At the beginning of the pandemic I wrote a somewhat rambling post about buying habits and vegetable gardens (find it here: https://www.seedsunderground.com/post/a-knowledge-of-vegetables)
Throughout the many days of summer field work since then the thoughts from that first post continue to pop up and develop in my mind. Which left me wondering about the practical steps that need to be taken to make agriculture better, and who should be taking those steps.
At times, working for a big university, it feels like I’m part of the top-down approach to sustainable agriculture. The process hearkens back to the “selling” era of marketing, where aggressive promotion was used to make sales of an existing product.
As university scientists we use some of our funding to develop knowledge and products for the organic market, and after development we promote them to farmers and consumers. Some might argue this is the most effective way to disseminate institutional work, but it can seem far from a grassroots initiative and it leaves room to wonder about the true relevancy of our work.
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression that “if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” As a plant breeder, that would lead me to conclude that organic and/or sustainable agriculture can be achieved by breeding more resilient crops. But while plant breeding is an essential piece of crop agriculture, I don’t believe that’s the only answer to our agricultural problems.
Let’s jump to an activity: think about your last meal and write down all of the items/ingredients in it. Next, write down where those ingredients came from. Be as specific as possible. Don’t use the internet.
Now, how many of the ingredients can you source back to an origin? Can you name the farmer/rancher/fisher/wildcrafter? If the food was prepared for you, can you name the cook? I’m going to guess most people can source zero – a few, and not many people can source all.
Everyone who eats, so everyone, is a stakeholder in the food system. Depending on your location within a watershed, the upstream agriculture or the downstream ecosystems are related to you. Where and what you eat is one small way to change the world around you.
You can choose to buy from farmers who you know by name and who can tell you how they grow your food. You can also choose to buy food that is part of the industrial agriculture system, that is affordable albeit tough to trace back to its source. Regardless of labeling, such as “organic” or “natural”, when you purchase food that you cannot trace back to a farmer it is impossible to know how the food you eat was grown.
The dollars we spend are how we cast our votes. I won’t suggest that there is only one way anyone should eat, but I’ll leave you with the question I try to ask myself:
When I choose this food, do I know what type of agroecosystem I’m voting for?
Purchasing trends will drive change in agriculture. Don’t forget to cast your vote!
Thanks for checking in with us this week. As some of you may know, we had some major disruptions on the farm, due to a very close brush with wildfire. We’re slowly getting back on our feet, in both the seed work and the main vegetable operations (thanks to the dedicated managers and crew). As the fall continues we hope to be back in more regular communication on our website and other platforms.
If you have any other comments of questions about your food philosophy , fall gardening, or anything else don’t hesitate to reach out!