Permaculture farming and the future of food production
An interesting post by Chris Newman:
I told a story a little while ago and received an interesting comment; here’s most of it:
Local food, organic food, “real” food produces less per unit of land farmed without a demonstrable improvement in nourishment. Do you really want to have to expand the amount of land in cultivation to feed the earth? Wholesale going “local” means having more limited diets. As long as this is limited to zealots and those who want to be accepted by their organic friends, and for whom the amount of their income spent on food is negligible, that’s great. It’s a lifestyle expense. But if you want to feed the prisons, the hospitals, the schools, and do it on a budget, this is an awful, awful approach.
He’s right, but just kinda.
Where he’s right: Organic farming, as it’s commonly imagined and implemented, does have higher costs, lower yields, and more resource requirements because of the lower yields. That’s because organic farming is little more than conventional farming with all the tools taken away. It’s a well-intended but insane way to farm, and it will kill us all if we decide this is the way to “fix” agriculture.
His response includes a number of assumptions, of which I will point out a few to discuss:
- He presumes the Organic Shahada: There is no Organic but Organic, and the USDA is his prophet. Or less controversially: Local = Real = Organic = Sustainable = Organic = Real = Local
- Methods for producing economically viable yields don’t exist outside of conventional, non-organic agriculture
- Going Local means more limited diets without improvements in quality
- “Budget” food produced by conventional agriculture reflect their real costs
Let’s address these in reverse order. . .
I note again that the red herring of whether conventional crops are as “nourishing” as organic crops—that is, whether conventional crops provide less in the way of nutrients and micronutrients than do organic crops. In fact, the nutrient and micronutrient content of conventional and organic foods are much the same, as determined by the plant or animal’s own genetic make-up. The fact that conventional and organic foods have the same nutrient profile is taken as evidence that organic foods offer the same benefits as conventional foods—but that misses the point: Most people buy organic produce not because “organic” means more nourishment but because it means the food will have no pesticide residue. Pesticides are, of course, toxins, including some that are very powerful toxins and particularly affect the young, from in utero through early life. Conventional produce can (and generally does) include toxic residue from pesticides. And organic meat comes from animals not dosed with antibiotics—organic meat provides the same nutrients, but without the dangers posed by dosing animals with antibiotics.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) routinely lists the “Dirty Dozen” foods that have the highest pesticide residues (even after rinsing: all measurements are made after foods are thoroughly rinsed) and recommends that for those foods you purchase those grown using organic methods. (Strawberries always seem to top the list. It’s been years since I’ve had conventional strawberries since I always buy those organically.)
They also list the “Clean Fifteen,” those foods that, though grown using conventional methods, have negligible pesticide (i.e., toxic) residue after rinsing.