Humans and nature are interconnected for many reasons, not least of all, because of our food needs. The transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural-based living was gradual, but posed revolutionary ecological and cultural transformations as centuries have passed. In the United States particularly, increased commercialized farming has simplified ecosystems, embraced monocropping and become dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
The result: Higher profit margins and greater output.
The consequence: We are still reaping the seeds we have sown by industrializing our agricultural systems.
We do know that the increase of chronic illness and environmental deterioration is inextricably connected to our use of chemicals in food production. What else? Our relationship to food, and the environment which provides it, has become significantly diminished.
How Did We Get Here?
“We bent nature to serve our needs. We achieved the economies of large-scale, specialized production as we applied the principles, strategies, and technologies of industrialization to farming.” – John Ikerd
Before the mid-1800’s, more than half the U.S. population were either farmers or lived in rural communities. The Industrial Revolution changed all that – and the way the world produced food. We went from a society that was agriculture- based and dependent on small, family-run farms, to one of industry and manufacturing on a large scale. America’s number one priority became making farms bigger and more efficient. Mechanized farm equipment, expansion of farm size, and the decline in the number of farms were key developments during this time, to meet the consumption demand of a growing culture and rapid expansion (Source: Oxford Research Encyclopedia)
In fact, between 1825 and 1927, the world’s population doubled from one billion to two billion, drastically increasing the demand for efficient food production. As a result, crop yields became a priority and with this the first known usage of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in the early 1900s. A well-established system of industrialized agriculture was in place by the time post-war America greeted the 1960’s. And in those short years between 1900 to 1960, the world’s population reached 3 billion! (Source: U.S Census Bureau) We responded by increasing synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, using large amounts of irrigation water, implementing machinated tilling methods and pioneering the use of GMO’s. Since then, our agricultural systems became almost entirely dependent on these industrialized models, producing cheap, readily-available food surpluses while prioritizing short-term output over long-term sustainability.
A Hidden Cost
“Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” -Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating
The health of our soil, environment and our citizens are now burdened by the cost of this short-term and short-sighted success in food production.
The existing model of industrialized agriculture in the U.S is now dominated by large, corporate-controlled operations like ConAgra, Monsanto and Tyson. Independent, family-run farms are few and far between and rural communities are deteriorating. The ones that do manage to survive are often beholden to genetically-engineered seed manufacturers, because corporation’s control more and more genetic patents. Overwhelmingly so. In fact, a recent study, more than 93% of corn, soy, and cotton grown in the US is now genetically modified (Source: USDA)
Where We Are Today
Today, we are facing both a food crisis and a public health crisis. They are inextricably linked, as we now know. Affordability of fresh, nutrient-rich foods is a serious challenge that many people face, while the long-term effects of glyphosate and other pesticides on the human immune, reproductive, and nervous systems are just beginning to be discovered. Over 1,600 chemicals are currently being used in pesticides in the U.S — the overwhelming majority of which have not been tested for long-term effects on humans. (Source: John Hopkins School of Public Health)
We have systematically depleted our natural resources, like fossil fuel and water, and polluted them further through the use of glyphosate and other pesticides. Worldwide, farmers use over 3 million tons of pesticides annually (Source: Oxford Research Encyclopedia). Our dependence on these chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are causing a public health crisis with little accountability on the part of manufacturers.
A surplus of cheap food has so far masked the real cost to consumers, but awareness is on the rise and action is soon to follow. Farmers and legislators, scientists and everyday consumers are working toward a more sustainable form of agriculture – one that supports the health of people and can help regenerate the planet. Join us!
Be well. Be you.
The Farmer’s Footprint Team