Watching the “Farm to Fork” festivities in Sacramento this weekend gives me renewed encouragement that our urban population is seeking and finding new ways to think about the special attributes of agriculture and its important role in our society. Much like the evolution that occurs with food and wine as people develop more sophisticated palettes, the food movement appears to be poised for a growth spurt, where people are searching for a more sophisticated understanding about the agriculture that feeds and clothes people, as well as enriches the landscapes we all live.
In thinking about these issues, I call upon two different articulations that help project some of the new energy underway in the discourse around the future role of farming. Both views show the important evolution from idyllic views of pastoral farming to a more practical view about what it takes for successful farming into the future.
The first article is a homespun opinion piece in the New York Times that caught my attention. “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers” offers an important local call from the ground. The opinionator, Bren Smith, an eastern farmer, shares the contradictions he sees from his farm. On the one hand, the local food movement has helped with general awareness about food production, it connects urban people to the rural landscape and it creates powerful convivial opportunities for people to enjoy each other. On the other hand, he adds that “the dirty secret of the foodie movement is that the much celebrated small scale farmer isn’t making a living” at this craft. “The food movement…is missing, ironically, the perspective of the people doing the actual work of growing food. Their platform has been largely based on how to provide good, healthy food, while it has ignored the core economic inequities and contradictions embedded in our food system.”
The second article is a well-produced National Geographic video-graphic by Jonathan Foley that explores the challenges to feeding the world. National Geographic has attempted to simplify the issues and encourage people to realize that by 2050 we’ll need to feed two billion more people. How can we do that without overwhelming the planet?
“Unfortunately, the debate over how to address the global food challenge has become polarized, pitting conventional agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and organic farms. The arguments can be fierce, and like our politics, we seem to be getting more divided rather than finding common ground. Those who favor conventional agriculture talk about how modern mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers, and improved genetics can increase yields to help meet demand. And they’re right. Meanwhile proponents of local and organic farms counter that the world’s small farmers could increase yields plenty—and help themselves out of poverty—by adopting techniques that improve fertility without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They’re right too.”
“But it needn’t be an either-or proposition. Both approaches offer badly needed solutions; neither one alone gets us there. We would be wise to explore all of the good ideas, whether from organic and local farms or high-tech and conventional farms, and blend the best of both.” The National Geographic video-graphic can be seen at: Where Will We Find Enough Food For 9 Billion?
On the heels of a successful Farm to Fork weekend in Sacramento, we have another opportunity to think about the future of farming. In the Sacramento Valley, the farmers are not only producing a commodity in the traditional economic sense, they are also the leading conservationists in the region, developing innovative 21st century projects and programs that will benefit salmon, migratory waterfowl and other birds, flood protection, as well as provide the pastoral settings that urbanites are craving in our increasingly frantic and busy environment we live. Please join in this conversation.