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The starving farmer

Posted Jul 09 2008 6:18am
Farming in it's natural state

Since the dawn of civilization, farmers have preserved healthy seeds from their harvest and replanted them in future years. This naturally occurring seed selection, created a genetic diversity of crops that enabled them not only to store seeds for future harvest but also share with other farmers for years to come. These organic seeds ("organic" in terms of purest in nature) have the figurative DNA of hard working farmers from centuries past that have mindfully cultivated their harvest, noting flavor, color, harvest strength and reaction to specific farming conditions. Farm assisted Darwinism in action, if you will. The strong seeds survive and are planted again, traded, stored and rotated with other strong crops. Basic farming.

Through centuries of this hard work, our farming fathers have made a viable and intangible agribusiness from this practice. Building a strong, natural and invaluable commodity. Seed trading made crop diversity readily available, enriched soil, thereby increasing nutritious value of the end product, sustained food supply, expanded crop yields and increased profits for the worldwide farming community. Notably in third world countries, where farming is a major contributing source to GDP and sustainability on both economic and personal scales.

Patenting Mother Nature, Biopiracy

"Under intellectual property law, the holder of abstract "properties" has certain exclusive rights to the creative work, commercial symbol, or invention by which it is covered". (source: Wikipedia)

In 1970 the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act was passed. This act enabled and offered opportunities for seed profit and created the incentive for corporate interests to take control of and expand the seed industry. In essence, Big Business was given the "intellectual property" rights to seeds and started to work like busy bees in their science labs, cloning mother nature.

Somewhere along the blurry line, we became a culture focusing far away from the roots of our existence, literally. Mom and pop farms being stomped on by bigger business is perhaps, an inevitable truth of capitalism. We are now accustomed to the convenience and vast variety of foods found in any grocery store. We can have fruits that are out of season at our fingertips (coming from warmer climates) and vegetables from around the world. Partially in thanks to large seed companies that have made a business from selling and distributing seeds to farmers around the world.

The problem is not with this concept, but with what happened thereafter. (Enter: Hybrid seeds) Hybrid seeds by definition are the first generation offspring seed of two distant parent lines of the same species. Man-produced inbred seeds were the platform for the commercial seed market. (Think Wal-Mart of seed distributors) With this technology, farmers were persuaded and in some cases forced to replace the traditional farm saved-seed with the new hybrid seed. This new species of seeds, gave a (perceived) benefit to both farmer and seed producer.

The farmer: achieved stronger yields, brighter colors, and the biggest sized crops. The seed manufacturer: keeps that farmer as a repeat customer. Why? Because the farmer can not utilize the seeds from the hybrid crop to reproduce another harvest- ever again. The hybrid seed will not "breed true" and will not perform at all (or nearly as well) if it were to be saved and replanted. Cross-polination of hybrids into the other 'natural' seeded crops on the farm would inhibit growth (of those crops) and mutate natural seeds. In addition, reliance on hybrid seeds created a dependence on fertilizer (a necessary component for modern hybrids to flourish at peak success and a subsidiary business of seed manufacturers). Thousands of years of evolution, a natural seed diversity and natural tolerance for localized growing conditions, slowly being lost. Farming practices which began in the nineteenth century, vanishing before our very eyes. Modern day seed companies have managed to capitalize-on and trade-mark mother nature.

The Global Effect:

Hybrid seeds have forced many of our world's farmers, especially in poor countries, deep into a debt cycle. Modern farming practices have drastically increased cost for seeds and agro-chemicals (an estimated 100% increase in farming cost since 1970). Small farmers in countries outside the U.S. are sometimes forced to switch to the hybrid option, so that exports can compete with the appearance of a stronger crop. In some cases, it is our own government that is buying up and using the land in other countries to make more and more food, or more and more commerce depeneding how you view it. It is the death cycle of farming.

Despite the abundance of food, what is the cost to our farmers and to our future? The estimated $30 billion dollar global seed trade is now dominated by a handful of corporate giants. The nutritious value of these crops inevitably declines, the soil is not being cultivated, crops no longer need to be rotated. Hybrid seeds will grow in any soil, given the proper fertilizer. And what in turn are we eating? Fertilizer? Petrochemical?

Given the increased farming costs, the government has created farming assistance programs. These programs are the 'largest corporate welfare programs' ever imagined as they keeps most farmers just above the poverty level. Providing subsidies to them for things that only serve "The Market" and not the farmer. "Farm subsidies are distributed not on the basis of need, but with regard to two other criteria: (1) the type of crop grown, with 90 percent of all farm subsidies awarded to farms that produce wheat, corn, cotton, rice and soybeans,3 and (2) the amount of crops grown, with farmers who grow more crops receiving higher subsidies. Therefore, large farms and agribusinesses--which, as a result of economies of scale, are also the most profitable farms--are eligible for massive subsidies as long as they grow the crops the government wants them to grow. Meanwhile, small lower-income farms growing the same five crops receive only a fraction of what large farms receive; and farmers planting the 400 other crops, regardless of their need, are completely excluded from most farm subsidies." (quoted source from www.primalseeds.org)

When you have this information and then think about why the government only subsidizes certain crops, it is almost transparent to see- to increase revenue on many cyclical fronts (Pharmaceutical, Agricultural, Big Business). It is a scary thought to know that capitalism has triumphed over the human race. Things like corn and soy (two products that receive 80 percent of all herbicides used in the entire United States) and as you now know, the greatest farming subsidy, account for today's main feed source for factory cows . Although one may think this is a natural option for a cow's diet- it is not. Cow's were intended to eat grass, they have a Ruminant Digestive System different from other animals. So this feed is making our cows sick, in turn increasing the need for antibiotics, therefore contributing to antibiotic resistant disease, pollution, amongst many, many, many other problems. To hear a little more about this issue you may have interest in reading my blog entitled "Choose Food Wisely, Save the World".

Choosing Organic

By supporting organic farmers, you are choosing to support a practice that is union with our earth. Organic farming has come a long way and is a movement that needs our support. This is far beyond the health benefits that organic food provides, it is about sustainable living for the human race. Organic farmers are the courageous heroes of our time, venturing out a re-birth of what our farming fathers worked so hard to preserve. With stores such as Whole Foods, Westerly, Fairway and other health stores in your area, there is often times a chance for you to vote with your dollar and support local, organic farming. In some cases, you need more than a $1.00, organic is expensive! But the cost of supporting hybrid and conventional farming methods are risky and in long run, could cost us everything.
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