Gadfly by Mort Malkin
Ecologists, regardless of their political persuasion, tell of earth (soil, dirt) as a living organism. The soil of your garden or farm contains earthworms, beetles, bacteria, and other bitty creatures. Rich earth, in addition to being plentiful is life, is rich in nutrients — vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
So, in order to get the maximum nutrition from your garden or farm, it’s important to be kind to it. I would go so far as endorsing singing while you’re planting. Even more kind would be to use regenerative farming practices — getting your fertilization from a combination of compost, leaf mulch, cover crops, and manure.
Fast foods can’t wait for regenerative farming. They are produced by chemical farming — chemical fertilizers, chemical herbicides & pesticides, and genetically engineered animal feed and people feed, too. Everything is produced at speed and consumed just as fast.
In the US, the agricultural revolution that occurred in the mid 20th century turned farming into industrial agriculture. The size of farms was increased, the number of farmers decreased. Commercial chemical fertilizers replaced the natural organic methods as mentioned above. Application of herbicides & pesticides suppressed weeds and killed off the bugs. Farming became reduced to an artificial enterprise. The chemical companies convinced farmers that living soil wasn’t necessary for growing food, and so what if pesticides killed earthworms. According to Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and fellow travelers, sterile dirt with chemical fertilizer was better for “modern” single crop farming. The robins in springtime were very unhappy.
It turns out that regenerative organic farming not only yields more healthful food, but will store much carbon from all the emissions of our cars, trucks and power plants that have resulted in global heating and climate chaos. Plants miraculously have the ability to take CO2 from the atmosphere and water from the ground and create carbohydrate in the form of maple syrup, blackberries, and broccoli. OK, we can skip the broccoli.
Earth that is alive breaks down organic matter into humus instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And, humus retains water in times of dry spells as well as soaking it up every time the rains come. The result is less erosion, however Mother Nature may interpret climate chaos. While the plants are at it, they produce enormous amounts of oxygen from the H2O and CO2. Breathe easy, all you asthmatics.
Of all the industrial agriculture, — including monocrop farming, genetic engineering, chemical fertilizers, and the superuse of pesticides & herbicides — the worst is intensive animal production, especially beef and pork. The animals eat lots of grasses and vegetables, especially the genetically engineered corn and soy used in commercial animal feed. In return they produce a little protein and fat for our hamburgers, bacon, and ham … and lots of methane, a most virulent greenhouse gas.
As added insurance that “modern” agriculture with genetically engineered (GMO) corn, soy, canola, and alfalfa will do us in, Monsanto has added genes that make these plants able to tolerate its herbicide Roundup, which contains the killer chemical glyphosate. Dow Chemical has similarly added genes that allow their corn to resist 2,4-D. You may remember 2,4-D as the active ingredient in Agent Orange. Superweeds? Why, just slosh on more herbicides. Maybe the rain will wash off the poison before harvest … but maybe not in these times of climate chaos.
Once upon a time before the 1950’s, farming was pretty much all organic, without calling it that. But with WW II over and the production facilities for making explosives sitting idle, the chemical companies thought to make nitrogen containing fertilizer, and then herbicides & pesticides. More farm yields with less labor — it was an easy sell. The chemical companies hired a couple of linguists, who convinced them to call the sterile, artificial farming “conventional.” Traditional farming had to call itself “organic.” To this day, conventional agriculture means monocrop farming with chemical-based nitrogen fertilizer and the ever heavier use of herbicides & pesticides. It’s worthy of an indictment for abuse of language.
In more recent decades the chemical companies have been exercising their First Amendment rights, donating many millions of dollars to political campaigns. In return, elected and appointed officials (public servants) show their appreciation in government legislatures and agencies. The USDA and EPA approve genetically engineered crops as “essentially equivalent” to traditional ones. They routinely approve herbicides & pesticides. The State Department encourages (pressures) foreign governments to allow their farmers to use GMOs and pesticides & herbicides. It takes a Bhopal disaster or the recently reported widespread occurrence of toxic kidney disease among farmers in Southern India and Central America that has been linked to glyphosate in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, to energize opposition to chemical farming.
What can we as individuals do in the face of the plutocracy? Well, we may not be able to match their dollars, but we can vote. In fact, we can vote twice — once at the ballot box and once at the cash register. We can buy only, or mostly, organic. We can buy local. We can markedly reduce consumption of meat, and we can lessen milk and eggs in our diets. Fast food hamburgers are doubly toxic. Cattle are toxic for the Planet, and the beef is more so for us. Gadfly readers know that the poor beasts are routinely treated with hormones and antibiotics and fed on GMO corn, soy, and alfalfa.
We also should reclaim our language. We have already done so almost without noting it — remember when few plastics pervaded our lives and the word chemicals was often preceded by miracle. Today, what is the adjective we always associate with chemicals? Poisonous! Now, let’s extend our linguistic sensitivities. Conventional farming, at least traditional farming, is with earthworms et al; farming with herbicides & pesticides is chemical farming.
Fooling Mother Nature is risky — She is, after all, responsible for how well, or badly, our complex bodies & brains work. Monkeying with genes, the province of the gods, is infinitely more dangerous. Zeus is known to have hurled a few thunderbolts for less.