- Nice pictures! (of course). It's great that National
Geographic did a piece on sustainable agriculture---it can
always use additional publicity.
- Where are the Southeastern, Southwestern, and Northeastern
farmers? They appear in a few pictures, but the text is
mostly about California and the Midwest. A picture may be
worth a thousand words, but it would be nice to have at
least a few hundred to supplement the photos. Granted,
the Northeast isn't exactly the breadbasket of America;
but especially since Mr. Klinkenborg lives in rural
Massachusetts, I'd expect a little more about Northeastern
growers. I've observed that there are distinct SA
"cultures" around the country, and I think acknowledgment
and inclusion of them would have strengthened this
article. One of the fascinating aspects of SA to me is
its complexity, and the richness of the converging
approaches that have sprung up (or been carefully
sustained) around the world.
- I'd like to have seen and heard from more women in the
article. Women are the most committed and dynamic
advocates in several SA organizations with which I am
familiar, and alternative farming systems appear to be
used by a higher proportion of women than conventional ag
- Another particularly intriguing aspect of SA to me is its
supporting networks. This article does include a good
interview with Chuck Hassebrook, but I didn't think that
the role of information networks and farm advocacy
organizations (in addition to lone consultants and
advocates, progressive as they may be) was made clear.
Here's my start at basics for public education (and I recognize each of
these statements should be qualified for accuracy, but that public
educational strategies will probably fail if they are too complex or
wishy-washy). It's probably clear that I have biases favoring better
connections between farmers and other people, maintaining or improving
environmental quality as a public good, maintaining or increasing the
present number of farms and farmers, and improving farmers' and
farmworkers' livelihoods. These may not all be widely shared in this
mailgroup---other biases are sure to lead to other sets of statements.
- Food comes from farmers (it's not spontaneously
generated in supermarkets). Farmers don't receive most of
our food dollars, but they get a higher proportion when
customers use direct-marketing outlets.
- Food prices in the supermarket don't reflect many of the
costs society pays, such as subsidies for transportation,
energy and water, and clean-up costs of water contamination.
- Farming supplies public goods in addition to food, such
as preservation of open space, aesthetic and rural character,
- Common US agricultural practices mine the essentially
non-renewable resources of topsoil, freshwater, petroleum,
and biodiversity. They also contribute to loss of soil and
water quality, and increase the total emission of greenhouse
- Some farming methods conserve soil and maintain water
quality and biodiversity better than others, but not all
farmers use these methods. This is partly because of
contradictions inherent in US farm policy.
- Pesticides are not all bad. Farmers must be licensed to
use toxic pesticides, and restrictions on farm use of
pesticides are more stringent than on household or urban use.
Effective alternatives are not available to deal with all of
the pest problems farmers currently treat with pesticides.
If people don't want pesticides used on food crops, they must
pay in one way or another (for research, for increased farm
labor, by accepting produce with inferior cosmetic qualities,
- Underpaid (in relation to the minimum-wage standard and
to costs of living) workers help keep food prices in our
- Farmers are an "endangered species" in some parts of the
country. Normal patterns of development and farm
concentration require that many farmers go out of business.
Reactions, please? What would be on YOUR list? What is common ground for
Molly D. Anderson
School of Nutrition Science & Policy
Medford, MA 02155-7028