Thursday, September 16, 2010

back to the future

What are the chances America could once again become a nation of small landholders and yeoman farmers, which Thomas Jefferson envisioned as our natural state of optimal health?

I'd say chances are pretty good, if our survival depends on it.

Industry in the U.S. has either collapsed or been moved offshore, but we're still one of the world's great agricultural giants. Our agricultural template is a deformed vestige of its former self, however, and is no longer working. Much of the best land, great swaths of California's central valley for example, lies in ruins, butchered by mono-cropping, salinization due to excessive irrigation, and overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This situation is largely the result of the corrupt policy by which the largest agribusinesses buy influence in Congress, and in return are heavily subsidized with taxpayers' money. They are paid to continue pursuing their destructive methods and to manufacture the products, especially high-fructose corn syrup, which are killing us.

As with so much else in American life, we need a new paradigm; we need to choose life, and reject death.

As if on cue, small farms and family-based agricultural enterprise have been making a big comeback in the Pacific Northwest over the past few years. For the entrepreneurs entering this business, and even for family members born into it who choose to adopt new methods and new crops, innovation is key and learning never stops. The "Back 40" blog tells the fascinating story of Richard Sakuma, a Western Washington berry farmer who decided to experiment with a new crop -- tea -- and succeeded, but not without effort and sacrifice.

As the ancient Latin adage reminds us, Ad astra, per asperam: to the stars, with difficulty.

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