Monday, November 06, 2006

Two Farming Systems

In the high school Food! class, we've been comparing large-scale industrial agriculture to small-scale diversified agriculture, through pictures, articles, websites and farmers' stories.

This photograph (left) by Peter Menzel shows pesticide spraying on a corn farm in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Below is a photo of a lettuce harvest in Arizona, but the same scene takes place right here in California. In class I shared stories from a trip I took to visit a large-scale lettuce harvest like this in Salinas. The pickers were covered up from head to toe to protect themselves, as they told us, from the chemicals left on the crop. The company rep leading our tour told us it was for "cultural reasons," because the farmworkers were Mexican and they "didn't want to get dark from the sun," plus, "the women always have to keep themselves covered." I could not believe my ears! It makes me wonder if the rest of the info they provide is true, either.

In class, we also looked at pictures and stories from small farms, like my friend Laurie's farm in New York state (see picture below). Here she's selling at the Farmers' Market there.

We read chapters from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, describing big corn farms compared to small diversified farms. We concluded that the difference between the two is a basic philosophy: small farmers utilize nature's cycles, and recycle energy and nutrients on the farm. One animal's waste is another crop's nutrients. On a big farm, it's an input-output system, imitating a factory rather than a cycle. Inputs are purchased and brought in, crops are produced as the output to be shipped away. Even waste is a cost to be dealt with, rather than an input to keep the cycle going.

We'll also read some writings by Masanobu Fukuoka and David Mas Masumoto. We'll explore the websites of many food giants, to try to follow the path from the farm, through food processing, out to the trucks and on to the supermarket. Where does the corn in corn syrup really come from, anyway??