Small Farms can—and do–feed the world. Popular press articles promoting small farms as the most healthy and economic food producers go back at least until the 1990s, and even farther in the farm-and-garden publishers—back to 1930 with the founding of Rodale Press. Why, then, have so many farmers subscribed to the “Get Big or Get Out” philosophy? When those words were first stated by Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, rural America was thriving. Fertilizers and hybrid seeds were proving their worth with the green revolution and processors flocked to small towns to set up shop and preserve the harvests.
There are hundreds of studies and articles that prove why small-scale is beautiful and still provides most of the world’s food, but industrial agriculture still stomps in big boots across the land. When an alternative system gains traction, industry co-opts it. Today’s “organic” agriculture is a far cry from the organic agriculture of even 20 years ago, which took manure from cozy barns to nourish small beds of crops. Industrial agriculture has adopted “sustainability” as a goal and speakers at a Monsanto board meeting were guided through buildings by Monsanto’s sustainability guides.
Yet, researchers today are beginning to wonder if some of our modern health epidemics are rooted in the food system. Monsanto has been successfully sued as promoters—knowing and willing promoters—of cancer-producing chemicals. Factory farm chickens have been condemned as causal agents in urinary tract infections in women and, recently, feedlot meats are pointed out as sources of prions that cause alzheimer’s.
As wary consumers, we can avoid the traps of industry’s food system by knowing where our food comes from. That means resisting pre-frozen mixes of cafo-produced meats, cheeses and veggies, choosing to cook our own raw ingredients, or even to eat them raw. We can meet our farmers at farmers’ markets, join their CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and even help out at their farms.
An October 2018 article in National Geographic begins with an anecdote about a peach farmer, Mas Masamuto, who almost tore out his orchard of heirloom peaches after being told they were too small for modern supermarkets. “Large-scale, industrial agriculture is often held up as the solution for feeding the world’s growing population. But small farms—with about 25 acres or less—along with family-run operations like Masumoto’s produce over 70 percent of the world’s food.” Find the article in its lavishly illustrated glory at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/future-of-food/photos-farms-agriculture-national-farmers-day/
In 2013, the United Nations Conference on Trade And Development published “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” a 340-page manifesto that asserts “the current demand trends for biofuels, concentrate animal feed, excessively meat-based diets and post-harvest food waste are regarded as given, rather than challenging their rational . . . The fundamental transformation of agriculture may well turn out to be one of the biggest challenges, including for international security, of the 21st century . . .” Download the entire report at https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf
Many small farmers are boosting their meager incomes by becoming writers themselves, hoping to spread the word. In Atlantic Monthly, Carol Ann Sayle worked on an answer to the question, “Can Small Farms Feed the World?” with this wisdom, “Every country that exists has an agricultural base, or a close relationship with the sea and what it provides. Certainly there are weather-, political- or war-related tragedies that destroy or hamper a population’s ability to feed itself. If other countries or people can help them get back on their feet, that’s a good thing to do . . . But in general, we have come to have this massive amount of people in the world because throughout history, countries have successfully fed themselves.” Read her article at https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/05/can-small-farms-feed-the-world/17805/