Two distinctly different visions for the future of our food system
have emerged: one is industrial, the other is ecological.
The industrial paradigm urges society to amplify research and the
application of intensive, high-input technologies for growing,
processing and marketing food in order to feed an expanding human
Proponents of the ecological paradigm for our food system believe that
if the human species is to survive, the work of feeding ourselves must
be incorporated into the ³larger task of restoring the health of local
ecosystems² and communities. They ³suggest that this requires not only
a redesign of farming methods, but also of the entire food and
agriculture system.²* Producing and preparing food should become an
integral part of our lives.
The basics of a food system are really quite simple. Soil supports
plants which use sunlight to turn air and water into delicious things
to eat. Animals turn some of the plants into other good food. Meals
are prepared and eaten.
In the ecological model, the plants, animals and eaters share the same
ecosystem. Wastes from one species nourish others by way of nature¹s
elegant cycles. Growing and preparing food are integral to the
culture, education, joy and the spirit of each community. While home,
school and community gardens are the most important elements of an
ecological food system, community-supported-agriculture projects,
farmers markets, organic farms, as well as small and part-time farms
(especially in urban and suburban areas) are also critical. All of
these human-scale endeavors are expanding steadily here in the US and
around the world. Grassroots organizations believe that these
elements help restore the health not only of people and local
ecosystems, but of rural and urban communities, as well.
The approach of the industrial food system is very different. This
system disconnects people from direct experience in producing food and
disconnects food production from the elegant natural cycles that allow
ecosystems to function. Instead it creates concentration of
ownership, extremely large-scale monocultures and highly-subsidized
facilities which produce, for example, millions of hogs or chickens,
millions of pounds of margarine or millions of gallons of herbicide
each year. It also tends toward boring, inhumane and oftentimes
dangerous employment for its workers.
Because food is produced very far from where it is eaten, distribution
becomes the most important element in the industrial model. Large
agribusinesses use contracts with farmers, vertical integration and
other forms of coordination to control the flow of food from ³farm to
mouth.² Large chemical, drug, seed and equipment companies take an
increasing share of farmers¹ earnings for their high tech, toxic,
dangerous, and genetically-engineered inputs. Globalization of all
these activities is big right now, with the overriding goal in all
cases being higher profits to please investors.
While the ecological approach maximizes the use of solar energy,
recycles organic wastes and uses non-renewable resources sparingly,
the industrial approach voraciously consumes soil, water, packaging
materials and energy.
In fact, energy from fossil and nuclear sources used for growing,
processing, transporting, packaging and marketing has become the most
important ingredient in the industrial food system.
This system discards farmers and their knowledge as it eliminates
locally-adapted plants and animals in favor of laboratory creations.
The industrial system is quickly narrowing the diversity of food
plants that we eat and the diversity of plant and animal species on
Proponents of the industrial vision would have us forge recklessly
ahead on their path, putting all our hopes for future eating into the
hands of genetic engineers, large-scale, far-away farms and global
food processors. Their record so far is not good.
Practitioners of the ecological system strive to involve as many as
possible in the rewarding work of feeding themselves. They have found
that local, ecological food production nourishes more than bodies. It
nourishes spirits and communities, too.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
*This description is adapted from a speech by visionary, North Dakota,
organic farmer, Fred Kirschenmann. He is a member of the board of the
Center for Respect of Life and Environment and an officer of the World
Sustainable Agriculture Association. Contact Fred Kirschenmann through
©1997 Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on
urban agriculture projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and
Norwalk, CT).Their collection of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic
Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays
first appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays
are posted weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since
November 1995 are available there.
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