At the end of May, I participated in a farming delegation organized by Siena Mann ’14 and sponsored by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. Six other students and I drove to Iowa and spent the week visiting student farms, local foods cooperatives, farmers markets, seed saving initiatives and urban and rural homesteads.
Although Iowa has some of the most fertile farm land in the country, it imports close to 90% percent of the food it consumes. Why? Because so much of its land is devoted to industrial monoculture corn and soy production. Seeing the extent to which this landscape has been manipulated to specialize in only two crops was a poignant example of what is happening to our food system world wide. We learned that many of these large scale farmers are often as poor as the small scale farmers, because there are so many costs associated with trying to grow food in a way that ignores most ecological principles in order to most efficiently meet human demand. Each year farmers must replace expensive machinery, and buy patented seeds and chemicals just to keep their monoculture plantations alive.
It was inspiring to meet farmers and community organizers from all over the state who are devoting their lives to trying to develop new models, provide fresh local food and create spaces that not only provide nourishment for people but also preserve species diversity. They are demonstrating that less harmful farming practices can be economically viable in addition to being better for the environment and for human health. By growing a diversity of crops, farmers create more resilient systems. Once they are working with nature as opposed to against it, there is less need for expensive genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers and poison in order to ensure crop yield and disease resistance.
While the monoculture farming of certain crops may be a necessary part of our food system as it exists today, the most fertile farming states should not be local foods deserts. And they won’t be, if the community that we were privileged enough to spend the week with continues to grow.