sustainability

Hope Fuels an Appreciation

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

We are within hours of what could be the end of the most devastating year of the 21st century. Interestingly these may be the same thoughts of those who passed through the 1918 Spanish Influenza or the black plague of the 14th century as the new year approached. With twenty-twenty hind-site, we know the plague was followed by many events that devastated families, cities, nations, and the world. These events also reshaped countries, and society opening the door to insight, invention, art, and shaping our current world. Through it all, humanity has kept striving forward, washing the grit from faces and unpacking the boxes of hope, goals, and dreams.

Humans seem to have a spark that may be dimmed at times but never wholly extinguished; that spark is hope, and it fuels the placing of one foot in front of the other, moving forward step by step even when exhausted. On October 9, 1854, Elizabeth Austin wrote in her journal, “Today I took things out of the wagon….” Tired, dusty, and dirty from almost a year of traveling the Oregon Trail and countless disappointments and losses, the Austin family had reached their destination in western Washington. Taking their few belongings from the wagon and washing their grimy clothes marked the end of a difficult journey, yet there was more to be endured. This same sentence was repeated in almost every journal of the time, the relief palpable that the journey was at long last over, that some sense of normalcy could be established and hope fanned the flame brighter.

As 2020 comes to a close, we to feel exhausted, grimy, and relieved the passage of the COVID year has reached its end. Like those who have come before us, we light the fire of celebration, remember those who have been lost, and put on our boots to give 2020 a good kick in the ass out the door.

When the fire of celebration dies down and the first glimmer of the new year dawns, we will once more look about us and begin the job of clean up and building the future. The challenges of 2020 will not be gone. There will still be hardships, struggle, and hard work, just like that faced by the pioneers of 1854. That first year in the west was scarcely any different from the days on the trail; meals were often cooked outdoors with limited supplies, shelter from the elements nominal at best, as barns and cabins were built, land cleared, gardens and fruit trees planted. Each passing day and task accomplished added to a sense of accomplishment and permanency. The planting of trees means anticipation of years to come. Security, abundance, growth, and prosperity …. These words are just as important to us today. This past year has reminded many of how to …. be alone with one’s thoughts, make bread, cook from recipes instead of boxes, self motivate, re-join with family, communicate, connect with nature, and evaluate what is essential.

With each passing day into the new year of 2021, we will move closer to further goals that were dreams before, accept those things we have no control over, and work for those we do. Now we may be more aware of gratitude. We have developed an appreciation for the simple and extraordinary in our lives that had been overlooked before. The cup of tea, a bowl of homemade soup, smell of fresh bread, the ability to work from home, and so much more give us a moment of pause and thanksgiving. There are many lessons of 2020 that will make us stronger in the end, more resilient, and determined too. These relearned tools will be vital in the years ahead, and they will be the tools that help us build and discover the next century.

“And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.” ~ Robert Burns 1759-1796

 

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Rhetoric and Food

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

For those of us who have lived around agriculture, we know the problems with the modern food system is not with the farm or the volume being produced. The waste, cruelty, and denaturing of our food happens after the farm when it enters the mega-industrial machine of Big Food. Sustainability is a multifaceted process that begins with the soil or a lifestyle; it is the impact of aggressive industrial methods or unhealthy choices, which net a result of food waste and pollution. We do not need more food; it is quite the reverse; what we desperately need is more nutrition. There is no nutrition in a calorie; it is a measure of heat, energy output. Nutrition is the building blocks for health, growth, repair, cognitive elasticity, and longevity. Without the incorporation in food of vitamins, minerals, co-factors, sugars, enzymes, and amino acids, there would be no life; we cannot live a sustainable life on calories alone.

Just as the faulty use of calories as a measure of food quality is flawed, so is the popular rhetoric on Farmers Feeding the World. We do not need more food produced; we have tons wasted every day, what we need is far simpler, a return to diverse and sustainable practices that do not feed off the empty calories of subsidies and farm policies driven by the multinational food and drug industry. The intention of subsidies was to reduce the risk farmers endure from the weather, commodities brokers, and disruptions in demand. Due to the complexity of subsidies, only large producers can take advantage of them.[1]

There are only five crops subsidized by the federal government; corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice; raised in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, and Illinois. In 2017, these five states received 38.5% of the $7.2 billion distributed. Producers of meat, fruits, and vegetables can only benefit from crop insurance and disaster relief. Between 1995 and 2017, $369.7 billion was paid out.[2]

According to the USDA, the total US corn crop for 2018-19 was projected at 14 billion bushels. Food, seed, and industrial use was projected to increase 75 million bushels, reaching 7.1 billion; an increase associated with ethanol production.[3], [4] California produces the most food by value; almonds, wine, dairy, walnuts, and pistachios; these crops aren’t subsidized. [5]

Subsidies act like a regressive tax that helps high-income businesses, not rural farmers. Between 1995 and 2017, the top 10% of recipients received 77% of the $205.4 billion. The top 1% received 26% of the payments. That averages out to $1.7 million per company. Fifty people on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans received farm subsidies. On the other hand, 62% of U.S. farms did not receive any subsidies.

Since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a 45 percent drop in net farm income, the largest three-year drop since the start of the Great Depression. This wrongdoing is the result of policies designed to enrich corporations at the expense of farmers and ranchers.[6]

In 1996, Via Campesina coined the phrase food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” [7], [8]

When big business leads government down the rosy path, it always results in a loss of freedom for someone. When the media grabs a hold of a marketing slogan like “Farmers Feed the World,” it means we the consumers are being manipulated for the profit of multinational corporations, not farmers.

To locally supported Farmers, Ranchers, and Communities.

 

[1] Farm Subsidies with Pros, Cons, and Impact; https://www.thebalance.com/farm-subsidies-4173885

[2] Commodity subsidies in the United States totaled $7.2 billion in 2017; https://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=totalfarm&yr=2017&page=states&regionname=theUnitedStates

[3] WASDE: Corn use for ethanol up in 2018-’19; http://ethanolproducer.com/articles/15282/wasde-corn-use-for-ethanol-up-in-2018-undefined19

[4] Land usage attributed to corn ethanol production in the United States: sensitivity to technological advances in corn grain yield, ethanol conversion, and co-product utilization; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022103/

[5] Five Facts You Need to Know About the US Farming Industry; https://www.realclearpolicy.com/articles/2018/08/01/five_facts_you_need_to_know_about_the_us_farming_industry_110740.html

[6] A Looming Crisis on American Farms by Alicia Harvie; https://www.farmaid.org/issues/farm-economy-in-crisis/looming-crisis-american-farms/

[7] Feeding the World Intelligently by John Ikerd: Prepared for presentation at the Tennessee Local Food Summit, organized by the Barefoot Farmer, hosted by Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, December, 1-3, 2017. https://faculty.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/TennesseeLFSFeedingtheWorldIntelligently.pdf

[8] American Farmers Say They Feed The World, But Do They? By Dan Charles https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/09/17/221376803/american-farmers-say-they-feed-the-world-but-do-they s3