Monday, August 24, 2009

The Journey Towards Sustainability

Probably the most often asked question I get about sustainable agriculture is “what is it?” The questioners, usually prepared to defend their approach to agriculture, are often surprised to hear my answer. First I believe that most farmers have the desire to be sustainable; that is they wish to be able to continue what they are doing indefinitely. To do so indefinitely means that sustainability needs to be exemplified not only environmentally, but also in terms of productivity, economically, and socially in terms of health and well-being of the farmers and their communities. Further, sustainability in agriculture is better described as a journey than a destination. No one can be sure what practices will be sustainable in the long run. However, there are concepts that need to be addressed.

Sustainable agriculture begins with a set of values that include such things as productive soil, clean water, a reasonable income, healthy lifestyle, nutritious food, a diverse environment, and an appreciation of biological systems, community, and future generations. The journey to sustainability is determined to increase the positive impacts to these values and decrease the negatives.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty! What about chemicals? All sustainable production is not chemical free nor is all chemical free production sustainable. Chemical use in excess is clearly not sustainable as it can have negative impacts to water, wildlife, human healthy, and profitability. Judicious use of production chemicals may or may not be sustainable in that we don’t know the long-term effects. I thijnk it would be fair to say that the journey toward sustainability would include a reduction of chemical use over time through intensive management and the substitution of biological systems for chemicals. Given the knowledge to accomplish this I find that most farmers can embrace this concept.

What about marketing? From a sustainability standpoint, marketing must increase the bottom line to a point that the farmer receives a reasonable income. Generally this means that the farmer would move towards systems that increase his/her market share from the current 10% or less to a share that matches production capability with standard of living requirements. This can include producing for a new or niche market and cooperative marketing to face-to-face sales to consumers.

Finally let’s consider the human factor. Sustainable agriculture has a high regard for the health and happiness of the farmer, the health of the consumer, the viability of passing a farming operation to the next generation, and the impact to the community. These values set the parameters as to how food is produced and the quality of that food. Probably the first step in the journey towards sustainability in this area is the recognition that we are producing food as opposed to commodities. Even further we might consider that we are producing human nutrition.

In conclusion I would reiterate that the nature of sustainable agriculture is a journey and as such no onehas yet arrived at the destination or the complete and comprehensive definition. If you share any or all of the values suggested in this article and are working toward them, you are sustainable agriculture. NSAS is a community of producers, consumers, vendors, and researchers working together to promote the values of sustainable agriculture!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare via Sustainable, Healthy, Local Foods!

Healthcare via Sustainable, Healthy, Local Foods!

At a recent congressional hearing on healthcare held in Lincoln, a predominant theme was the necessity of lifestyle changes. One of the panelists that testified for Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Congressman Joe Baca was Pam Edwards registered dietitian and director of UNL dining services. A major point she made was that healthy local food systems could and would reverse the trend in childhood obesity, decrease the soaring number of diabetic children in the United States, as well as create healthier individuals overall. Pam Edwards coordinates the surging “Good, Fresh, Local” program at UNL, and I have seen first hand the growth in the program. The last one we attended in April had twice as many students (and other attendees, as they are open to the public) as the previous in March! It is incredibly popular, and not just because the food is that much healthier for you; “It just taste better” as said one attendee in April.

A recent study showed in the 1970’s the average American household spent 17-20% of their income on food and 9-11% on healthcare. In 2005 these numbers had reversed, and the obesity epidemic had taken hold of our country. We may pay a little more for healthy, local foods, but they reduction in health care costs and improved quality of life, in the long run far outweighs it. In Nebraska alone, 27% of the population is overweight. Another disturbing trend is in the cost of healthcare for children. In 2000, it cost $185,000 to treat adults as a result of poor nutrition from K-12 grade school. These numbers have doubled since than.

Those of us fortunate to have the choice to buy local, healthy foods should do so. But at a recent panel discussion of the movie “Food, INC” an important question was posed about food deserts, where grocery stores and fresh produce are scarce. The example was of an area in East Omaha, but the same is happening throughout towns across rural Nebraska. My suggestions are to support your local groceries and ask more of them. Ask for local products. Start a farmer's market. As they stated in the movie, you can vote “3 times a day with your food dollars.” As demand increases, so to will the products sourced from sustainable food channels.

A major reason for this health care crisis, I believe, is the lack of access (and sometimes willingness) to buy healthy, sustainable, and local foods. I believe proper healthcare comes from making a choice. A choice to eat healthy, sustainable, local foods will result in a healthier lifestyle, not just for you and your family, but also your community. It is absolutely vital in today’s world to frequent your markets, support your local businesses, ask for local products, to grow some of your own food when you can, and to know where and how your food was raised. Talk with your neighbors, your farmers, and work as a community to make healthy lifestyle decisions for everyone!

Monday, August 3, 2009

HR 2749 (Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) Passes House

HR 2749 (Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) Passes House

Cathy Raymond, of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund reports that The U.S. House of Representative passed HR 2749 by a vote of 283 to 141. The next step for the bill is the Senate. It is likely the Senate will not consider HR2749 until they return from their summer recess. The FTCLDF website will continue to provide updates on the progress of the bill.

One Congressman, Representative Farr called the legislation “historic, landmark and way overdue.”

On the other hand, I would say, HR2749 is way over the top at a cost of 1.5 billion to the American taxpayer! My Congressman’s office told me that “all this bill does is give the FDA more power and more money to protect us.” I told him, “that is the last thing I want is for the FDA to have more power and more control over small farms.”

The FDA has already demonstrated its inability to protect us from food borne illness outbreaks. In fact, Congress is giving them a reward for their failures, in an effort to look like they are doing the right thing for America.

This bill would give almost unlimited power to the FDA, and gives them the right to fine and even jail farmers, making farming a potential crime (if you break whatever rules they decide to impose).

If, instead of trying to regulate safety, America got serious about shifting back to a decentralized food system, we could save the 1.5 billion on this fake food safety measure.

Remember Lady Bird Johnson’s “Beautify America” campaign? Why not have our First Lady, Michele Obama, who has already planted her own organic kitchen garden at the White House, start a campaign for “Re-farming America.” The networks may even run the campaign as an Ad Council pro-bono ad!

The only true path to safety is to move away from unsustainable systems that rely heavily on government subsidy, federal price supports, federal control and excessive regulation. These waves of large scale food borne illness are just the leading indicators of a system collapsing under its own weight.

For instance, a California farmer contacted me recently about the water shortages in her state that are threatening to destroy crops. If California wasn’t trying to feed the whole country, the all to common droughts and water shortages they experience would not be such a big deal. Reviving rural communities nationwide by the rebirth of local agriculture would spread the water usage around, and California farms wouldn’t be so vulnerable.

Instead, our well-meaning politicians are falling all over themselves to look heroic, as they tighten the noose around farming families nationwide. I contend that government regulation is what has driven many of America’s family farms under, and just as local farming is making a comeback (in no small part, due to the efforts of Sally Fallon Morell and her Weston A. Price Foundation) massive and sweeping new laws are moving through Congress.

If you are concerned about this huge power grab by the FDA, please contact not only your Congressional Representative, but also your Senator. They need to be educated about the impact on food safety of these food safety regs. They are going the wrong way, they do not realize the potential of local foods to revive this land and protect us from harm. You can make a difference by telling them your story.

A Commentary by Kimberly Hartke

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation. She and her husband buy 85% of their groceries directly from local farms. They sponsor several farm drops at their National Realty office in Reston, VA as a community service.

This post is part of the Fight Back Fridays blog carnival on Food Renegade blog. Check here for more get radical ideas!