Good points C@use effect effect. I have often heard farmers lament the
lack of knowledge that city-folk display of where their food comes from.
It is indeed true that generally urban North Americans, especially, seem
to have little understanding of who grows the food, how it is produced,
etc. whereas farmers often possess many of the production skills of the
urban blue-collar working class (with machinery, etc.) and professional
classes (e.g. with accounting) while being themselves either small
business people (petit bourgeois, in the main) or capitalist farmers.
Here in Ontario, my own research reveals that as many as 7% are actually
capitalist in the sense of permanently employing farm labour as well as
being in control of investment, owning land, etc. But however few the
capitalist farmers are they have a huge impact on production with fewer
than 10% of the commercial farmers of Canada producing over 50% of the
One reason for urban ignorance of who, where and how food is produced
derives from the fact that there now is a much bigger distance between
food production and food consumption with food wholesalers, processors
and retailers in between the food producers and consumers. This
ignorance cannot be blamed on foolish city folk which a minority of
farmers seem to want to do but it does suggest the need for greater
education of the whole population about the agri-food system.
The other point that I wanted to make was that even though the majority
of the worker-farmers (those need depend on off-farm employment) and
petit bourgeois farmers in a 1991 sample of 1,105 Ontario farmers
actually were very concerned about the land degradation resulting from the
use of too many pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc., the big
producers (capitalist farmers) who were fewer in numbers but produce much
more of the product, tended to feel very positively about the use of
agricultural chemicals. It is indeed often cheaper to replace
agricultural labour with chemical and mechanical means. So I wouldn't
feel all that sanguine about the fact that the majority of small farmers
probably aren't as into to using as many chemicals. For the most part,
the land farmed by the biggest commercial operators tends to be the most
fertile but how long will that continue and of course their runoff
affects us all. (Of course the biggest farmers aren't the only ones who
feel, for e.g., that if some N K P pumps up their production, quadrupling
the application, should, ipso facto, quadruple production, never mind the
Rural extension Studies
University of Guelph
On Fri, 8 Sep 1995 WLockeretz@infonet.tufts.edu wrote:
> My query concerned people's serious lack of understanding of where food comes
> from, e.g., not knowing that (most of) it starts out as plants or animals
> on farms. In summary, I would call the results underwhelming.
Admitting my own bias on (what seems to be) the opposite side of yours,
I'm a little disturbed that you seek to draw conclusions from such an
extraordinarily small and unscientifically collected data base.
> I have a small amount of evidence -- I won't say from where
Equally disturbing is your apparently broad generalization of ignorance on
the part of family farm and sustainable ag advocates based on "a small
amount of evidence" without even quoting the source - how can anyone be
expected to lend credibility to a statement without knowing the source?
> for example, that the number of corporate farms
> is tiny compared with the number of family farms,
Actually, this is the root of my concern about corporate concentration in
agriculture - the lack of diversity in ownership of production.
But comparisons based on farm numbers may be misleading. Do you have
stats as to the number of acres farmed, or units of production? Quote
the source, please, and give a definition of your dividing line between
"corporate" and "family."
> or that only a small
> fraction of cropland (roughly 1/5) is treated with insecticides.
Are you suggesting that 80% of the cropland in the U.S. is farmed without
the use of pesticides? If this is true, then I am indeed operating on
assumptions based in ignorance. But I find such an assertion
incredible. Again, please cite your source of information.
> if my (admittedly poorly substantiated) impression is correct, then
> instead of wringing our hands too much about how little the public knows
> about food
Actually, my concern is not that the general public is unaware that
vegetables are plants and meat is from animals - I really don't think
that's a problem. What *is* a problem, in my opinion, is that our
predominantly urban society is increasingly cut off from any direct
interaction with natural biological systems, whether wilderness or
farmland, but that they hold the majority decision-making power in
setting policies for stewardship of such resources. Such ignorance leads
to misleading perceptions such as the statement I saw recently in an
animal rights group's brochure stating that dairy farmers are cruel
because they keep a cow pregnant for 11 months out of the year.