mental state of the citizenry.

Companies and industries pay huge sums of money for public relations (PR). PR is predicated on the idea that all human behaviour is governed by belief systems. PR is therefore the discovery of the structure of those belief systems, mainly through focus groups, and the subsequent manipulation of those belief structures with respect to particular products or other goals.

Thus human reasoning, which asks questions like: Is it fair? What will the neighbours think? can be accessed and diverted to make individuals and groups act often against their own self-interests. Two important general rules are that it works best when people don’t know they are being influenced, and that it comes best from a “friendly” source. PR is therefore always concealed which creates the widespread misunderstanding that it is rare or ineffective.

Anyone who desires social change on a significant scale should seek to understand this, and its corollary, that the food crisis lie is far from the only lie. As philosopher Michel Foucault documented for madness and also criminality, many assertions constituting supposed “reality” are best understood as establishment fabrications. Those described by Foucault mostly have deep historical roots; but others, such as the genetic origin of disease, or the validity of animal experiments, are untruths of recent origin. The function of these fabrications is always social control. As Edward Bernays, the father of modern PR, long ago wrote:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

The possibility of manipulating habits and opinions, which he also called “the engineering of consent” was not an idle boast.

Foucault, who was concerned mostly with the power held by governments, considered that the fabrications he had identified were not conspiracies. They were emergent properties of power. Power and knowledge grow together in an intertwined and mutually supportive fashion. He argued that knowledge creates power but is also deferential to power and so is deformed by it. An example is when US newspapers decline to use the word “torture” for when torture is used by the US government. These newspapers and the US government are together doing what Foucault theorised. The US government gets to torture and gains power in the process while the public is simultaneously deceived and disempowered. In this way the preferred language of the powerful has historically and continuously evolved into the established public truth, to the disadvantage of the people.

Bernays, however, worked mainly for corporations. He knew, since some of them were his own ideas, that many of the more recent fabrications were not emergent properties but were intentionally planted.

The essential point, however, is to appreciate not only that companies and others deliberately engineer social change; but also that when they do so it begins with the reordering of the “reality” perceived by the people. The companies first create a reality (such as Mexican hunger) for which their desired change seems to the people either obvious, or beneficial, or natural. When it comes, the people therefore do not resist the solution, many welcome it.

The structure of “reality”
Dictators and revolutionaries provide an interesting lesson in this. The successful ones have achieved sometimes extraordinary power. As always, they have done so first by changing the opinions of the people. The dictator, like any corporation, must make the people want them. As a general rule, dictators do this by creating new and more compelling false realities on top of older ones.

Hitler, to take a familiar example, harnessed a newly synthesised idea (German nationalism) to a baseless scientific theory (of racial genetics) and welded this to pre-existing “realities” of elitism and impugned manhood (the loss of WWI). These ideas were instrumental in his rise to power. But the important lesson for social change is that none of the ideas used by him possessed (now or then) any objective or empirical reality. They were all fabrications. It is true Hitler also had secret money, bodyguards, and so on, but so did others. Only Hitler found the appropriate combination of concepts able to colonise the minds of enough German people.

But Hitler is not known now for being just another leader of Germany. He is infamous for two events, the holocaust and World War II. The same lessons apply. Millions fought and died for almost a decade in a struggle to assert ideas that could have been destroyed by the intellectual equivalent of a feather. But that is how powerful ideas are.

The lies told in more democratic societies are not so very different to those used by Hitler in the sense that the important ones have predictable properties that can be categorised and sorted. What the food scarcity lie has in common with Hitler’s use of race, and with myths of nationalism, or of modern terrorism, and many others, is the creation of a threat, in this case of famine and possible social breakdown. The creation of an internal or external threat is thus the first category of lies.

The second category recognises the necessity of “efficient government”. No government can issue direct and separate orders to all the people all the time. Nor can it possess the resources for physical enforcement of those orders. It must therefore find ways to cause the people to govern, order, and regiment themselves, in exquisite detail. Therefore, governments supply and support guiding principles in the form of artificial unifying aspirations, such as “progress” or “civilisation”. Typically, they also strongly encourage the desirability of being “normal”; and especially they reinforce elitism (follow the leader), and so on.

Anther structural category follows from the recognition that the effective operation of power over others, unless it is based on pure physical force or intimidation, usually requires an authoritative source of ostensibly unbiased knowledge. The population must be “convinced” by an unimpeachable third party. This function is typically fulfilled by either organised religion or by organised science. Scientific or religious institutions thus legitimate the ideas (progress, hierarchy, normality, inequality, etc.) of the rulers. These sources conceal the use of power because they combine the appearance of authority, independence and disinterestedness. These qualities are all or partly fictions.

Another category are fabrications intended to foster dependence on the state and the formal economy. These aim to undermine the ancient dependence of individuals on the land and each other, and transfer that dependence to the state. Thus the worship of competition, the exaggeration of gender differences, and genetic determinism (the theory that your health, personality, and success derive only from within) are examples of fabrications that sow enmity and isolation among the population.

Another important category, which include the myths of papal infallibility, or scientific and journalistic objectivity, exist to reinforce the power of authority itself. These fabrications act to bolster the influence of other myths.

The above list is not exhaustive, but it serves to introduce the idea that the organising of detailed control over populations of millions, achieved mostly without resorting to any physical force, requires the establishing and perpetual reinforcement of multiple interlocking untruths. This itself has important implications.

The first and most important implication is that if the lies and fabrications exist to concentrate and exercise power over others (and then conceal its use), then it also follows that genuinely beneficial and humanitarian goals such as harmony, justice, and equity, require retrieval of the truth and the goals will follow naturally from that retrieval.

The task of anyone who wants harmony, justice, peace, etc to prevail therefore becomes primarily to free the people from believing in lies and thus allowing them to attain mastery over their own minds. At that point they will know their own true needs and desires; they will no longer “want” to be oppressed or exploited.

The second implication of this entwining of knowledge with power is that, when properly understood, goals of harmony, understanding, health, diversity, justice, sustainability, opportunity, etc., are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. Rather, they are necessarily interconnected.

The third implication is that an empire built on lies is much more vulnerable than it seems. It can rapidly unravel.

Given that resources are limited, the problems of achieving broad social justice, of providing for the people, and of restoring environmental harms consequently become that of discerning which of the lies (since there are many) are most in need of exposing; and perhaps in what order.

Thus the necessary shift in perception is to see that, as in most wars, the crucial struggle in the food war is the one inside people’s heads. And that the great food war will be won by the side that understands that and uses it best.

This food war can be won by either side. The natural advantages of the grassroots in this realm are many. They include the power of the internet–which represents a historic opportunity to connect with others; second, that it takes a lot less effort to assert the truth than it does to build a lie-many people only need to hear the truth once; and thirdly, that in this particular battle the non-profit public-interest side doesn’t necessarily need a bigger megaphone because, unlike the industry, they are (broadly) trusted by the public.

Consequently, it is perfectly possible that a lie that took several powerful industries many decades to build up could be dismantled in months. It is necessary only to unleash the power of the truth and to constantly remember the hidden power of the people: that all the effort industries put into misleading them is an accurate acknowledgement of the potential of that power.

There are many writers and NGOs, such as Pesticides Action Network, IATP, the EWG, the Organic Consumers Association, the Center for Food Safety, and others, who are aligned with the grassroots, and who are doing a good and necessary job of explaining the problems and costs of industrial agriculture. But these arguments have so far proven inadequate. Agribusiness knows why that is.

But by combining these arguments with a refutation of the food crisis they can help destroy the industrial model of agriculture forever. And when that happens many of our worst global problems, from climate change and rainforest destruction down, will become either manageable or even negligible.

It is all in the mind.

(1) Thanks to Prof J Duxbury, Cornell University.

Billen et al (2011) Localising the Nitrogen Imprint of the Paris Food Supply: the Potential of Organic Farming and Changes in Human Diet. Biogeosciences Discuss 8: 10979-11002.

Cullather, N. (2010) The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia (Harvard)

Foley et al (2005) Global Consequences of Land use. Science 309: 570.

Foley et al (2011) Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature 478: 337–342.

Peekhaus W. (2010) Monsanto Discovers New Social Media. International Journal of Communication 4: 955–976.

Pretty J. et al., (2000) An Assessment of the Total External Costs of UK Agriculture Agricultural Systems 65: 113-136.

Stone GD and Glover D. (2011) Genetically modified crops and the ‘food crisis’: discourse and material impacts. Development in Practice 21: DOI: 10.1080/09614524.2011.562876

Original Post

Subjecting animals to torturous conditions is not acceptable

FILE-This Sept. 10, 2008 file photo, chickens huddle in their cages at an egg processing plant at the Dwight Bell Farm in Atwater, Calif. The New Year is bringing rising chicken egg prices across the country as California starts requiring farmers to house hens in cages with enough space to move around and stretch their wings. The new standard backed by animal rights advocates has drawn fire nationwide because farmers in Iowa, Ohio and other states who sell eggs in California have to abide by the same requirements. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez,File)

FILE-This Sept. 10, 2008 file photo, chickens huddle in their cages at an egg processing plant at the Dwight Bell Farm in Atwater, Calif. The New Year is bringing rising chicken egg prices across the country as California starts requiring farmers to house hens in cages with enough space to move around and stretch their wings. The new standard backed by animal rights advocates has drawn fire nationwide because farmers in Iowa, Ohio and other states who sell eggs in California have to abide by the same requirements. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez,File)

The headlines in the mainstream Associated Press about the change in the California Chicken laws was:

chickenThe story which appeared in local papers nationwide focuses on how eggs will cost more because California now requires a minimum amount of space per bird.  The “big news” is all about dollars and sense!  The average retail price nationwide ranges from 15 cents to 20 cents per egg and economists predict the new California law will cause a jump in price from 10 to 40% making the highest price it may reach is close to 28 cents!

We know that from the perspectives of pure economics it makes sense to mistreat animals to squeeze as much profit as possible from the enterprse.  Thanks to Mark Bitman for printing “another side of this story.” 

nytBy Mark Bitman – December 31, 2014 – New York Times Editorial

The most significant animal welfare law in recent history — California’s Prop 2 — takes effect today. The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.

The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.

Does limiting confinement for hens mean the end of cages? Maybe. It might become impractical for growers to build bigger cages; that is, it might be easier simply to keep hens in groups that meet the new minimum area required per bird, and so keep the hens “cage free.” That’s not a panacea, but it is an improvement.

The new minimum is not specified in numbers, but the courts have said that it “establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the law enforcement officer to have the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation.” Hens must be able to spread their wings without touching a cage or another bird.

There is, however, another new state regulation — the so-called shell egg food safety regulation, aimed at reducing salmonella — enacted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This requires a minimum of 116 square inches per bird, compared with the current 67 square inches, which is less space than an 8-by-10 photo, and just a tad more than a standard iPad.

Prop 2 trumps this rule, and birds probably need more than 116 square inches to spread their wings. In fact, many experts think something closer to 200 square inches is more realistic. But some farmers may think they can get away with 116; law enforcement will determine whether they’re right, and noncompliance is a criminal offense.

The new regulations will probably raise the price of eggs. Surprisingly, as producers in California switch production systems to comply with the new law, eggs raised by so-called conventional means sometimes cost more than cage-free eggs. This belies the arguments that the conversion process is difficult or prohibitively expensive; it just shows that many producers failed to take advantage of the five years between the extension of the new housing standards to all birds, and its taking effect, to adequately prepare. What have they been doing instead? Predictably, filing lawsuits fighting Prop 2, all of which have failed.

That Prop 2 is supported by a majority of people in the country’s biggest ag state, and that its legitimacy has been supported by courts, shows the direction in which the raising of animals is headed. Gestation crates are on their way out, and battery cages will soon join them. With this measure, the table is set for similar action in states all over the country.

“We’ve worked on passing anti-confinement laws in 10 states now,” says Paul Shapiro, a spokesperson at the Humane Society of the United States. At least three other states are to take up similar legislation in 2015.

The most important part of the new law may be that every whole egg sold in California must adhere to the standards set by Prop 2, regardless of where it’s from. And since California can’t raise all the eggs eaten by its citizens, millions of those eggs — perhaps as many as a third consumed in the state — will come from elsewhere. From Iowa, for example, where more than 14 billion eggs are produced each year. (Interesting: There are just over 3 million people in Iowa, and nearly 60 million laying hens.) There has been talk of shortages, but they would be short-lived.

So, in California, just as you had to meet higher emission standards than required by federal law if you wanted to sell cars, now you must meet higher welfare standards for hens if you want to sell eggs. Whether farmers comply, or disobey, or leave the business remains to be seen. But Prop 2 means a new norm; eventually it will be, well, normal.

Just how high are the standards set by Prop 2? “By itself, the law means that many millions of animals will no longer be held in cramped cages, and that’s huge,” says Mr. Shapiro. “But the message it sends to the factory farming industry is clear: Business as usual — that is, subjecting animals to torturous conditions for their entire lives — is no longer going to be acceptable.”

Original Post

Flower Power: changing the world with flower seeds

seedbombI’ve never thought of myself as much of a rebel. You generally won’t find me smashing car windows or setting garbage cans aflame. (Let’s get real: You probably won’t find me speeding. Such are the depths of my rule-following nature.) But I realize now that all along, I’ve just been waiting for the right weapon with which to battle The Man.

Wildflowers, of course. More precisely: ping-pong ball-size globs of clay and compost laced with wildflower seeds called seed bombs (or green grenades — military nomenclature is a must). The other day, I stood in front of a fenced-off lot on a busy stretch of asphalt, fingering the tiny seed arsenal I’d packed into a Ziploc bag. I looked back and forth, took a deep breath, and let one fly over the chain links; the ball came to rest on a scrubby patch of dirt in the sun. “Take that!” I muttered under my breath.

Finally, I was beginning to understand the rebel thrill. This must be what Marlon Brando felt like.

Lobbing that seed bomb was my first foray into the worldwide movement of “guerrilla gardening,” or reclaiming underused land — empty lots, vacant yards, alleys, and other areas you technically don’t have the right to plant — for lovely and/or productive gardens. In this case, the enemy takes the form of a disinterested, wasteful society that misses out on abundant opportunities to beautify the ugly and cultivate the barren.

Sometimes it’s as simple as taking over an adjacent lot with some extra pepper plants, but often there’s more at stake. Among guerrilla gardeners, you’ll hear plenty of chatter about “land use,” “re-creating space,” and “Who actually owns the earth, man?” Make no mistake: Those petunias are political.

eggsSome guerrilla gardening reportedly plays out like a scene from a spy movie: Black-clad growers sneak out to till and water vegetable patches in the dead of night. While that does sound fun, I had something a little less intense in mind for my first time out. Then my research uncovered seed bombs — perfect for inaccessible yards, tough-to-tend spaces, and ‘fraidy cats. Make a few green grenades, toss them all over town, and wait for the blooms to take over. This I could do.

And I did. Whipping up a batch of proto-wildflower balls is surprisingly simple — mine cost me about $10 (for seeds and clay; I grabbed the compost right from my worm bin) and 10 minutes. I picked up the native wildflower mix at my local grocery store and found the natural clay at an art-supply shop, where the clerk assured me “this is just what the Girl Scouts used to make their seed bombs last year.” (Fight the power, Brownies!) After letting the bombs sit out overnight to dry a bit, I was ready to sow some rebellion. (See below for step-by-step instructions on how to make them.)

ggsb1lExperienced guerrillas recommend seed-bombing right before rain is forecast. This usually wouldn’t be a problem in Seattle, but we were just about to enter an unusually warm and sunny period. Still, I couldn’t wait to dip a toe into the movement, so I loaded my bag with a handful of seed bombs and went out in search of abandoned space begging for wildflowers.

My destination was a busy thoroughfare near my apartment with a slightly, ahem, seedy reputation. Pocked with cheap motels and overgrown, weedy patches that don’t clearly belong to anybody, I figured it presented a prime opportunity for my “floral attack.” Plus, it’s close enough to let me check in on my gardens’ progress as the weeks go by.

I found my first site before I even reached the intended street: a plowed-over slope strewn with trash and construction detritus that’s lingered, untouched, for months. Nobody was around, so I chucked a seed ball into the expanse. (I don’t know who would object to a few blossoms here and there, but these days you never know when tossing an unidentified object — one you’re calling a bomb, no less — might get you tackled by a SWAT team.) “Good luck, little seeds,” I whispered.

Next up: A weedy patch near a lonely bus stop. Then a clear, empty dirt meadow. The fenced-in lot next to a boarded-up house. I strode along that eyesore of a road like a modern-day Janie Appleseed with safety pins in her ears, spreading flowers and righteous garden activism with every step.

I reserved the last ball in the bag for a quiet corner of my shared backyard. The lawn doesn’t need it, as neighbors have planted plenty of flowers, herbs, and veggies around the periphery, but I wanted to keep one seed bomb close so I could check on it every day. Hell, I might even water it. You might point out that cultivating flowers in my own backyard hardly counts as guerrilla gardening, but hey — like a true rebel, I totally did not ask my landlord first.

I’ll report back on my illicit wildflower patches and other excursions into guerrilla gardening as the spring goes on. ‘Til then, happy planting, everyone. Keep it on the downlow, and remember — if you get caught, you didn’t hear this from me. It was the Girl Scouts.

Homemade Seed Bombs

5 parts clay soil/potter’s powder
1 part wildflower seeds
1 part compost/worm castings

1. Combine the seeds and compost in a large bowl; stir well.

2. Add the clay soil. If you’re using a dry clay, slowly add water, stirring as you go, until you have the consistency of thick mud (you don’t want it too watery to mold).

3. Shape the mixture into golf ball-size globs.

4. Set seed bombs in a tray and let them sit in the sun for a day or so to harden.

5. Get bombin’!

And for more instructions see:


Original Post

Turns Out, the Future of Food Lies in These Old Seeds

Scientists, farmers, and chefs are developing new varieties of produce from heirloom seeds. It will make life better for organic farmers—and yummier for everyone else.

Original Post – November 18, 2014
Kristin Ohlson has written for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, Smithsonian, Discover, Gourmet, and many others. Her book The Soil Will Save Us was published in March by Rodale.

Sarah Kleeger pointed to a goldfinch perched on a waist-high millet plant and scowled, tightening her grip as the black cat in her arms twitched with interest. “That bird is just looking at us.”

“I’d like to shoot all the birds,” said Andrew Still, her husband and business partner.

“We don’t shoot birds,” Kleeger clarified for me.

“Yes, but I’d like to shoot them,” Andrew said. “We just lost half our crop of Castelfranco chicory seeds to the birds.”

Kleeger, 35, and Still, 34, can be forgiven their avian antipathy. They don’t sell the Castelfranco chicory or Red Bull brussels sprouts or Aprovecho fava beans or the hundreds of other vegetables they grow in their fields. Their plants don’t look like produce—they are all tall and shaggy, even the three-foot lettuces rattling with seeds. Kleeger and Still sell the seeds from these plants to other farmers through Adaptive Seeds, the small company they founded on their five-acre organic farm in Sweet Home, Ore., in 2009. The birds, not unreasonably, consider Adaptive Seeds’ products their food.

Later, Still squatted and plucked two dwarf Danish melons, pale yellow with green stripes and not much bigger than billiard balls. The couple brought the seeds for these melons from Europe, along with seeds of 800 other varieties of food crops, with the hope that in addition to their good taste and texture the fruit might show robust performance in organic fields in the Pacific Northwest, which, like Denmark, is typically not melon territory. So far the Danish melon experiment is going great. “I’m looking for my ideal melon,” Still said. “Medium-small that’s green and juicy and sweet, with early traits. Northwest adapted, so that it matures in August and not late September.”

That would give farmers more choice of what to plant, potentially raising their incomes, and the ability to pass that choice on to consumers. Gesticulating with one of the diminutive Danish fruit, Still said, “Our goal is to create a healthier, more resilient and sustainable food system. We need to correct the problems of the industrial food system, and seeds are one way to do that.”

Adaptive Seeds has a John Deere combine that’s not quite old enough to appear in a parade of vintage farm equipment at a 4-H fair, a shed overflowing with garlic, a winnowing room where Still dumps seeds from one bucket to another in front of a window fan that blows away the chaff, and an office where they handle seed orders from down the road and around the globe. Kleeger and Still’s living room is full of corn, hanging to dry from racks near the ceiling, for next year’s catalog.

The couple began working on an organic farm right after college but were dismayed to find, over dozens of seasons raising and selling vegetables, that farmers planted the same handful of varieties year after year. That seemed limiting. They decided to seek out varieties of vegetables not available in the United States and spent their savings on the trip to Europe, collecting seeds from varieties that seemed promising. Today they are leaders in a movement that could alter local food systems and economies, as well as strengthen the hand of organic and small farmers.

IMG_4637Andrew Still, holding Danish melons, and Sarah Kleeger on their seed farm in Sweet Home, Ore. (Photo: Kristin Ohlson)

The 20th century saw the rise of a consolidated agriculture sector that demanded volume and efficiency. That led to a drop in the number of varieties available to farmers from commercial seed companies and the resulting handful of mass-produced vegetable varieties in our grocery stores. But farmer-entrepreneurs like Kleeger and Still have joined with plant-breeding scientists and even high-profile chefs such as Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant to remake food from the seed up. Such collaborations could serve as a model for others around the country seeking good organic varieties for their own fields and kitchens. Already, Stephen S. Jones, a wheat breeder and professor at Washington State University, says he’s contacted at least three times a week by farmers in other states, seeking new varieties or wheat tailored for their region and needs. If successful, they’ll soon be providing more of us with fruits, vegetables, and grains bred to thrive in the various microclimates around the country—suiting the needs of small farmers, artisan bakers and brewers, and chefs—and with correspondingly greater flavor, texture, and nutrient density.

John Navazio, formerly an organic seed specialist for Washington State University who now works for an organic seed company, says a new generation of farmers, chefs, and diners is demanding something better than the commercial seeds being developed and designed for industrial agriculture. “They want real seed from real farmers in their region, and…seed from the biggest companies does not suit their needs,” he says. “This is the DIY crowd, and they get it more than anyone has ever gotten it.”

In January, I joined 430 self-described “seedheads” at the seventh Organic Seed Growers Conference in Corvallis, Ore., hosted by the Organic Seed Alliance, a national organization based in Port Townsend, Wash., that encourages and teaches farmers to select and save seed, and organizes collaborations among plant breeders, seed companies, chefs, millers, brewers, and others both up- and downstream from organic farms.

The conference thrummed with the buzz of farmers growing seed; plant breeders from universities; representatives of seed libraries, seed cooperatives, and seed companies of varying sizes; and seed enthusiasts from foundations, public policy groups, and student organizations. It confused me at first. Wasn’t organic seed just seed plucked from plants grown without chemicals, and if so, what was the big deal? Even though I skew heavily organic in my shopping and eating, it had never occurred to me to object to an organically raised tomato or cabbage grown from the seed of a nonorganically grown plant. I assumed organic cultivation rendered its origins moot.

Over the course of two days of talking to seedheads from across North America, I discovered that there’s more to organic food than what’s aboveground. Organic farmers want organic seed for the same reason they want to grow their crops organically: They prefer seeds not produced with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and other tools of industrial agriculture. Federal guidelines set in 2000 require the use of organic seed in organic production, but farmers are allowed to use conventional seed if it is not available commercially. Many certified growers still avail themselves of that loophole—there just aren’t enough good sources of these seeds.

This is one problem Kleeger and Still are addressing. The bigger issue is that there aren’t enough varieties of wheat, lettuce, corn, or anything else, really, bred specifically for organic production.

“The basic adage in plant breeding is that you breed in the environment of intended use,” explained Micaela Colley, OSA’s executive director. Conventional seeds cultivated organically are going against that adage, which places organic farmers at a disadvantage. In other words, crop varieties for conventional agriculture are bred to flourish in fields with intense chemical inputs—not just the vast rows of GMO corn and soybeans, our nation’s biggest crops, but also the smaller fields where tomatoes and spinach and other produce are grown. According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, 84 percent of Americans say they buy organic at least some of the time. But when varieties aren’t bred for organic cultivation—in which roots need to be vigorous enough to scavenge for nutrients and stalks and stems must soldier on without sprays to protect them from insects, disease, and weeds—they’re likely to produce less. Plants grown organically from conventional seed don’t perform as well as they should be able to, or as well as conventionally grown alternatives. The lack of organic seed and of plant varieties developed for organic production may be one of the reasons that organic fields only occupy 6 percent of American vegetable acreage.

If the seedheads are able to reduce this deficit of organic varieties, more organic produce at a lower price may result. At Washington State University’s Mount Vernon Research Center, wheat breeder Jones—famous in seed circles for having rebuffed Monsanto’s bid to have him develop GMO wheat—oversees projects that are developing new wheat, barley, and oat varieties for both traditional and organic farming in Washington’s Skagit Valley. “We’re developing new varieties for flavor and functionality that have four to ten times the yield,” Jones told me. “This will eventually bring down the cost.”

Agriculture has been around for some 10,000 years, and until the 20th century, farmers saved seed that had produced desirable traits, such as sturdiness or large size, to plant again the following year. The practice changed food over the centuries as distinct varieties evolved in regions around the world, with modern plant breeders swapping pollen between two varieties with desirable traits, planting the offspring, and growing those that came out the best, generation after generation, until a new variety was stabilized.

We know some of these older varieties as “heirloom” seeds, a term that began to appear in seed catalogs like Johnny’s Selected Seeds in the 1970s. Commercial hybrids developed in the 20th century had advantages: high yields, produce that ripened at the same time, uniform size and shape. Some transported and stored better. That suited the production standards of agribusiness just fine. But a generation of organic farmers turned eagerly to heirlooms in the following years for a number of reasons—not least of which was the food tasted better.

Heirlooms were prized for their flavor and texture, but they often had major drawbacks for farmers trying to make an organic living. “The heirloom tomatoes tasted great, but they often cracked and didn’t ship well,” recalls Navazio, who became an organic farmer in the 1970s and later learned traditional plant breeding, earning a Ph.D. in plant breeding at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “You could hardly even take them to town to sell them,” he says. Today he works at Johnny’s Select Seeds in Maine. “There was no one breeding varieties for the farmer marketing high-quality organic produce on a local scale.”

Some non-heirloom hybrids worked decently in an organic system. But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s 1980 decision to allow the patenting of life-forms, among other factors, led to consolidation in the seed industry. Big corporations started buying up small regional companies and increased their focus on splicing together traits to create patentable seeds (many of them with genes from altogether different species, ergo GMOs). Meanwhile, many of the hybrids that organic and other small farmers found most useful were soon forgotten.

“The big companies narrowed their offerings to focus on seeds that have the largest market, such as varieties that either do well in a lot of locations or ones that are used in centers of large-scale agricultural production like the Sacramento Valley,” OSA’s Colley says. “But the varieties that have a smaller market share often have unique qualities [beneficial to] regional growers—say, sweet corn that ripens quicker in northern latitudes, which is not a sweet-corn-growing area.” In 2000 alone, more than 2,000 hybrids disappeared from the marketplace when Seminis—at the time the world’s largest vegetable seed company—bought several smaller companies. Now it’s part of Monsanto, which has stopped producing these hybrids.

10379926_10152547140179490_3134662533450538828_oSarah Kleeger, harvesting at her farm. (Photo: Courtesy Adaptive Seeds)

At the same time, one of the major avenues for developing new varieties was also shrinking. Land grant universities founded in the 1800s to help improve agriculture saw funding cuts and changes to federal policy, including the 1982 Bayh-Dole Act, which encouraged the transfer of publicly funded research to the private sector. The number of researchers dedicated to cultivar development in public universities has fallen 30 percent in the last 20 years, according to a recent survey conducted by Bill Tracy, chair of the Department of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

By the early 1980s, organic farmers were conferring about their need for improved varieties and well-produced seed. Frank Morton—now the plant breeder and seed seller behind Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Ore.—recalls going to a meeting in 1984 at which a molecular biologist known as Mushroom stood up and announced, “If you grow organic crops, you need organic seeds. Those seeds don’t exist, and we have to create them.”

“It blew my mind,” said Morton.

Morton’s work inspires Kleeger and Still and others around the world. His varieties are grown in many countries and even in space: Outredgeous, one of his most popular lettuces—so named for leaves so red that the botany students who first saw it didn’t recognize it as lettuce—is being grown on the International Space Station. (It grows quickly, has a high concentration of antioxidants, and is highly bacteria-resistant—a concern for astronauts eating raw food.)

In July, I visited Morton at the 70-acre organic farm where he raises seeds between rows of organic crops grown for food. He offers a dazzling 81 varieties of lettuce in his catalog, created by selecting lettuces with certain traits, crossing them, and then carefully breeding them for years. As we walked the fields, he kept an eye out for plants with yellowed leaves or other signs of disease, for plants that were puny, for plants laced with insect bites. Even if these plants had other desirable characteristics, he would not bother saving their seed if they were not vigorous enough to flourish under organic cultivation.

Morton is a model for the kind of painstaking work good agriculture requires, as well as for the openness the new generation of seedheads expects. He does not patent his varieties. If other companies want to sell seeds grown from them, he wants them to pay him a 10 percent royalty. It’s a handshake agreement, and it’s worked so far. Morton assumes other breeders will shape new varieties from his and adapt them to other regions’ growing conditions and other customers’ flavor preferences. Which is to say he expects people to use his seeds as people have used seed for centuries.

IMG_4430Lettuces that have been allowed to grow until they produce seed. (Photo: Kristin Ohlson)

In 2010, organic vegetable farmers in the Pacific Northwest noticed that one of their favorite sweet peppers, an easy-to-grow, easy-to-harvest commercial hybrid called Gypsy, seemed to be disappearing from the marketplace. They were having a hard time finding Gypsy seed, and when they did, the resulting peppers were low in quality—a sign that a seed company has stopped doing the careful maintenance of the parent lines because it has lost interest in selling the hybrid. Gypsy was also beloved by area chefs, who started asking why they couldn’t find their red pepper of choice. All of this set off a sort of red-pepper panic, which soon came to the attention of Lane Selman.

Selman is a research assistant in the Organic Vegetable Research program at Oregon State University and a researcher with one of the big OSA research efforts called the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative. Since NOVIC started in 2009, it has helped bring together plant breeders and researchers from Cornell University, Oregon State University, the University of Washington, Wisconsin-Madison, OSA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with farmers to breed varieties that perform well in the shorter growing seasons of northerly regions, where many organic farmers must start seeds in greenhouses and transplant the shoots to their fields when the weather warms. NOVIC wanted to develop varieties that might eliminate that step and even help farmers grow crops rarely attempted in these environments—for example, sweet corn in Washington.

NOVIC set out to test varieties that could replace Gypsy. Selman soon discovered some likely candidates among the produce at the stand she manages for Gathering Together Farm, of Philomath, Ore., at the Portland farmers market. It turned out that Morton, in response to requests from his farmer friends at Gathering Together, had already bred five new sweet peppers that grew beautifully in the Pacific Northwest. Unbeknownst to the other farmers desperate for a successor to Gypsy, Gathering Together was growing them and sending them to market.

NOVIC’s trials confirmed that Morton’s peppers grew as well as, if not better than, Gypsy. But every Saturday morning at the farmers market, Selman had to face another constituency: Portland’s picky chefs, who were still pining for Gypsy. So in October 2011—about two years before Dan Barber convened international chefs and plant breeders at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture in Tarrytown, N.Y., to discuss the role of seeds in selecting produce for flavor—she invited Portland chefs to Portland’s Tabla Mediterranean Bistro for a special tasting of 10 peppers. At the end of the evening, the chefs’ top three choices were all Morton varieties, including one called Stocky Red Roaster.

It quickly moved into the space in the chefs’ hearts formerly occupied by Gypsy, and now chefs come to the farmers market asking for it. Selman hopes that the chefs and ultimately consumers will become aware of the breeders behind all the varieties. “Restaurants already drop the names of farms on the menus,” she says. “I’d like to see something like ‘This month, you’re eating Stocky Red Roaster, a variety developed by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed.’ ”

In late September, more than 100 farmers, chefs, and food aficionados cruised a party room in the back of Chris King Precision Components, a Portland bike factory. The event was sponsored by the Culinary Breeding Network, which was organized in the aftermath of the 2011 red-pepper tasting in Portland. The group includes plant breeders, seed growers, fresh market farmers, chefs, and produce buyers who are developing a vision and an agenda for vegetables in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a fusion of the agricultural and the culinary, of breeders, growers, and eaters, and it’s taking the concept of local food to an entirely new level.

Twelve plant breeders had turned over some of their favorite new varieties to 12 chefs to see what they could come up with. The assorted grazers sampled dishes such as hominy and shrimp soup, polenta, and caramel popcorn, prepared by Portland chef Greg Higgens from the Amish Butter corn developed by breeders Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Ore. Breeders also brought along samples of varieties in development. Guests filled out questionnaires: Which of the mild habañeros offered up at one table had the best flavor, color, shape, size, and pungency? How did the cherry tomatoes at another table fare in terms of appearance, flavor, sugar-acid balance, aftertaste, and skin thickness?

Selman calls this “community-driven plant breeding.” She’s planning more such events, and hopes to hold “farm days” in which chefs walk the fields looking for varieties that please their eye. She wants chefs and breeders to meet with a flavor consultant, who will teach them to speak the same language in matters of the palate. As far as she knows, this kind of thing “is not going on anywhere else in the country.”

Sarah Kleeger and Andrew Still were at the bike-factory party. They brought Adaptive Seeds onions and its seed catalog, with its many varieties new to Americans. Unlike Frank Morton’s Wild Garden Seed catalog, which I saw tucked under the arms of many a guest, Kleeger and Still’s catalog wasn’t crammed with varieties they’ve bred themselves. But they’re eager for the challenge of adding their own innovations to the Northwest’s agriculture and cuisine. “We’re lucky,” Kleeger told me. “We’ve got another thirty years to do this.”

The burgeoning network represented that night could provide new resources for farmers and may help the chefs it’s pulled into the mix expand the possibilities of local food and what it tastes like.

“The more people getting involved in seed projects, the better,” says Matthew Dillon, who cofounded OSA in 2004 and is now the director of Seed Matters, an arm of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, which advocates for the improvement and protection of organic seed. “For the last 50 years, there’s just been a handful of people and companies controlling our seed future and thus our food future. The more public-based seed projects that are going on, the harder it’s going to be for companies that want to control via patents to win. They can’t come and take it all.”

Don’t Ask How to Feed the 9 Billion

nytlMark Bittman; NY Times Opinion – November 13, 2014

At dinner with a friend the other night, I mentioned that I was giving a talk this week debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the nine billion” — the anticipated global population by 2050.

She looked at me, horrified, and said, “But how are you going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”

I suggested she try this exercise: “Put yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. Are you hungry? Are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”

The answer, obviously, is “no.” Because she — and almost all of you reading this — would be standing in that country with some $20 bills and a wallet filled with credit cards. And you would go buy yourself something to eat.

The difference between you and the hungry is not production levels; it’s money. There are no hungry people with money; there isn’t a shortage of food, nor is there a distribution problem. There is an I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food problem.

And poverty and the resulting hunger aren’t matters of bad luck; they are often a result of people buying the property of traditional farmers and displacing them, appropriating their water, energy and mineral resources, and even producing cash crops for export while reducing the people growing the food to menial and hungry laborers on their own land.

Poverty isn’t the only problem, of course. There is also the virtually unregulated food system that is geared toward making money rather than feeding people. (Look no further than the ethanol mandate or high fructose corn syrup for evidence.)

If poverty creates hunger, it teams up with the food system to create another form of malnourishment: obesity (and what’s called “hidden hunger,” a lack of micronutrients). If you define “hunger” as malnutrition, and you accept that overweight and obesity are forms of malnutrition as well, than almost half the world is malnourished.

The solution to malnourishment isn’t to produce more food. The solution is to eliminate poverty.

Look at the most agriculturally productive country in the world: the United States. Is there hunger here? Yes, quite a bit. We have the highest percentage of hungry people of any developed nation, a rate closer to that of Indonesia than that of Britain.

Is there a lack of food? You laugh at that question. It is, as the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler likes to call it, “a food carnival.” It’s just that there’s a steep ticket price.

A majority of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, some of whom are themselves among the hungry. The rest of the hungry are underpaid or unemployed workers. But boosting yields does nothing for them.

So we should not be asking, “How will we feed the world?,” but “How can we help end poverty?” Claiming that increasing yield would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars or private jets would guarantee that everyone had one.

That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield.

The best method of farming for most people is probably traditional farming boosted by science. The best method of farming for those in highly productive agricultural societies would be farming made more intelligent and less rapacious. That is, the kind of farming we can learn from people who still have a real relationship with the land and are focused on quality rather than yield. The goal should be food that is green, fair, healthy and affordable.

It’s not news that the poor need money and justice. If there’s a bright side here, it’s that it might be easier to make the changes required to fix the problems created by industrial agriculture than those created by inequality.

There’s plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much of it is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted.

We don’t have to increase yield to address any of those issues; we just have to grow food more smartly than with the brute force of industrial methods, and we need to address the circumstances of the poor.

Our slogan should not be “let’s feed the world,” but “let’s end poverty.”

MA Farm Bureau Invites UMass Agricultural Community to “Farmland” Movie Screening, December 4, 2014

farmland Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) has arranged for a special screening of Academy Award®-winning filmmaker James Moll’s feature length documentary, “Farmland” for their annual meeting, which will be held at the UMass Hotel in Amherst. MFBF is extending a special invitation to the UMass agricultural community to join them for this event.

The film offers viewers a firsthand glimpse into the lives of six young farmers and ranchers across the U.S., chronicling their high-risk/high-reward jobs and their passion for a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation, yet continues to evolve.

“Farming in Massachusetts is growing and for the first time in many years more acres are being farmed, due in part to young farmers like those featured in this film,” says MFBF President, Rich Bonanno. “Farmland gives the audience real insight into what it takes to be a farmer nowadays. We think that the UMass agricultural community will find it informative and entertaining.”

Many Americans have never stepped foot on a farm or ranch or even talked to the people who grow and raise the food we eat, yet are increasingly passionate about understanding where their food comes from. “This is a film for anyone who eats,” says Moll. “It’s not what you’d expect. The world of farming is complex and often controversial, but the farmers themselves are some of the most hard-working and fascinating people I’ve ever met.”  

A limited number of seats will be available for the screening, which is scheduled for 7:15pm on December 4th. Please call 508-481-4766, or email by Nov. 20th to reserve a seat.


The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation is a non-profit, member-driven organization representing over 5,000 family members across the Commonwealth. Its mission is “to protect the rights, encourage the growth, and be of service to its members, in the best interest of agriculture.”