SECTOR: Agriculture and Food, 5:00
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In lieu of content specific to this sector, please enjoy this piece on sector 5, Agriculture and Food
Agriculture can be broadly defined as raising or cultivating plant crops for food or other purposes. Within the framework of a Culture of Sustainability, it one of our most basic relationships to the living earth. We get our physical energy from the food we eat. Unsustainable agricultural practices, and agricultural systems that specifically benefit the few at the expense of the many, are compromising our collective ability to survive comfortably well into the future. Some Important schools of thinking about agriculture, that fit within the framework of Sustainable Culture, include:
• Biodynamic Farming
• Community Supported Agriculture
• Land Reform Movements
• Rural Intentional Community
Generally, agriculture is a group activity, however, when we examine the subject in terms of relationships to other people, to other beings, to a region, or with respect to the planet as a whole, there are many things for an individual or a group to consider. Are you supporting food production systems that minimize impact with respect to use of toxic chemicals? That make the best use of, and steward the soil and the waters? Do the farms you are supporting ensure that there is habitat for other species? Is your food grown and processed in harmony with natural cycles? And then, in the processesing and distribution of your food, are other aspects of a Culture of Sustainability considered? Are all of the workers receiving at least a nominal living wage? Do they have democratic control of their environment? And, finally, is your diet supporting your health? Did you know that conventionally grown foods have lost much of their nutritional value over the years, and are now grown with systemic pesticides? Are you aware of the deleterious effects of regular consumption of toxins, processed sugars, animal protein, and dairy products? Have you examined the health benefits of an intentional health-supporting diet, whether it be ovo-lacto vegetarian, macrobiotic, vegan, or raw-foods based?
As a group of individuals, food is significant, because as a group, we can have considerably more control over many aspects of our diet. It is relatively easy for a group to organize cooperative cooking, so that a regular, wholesome and affordable meal schedule can be established, without one individual doing the bulk of the collecting, cooking or cleaning. Group purchases of bulk foods enables a more direct connection to food producers. In urban areas, and elsewhere, people set up food co-ops or buying clubs, buying in bulk from wholesale distributors, farmers' co-ops, or directly from CSA farms (Community Supported Agriculture). Communities, cooperative households, or groups of friends organize regular meal plans, with a rotation of responsibilities. In a typical CoHousing meal system, for example, a member might, with another, be responsible for cooking only one night a month, yet enjoy home cooked quality dinners six days a week for the rest of that month! The power of shared work in a group can be quite awesome. And fun!
A village is a group unit large enough to support a diversity of processes of exchange and sharing. Sometimes, meeting the spectrum of human needs requires more than just one family or group. In agricultural communities, historically and in the present day, entire villages help smaller groups with harvests and plantings, and everyone benefits. Traditional villages share what is abundant, and collectively meet challenges met by individual people or families. In a very real sense, the village is the basic unit for agriculture. As we plan to rebuild historical villages to a blueprint of a Culture of Sustainability, as we work to form new eco-villages, and as we craft villages from the dense urban substrate, it is the unit size of village that we will plan with. Who will grow beans, and who grains? How will we organize the collective sharing of farm tools? The village council can address collective issues such as water rights, bringing produce to market, maintaining roads, and representing the village in regional councils.
Throughout history worldwide, and in most of the world today, regional economies are tied to agricultural production. When colonial, capital- oriented social structures were imposed on evolved indigenous systems, which are for the most part regionally self sufficient, something very important was lost. The ideal regional social structure, as far as Sustainable Culture is concerned, is entirely, or almost entirely, self sufficient. This supports economic justice for those working the fields, and ensures a market for smaller farms. Large-scale corporate farming, on a cash crop basis, has a number of undesirable effects. Perhaps most importantly, it tends to impoverish those closest to the land, making them dependent on others for food, even as they produce from the land. Another problem is related to how cash-cropping puts entire regions at risk economically, from changing world markets, new crop-specific pests and diseases, or from economic embargoes imposed by nations wishing to control whole peoples or their governments. Finally, large corporations, or equivalent kinds of organization are subject to the economic winds of the global marketplace. While this is not inherently bad, it will tend to support a short-term perspective for land use decisions, often falling within the shareholder's vision for profits within a six month time. Good soil husbandry requires a time frame of lifetimes, and hence, as the "green revolution" takes hold of an entire planet, we see poisoned soils and waterways, unprecedented rates of topsoil erosion, depleted levels of nutrient in the soil, and the wholesale removal from a stewardship role those who have a historical relationship with land characterized by a sense of history and an expectation for that relationship to continue into the distant future. term future for the land.
1996 was a significant year for examining agriculture within a global context. According to Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute, it was in 1996 that the curves for grain production and demand for grain crossed each other. In other words, if we assume maintained demand for grain, per capita, then 1996 was the year when physical reality, not political will, became the determinant as to who gets enough to eat. Of course, First World food consumption, if grain fed beef is considered, is a pretty wasteful affair. There are still plenty of grain related calories to go around, if everyone can choose to be sensible about what demands they make of the world and of each other. A sustainable world agriculture system is as tied to economics and social justice as it is to a healthy enviroment or a sound agricultural production system. We all must learn to find our place within the whole. Every aspect is related to the others in some particular ways. Each of us has important decisions and make and contributions to bring. We each must start with the recognition of our unique role within something much larger than ourselves. For most of us, sustainability in agriculture starts with what we support. It starts with our own kitchens and our own bellies.