The Beginning of Sustainable Agriculture

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The Beginning of Sustainable Agriculture

Finally, in 1985, organic agriculture got its first fair shake and a piece of the farm bill.

Robert Rodale sat down with the chemical companies and lobbyists to broker a deal, and part of the deal was using the word “sustainable” instead of “organic.”

This led to the establishment of the Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) program.

“Sustainable” let chemical companies still get a piece of the action, unlike “organic,” which prohibited the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The LISA program became what’s now called the SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) program.

“Sustainable” is a vague word with no legal definition, which is why you can find it in every advertisement for chemical and biotech companies today.

Mr. Rodale loathed the term, preferring “regenerative,” which implies organic because it means healing the planet and leaving the soil, the people, and the farm better than when you found it.

His fear the word “sustainable” could easily be diluted is still being played out today.

The Leonardo Academy is working with agribusiness and the American Farm Bureau to create a “sustainability” label for agriculture.

Needless to say, the first draft prohibiting the use of GMOs was scrapped.

The small victory of getting the LISA program funded hardly represented a major turning of the tide.

In 2002, funding for the total farm bill was $273.9 billion, of which a mere $15 million went to organic research.

Only $5 million was set aside for farmers who wanted to change from chemical farming to organic, yet the organic food industry was growing at 20% per year and organic food processors had such a hard time meeting their production needs they began importing their ingredients from other countries.

The farm bill of 2008 continues the insanity.

First, the farm bill isn’t just about farms.

It covers everything from forests to conservation to school lunches (one of the biggest items) and food stamps.

Second, it’s almost incomprehensible.

A thorough reading requires you to have at hand a number of other major documents, like the Food Security Act of 1985.

The bill seems impossible to implement effectively – almost as if it’s deliberately meant to confuse people.

The organic community celebrated its passage because funding for organic research increased to $78 million, though it’s just 0.3% of the Farm Bill’s $284 billion budget.

We’re not saying organic farmers and researchers should necessarily get a “fair share.”

That sort of thinking got us into this mess in the first place.

Besides, $284 billion seems like chump change when bailouts and rescue packages of $700 billion are “normal.”

But make no mistake, without the farm bill, organic food would cost less than chemical food – far less.

Organic foods are already much less expensive to taxpayers.

The funds spent on cleaning up the toxic messes agriculture has made of our soil, water, oceans, and health, as well as the costs of chemical foods, are impossible to calculate.

In Congress’s effort to “protect jobs” (mainly at chemical companies) and American farmers, it produced a farm bill putting farmers on an economic treadmill by providing payment incentives to keep growing crops like corn and soybeans chemically and made it almost impossible to switch to organic or growing other crops.

Many of the companies making chemicals and GMO seeds, the American Farm Bureau, and the National Corn Growers Association used lobbying firms who insisted to congress that chemicals mean jobs and capitalistic freedom.

The bill also enabled machinery companies to sell more expensive equipment, since so many farmers will be growing the same crops the same way.

Myra Goodman, cofounder of Earthbound Farms, has done the math.

She and her husband sell organic fruits and vegetables grown on 33,000 acres of farmland in California (what the farm bill would call “specialty produce”).

They don’t own all of the land themselves.

Rather, the group consists of 150 independent, certified organic farmers.

They don’t get a single penny from the government.

In 2008, these organic farmers kept 10,5 million pounds of chemical fertilizers and 305,000 pounds of chemical pesticides out of the environment and saved 1.7 million gallons of petroleum.

The carbon they have sequestered, according to the Rodale Institute’s measurements, is the equivalent of taking 7,500 cars off the road every year.

Organic farmers, both large and small, are the embodiment of true American capitalism, even though they willingly abide by strict regulations to keep their farms and products certified organic.

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If you’d like to read Organic Manifesto, go here Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe


Dick and Lenay

email: – 715-431-0657

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