Food(ie) Fight

The New Mexico Nurse loves to watch the wrestling match of ideas – move and countermove. So naturally he was delighted to send me this piece laying into the “agri-intellectuals” who are seemingly so dead-set against farming as currently practiced in America. The author, Blake Hurst, has the advantage of actually being a farmer, and it’s very much worth reading his essay, once you get past the peevishness (justifiable or otherwise) in the opening grafs. I think a few of the shots he takes are cheap – the whole bit about turkeys drowning themselves in the rain is a fine story, but when people complain about contained poultry, they’re not complaining about a roof overhead. Still, Hurst has reason to be grumpy, and deserves to have his say.

But you know, not everybody who’s critiquing modern farm methods is doing so from an ivory tower. It’s part of the reason The Wife is so fond of the book she’s reading these days: Rowan Jacobsen’s Fruitless Fall: the Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis. The book opens in the field: a modern, large-scale beekeeper inspecting his hives. It’s very much a book that begins on the ground and works from there. When Jacobsen points to possible problems with modern agricultural practices, well, he deserves to have his say, too.

Here and elsewhere, it seems that both sides need to work harder at listening to each other.


  1. cubeland mystic says

    I don't disagree with Hurst, but I think he's missing the context and intent. He's arguing from his context, while Wendel Berry and his team are arguing from another context. For example, I don't think anyone from the organic movement would suggest trucking compost from NY to Missouri.

    He's growing commodity crops, and needs efficient methods. Part of that is petroleum for fuel and fertilizer. Those seem to get the job done. If you can find a way to efficiently deliver perfect doses of nitrogen right when the crops need it most, and the costs and Wendel Berry are all happy, most farmers would gladly comply.

    If you could figure out a way to create little robots that run on weeds, kill pests, and then dissolve into affixable nitrogen that would be even better.

    I am more critical of the way fruits and vegetables are produced. I think flavor and quality are important. A beautiful peach should be soft, sweet, and peachy. We've stopped buying most fruits because they are hard and flavorless. Tomatoes should feel plump and fleshy, not hard like an apple. They should smell and taste like a tomato. It just doesn't happen when they are picked hundreds of miles from the source while still green still vibing with their nightshade.

    He have a local source of tomatoes, and they are okay. Tomatoes should be grown at home or u-picked for the best results. There's really no solution to the vegetable quality supply chain.

    Does the lack of flavor and quality translate into a lack of nutrients? I don't know the answer. One suspects that fruits and vegetables past the point of vitality, or never allowed to reach vitality, are not the best food source. Perhaps they even contribute to the obesity problem when they are all starchy and pulpy.

    One thing he didn't touch on in the article is the government's role in ag, and how they might be a stumbling block for hope and change.

    One guy who seems to have the organic thing down is Joel Salatin. He was featured in Rod Dreher's book. For anyone reading this spending a half hour on his site would be enlightening.

  2. Matthew,

    Another issue – which Hurst sorta touches on – is the fact that the farmer does take the brunt of abuse from both Big Business which sets the price and Big Governement which subsidizes the price once set. If you talk to farmers around here (organic or otherwise) they percieve the problem as twofold: One, there's a certain monopolizing going on by the processors (i.e. Big Business) and a certain strong-arm flattening of the smaller farmers and processors through subsidies (again, allowing the "farmer" in New York City to enjoy the fruits of the subsidies while the real farmer in Blue River, Wis. has to take whatever the Govt. and Big Business conspire to fix as a going price for crops and product.)

    But far and away, as I've always suspected, the non-farming "experts" have litte more to say about the issue than the rest of us. Farmers tend to be a clever bunch (it seems they would have to be to survive in the current crappy economy – which for them began long before Big Business and Big Government screwed the pooch with the Housing Market.) and as farmers like Hurst can say, less Big Business bullying and less Big Government busybodying would make for a better agriculture.

    Of course, the other problem, but one perhaps for another conversation, is the fact that no one's having big families anymore. It's hard to have a family farm when you don't in fact have a family to speak of… Who would want to farm without some good cheap help (and a blessed spiritual life which such a family often entails to tackle the ups and downs of the farming life)? Well, the market, ever aborring a vacuum, gladly rushes in as the family farmers begin to retire and sell off their farms…

    What will happen next is anyone's guess.

    Go to this link to see the results at least in my area of Big Business and Big Government getting together to decide what's good for a farming community.

    This one here is another face of the same issue:

    And you might as well browse the rest of the series while you're there.


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