Thanks for your message. I won't rail against the organic purists, because,
right or wrong, they keep us on their toes in a useful way. But more
important than purism, an impossible state except in the (excited)
imagination, is transition.
If we who promote organic methods put more energy into welcoming a transition
from chemical intensive food production to management intensive food
production, we might have a lot more colleagues. That said, it is hard to
see how large farms can make the transition because they are just too big to
be managed on the basis of knowing the land rather than knowing a
one-size-fits all recipe. And it is hard to see how we can expect farm
ownership to decentralize, against the overall economic trend of our society,
without decentralization of populations. When we can know the person who
produces our food and see how s/he manages the Earth entrusted to him/her, we
can decide whether or not we want to spend our money thus.
Meanwhile, we need to remember that while many people practice organic
agriculture, sustainable agriculture, where resource production equals or
exceeds what is consumed, may not yet (or ever) exist. Sustainable
agriculture remains a (worthy) goal. We are all in transition.
I read an estimate recently that 42% of American families have gardens that
produce about a third of the country's fruits and vegetables. Regardless of
philosphy involved (organic or other), these gardens are likely to be far
more stustainable than any broadscale agriculture. Common sense
modifications in regulations about who can keep livestock (there are many
places where people can keep brutish pets like horses but not chickens!), and
a little more emphasis on encouraging home production of not only fruits and
vegetables but also meat, byproducts and grains, might give the largest
dividend in terms of moving in the direction of a sustainable FOOD SYSTEM.
My grandparents did it. If we used our family homesites more efficiently,
we would not need agriculture as we know it. Since individual families can
make substantial progress on these changes with little risk and less overall
work and inputs than mowing a lawn, going shopping, and earning the money to
pay for the food, they have room to change. (Note in sustainability
calculations that the largest input of energy for typical purchased food is
the gasoline to drive the family car to the store and back).
More realistic food prices *would* help farmers if the increase were at the
wholesale level and would certainly add a modest motivation to increased home
gardening and learning better home gardening skills where it is already
practice. But typically, farmers do not control their own marketing--prices
are set by buyers for the most part. So higher food prices do not
automatically translate into higher farm profits. On the other hand, there
is also the risk, particularly with deregulation, that increased prices at
the farm could lead to cultivation of land that should be left fallow or be
in other uses altogether and/or more intensive cultivation with more chemical
inputs to get as much of that high-value crop as possible. Old habits die
hard. More than one farmers' marketing cooperative has gone under when their
own members broke marketing contracts in order to get an extra 5 cents a
bushel outside the coop. We aren't very good of investing in the long term
as a people or certainly as an "industry." (The "industry" mentality is a
big part of the problem, of course.) Again, smaller farms, particularly if
one's children wanted to inherit them and run them, would move some growers
closer toward sustainability.
For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and The Forest Ecosystem
Food Network. P.O. Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478.
"We don't have time to rush."