Field Notes From The Farm
The scent of Fall is in the air. The season is about to turn. You can already see the touch of yellow leaves here and there in the cottonwoods. In keeping with the season, we have already planted the seed flats for our Fall and Winter production. We will lead off with Sugar Pod Peas to be followed in short order by three kinds of lettuce, two kale, two chard, spinach and beets. We eagerly look forward to retuning to market, mid October if all goes well.
In the last Field Notes, I said that I had had a PET scan on May 25th but the results were not in. The results were encouraging: the PET scan showed no cancer. Technically, I was in remission. These results were after only five chemotherapies of the scheduled twelve! This does not mean I am cancer free. There most likely were micro-clusters of cancer cells below the resolution of the PET scan. At what point have you destroyed enough of the micro-clusters so that they will not have time to regrow before the immune system can recover enough to destroy them? So . . . what do you do? Bottom line, there are many anecdotal testimonials, but no research based studies to offer guidance. Understanding the framework that cancer therapy is a muti-billion dollar industry, why would anyone do the research to cut off their gravy train? The body says stop feeding me these chemo poisons; the head says you need to stay the course. Feeling trapped by the lack of clear direction that is reliable, I reluctantly came down on the head side. I am going to follow the complete cycle of 12 chemotherapy treatments. The last treatment is scheduled for August 31st. Believe me, I am really looking forward to September when I will be chemo free!
Following the theme of what we can do to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of living in a complex, industrial society, I offer up a different fare this month. It is a review of a remarkable new book by Maria Rodale. If the name is familiar, it is because she is the granddaughter of J.I.Rodale who founded the magazine Organic Farming and Gardening in 1942. Ms. Rodale is the CEO and chairwoman of Rodale Inc., the world's leading multimedia company with a focus on healthy living on a healthy planet. This book review and my reflections on it, make for a longer Field Notes, but it is a subject that I feel needs to be addressed.
The book is Organic Manifesto. The subtitle says it all: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep us Safe. The book starts out detailing how the industrial model of agriculture has poisoned our soil, our water and our air as well as ourselves and our children. Rodale then expands on the history and practices of industrial agriculture so you can see how we arrived at the sorry mess we are in today. The scope of the problem does not stop at the farm gate. Industrial agriculture is supported by a host of chemical and seed companies that provide the farmer with chemical inputs, poisons and genetically modified seed. These same companies also supply research money to the scientists at our land grant universities and then this "research" information is disseminated by the company salesmen and the county agricultural extension agents, etc. The USDA is fully complicit in this industrial, agriculture model with a revolving door to the executives of the same fertilizer and pesticide companies that are poisoning us. The political process in turn supports this whole façade where crop insurance and subsidies are provided for the six basic commodity crops. There are also export subsidies and all manner of other incentives that virtually dictate the economic choices farmers must make. PR men are hired to promote this dysfunctional model. One of their better lines is the "Need to feed the world" implying there is a moral imperative to using poisons and that organic agriculture is not capable of supplying food in sufficient quantity to do the job.
Organic farming is built on a different model. The industrial model of agriculture is built on the framework where man becomes master over Nature; the organic model is built on cooperation with Nature. The difference could not be more fundamental. In Part 3 of Organic Manifesto, Rodale covers the status of organic farming today and the truth about modern organic farming. In 1981 the Rodale Institute began a study, The Farming Systems Trail (FST), to document the effects of transitioning a farm from chemical to organic methods. They had to fund this research themselves because no university or government agency thought organic farming was worthwhile. Organic farming was seen as a fringe event, a holdover from the hippie movement of the 1960s.
The results of the FST are nothing short of amazing. Crop yields from organic and synthetic-chemical are similar in years of average precipitation. But how often do you have an "average" year? In times of drought, yields are higher on the organic farm. In times of flooding and water logged soils, yields are higher on the organic farm. Fossil fuel use is 30% less on the organic farm. Labor inputs are approximately 15% higher on the organic farm. Organically farmed soil has significantly greater carbon and nitrogen storage capacity than that of chemically treated farms. The list goes on, but you get the idea: organic farming can feed the world.
Ms. Rodale has a section entitled "An End To Confusion". Let me highlight several bullets. Chemicals are not necessary to grow food. Chemicals make food, soil, water and air dirty, toxic and poisoned. Organic foods are healthier. Organic foods are safer. All organic foods are natural, but not all natural foods are organic. Organic foods taste better. Organic farming increases and protects the planet's biodiversity. Organic farming can stop the climate crisis --- whether or not you believe it exists.
The final section of Organic Manifesto is a call to action. Ms. Rodale makes several recommendations, but the core idea is that we as consumers have the power to move the market. We can all buy organic and drive the demand so that farmers and grocers, processors and yes, even governments, will have to respond to our insistence that organic food be the norm.
I personally rate books I read as I year, 5 year or 10 year. A book rated as 10 year is one that so impresses me that in my conversations and way of thinking, I still refer to it 10 years later. I am sure that Organic Manifesto will be a 10 year book. Highly recommended.
Looking Over The Horizon
In keeping with the focus of Field Notes from the Farm on making personal decisions to protect one's health, Rodale's book calls out to set these decisions within the context of our society. Such a perspective helps us understand that the choices to be made cannot be "both/and". The choices need to be "either/or". It is like the old saying: You can't be just a little pregnant.
The financial mess we find ourselves in now is basically the death throes of the super debt cycle that began in 1971 when Nixon closed the gold window. A 1971-dollar is now worth only 18 cents. The Establishment is trying to cure the excess debt problem with yet more debt. It is a recipe for disaster. The federal government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. The Social Security Trust Fund went negative this year and the bill has not been presented yet for the Universal Health Care reform. We will see a further collapse of debt-backed assets over the next 12 to 18 months that will dwarf the trillions of dollars of paper assets already wiped out. The government's response will be to provide more liquidity to the financial system, i.e. they will crank up the printing presses and we will see rising inflation, if not hyperinflation. If foreign nations will not buy our debt (they own about 40% of our debt), we could see outright default. Since the US dollar is the reserve currency of the world, a default of the US sovereign debt would cause a cascade of defaults worldwide and a collapse of the world economy. If you study history, this is the kind of radical change that happens only once every 200 to 500 years. As the Chinese say: May you live in interesting times. We have it in spades!
We have drawn into this mess by not keeping our focus on the larger picture, by not sorting out what is important from what is daily chatter. By way of example, let me give you a few facts about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has a corporate culture of cutting corners and the cost of cleaning up this disaster in the Gulf could bring about its demise. However, the government exacerbated the problem in many ways. Within days of the initial blowout, the Dutch government offered their assistance to skim the oil from the waters of the Gulf. They were turned down because of an EPA rule that says the discharge back into the water had to be 99.9985% clean. That rule is fine as a standard for a permitting process of something that is planned for the future, but it utterly ignored the emergency nature of the BP blowout. It took 30 days for someone with common sense to reverse this ruling. In the meantime millions of gallons of oil that could have been salvaged were dispersed by the winds and currents. Likewise, Petrobas, the national oil company of Brazil, offered to help. They have an inventory of 2600 oil eating bacteria, which would have been of immense help. Washington turned down this offer to help as well. It would seem that the political agenda to scapegoat BP took precedent over doing what needed to be done.
The news media did not help with their focus on "human interest" stories that basically wasted valuable air time which could have been used to put the whole sorry mess in perspective. The media's frequent reference to the Exxon Valdez spill of over 20 years ago was grossly misleading. You can't compare an oil spill in warm tropical waters to the frigid Arctic waters of Prince Williams Sound. It is a basic fact of biology that a 10 degree Centigrade increase in temperature will double the metabolic rate of an animal, plant or bacteria. The bacterial metabolic rate is in the order of 800% higher in the Gulf than in Alaska, but not one news broadcast mentions this fact.
Also, off the coast of Mexico, there are natural oil seeps that every year "seep" more oil than was "blown out" from the BP well. What happens to all this oil? It is eaten by bacteria that are in equilibrium with their food source, the oil from the seeps. This very pertinent and interesting fact was never reported by the news media. Are they in cahoots with the government to scapegoat BP? I don't think so. I think it was just shoddy reporting, laziness and ignorance. I'm not sure which one is worse.
One other aspect of the BP blowout that needs to be mentioned is the Administration's moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. The long-term effect could be very costly to the American consumer. The Gulf supplies about 30% of our oil needs. We don't need a standing army in some foreign country to "protect" our source of supply. Over 30,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf without a major incident until now. The BP well has incredible potential. It is estimated that when it is drilled again, whether it is BP or some other outfit, it will come in as one of the 100 top producing wells in the entire history of the oil industry. Deep water drilling is a very expensive and sophisticated technology that is predominately American. In the Gulf, 300,000 well paid jobs are at risk and that is before the multiplier effect reaching out into the local communities. The companies that own these expensive deep water drill rigs are declaring force majeure and moving their rigs out of the Gulf to Africa, South America and the Middle East. They may never come back. Call it Peak Oil, supply and demand, the low hanging fruit has been picked, but the price of oil will increase. Many industry estimates place the price of oil at $200 a barrel within five years. Remember the pain at the pump when oil spiked to $140 a barrel? What will you be driving five years from now? Or will you? The upside of $200 oil is that it will drive the market to seek alternatives and the green technologies of wind and solar will finally come into their own. [For more on peak oil and energy issues, check out The Oil Drum website. You can find links to it and other resources in the links list to the right.]
The reason for spending so much time discussing the BP oil spill in the Gulf? Whatever damage has been done by this one time event in the Gulf, it is absolutely dwarfed by the damage done, each and every year, by the agricultural runoff discharged into the Gulf. There are large areas of the Gulf that are "dead zones" where the oxygen is so depleted that nothing can survive. Maria Rodale has told us that everything is connected. Here we have yet another example of the terrible cost of industrial agriculture. These toxic discharges are eliminated in organic agriculture. The news media is silent; government supports industrial agriculture and ignores their degradation of the Gulf. We have a corrupt and dysfunctional system.
The National Institutes of Health predicts that today's young generation will be the first generation that will not live as long as their parents. This is a direct condemnation of our industrial agriculture model based on artificial fertilizers and poisons. What is even more frightening is that the youngest generation -- those who have not yet reached breeding age -- are the subjects of an unauthorized and dangerous experiment where they are being reared on genetically modified foods. Animal studies have shown that GMO food will lead to a long-term epidemic of cancer, food allergies, learning disabilities, sterility and birth defects. You say you don't eat GMO foods? Check out these statistics: 85% of the corn; 91% of the soy; 88% of the cotton; 85% of the canola and 95% of the sugar beets of the US production are produced as GMO crops. Still say you don't eat GMO foods? It is important to note that the National Organic Standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms. By contrast, the peoples of Europe don't have to suffer such indignities because the use of GMO foods is banned. Once again, we live in a corrupt and dysfunctional system.
The subsidies given to industrial agriculture make the standard American diet (SAD) less expensive than organically produced food. If the subsidies were removed, SAD would be more expensive than organic food. Talk about the height of unmitigated gall, the government takes your tax dollars and gives your dollars to their cronies in the industrial agriculture to poison you. Once again, we live in a corrupt and dysfunctional system.
So what can we do as individuals? I think that the system we describe above is in its death throes. The wisest choice would be to step aside and not be drawn into dealing with the negative energies of the corrupt and dysfunctional system. Let's be positive. What we can do right now is buy organic food. Maria Rodale instructs us that as consumers we have the power to change things and that everything is connected. Do you want to be healthy? Eat organic. Are you pregnant? Eat organic. Are you nursing? Eat organic. Do you want to build the tilth of the soil? Eat organic. Do you want to support biodiversity? Eat organic. Do you want to heal the Gulf? Eat organic. Do you want to stop the application of 4 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides on our food every year? Eat organic. Do you want to sequester carbon in the soil and thus reduce the greenhouse gas emissions? Eat organic. Do you want to Heal Our Planet, Feed The World, and Keep Us Safe? Eat organic!
Maria's wisdom showing the interconnectedness of all living things brings us to the very simple either/or question: are you part of the problem or part of the solution? If you eat the food of industrial agriculture, you have made the choice to poison yourself and the Planet. If you eat organic food, you have made the choice to protect your health and nourish the Planet. There is no middle ground just as you cannot be just a little bit pregnant. Each one of us needs to make a personal commitment to eat organic and create the market momentum to change the world. Hey! An enormous task! But if organic food tastes better, why not?
David and Valorie Hutt
Earth Echo Farm
Tecolotito, New Mexico
If we heal the land,
The land will heal us.