----The sustainable ag movement has a big problem here that many
of its followers refuse to recognize. Agriculture can not become
sustainable without the participation of farmers. That means really
recognizing the realities that farmers must live with as they try to
maintain the profitability and productivity of their operations in a
turbulent political, economic, and biological environment.------
I couldn't agree more, Tom.
I recently finished a master's thesis on sustainable ag. My project was from
the perspective of a journalist, so I was more aware of "getting both sides"
and really listening. I talked to several Farm Bureau members, on a variety
of farms. Going into the interviews, I was quite skeptical as to the motives
of these farmers because I had previously read a lot of sustainable ag info.
and talked to many people from that camp who had accused the Farm Bureau just
like they've been accused on this bulletin board.
But I remember one Farm Bureau member in particular that made me ashamed to
be self-righteous. This man was a conventional grain farmer in central
Illiniois who had farmed his whole life on land used by his own father and
grandfather. His grandfather had a variety of animals, he had none -- he
couldn't compete with huge confinement operations. He had to invest EVERTHING
in corn and beans to compete with the mega grain farms. He had a family and a
comfortable home, what many people strive for, and that's where his loyalty
was. He wanted to be as productive as possible so he could continue to
provide for his family. This man was using a lot of chemicals, applied by GPS
and GIS and all that jazz because the Univ. of Ill., the Farm Bureau, several
agrochemical companies, supported him. When I quite blatantly asked him if he
felt his way of farming was sustainable, he quite blatantly answered, "yes."
He was sustaining his family, and to the best of his knowledge (fed by
extention, chem. cos, etc.) his farm. He was recognized as a leading farmer
by Farm Bureau, and he was proud of that fact.
In this narrative, I'm attempting to illustrate that unless you have farmed
for a good share of your life, and tried to support a family on that, think
before accusing others. My farmer above has to deal with the following
"obstacles" to sustainable production: the political environment; economics;
social pressure; and a powerful knowledge triangle consisting of schools of
agriculture (some), extension and agro-business, who aren't always interested
in spreading the word about sustainable ag. He had little knowledge of the
"sustainable movement," as he called it, and he didn't think it was for him.
It's time we stop accusing people on a computer screen and get out and talk
to people, those opposed to our ideas and those against them. Dialogue is key
to sustainability -- by having a polarzing "us v. them" attitude, there will
be no EXCHANGE of knowledge. (I emphasize exchange because, believe it or
not, farmers know alot about farming, maybe some things even WE don't know.)
The dialogue must strecth out of our comfort zones -- to the cornfields of
Illinios where "the soil is too good for diversity." And when we are out of
our comfort zones, we must realize that we are not omniscient, and,
sometimes, once in awhile, possibly ... (just like those nasty ol' Farm
Bureau members) WE may be wrong. I encourage everyone to go out and have a
conversation with someone who has never heard of, or has no interest in,
"sustainable agriculture." I promise it will be an enlightening experience.
It may also make someone else think.