July 1, 2011

Farmers and Factors

 "The issue today isn't about 'farm factories,'  it's about factors versus access to land for the production of food." --Simple Mind Zen 

While many today disdain, consider farmers factories, as in 'a factory farm," fewer consider them as the factors that they are by necessity. The word  factory is an interesting one. It comes from the verb, to factor, meaning to actively contribute to the production of a result; in the instance of factory, there is the sense of a place wherein one accomplishes the production, usually in multiples. And that is a farm of any size!

It is becoming more the fashion here in the United States, especially, to toss about this term "factory farm" in a sort of pseudo-intellectualism, and a reaction arises to reject these 'factor-farmers' (those who produce in vast quantity to meet the demands of a population), in favor of the small, local farmer, and farmers' markets. As if these are a key answer; they are not. 

Access to land is far more important. While local food sources are tremendously important, bringing quality, fresh food from these "small" producers to the urban population centers is a challenge. The fact is that not enough of us are farmers. That is to say, there aren't enough producing food to meet the vast need. Thus the "factory farmers" arise to take up the slack.

It is nothing new to raise and produce one's own food;
indeed, around the world many do just that as millions have done for centuries. Yet here in the United States, despite the intellectual sentiment against big agriculture, against corporate farming, is one basic fact: too many people who don't or won't produce their own food sufficient to feed themselves and their family. They will literally starve if someone shuts down the "pipeline" to their next meals, and in a short amount of time too. Why? As urban dwellers, those income producers, those with ideas and information, which by the way-- ideas aren't edible, now are paying money for someone else to operate the plantations and farms that supply food to their table. In doing so, these urbanites are extremely vulnerable to any and all disruptions involving food reaching their plates.

Relative to population today, there are about three per cent or less who are food producers for the whopping 97+  per cent of the population who cannot or will not produce their own food. The "small family farmer" can't do it. And if they are, they're not small. Take the example of egg production: Here in Illinois a producer-dealer is classified as "small" if he or she produces less than 600 cases (one case equals 30 dozen eggs of any size) of eggs per year (This level of production requires about 550 laying hens, consuming about 15 tons of feed annually, plus
all the buildings to house them, storage facilities for their feed, and other needs such as water resources for the birds themselves and to clean the eggs prior to marketing. Let us not forget not to mention manure disposal of the converted 15 tons of feed on an annual basis each and every year). That's a bit less than a quarter million eggs a year. Some of these "small" producers are selling eggs at your farmers' markets; they are supplying eggs to the local food co-ops, the health stores, the alternative retailers, and many do buy them, thinking this is better agriculture. This consumer sometimes even thinks there is a great conspiracy to manipulate and control the market by "corporate" farming operations...

We groan; we complain; we vilify those who feed
everyone else who otherwise cannot feed themselves. For those who are willing, pass up the markets, scrutinize more carefully what is meant by "small family farmer."
Know that it varies according to species or crops produced by local, state and federal laws, or it may be completely unregulated. The answer is not factory farms nor someone else's "small family farm" either, if the average person is willing to take responsibility for their own foodstuffs. So in order to produce the best, most local, most organic food at the very lowest price-- the answer lies in the use of your own land! Your own flower gardens are nice; they are beautiful, but like ideas and information, they are not edible. How about  some tomatoes, cabbages, corn or other vegetables added to that "flower" garden? What about swapping those "ornamental trees" for real beauties who likewise flower in spring, then give wonderful fruits later in the season, or going full scale-- tearing out your lawn or parts of it for full scale food production? 
If you own a home, you have access to land. This may sound too silly to consider, but more and more people are returning to what our great grandparents and their parents knew well: producing their own food is a basic responsibility. Not doing so was irresponsible; people risked food borne illnesses, harmful contaminants or even starvation. Municipalities today are again permitting bees and other small animals such as chickens, goats and rabbits for food production. Nearly all permit growing vegetables and small fruits such as raspberries, grapes, blueberries and strawberries.

Don't have any land? Apartment dwellers can consider reducing their dependence on food from commercial sources by container gardening, investing in miniature fruit trees and other potential methods to maximize space. Check in your area for "community gardens," or start one for your community. They allow many people to have access to a plot of land to grow a large part of the food they need. Community gardens are now present in urban centers and in small to mid size cities. Growing one's own food is beneficial both to the body and the spirit. It is a holistic and confident lifestyle. The food one produces from the garden beats anything from a store or market. 

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