I am a farmer/I am a citizen, and this is what ‘we’ are being told:
We must raise or at least finish our animals in cages and feedlots because it is ‘more efficient’.
Even our animals that start on pasture must end in feedlots, because they ‘finish more quickly’.
We must feed heavy grain diets to ruminants evolved to live on grass, inducing low-grade illness and the practice of feeding subtherapeutic antibiotics — because that ‘enhances growth rates’.
We cannot quit subtherapeutic feeding of antibiotics because it would be too expensive.
We must implant growth hormones to make our animals grow faster because that is most ‘profitable’.
We can extend the output of such feedlots by scavenging the meaty bits admixed with pathogen-prone fatty exteriors, and disinfecting the resultant ‘pink slime’ with ammonia gas. We must serve this augmented ‘hamburger’ to our populace, unlabeled, because it ‘adds value’.
We must spray chemicals on our fruits, vegetable, grains, and into our soils, because it is ‘cleaner’.
We must work, or hire others to work, in conditions that affluent Americans shun for themselves or their children.
We must burn up the carbon in our once-organic-rich soils in order to maximize production with ‘modern’ farming. We must displace food production with ethanol production because it ‘conserves’ carbon-based fuels.
We must purchase crop insurance via government programs rather than building our own crop insurance by building our soils and our crop diversity.
We must grow crops with diminished nutrients because modern, high-yielding Wonder Bread varieties are ‘best’.
We must feed the food derived from such management to our children.
We must plant only a few crops for fuel and livestock feed on such a vast portion of our continent that we disrupt the natural migrations of birds, mammals, pollinators, and water, because it is more ‘efficient’.
We must kill even our most iconic and remnant species, such as buffalo, because their vestigial grasslands interfere with our ‘system’.
We must degrade our waterways, air and soil with the effluent of modern agriculture, because it is most ‘efficient’.
We must purchase and plant the output of centralized biotechnology companies, because that is more ‘efficient’ than following a farmer’s curiosity, drive and wherewithal to breed seed suited to our local landscapes and cultures.
We should be grateful for the plentiful food thus produced, even if we observe increasing obesity diabetes, and malnutrition even among the ‘well-fed’.
We must be grateful for this ‘cheap’ food.
We must endorse these mandates of modern agriculture, while asserting that we are salt of the earth, and that we deserve to maintain our ‘way of life’ even as our food system degrades everyone else’s
If we choose to reject these mandates of ‘modern’ agriculture and farm differently, eat differently, vote differently, then we are quaint, callous, elitist and irrelevant.
We must feed the world, now seven billion, soon nine, then twelve, then what?
I am a farmer/ I am a citizen, and ‘we’ are telling us:
We are indeed grateful for the abundance, ingenuity and hard work that has brought us all much good food and good fortune, and it is time we take stock. How many compromises equal ‘modern’?
It is not our job to fill the Petri dish to bursting point.
The earth is our matrix and regulator. Neither trade associations, nor insurance companies, nor governments, nor universities, nor corporations, nor stock markets, nor our neighbors will superceed its natural systems’ ultimate grasp.
Perhaps some of us are too different to fit the rhythm of modern agriculture—too small, too poor, too new, too foreign, too female, too contrary, too dry, too wet, too close to the land?
Perhaps it is our job to lead the colony to pause, to feed our hearts and our brains, not just our bellies and our banks.
Efficient? Cheap? Robust? Equitable? Durable?
Farmers, of all people, could be the most qualified to recognize and explain that the current practices and trajectories take us to a place we cannot afford, and that we can scarcely want. That is, if we would speak our minds.
Pink slime is only the most recent manifestation, at the output end, of a more deep-seated, long-brewing slurry at the heart of American agriculture. This critique of the half-century-old corn-soybean-feedlot-dominated regime of American agriculture is not an attack on farmers, but is rather a plea to farmers, to awaken to our own complicity in, and our own power to change, the very system that we have allowed to compromise our values, our status, our land, and our futures. Pervasive propaganda notwithstanding, it does not have to be this way, because it cannot continue to be this way.
Have we entered Alice’s rabbit hole, where governors defend pink-slime manufacture for its job creation, even as the numbers of farmers, ranchers and cows continue to dwindle; where Farm Bureau policies perpetuate the dominance of a continental corn desert, even as their roadside posters invoke bucolic red barns and ranchers with calves-in-their-arms; where Monsanto patents life forms and prosecutes farmers, even as it bankrolls a $30 million dollar PR campaign to resurrect agriculture’s sullied reputation?
We have watched and sometimes profited in recent decades as the complex maze of subsidies, lobbies, markets, revolving doors and ignorance have rendered our legislative, executive and judicial branches impotent to find a path out. Consumers are trying to peer down the rabbit hole; scientists are tweaking the dials and reporting some news, but farmers, especially farmers, can and must blast open the portals and reclaim.
Becky Weed is co-owner of Thirteen Mile Farm in southwest Montana. Thirteen Mile runs a small wool mill and is currently revising its long-term sheep operation, collaborating with a young farmer to add vegetables to its lamb and wool marketing. Weed has worked on her own place and with others to raise livestock while coexisting with native carnivores. www.lambandwool.com/