7.26.2015

Food Issues Book Club - Agriculture from the Roots Up from Bringing It to the Table

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Bringing It to the Table: Agriculture from the Roots Up, 2004

Summary:

The Land Institute of Salina, Kansas is advocating for a better understanding of the pieces of agriculture that occur underground.  Their approach is "radical" in comparison to industrial agriculture because it sets nature as the standard of agricultural performance, rather than production or "efficiency."  This measure is painful even to small sustainable farmers, as it is a high bar to reach.

Humankind has waged war on nature, and we are losing.  That we would lose has always been the inevitable outcome of such a war.  Nature "has forced us to recognize that the context of American agriculture is not merely fields and farms or the free market or the economy, but is also the polluted Mississippi River, the [resulting] hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, all the small towns whose drinking water contains pesticides and nitrates, the pumped-down aquifers and the no-longer-flowing rivers, and all the lands that we have scalped, gouged, poisoned, or destroyed utterly for "cheap" fuels and raw materials."

Compared to a monoculture like wheat, a natural prairie is different in five important ways: soil erosion is low, it has good water retention, it harnesses sunlight to its greatest extent, it "builds and preserves its own fertility," and it is naturally resistant to ecological stressors.  The Land Institute asks how agriculture can better replicate these strengths.  "Harmony between our human economy and the natural world - local adaptation - is a perfection we will never finally achieve but must continuously try for.  There is never a finality to it because it involves living creatures who change."

"The context of everything is everything else."

The Land Institute assesses agriculture not by its productivity or efficiency but by the health of its waters and soils.  As goes the health of our agriculture, so goes our own physical health.  "If our war against nature destroys the health of water and soil, and thus inevitably the health of agriculture and our own health, and can only lead to our economic ruin, then we need to try another possibility.  And there is only one: If we cannot establish an enduring or even a humanly bearable economy by our attempt to defeat nature, then we will have to try living in harmony and cooperation with her."

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