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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Ronnie Cummins: Back to the Future of Eco-Friendly, Local Farms

Contaminated food imports, billions in misguided subsidies for industrial agriculture, a massive biofuels boondoggle, a destabilized climate spawning drought and pest infestations, the end of cheap oil and cheap food, degraded soils and contaminated waterways, a spiraling epidemic of diet-related obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Connecting the dots in a series of inconvenient truths, millions of Americans are voting with their consumer dollars for foods and products that are healthy, locally produced, and eco-friendly. Organic food and farmers markets are booming. Pesticide-free lawns and gardens, green buildings, solar panels, wind generators, "buy local" networks, and bike paths are sprouting. A critical mass are waking up to the fact that we must green our diets and lifestyles, drastically reduce petroleum use and greenhouse gas pollution, re-stabilize the climate, and heal ourselves-before it's too late.

For 10,000 years locally based family farmers and ranchers have managed to grow and distribute healthy food, and ample feed and fiber, largely without the use of petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, animal drugs, or energy-intensive irrigation, processing, and long-distance transportation. In 1945 most of the U.S.'s six million family farmers were still rotating their crops and cultivating a wide variety of fruits, grains, beans, and vegetables organically, fertilizing with natural compost, and, in general practicing sustainable farming methods they had learned from their parents and grandparents. By 1945, as part of the war effort, Americans were growing a full 42% of our vegetables and fruits in our backyards, schoolyards, and community Liberty Gardens. The nutritious, generally non-processed foods that we cooked for our family's meals were purchased from locally owned grocers who stocked their shelves with a wide variety of items typically raised within a 100 mile radius of our communities.

In the 1950s the average American household spent 22% of our household income for fresh, locally produced food. By today's standards this post-war generation was relatively healthy in terms of low rates of diet-related diseases such as cancer (now striking 48% of U.S. men and 38% of women), heart disease, obesity, diabetes, food allergies, birth defects, and learning disabilities.

Sixty years later we have a Fast Food Nation spending a mere 11% of our household income for food, gorging ourselves on the industrialized world's cheapest, most contaminated (78 million cases of food poisoning every year), and environmentally polluting fare, literally destroying our health with highly processed, high-sugar, high-cholesterol foods.  This evermore deadly diet is subsidized by billions of taxpayers' dollars going to industrial-scale factory farms in the U.S. or else globally sourced by the food giants and Big Box chains from low-wage, environmentally destructive farms and processors in nations such as China or Brazil. Industrial scale, energy-intensive agriculture, factory farm livestock production, and long distance food transportation and processing now belch out up to 25% of the climate destabilizing greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) that threaten us all. Scientists warn that the killer droughts recently plaguing the U.S. Southeast and the Sun Belt, and much of the world, will reduce crop yields, and increase world hunger and malnutrition, by 30% over the next two decades. Combined with the dangerously misguided conversion of millions of acres of corn and soybeans to biofuels, we are literally racing toward disaster.

The good news is that there is a solution at hand. Turning back to the time-tested practices of local, eco-friendly, organic food and farming will go a long way toward restoring our health and the health of the planet. Organic and local farms can dramatically reduce energy use in the agricultural sector (by 30-50%) while safely sequestering in the soil enormous amounts of greenhouses gases. It's time for a change--before it's too late.