Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

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3 thoughts on “It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

  1. What Cuba has done is incredible. I would love to see something similar happen in the United States, especially in places like East St. Louis or Detroit or a small town like Cairo, IL. All places deeply effected by urban blight. In the U.S., we have CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) but, I think to implement what Cuba has done, we would need to have American farmers move away from the idea of ‘profit only’ farming.

    Here’s what I mean; several members of my extended family are farmers with contracts to supply corn, soybeans, pork and beef to industrial food processing companies. Their attitude is that they produce a product and sell it to those companies for income. They have no contact with the people they feed and feel very little connection to the land they farm. It’s a job to them, nothing more, and they feel just as trapped as the person shuffling paper in a office, somewhere. Most of them don’t even bother to garden for their own household, even though they have more than enough space and experience to do so. They are completely mentally invested in the idea that to make growing crops worthwhile, someone must be handing out a check for the effort.

    Yet, CSAs are profitable. I have volunteered on and used several to supply my household needs over the years. A conversation with one about money was an eye-opening experience. The woman earned a profit(!) that is 3 time the average income in America and only worked six to seven months a year. She spent her free time and extra money indulging her love for traveling all over the world. Not a bad way to live. The downside of the CSA system, as it is, is its dependence on volunteer labor. There is a legal loophole that allows CSAs to not hire workers (and pay for labor), instead they use volunteers. Every CSA I have seen takes advantage of that loophole so while the owner/operators often makes a very comfortable profit, they are not required to share that profit with the people working for them. Most of the labor is done by students earning an academic credit or people interested in starting their own CSA someday. This way of procuring labor heavily favors owner/operators. The system grows food but, doesn’t create jobs.

    I am not sure what the first steps would be, for us as a nation. I am sure that there are people working on this issue who are far more knowledgeable than I am. I do my part as a consumer, buying local and organic whenever possible. I live in an urban community that makes it very easy to do so. What I would like to see happen is city/state/federal sponsored CSAs appear in urban areas with those farmers getting paid for their labor. I would also like to see farmers across the country supplying produce to their local schools, hospitals, prisons, military bases and anywhere else where the government is feeding people on a daily basis.

    Cuba is showing us a way to do both.

    (On a side note, I apologize to Left Coast Voices for the length of this comment. This is a subject near ad dear to my heart and it got away from me. Please feel free to edit this down to a more manageable length.)

    • Hi WickedJulia-
      Thanks for the detailed comment and please write as much as you like. I enjoy reading people’s thoughts on subjects that are important to me. It sounds like you’re knowledgeable on this issue so I welcome any and all conversations. I will digest what you said and comment more thoroughly or perhaps write a follow-on post.
      Again, thank you very much-

  2. Hi WickedJulia-
    Thanks for the detailed comment and please write as much as you like. I enjoy reading people’s thoughts on subjects that are important to me. It sounds like you’re knowledgeable on this issue so I welcome any and all conversations. I will digest what you said and comment more thoroughly or perhaps write a follow-on post.
    Again, thank you very much-

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