Every once in a while, Joel will interrupt our normally scheduled blog posts with a special article. We hope you enjoy these posts as much as we do…
I spend many hours a week doing interviews. Radio, podcasts, TV, newspapers, magazines. More
recently, blogs. These interviews used to be all via phone. Today, more and more of them are via email.
The journalist emails a list of questions and I answer them via email. I like this because I can answer them
on my own time rather than a mutually-agreeable time and I can think more about the answers than the
off-the-cuff answers that come in a phone or face-to-face interview. I think these written answers are better
than the spontaneous ones.
I very much enjoy throwing curve balls during these interviews. With my Christian-libertarian-
environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic farmer tendencies, I often catch these journalists by surprise. If theyhaven’t done their research, they are taken aback, for example, when I disagree with the orthodox positionthat food safety can only come from the end of a bureaucrat’s paper trail. Or when I disagree that the answerto better farming is to get more USDA funding for organics. Or when I say that the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) issue is not one of labeling, but of private property trespass. Say what?
While these constant questions are often identical from one journalist to another, occasionally some fresh ones pop up that stretch me and help me grow in my own thinking. Often I don’t think about something until someone asks about it. One of those occurred this week and I’d like to share it with you because it was one of those off-the-wall answers that surprised me. If it surprised me, I can only imagine how it surprised the journalist.
Question: What are the most detrimental/beneficial effects to the farming ecosystem?
To be sure, the orthodox answer is about chemicals in the soil, pesticides in the food on the one hand,
and perhaps compost and species diversity on the beneficial side. That’s the expectation.
Are you ready for my answer? Here goes: Detrimental: a Conquistador mentality, the USDA (started
by the country’s worst president, Abraham Lincoln), loss of domestic culinary arts from the culture (food
preparation, preservation, packaging, and processing being done outside the home rather than inside),
cheap food policy, food safety laws (eliminate innovation), the nearly universal feeling that integrity requires
someone else besides me to change, faith that humans are clever enough to outsmart nature, people who believe
they have a right to food, clothing and shelter, even if it means taking someone else’s property violently to try
to get it (try not paying your taxes and see who comes to take your property–so much for violence), progressives.
Right now you’re either livid, laughing, or saying “Amen, preach it brother!” At least you have to agree
that the answer wasn’t orthodox. Being a heretic is fun–and hilarious sometimes. Oh, just because I don’t
like Lincoln does not mean I like slavery. See, there’s that little stereotypical box again. And I’m sure some
are appalled that I don’t think food, clothing and shelter are fundamental human rights. What is a right is the
ability to pursue these things; anything else creates entitlement and cheapens personal contribution. What
distinguishes a free society is that anyone may pursue these things without prejudice. Pursuit is not entitlement.
A government big enough to distribute wealth is big enough to destroy incentive. Chew on that awhile.
Okay, ready for the beneficials? Here goes: a nurturing mentality, entrepreneurial farmers, people jazzed
up about domestic culinary arts, people who think it’s more important to know their farmer than Bambi and Thumper,
people who would rather spend their money on food than pharmaceuticals, people who believe they are
responsible for themselves, believing nature’s template is best, realizing nothing changes until I change, libertarians.
As I thought about the question, I realized that the stock answers ecological farmers give are shallow. They
don’t get to the nub of the problem. People blame farmers for the polluted water, Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations, aquifer depletion, yada, yada, yada. But farmers have always, are currently, and will continue to
practice a foodscape desired by the populace. As long as Wall Street is more interesting than earthworms, and
as long as convenience is more important than nutrition, we will have the farm and food system we have. This is
not rocket science. It follows like night the day. Change the people’s value; change the farm. That’s really all
there is to it.
As long as we demand a bigger USDA (got to be bigger than Monsanto, by gum), we’ll get more of what the
USDA thinks. And believe me, the USDA does not take kindly to farm ponds, pastured livestock, unvaccinated
anything, personal ownership, unpasteurized anything, or home made. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
So forget changing the USDA. Just look in the mirror and ask: “What can I change?” Too many people assume
that as long as the USDA subsidizes junk and demonizes healthy food they have no culpability in the status quo.
Wrong. We can’t wait for the USDA to change. We can’t wait until Monsanto bites the dust. We can’t wait until
the school lunch program becomes nutritionally enlightened. That lets our agenda be controlled by someone
Every time we voluntarily leave the orthodoxy we join the antidote revolution. Now don’t think you can never
have a Snicker’s bar or drink a Coke. We all need some backsliding sometimes just to remember how it feels.
Don’t make this a cult. But we can be the change we want to see. If we were half as good at ferreting out our own
hypocrisy as we are finding it in others, we’ll get farther faster than trying to reform everyone else. I’ve got enough
reforming to do to keep me busy for a long time. How about you?