_Eric has had a second article published, in March of 2016, in the second, online version of Local Food Shift Magazine, on the subject of land tenure. It can be accessed, along with a bunch of other great articles and resources, here: http://www.localfoodshift.pub/land-tenure-for-small-farming-in-colorado/
Relocalizing Food in the Denver Metro Area
(Note: a version of this article was published in the inaugual edition of Local Food Shift magazine, in the fall of 2015. For more information about the magazine, http://www.localfoodshift.pub/ )
by Eric Belsey 5/29/2014
The human race is facing many challenges and opportunities at this stage in its evolution. One opportunity that addresses many challenges simultaneously is the resurgence going on in local food production. Many people from all walks of life are reassessing their relationship with the food that is the indispensable basis for a healthy body and mind. Every day more people realize that the mainstream food industry has gone wildly awry with its focus on convenience and profits, at the expense of nutrition, the environment, and animal welfare. Many excellent documentaries, websites, books, newspaper and magazine articles are available on what has happened in our serious, national trial separation from agriculture, which only started in earnest with the end of WWII.
During the 1940s, fertilizer exploded in more ways than one. During the war, nitrogen was one of the prime components of TNT and other high explosives, and the U.S. government built 10 new plants to supply nitrogen for bombs. After the war, those plants produced ammonia for fertilizer. Fertilizer use exploded, in part because the supply was there and in part because farmers and scientists understood how important nutrients were to crops. http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/crops_04.html
The uptick in yields made possible by substituting high nitrogen fertilizer for the old methods of soil building through manuring and cover cropping eventually proved to be akin to the uptick in confidence a user gets from snorting a line of cocaine. It’s great, it’s intense, it’s brief, it’s damaging, and leaves you seeking more, having seriously damaged and unbalanced the underlying natural system. The chemical fertilizers had a devastating effect on the biological life of the soil, the fungi, bacteria, and diverse microfauna, earthworms, insect, arachnids and arthropods who are the real farmers in any food production system. This microscopic life makes the nutrients found in organic matter and soil available and usable by the plants. As the chemical fertilizers destroyed these ancient, biological support systems, the plants weakened. Nature then sent in her cleanup crews, insects and disease, to clean up the mess, which humans responded to with more, “better” living through chemistry, accelerating our downward slide.
Added to this explosion in chemical fertility and “pest control” was an explosion in the mechanization of agriculture, as abundant human labor was replaced by capital-intensive mechanization that drove many off the land and into urban and suburban waged employment. The tractors and equipment got bigger and bigger, creating more soil compaction, deepening and accelerating the devastating effects of the downward slide already described, and putting many farmers into debt, which made it easy to push them off the land, which made it easy to consolidate farms into larger and larger farms, to justify the size and capital expended on the equipment. The most useful, descriptive term for this whole process is “vicious cycle.”
And these days the vicious cycle deepens with the twin suicidal tendencies currently assaulting agriculture: 1) the theft of the plant and animal genome by private corporations, also known as genetic engineering, genetic modification, or GMOs and 2) the devastating attack on ground water, air quality and the land itself known as hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking. Humanity certainly seems to have lost its moral compass when it comes to caring for the earth and each other.
Local agriculture alone cannot correct human error at this scale, but it is the essential place to start. Without healthy minds, bodies and a renewed connection to Nature, addressing these larger problems will be impossible.
The vicious cycle described above can also be viewed through the lens of dependence. It is safe to say that at the beginning of the experiment called The United States of America most of the population was engaged in working with the land in some way. By 1993, a brief 217 years later, the number of people who lived on land that they farmed had dipped so low that the Census Bureau ceased to count farmers as an occupational category. (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/10/us/too-few-farmers-left-to-count-agency-says.html) With the loss of these farmers, their accumulated farming knowledge, experience and wisdom has been lost in an instant.
We have slowly but certainly been disconnected from the natural basis of our lives, and told that we can trust enormous institutions to provide for us. Humans used to be able to build reasonable shelter working with our neighbors with readily available materials. Now we need a jumbo mortgage to make sure our homes have nice movie rooms. Instead of treating our kids’ Nature Deficit Disorder with a walk in the woods or time checking out bugs in the garden, we turn to the pharmaceutical industry or we plug them into smartphones or tablets.
The good news is that many of your neighbors see this trend too, and are taking matters into their own hands to reconnect with each other and Nature. Many people still remember the WWII Victory Gardens, and their critical impact on the food supply during the war, and the inherently galvanizing confidence boost that comes from using ones’ own hands plus a little patch of Earth to take action to provide for ones’ own needs.
This vicious cycle post-WWII is very new, while human self-reliance is very old. We are only here because our ancestors successfully did this farming, hunting, gathering and animal husbandry activity year after year for thousands of years. We have no right to drop the ball like we have in recent years.
We dropped the ball, but we can pick it back up. The relocalization of the food supply has taken on the level of feverish ferment here in Denver. All around us CSAs, NSAs, family farms, community gardens, small garden companies, school gardens and nonprofit community organizations are getting people going, getting them started producing some of their food supply themselves, buying it directly from the farmer, or both. Anyone who says we are powerless in the face of the vicious cycle described above is not really paying attention to what is actually happening, right now, on the ground. The resources and opportunities to get your hands dirty are abundant, DIG IN!