Feeding the Beast, Feeding Ourselves
Spring arrived a bit late this year in the Berkshires. Haven’t lived here long enough to gauge whether such a delay is connection to global weather changes or if belated seasonal change is simply natural in western Massachusetts.
Either way, while dumping buckets of aged horse shit into the fields recently behind the barn, it caused to ponder about farmers I’ve had the honor to meet and photograph over the years.
It also reminded to get this years crop in the ground soonest or else loose more time trying to feed this beast called a blog — albeit an enjoyable beast to wrestle on a near weekly basis.
I’ve spend much time with famers across this amazing spinning ball we all call home, however some farmers really stood out, leaving an impression residing deep each time I eat a meal.
Living literally in the middle of a ricefield for five years in Bali, nearly all my neighbors were farmers. Each morning, next door neighbor, Bapak Made, would head out to plant, inspect, harvest or just enjoy a romp through his fields.
On one occasion for the book, Island of the Spirits, I wandered through the terraces with Bapak Made to attend a ceremony at a small temple in his field called a Pura Ulun Siwi, erected and placed in its specific location for one equally specific reason — for giving thanks towards a bountiful harvest and giving respect to the god of earth.
Such moments always gave cause to rethink how fragile we are regarding the ability to feed ourselves, especially in a time when many young children in cities haven’t a clue what a tomato is or that french fries are actually potatoes.
Take a moment and watch this except of chef Jamie Oliver as he asks a classroom of 1st grade students what the name is of red veggies he was holding:
Alarming, isn’t it.
I met Jason Hinson while working on the End of Plenty story for National Geographic. He’s one of those fellas you immediately connect with. A true salt of the earth type. Felt as if I’d known him my whole life yet at the time had simply wandered over to his John Deere combine and asked if I could ride with him while he harvested thousands of ears of corn. For the record, Jason’s Deere could eat my 3320 Deere like an olive.
He was working the fields in Kingston, Iowa.
Jason was kind enough to let this giddy wannabe farmer pilot his mammoth Deere. It was astonishingly simple to drive with control and speed like a Mercedes Benz. No wonder these machines cost more than an average house.
Life as a farmer anywhere on earth is never unchallenging. It had been a difficult year in 2008 for Midwestern farmers. Many had lost their crop when the Mississippi River overflowed it’s banks due to unusually heavy rains further north.
Seems farmers in America are equally affected by climate change as they are in Bangladesh or the plains of northern Kenya where the exact opposite plays out but with deadly consequences.
Low crop yields in developing nations are a primary cause of world hunger, and low crop yields are connected to severe weather pattern change taking effect across the planet, especially in the Horn of Africa.
Spending a few days with Jason and his friend, Chad Kuntz, was a reminder of how dependent our entire food supply is to so few who actually still work the land.
In the United States, less than 1% of the population are farmers.
Not that long ago, we were all farmers. Few complained about the long hours and hard work. Such labor had it’s rewards — survival.
These days we naturally want more.
For the last few decades — along with the foreseeable future to come — our entire existence relies on the hardworking hands of Jason, Made, Chad and a dwindling number of others who understand the brilliance of planting a seed, reaping the benefits of something we often can take for granted.
I recognize that not everyone can be a farmer. It’s physically impossible as well as impractical. Even for our family, less than one acre of organic vegitables and 30 hens for organic eggs is a labor, though fortunately a labor of love.
One difficulty we’re facing is not the lack of open land in say, New York City, to grow food for the entire population of the greatest city on earth. The problem…where there is land to grow, so few in developed nations are willing to work it.
While driving around Mississippi two weeks ago, I was listening to a story on NPR about foreign workers. A Georgia farmer could not find locals in his town who would be willing to work the harvest season. Even at $200 per day (or around $25 per hour, three times more than working at a fast food joint), the only ones willing to work were migrants who are desperate for a job in order to feed their own families back home. Astonishing yet understandable when Xbox’es and 300+ television channels are so conveniently gobbling up our time and minds.
An even greater obstacle to overcome in order to be able to feed the human population; Changing how we use of land which is already being farmed.
Too much is now being diverted to biofuels, taking good soil and land away from our bellies and into the tanks of our automobiles.
The Amazon Rainforest is being clearcut to make way for even more farmland in order to grow soybeans for the global rising demand in meat.
None of this tractor-pondering is revolutionary. Nor is there just one single factor related to significant problems we’re facing.
However it is monumental when you consider that the present way we use our arable land is simply not going to yield enough food unless we radically change the way we work the land, getting more engaged in regards to how our food is grown and ease up on food waste — one-third or 1.3 billion tons of food goes wasted each year.
In a few weeks time our population will reach 7 billion.
By 2050, 9 billion.
How will we feed ourselves?
Having feed The Beast, next to feed the chickens and water the garden in hopes to feed the family with a simple but needed harvest in the months to come.
NOTE: To read some fascinating insight about our food supply, the environment and a host of other related illumination, read Dennis Dimick’s blog, Signs from Earth.