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How a Nutrient Economy Can Save Our Farmers, Our Health and Our Environment

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page.

It is unlikely that the average American knows anyone who farms full-time, unless they visit a farmer's market or buy directly from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Over the last several decades, the number of people claiming farming as an occupation has declined precipitously. In 1870, 53 percent of the labor force was employed in farming. As of 2012, only one percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation. And half of all current farmers are likely to retire during the next decade.

While the sheer number of farmers (and farms) has declined, methods of agriculture continue to intensify, in terms of mechanization and the use of fossil fuels attributed to the rise of "industrial agriculture," which emerged after WWII. Overall, it takes fewer farmers today to produce the food needed for the growing population.

To get a sense of scale with regards to livestock production, according to the Centers for Disease Control, "agriculture is dominated by giant factory farms with livestock packed at a huge scale," writes Clay A. Johnson, author of The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. "It's what allows just four companies to produce 81 percent of the cows, 73 percent of the sheep, 57 percent of the pigs, and 50 percent of the chickens in America."

Despite the increase in the volume of meat, sugar, corn and soy products, these farming methods have resulted in health risks due to the increased use of antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides. They have also resulted in severe environmental consequences globally due to nutrient mismanagement, including the great U.S. Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and, more recently, massive plumes of nutrient runoff in areas like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, which are creating huge marine dead zones
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