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

Archive for the tag “farm subsidies”

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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Algaculture: Farming Worth Subsidizing

Last week I blogged about farm subsidies and how they limit variety, make people fat and destroy the free-market economy. It wasn’t a very popular post so I assume most people don’t care to dig into the complexities of this subject. However, it is a very important issue so I’m going to discuss it again but with the focus of how I believe our tax dollars should be spent.

Instead of subsidizing grains, corn and other carbohydrate crops that get over-processed into unhealthy foods, we should fund farming methods that can efficiently turn plant life into alternative fuels. And I’m not talking about the inefficient use of corn to make ethanol which is a crazy waste of food and energy.

We should subsidize algaculture or algae farming. More than 50% of algae’s composition – by weight – is lipid oil which burns cleaner and more efficiently than fossil fuel based petroleum. Once the oil is removed from the algae, the leftovers can be turned into fertilizer and feedstock for animals.

To eliminate our reliance on imported oil, we would need approximately 50 million acres of algae farming compared to billions of acres of corn to produce ethanol. Algae is a much better crop choice for making alternative liquid fuels.

Can you imagine all the problems we could solve by using our farm subsidies wisely? We could eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. We would no longer have to fight wars in the Middle East. There would be a new farming community with massive job creation as well as support industries to refine algae oils. In addition, there would be less unhealthy products in our food system because high fructose corn syrup and grain-fed beef would no longer be priced below true market value.

I encourage you to learn more about farm subsidies and algae bio-fuels. We could have a healthier, greener and safer society by changing how we spend our tax dollars.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Subsidies: Sickness and Profit

Have you ever wondered why the government subsidizes food that is bad for our health?

picture from fadingdesign.com

Government funds (our tax dollars) go to farmers that grow corn, wheat and soybeans resulting in artificially low prices for these foods. You may be asking, “what’s wrong with paying less for food?”

There are fundamentally two problems with our farm subsidy programs: 1) it reduces the variety of affordable foods and 2) the funds support crops that are turned into high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.

Between 1975 and 1984 most soda manufacturers switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup because of price. You may find the correlation between the rapid rise of obesity and the introduction of soft-drinks with HFCS interesting (see figure below). In addition, there is a disturbing correlation between diabetes and the use of HFCS (below). Close to 70% of the packaged foods found on grocery store shelves are manufactured with HFCS or hydrogenated fats. Even the price of beef is artificially low because they are fed an unhealthy diet of subsidized grains instead of their natural meal of grass. The cattle are given doses of antibiotics to keep them from getting too sick for meat processing.

Foods that are healthier for us, such as vegetables, are not subsidized. Have you seen the prices for fresh veggies lately? They are outrageous! The good and healthy stuff is not affordable relative to unhealthy subsidized food. These government funded programs are pre-selecting our foods by artificially lowering prices for a small variety of farmed crops.

If we want a healthy society, we must re-create a free market by doing away with farm subsidies or by allowing equal funding for all crops. This will be very difficult because the large corporate-run farms receive over 70% of the subsidies. Their lobbyist and big banking partners will do all they can to eliminate a free market. In addition, a healthy society is not good for the pharmaceutical, health insurance and medical industries which also have strong lobby groups.

It’s an interesting dilemma; today’s corporate landscape of profit with sickness vs a change to health with a free market.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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