Tuesday, May 12, 2009

(Updated) Agriculture and Food Issues

Hi Folks,

Since being the catalyst and one of the principal organizers of a four day conference, "Towards Self-Sufficiency", on local, regional and world food issues in 1976 (in the Amherst, MA area), I have had an interest in what you are now calling "food security".

I expand the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to the idea of regional/local community/worker hybrid cooperatives or at very least cooperating independent businesses. We need to vertically and horizontally integrate all down the line and across business sectors, with respect to growing, distribution, recycling organic wastes and educating about the need and benefits of relocalization, including equity and humanity with respect to workers and humanity with respect to animals, and responsibility with respect to the environment, with respect to eating healthily, and with respect to minimizing packaging. We also need to diversify risks relative to other necessities and our overall plans to rebuild our neighborhoods to make them walkable.

If we can't get direct cooperation and friendly participation from Capitalists who can be arrogant, self-serving, and dishonest about their historic and their perception and presumption of continuing "competitive advantage", then we surely need to be aware just how severe the competition will be, and we all better pull together with great solidarity, one way or another.

With regards to rice, are you aware that by flooding and farming wetlands to grow rice, we destroy the areas where FISH, birds and other critters spawn and sometimes make their home? Food for thought (pun intended)!

Also think about the use of planting/harvesting greasy machinery or defecating beasts and the use of any sort of fertilizer and competitive species control, be it non-organic or mythically organic, and their effects on the wetlands and associated riparian and ocean environments.

If you're one of these "back to human power" warners or advocates, think about just how hard that labor is/would be...

I suggest that we advocate the ingestion of "dryland" grasses (e.g. wheat, corn, rye), excluding alcohol products, minimizing processing, and packaging, and IF we make all the other necessary demand side management and transition away from tobacco and alcohol and corn syrup beverages, and we radically reduce the amount of land dedicated to meat production, and radically reform said industry, THEN we should consider the use of biofuels as a small part of our supply side energy program.

Community Supported Agriculture

I am really, for the most part, borrowing the name Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) (or maybe I'm lifting it).

Maybe it would be better to come up with a new name like, Locally and Regionally and Inter-regionally Community Supported Agriculture (LARIRCSA) ;-) .

"Conventional" CSAs are well intentioned in that they strive to have community members share the risks associated with farming with the farmers. Fair enough, and my plan shares that objective. However, the problem with CSAs and buying your food by the pound is that early in the season, you'd probably get more strawberries than you can eat (unless you have the luxury time and resources to make jam), there are varieties of tomatoes so those can be stretched out over at least part of the growing season, but most crops tend to come to fruition in relative batches, so the variety in food boxes probably is not optimal. I'm not a farmer, and have limited experience with gardening, so correct me if I'm wrong.

Secondly, mixed cropping implies more labor-intensive farming, really extended gardening. While such a system would be much more healthy from many perspectives, it would be difficult for farmers employing such methods to compete with conventional farms.

Third, there are distribution issues. Who is responsible for getting the food box from the farmer to the "member"? It would be uneconomical for the farmer(s) to be responsible for the distribution, and it defeats the purpose of demand-side management relative to "consumer" activity to have the members drive all the way to the farm. Now, if members live in close proximity, then this would not be a concern.

Fourth, in places like Oregon, and even more northern climes, the harvest season is very short. It, like the growing season can be extended slightly, perhaps, by building hot houses, but only slightly.

Fifth, the extra planning involved would probably be too cumbersome for farmers.

I envision, and it may be happening (I don't know), farmers within regions and from different regions forming unions to gain control over the distribution of their products, working with cooperating truckers, warehouse handlers and associated cooperating retail outlets (perhaps incorporating pre-order systems (wouldn't electronic systems be helpful)), in a system of community/worker hybrid cooperative associations.

Similarly, relationships could be built relative to the recycling of organic wastes (of course, the objective would be to minimize such, as it would be to minimize packaging).

Now, the issue of seasonal farm workers needs to be dealt with. Migrant farm working should be eliminated. Seasonal workers need to be accommodated to their needs during the off-seasons, so that they can have the quality of life of a sedentary community. Again, I don't know the status of such a proposal. Maybe it is already happening... Certainly, a year-round living wage, equity inclusion, and educational programs so that the young can assume more progressively responsible and more highly compensated roles in the food system will need to occur.

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