excerpt from devil's syrup book

i just finished up my environment chapter on devil’s syrup – it’s my longest one yet. and in case you needed any more of a reason to think i am a tree-hugging anti-establishment hippie, here it is.

“How are you going to feed the world.”

This is a question I ran across more than once while doing my research on corn. By the year 2050, the demand for food worldwide will be double what it is now, according to more than one study.[1] It seems that traditionalists believe the answer lies in the field corn that lines the roads I drive every day. Funnily enough, that corn isn’t edible off the stalk.

Our fields have been planted fencerow to fencerow; land is becoming so scarce now that, ironically, our pollinators are having a hard time finding their own food and living spaces. One billion people go hungry on this planet while about 30 percent of food produced goes to waste.  Meanwhile, chemists are finding ways to make corn grow closer together to increase yields so that half – HALF – of the corn crop can go to animal feed and thirty percent to ethanol production.

Dan Barber in his TED talk, “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” tells of the traditional agribusiness model and its simple statement, “if we’re feeding more people more cheaply, how terrible can that be?” What about the costs that come with that cheaper food – people’s health, local economies, the environment. Especially the environment, because without the earth, what’s the point of everything else?

I remember reading a passage about a farmer who planted corn. When the interviewer asked him about the corn he grew and if he would consider growing something else, he responded, “What would I grow? Broccoli?”

To which I say, why not? Sure, in the Midwest we have a short growing season compared to California, but if we grow crops that are sustainable, in-season, and native to the growing zone, it could be done. I think it’s time to turn the agribusiness model on its head. Food as it is has “…been the business plan of American agriculture…a business in liquidation…a business that’s quickly eroding ecological capital to make that very production possible.”

There are so many things we can do to help. Let animals eat what they’ve evolved to eat instead of something that requires antibiotics. Enable communities worldwide to grow their native food sustainably, helping the local economy as well as the local ecological system. Instead of gobbling up land to till and leach nutrients year after year, farm conservatively and in a way to help the land; you serve the land, the land doesn’t serve you. “Instead, let’s look to the ecological model. That’s the one that relies on two billion years of on-the-job experience.[2]” Consider growing the broccoli.

We need food?

So let’s grow some food.


[1] “Can we feed the world and sustain the planet? A 5-step global plan could double food production by 2050 while greatly reducing environmental damange” Jonathan Foley, Scientifici American, Nov. 2011. 60-65

[2] Dan Barber in “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” TED talk.

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