Remembering our Roots
Independence Day celebrates the approval of the final wording of the Declaration of Independence, when the United States originated. A day when “13 small, independent farming economies joined together in 1776 to form the United States of America.” Small independent farming economies. Good words. Even better practice.
Today’s food system lacks much in the way of independence. The majority of our nation’s food comes from corporate farms, with 2% of our population growing food for the rest of us. When ownership of the food supply is concentrated in the halls of corporations, decisions about what is produced and how it is produced favors shareholders, not land-owners. Prices increase, often not coupled with an increase in quality or increase in income for the farmer.
Farm Aid, a national non-profit that advocates for keeping farmland in the hands of family farmers used the 2012 USDA Agricultural Census to spotlight 10 Things the New Census of Agriculture Tells Us About Family Farmers and Our Food System. Though many things ail the U.S.’s current agricultural landscape, there are a few ways you keep Nature’s resources available, and help support our nation’s farmers this Independence Day.
Celebrate and protect bees, bats and butterflies. These natural pollinators are the magic fairies of our food supply. Dancing, flying and darting from plant to plant, they are critical to the production of three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops. Plant flowers that provide them food, and avoid sprays and pesticides that cause them harm. A growing number of cities like Spokane are banning City use of pesticides that contain neonicotinoids. Adopt the same ban in your yard.
Conserve water. Just like humans need safe water to survive, plants & animals require water to grow. Our changing climate and increasing population are making water scarcer and scarcer, and yes more expensive to obtain. California ranks as the top food producing state in the country and is enduring a drought that threatens their entire water supply. In a recent NPR interview, Jay Famiglietti, a University of California hydrologist and a leading expert on groundwater, pointed out that California is the only Western state that doesn’t really monitor or regulate how much groundwater is pumped. Currently new wells are being drilled at an exponential rate and going deeper than ever. Digging for water at 2500 feet and $1 million a shot is not sustainable. As Famiglietti notes, “”We’re on a one-way trajectory toward depletion, toward running out of groundwater.” So be mindful of your water usage. After bathing, use the water to grow some of your own food. If you feed and water your dog from the same bowl, houseplants are a great place to put the water at feeding time.
Finally, buy non-GMO foods and if possible in your state, vote for labeling of GMO foods. While some people dispute the science of the impacts of these foods on human, animal and environmental health, one thing is very clear. The seeds used to grow GMO foods are good for one generation only. Traditional, non-GMO seeds can be harvested from year to year through intentional seed-saving techniques that increase the strength of the plant in a particular growing region. Farmers can generate their own ability to grow year after year. GMO foods require farmers to buy seeds year after year, and the chemicals that those treated seeds need to thrive, from big companies, companies who determine the prices for those inputs. The most basic level of independence for farmers disappears with GMO food production.
Independence and freedom are important concepts and rights Americans consider a basic part of living in this country. Many lives have been, and continue to be, sacrificed to protect these privileges. The ability to produce good, healthy food for our citizens is a critical component of that independence and freedom. As you enjoy seed spitting contests this holiday weekend, consider how that watermelon got pollinated (23 native bee species pollinate watermelon in Yolo County, CA alone), how it got water (CA is the 3rd top producing state) and whether those seeds can add vibrant new life or perhaps it’s a seedless GMO variety. No fun at all.