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Next Generation Farming

Why Sustainable Agriculture Isn't

How do you farm locally when everything's under a few feet of snow?

It's been a tough winter for those who may still have fall crops in the field, but it's been especially tough for those in the sustainable agriculture movement.


With snow on the ground in all 50 states (including Hawaii) for the first time in 30 years, and with the East Coast buried under at least a foot of snow, the logic behind sustainable agriculture – to eat and farm locally – is being tested in a big way.


How do you farm locally when everything's under a few feet of snow?


Not being able to produce enough food for millions of people in the winter likely won't stop the movement from finding converts, though. It's never been about food availability to begin with.  


At its core, sustainable agriculture looks a lot like a religion. It's not about making money or feeding the world, its more like a spiritual journey and about reconnecting with the power of the universe spoken to us through nature.


Religious overtones As I overheard one nature lover say on a recent Sunday afternoon, "God is the manifestation of nature, and nature is the canvass of God."


I was floored, because now everything about sustainable ag finally makes sense.  

As the argument goes, any technology we use to manipulate nature – be it GMOs, fertilizers, pesticides, or selecting plants for special desired characteristics – is a corruption of our relationship with the Almighty.


Even for those less inclined to follow an organized religion, it still comes down to their desire to reconnect with Mother Nature at a more rudimentary level and to feel the natural world around them.


Thus their disdain for "industrial" farms that use modern-day farming technology.


By relying on technology, today's farmers are spoiling God's canvass and are being led astray from the true path of spiritual enlightenment.


Buying certified seed or driving a John Deere 9030, apparently, will get you a one-way ticket to eternal damnation.


What's their solution to bringing the human race back into the good graces of God (or Mother Nature for the non-believers)? Turn back the clock on technology and have us all farm like my grandfather did 75 years ago.


Or as Michael Pollan vaguely explains it, he wants to "shrink industrial farms and increase the number of small farms."


By eliminating modern technology and increasing the need for manual labor, they reason, there will be more of us spending more hours in the field, building a greater connection with nature and achieving a higher state of spiritual fulfillment.


I think my grandfather would have a hearty laugh at that one. 


And what about our obligation to feed a growing world population? A smaller food supply, they figure, will simply cause people to have fewer children. Simple as that! There's no mention, of course, of how education and a secure food supply decrease population growth rates.


Despite all the inconsistencies in their low-tech reasoning, we can expect that they won't be stopping anytime soon from trying to make their world view a national policy or win more converts.


As for trying to convert those of us in involved in farming today, it's a nice gesture. But as a member in good standing at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Scott City, Kansas, my spiritual wellbeing is doing just fine.

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