Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I have been blog surfing this afternoon and among other things I found a post about organic Kraft Mac & Cheeze . Puleeze...
I guess my joke about the organic Twinkie is beginning to hit close to reality. I guess in the era of processed industrial organic food (as opposed to whole organic foods raised locally) this sort of thing is to be expected. But do not confuse this processed crap with something that is good tasting and good for you. Just because it sez its' organic does not mean it is not crap.
Click here to read this person's account of eating the stuff (ugh)
A Raw-Milk Raid Leads to a Special Thanksgiving
After a Kentucky raw-milk farmer gets busted in Ohio, his shareholders decide to help run the farm and its distribution business
by David E. Gumpert
On Thanksgiving, Kimberly Gelhaus, a 39-year-old mom and student at the University of Cincinnati, will drive over an hour to the Double O Farms in Verona, Ky. Once at the tiny farm, she, her husband, and three children (ages 6, 8, and 18) will spend several hours dispensing milk from a holding tank into dozens of glass bottles, and then affixing lids.
Once the work is done, "We'll just sit and talk," she says.
The story of how Gelhaus and her family came to spend this holiday working and frolicking on a farm isn't about charity, but rather about how a seemingly straightforward business investment turned into a legal crisis-and then evolved into something much bigger, something involving community and caring. Because the legal part wasn't resolved until earlier this month, Gelhaus and others involved in the story didn't want to talk about it until now.
It all began in October, 2004, when Gelhaus went on a health kick. She had spent much of the previous two winters in doctors' offices and emergency rooms with sick kids. "The doctors knew us so well, we were on their Christmas card list," she recalls. A major part of the new regimen included raw milk, which is unpasteurized and unhomogenized, and viewed by increasing numbers of consumers and health experts as healthier than the pasteurized stuff because its enzymes and beneficial bacteria haven't been destroyed by the heat of pasteurization.
Because the sale of raw milk is illegal in Ohio and Kentucky (and 23 other states), she joined a herd-share program she had heard about which had just been launched by Gary and Dawn Oaks, owners of the Double O Farms. She joined about 160 other families as shareholders, investing $225 for three shares, which gave her partial ownership of the farm's 15 cows. She also agreed to a maintenance fee of $80 a month. Her shares entitled her to three gallons of milk each week, which Gary delivered to various drop-off points in the Cincinnati area as a convenience to the shareholders.
The idea was that they wouldn't be purchasing milk, but instead obtaining it directly from cows they owned-because even in the states that prohibit raw milk sales, farmers are allowed to consume their cows' milk (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/19/06, "States Target Raw-Milk Farmers").
For Gary, 43 and Dawn, 39, who had chucked conventional careers in inventory management (for him) and health care (for her), the shareholder arrangement served two purposes. It allowed them to fulfill their personal desire to make milk available to consumers in what they believed was a healthier form, and it enabled them to escape the mass-production-commodity cycle that had seen an estimated 1,500 Kentucky dairies bite the dust in the decade between
1993 and 2003 alone, says Gary.
For nearly a year-and-a-half, everything went as planned. The milk arrived on schedule and the health of Gelhaus' children improved dramatically. But on Mar. 6 of this year, everything changed. At about 1:15 in the afternoon, Gary Oaks arrived at a Cincinnati parking lot for what he thought would be a routine delivery, distributing milk to his shareholders. He got out of his
truck, opened the trailer, and began handing out bottles of milk to a few of the dozen or so shareholders present.
Gelhaus wasn't there, but another shareholder who was, Joanne Miller, of Morrow, Ohio, remembers vividly what happened next. "I was placing empty bottles in carriers when I noticed a Cincinnati police cruiser moving through the parking lot slowly toward the trailer. Another cruiser followed. Officers moved toward the cow-share owners and told them not to pick up the milk that had already been set out, and actually moved in to prevent members
from picking up the milk."
Out of several unmarked cars emerged men in plain clothes who "gathered near the tailgate of the trailer," Miller says. Only one would identify himself, an agent of the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture (ODA), she says. Other agents were there from the Kentucky Public Health Dept. and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Joanne Miller thinks there were about eight agents there, plus the four Cincinnati police. As the agents began confiscating the milk both from the truck and from a few shareholders, and loading it into an ODA
van, she says, they told objecting shareholders, "What's happening here is not your concern."
"All Kinds of Laws"
This upset the shareholders, who began shouting that the milk belonged to them, that the agents had no right to it. One of the shareholders stood on the trailer's tailgate and waved her shareholder documents at the agents, who ignored her.
Sensing the situation might be getting out of hand, the Cincinnati cops called for reinforcements, and two additional cruisers arrived. In the meantime, several plainclothes agents moved to separate Gary Oaks from his shareholders. For the soft-spoken 43-year-old, who grew up on a Mississippi farm and had only once in his life even been stopped for speeding, it was all becoming a terrifying blur. They moved him toward one of the unmarked cars and ordered him in. "They asked me what I was doing. One said, 'You're in a lot of trouble. You've broken all kinds of laws.'"
Oaks didn't know what to say. "I was ignorant. I didn't know it was illegal to drink milk. I hate to sound ignorant."
Then they moved him from that car into a second car, and the routine started over again, except more intensively. One agent was shouting from the back, and another in the front was demanding that he write something that sounded to him like a confession that he was selling unpasteurized milk. He began feeling ill. "They were telling me what to write, that I wouldn't sell milk." He believes he started to write something, but can't remember what.
"We Are 911"
The ODA produces a "Witness Statement" with block printing, signed by Oaks and an ODA investigator: "We run a cow share business in KY. Sell shares of cows to people for $75 a share.." It includes a few more details about the maintenance fee and delivery schedule and concludes, "Whole milk is not pasteurized."
When Oaks emerged from the car, several shareholders said he looked terrible and asked the officers to call 911. "We are 911," one of the officers stated. A shareholder decided to call 911 on her cell phone, seeking an ambulance. The agents moved Gary into a third car. He told them he was feeling awful, got out of the car, and slumped to the ground. An ambulance arrived and took him to a hospital. His blood pressure had soared to more than 200-over-156. "They were shocked I wasn't dead," Oaks recalls. He was released later that day, apparently without having suffered a heart attack.
An ODA spokesperson says, "Our officials questioned Mr. Oaks, so did federal officials. They were trying to learn about what he was doing, what the substance was, and why it was being brought into Ohio." Officials from the Kentucky Public Health Dept. didn't respond to questions.
Volunteers for Milking
Oaks continued to feel ill over the next few days. He had nightmares of "police and agents coming out from behind bushes and buildings." He couldn't milk the cows. A few days later, the feelings worsened. "I was choking, I couldn't get my breath." His wife took him back to the hospital, and this time he was admitted for several days.
The one piece of good news was that his shareholders had sprung into action. More than 100 met within days at a local church and tried to figure out how they could help the farm and the Oaks family. The most immediate issue was the cows these shareholders owned-they needed to be milked twice a day, and most of the city-folk shareholders knew little about cows beyond the fact that their milk arrived in bottles every week.
Fortunately, three shareholders who lived close to the Double O Farms had also been farmers, and at one of several meetings the shareholders held, these individuals volunteered to do the milking. The next pressing issue was how to get the milk bottled and out to the shareholders, since Gary couldn't deliver.
Stack of Bills
This is where Gelhaus dove in. "I took over coordinating car pooling.We had to coordinate deliveries for 160 families." Several dozen shareholders became involved in shuttling milk from the farm to shareholders in Kentucky and Ohio, some driving several hours each way. Others handled bottling, and still more volunteered to gather hay and do yard work around the farm, or bring food to Dawn and her three children, all under age 10.
As the winter wore on, Gary would be hospitalized twice more. Dawn says doctors concluded he was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, a stress disorder most common among soldiers in battle. A couple of shareholders with psychology backgrounds provided counseling.
Adding to the family's stress was that they didn't have health insurance. By the end of spring, Gary's medical bills were approaching $50,000. And then there was the matter of his legal problems-stemming from Kentucky, Ohio, and the federal government. As things turned out, Kentucky officials backed off from filing formal charges, after an informal hearing by the Kentucky Milk
Safety Board. But Ohio eventually filed charges accusing Gary of illegally selling raw milk and an unlabeled product. His legal bills were soaring past $10,000.
By the summer, life finally began improving. Gary was feeling well enough to work on the farm. He was able to negotiate a reduction in his medical bills with the hospitals. Shareholders passed the hat to take care of his legal bills. Two shareholders even agreed to loan him funds to move the farm to a badly needed larger tract of land a half hour from his existing farm.
The family decided not fight a protracted legal battle to avoid incurring additional legal expenses and stress. On November 2, Gary went to a county municipal court in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and pleaded no contest to violating the state's dairy licensing and labeling laws. He was fined $415, along with an additional $85 in court costs. The FDA also sent him a warning letter against interstate sales of raw milk, which leaves open the possibility of legal action.
Shareholders have scaled back their involvement in the farm's activities as Gary has recovered his health. But the need for car poolers like Gelhaus remains, in order to get milk delivered to shareholders, since Gary doesn't want to challenge the FDA's prohibition about crossing state lines to make deliveries in Ohio.
Show of Appreciation
On Thursday, many shareholders will be giving thanks for Gary-and Gary for them. "This crisis brought us more strongly together," says Mary Lynn Laufer, a Cincinnati shareholder. "We've become a unique, tightly knit group."
Adds Gelhaus, "The crisis showed us just how connected we are. The hardships pointed out to us that we need the farmer and the farmer needs us." Gelhaus is traveling to the farm on Thursday not because her work is required, but as a personal gesture of appreciation for Gary and Dawn, to allow them to take the day off.
For updates on this situation, and additional thoughts based on having investigated a half-dozen raw milk enforcement actions over the last few months in California, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, see my blog,
We got the package about a week after I ordered it which concerned me (it was supposed to arrive 2nd day) but I found out the delay was because they had to wait on a shipment of fresh nematodes. because it has to be wet out in order to successfully apply them we had to wait a couple of days before the spraying could commence. The rains did come and the rain stuck around for about 6 weeks which as far a the nematodes are concerned was a really rally good things. Nematodes need the soil to remain damp to wet for at least 3 weeks after applying so spring is generally the best time to apply with fall being just about as good. This year I'd say fall was the better season to apply them.
We noticed about 4 weeks after applying them that the grub population was down about 80%. since grubs are white they tend to be noticed before the other pests so I assume if the grub population is getting decimated than the other pests are likely getting the same treatment. Time will tell.
I gotta say so far I am really pleased with the nematodes and Buglogical was a good bunch to deal with. If I have need of nematodes or other beneficial insects in the future I will use them
Took the cats to the vet this past Monday. We have two cats, Navin and Trina. Navin has been with me for going on 14 years and Trina came into our lives last August right around the time Hurricane KaTrina was making headlines.
Anyhoo Monday afternoon we made sure not to let the cats outside before the appointment, got the trusty cat carriers out of the barn and and loaded Trina and Navin into the crates. The cats immediately made it known they were not at all pleased about this turn of events. Hiss and yowling started and continued all through the 20 minute ride to the vet's. About 3 miles outside of Richmond we smelled what could have been someone's septic system needing a good pumping. We hoped that was what it was but no, the odor lingered all the way into Richmond. When we parked in the Vet office parking lot we discovered the source of the stink. Trina had showed her extreme displeasure over being shoved in a crate and than loaded onto a van and driven to God knows where by leaving a rather large turd in her crate.
We took her on in and figured, okay got a stool sample. The vet's assistant removed the pile for us and ultimately it was not needed.
Soon both cats were well prodded and had received the shots they needed. The vet noticed and inflamed front tooth in Trina's mouth and tried to pull it but it did not want to come out (ouch!). She will have to be watched and taken back in if it gets more inflamed.
With the vet visit done we put the cats back in the crates and got back into the van and drove to wal-Mart to return a battery. I do not like giving my money to Wal-Mart and do so to as small a degree as possible but they have by far the cheapest price on the lithium battery I need for my digital camera. Actually, other than Office Max they are the only place around that carries this kind of battery as far as I know.
The cats were a lot quieter on the drive back home, almost to the point where I was wondering if they were still alive (they were). We get home and I open the crate doors up before removing them from the van and both cats jump out. I was wondering just how pissed off Trina would be with us over all the indignities we had just bestowed upon her and found out as soon as I lifted her crate out of the van. It was covered in urine.
I wash out the crate with the hose and let the cats into the house and all is well until dark. Navin, Trooper than he is has already forgiven us for the vet visit. Trina is on her bed washing the pee from her paws but not wanting any human attention. I am not surprised, she did not take the trip well at all. Around 9pm she asks me to let her out and so I did and that was the last we saw of her for about 36 hours. This worried Eugene to no end. He was getting quit convinced by this morning that she was dead. And i was not so sure this wasn't true though I was not going to throw in the towel until she was gone a full 72 hours
I figured she was majorly pissed at us and was hiding in the barn, likely watching us the whole time. That, or trying to catch mice-she did catch her first mouse ever last Monday. Ate the head off of it too.
But about 10 minutes after Eugene said he was sure she was gone Trina comes walking back all coy yet happy to see us. After a 20 minute petting session she retired to the visco elastic tempur-pedic single bed we inherited.
Figures, that's cats for you.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The reunion had originally been scheduled in October but was rescheduled to Thanksgiving weekend because of a THS football conflict (yeah, a high school game will certainly be more of a conflict than Thanksgiving). It seems THS was having its' Homecoming game and the planners of the Class of 1981 Reunion figured that that game would be far more important to those of us who have been out of High School for 25 years than Thanksgiving with friends and family. I really have no understanding as to what they were thinking and apparently I am not alone here.
I got a invitation to this reunion in the mail about a month ago and noted that they wanted $50 a person to eat at Dipaolo's which I consider an over priced 2nd rate restaurant ever since the DiPaolo family sold the shop and it moved into the incredibly overpriced Elms Hotel. But I digress, this is not about my relationship with the DiPaolo Family and their former restaurant, where I worked for for 2.5 years and learned boatloads about cooking and food and that experience eventually launched me into market farming. No this is about my 25th High School reunion that was canceled due to lack of interest, likely lots of time conflicts and let us not forget that the folks who planned this whole thing (these were not my favorite people in HS, nor McGuffey Lab School where I spent K thru 8th grade. I see they are still into having power and making less than great decisions) made it so many folks could not afford to go at $50 a person. I am assuming my classmates that planned this party have seen way too many movies and decided we all wanted an elegant and over priced experience. Personally I would rather have had this in the summer and had a big picnic where we could relax and catch up with one another and not have this turn into a one-upmanship deal where people feel they must lie about their lives. But if we must have an expensive and overpriced experience lets do it someplace other than a restaurant in Oxford, OH.
But no one asked my opinion and when I gave my opinion (i did email the committee when I found out they were going to have this event Thanksgiving Weekend and saidf that was a bad idea) it was ignored. And because it was ignored bad decisions were made and the whole event was canceled.
Public comment deadline is December 15, 2006. For more information on
bioprospecting in national parks, visit:
Everything's for Sale
National Parks Service considers opening parks to 'bioprospecting'
In a season when crowds are rioting over $600 video game consoles, and
O.J. Simpson could sign a deal for millions with the Murdoch empire to
reenact the "hypothetical" murder of his wife and her friend, it may
seem like absolutely everything is now for sale in our mercenary
culture. And that far too many people are buying. (Though, mercifully,
not in O.J.'s case.)
The latest evidence of this comes from, of all places, one of the most
trusted and admired of federal agencies. The National Park Service (NPS)
is quietly taking public comment through December 15 on a proposal to
allow private companies to "bioprospect" in our national parks: to
commercially mine, not the mineral riches of a park, but the genetic
resources of plants, animals, and microorganisms in territories
specifically set aside for stewardship in the public trust.
The proposal is contained in a September 15, 2006 court-ordered
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), an outgrowth of a lawsuit over a
similar 1997 proposal at Yellowstone National Park during the Clinton
administration. Steady privatization has been underway at the Park
Service for more than 20 years, but the requirement that the NPS
actually study the effects of bioprospecting seemed to shelve this
particular bad idea.
And then, magically, seven years later, the EIS appears, laying out
three options that would cover not just Yellowstone but all parks. The
document, subtly entitled "Benefits-Sharing," reads less like an
environmental study and more like a sales pitch for its preferred
choice, "option B," to allow commercial bioprospecting but require
"benefits-sharing" agreements and potentially some degree of public
disclosure of those agreements. (Or, potentially, not.) The other two
choices the public is to comment on are option A, to do nothing -- thus
allowing bioprospecting without so-called benefit-sharing; and option C,
which is to only allow this genetic mining for "noncommercial or public
interest research." Not exploiting our parks' genetic treasures at all
is not even listed as an option in the document.
In the Global South, home to much of the world's genetic diversity, this
battle has already been underway for decades. In a process reminiscent
of Columbus, transnational corporations have been using Western courts
and laws to patent genetic codes and plant and animal life that existed
long before any humans were around to "discover" them or own their
"rights." The struggle against such legal chicanery has often been led
by indigenous peoples who've relied upon the riches of their
environments for millennia without the assistance of lawyers or
scientists (or shareholders). Suddenly, they've been told they no longer
have the right to use those riches -– or, worse, they /can/ use them,
for a price, paid to distant companies with no truly legitimate claim to
This, in the South, is referred to as "biopiracy," and it seems like an
appropriate term to start using in America as well. National Parks,
beginning with Yellowstone (whose geothermal features were instrumental
in both the park's original founding and the commercial appeal of
"bioprospecting"), were set aside as lands to be owned and used by the
public. The lands' early stewardship, beginning with Yellowstone, was
specifically intended by Congress to exclude high-value heritage lands
from the rapacious development of much of the surrounding West. We are
the owners of these lands –- but their resources are now apparently for
sale, in ways large and small, without the permission or even knowledge
of the rightful owners. That's piracy.
An even scarier aspect of the NPS proposal is the precedent it sets, and
the question of where that precedent stops. Can any life form or portion
thereof existing in the parks be given away (or "benefit-shared," if the
public agency gets a cut)? In any public lands? Using eminent domain,
anywhere at all? What's to stop the government, using existing law and
schemes such as this, from deciding by regulatory fiat that your genome
should be "benefit-shared" by some state agency? It's an awfully
slippery slope, one in which, thanks to two decades' worth of
privatization of public resources, we're already well downhill of the
The Park Service will, and has, argued that in a time of scarce public
funding, commercial opportunities such as this can bring in valuable
revenue to help preserve the park system. But what's the point of
preserving a public park system whose parts can all be privately
claimed? More to the point, these resources are not the federal
government's to sell: they belong to all of us. And most especially to
the point, there are some things that simply shouldn't be for sale. Life
is an obvious one. It's one thing to sell chickens; it's another to sell
the exclusive rights to "Gallus gallus". The only difference here is size.
Only a few weeks remain for public comment on the NPS proposal. Take
some time to weigh in. Otherwise, some big corporation –- let's call it
Helixco –- will be using tweezers, small but lucrative ones, for its
Christmas stocking this year.
Public comment deadline is December 15, 2006. For more information on
bioprospecting in national parks, visit:
Friday, November 24, 2006
Organic Food Really a Better Buy?
'World News' Launches Organic Food Series as
Industry Moves From Small Farms to Major Retailers
By BETH TRIBOLET
MARIN COUNTY, Calif., Nov. 22, 2006 - - Marin
County organic beef rancher Dave Evans stands in
a pasture calling his cows, and it's a sight that
could make an old cowhand cry.
Watch "World News" Nov. 27, 28 for our special series on organic food
"Hey boys. Hey girls. Come on," he said. They
look and moo, then they come ambling in. No
In Marin County, often called the birthplace of
organic food, cows are so happy they come when
The lush seaside community north of San Francisco
embraced organic farming decades ago and
continues to promote the foods as the
fast-growing industry expands well beyond the
Propelled by food scares over mad cow disease and
E.coli infection, organics have boomed
nationwide, growing by as much as 20 percent
annually. Americans spent $14 billion on organic
food last year, according to the Organic Trade
In some regions, the demand for organic products exceeded supply.
"Most people come into the organic marketplace
and the key motivating factors are health and
nutrition. That's the message that is really
getting out to consumers," said Sam Fromartz,
author of "Organic Inc." about the growth of the
organic foods marketplace.
Setting a Good Example for the Industry
In Marin, farmers run successful small organic
operations that sell to local markets and
high-end restaurants, because the Bay Area, home
to fresh California cuisine, takes healthful food
seriously. The major selling point in organic is
the lack of pesticides, fertilizers, growth
hormones, radiation or bioengineered products.
Federal organic standards require that animals
have access to outdoor pasture. Marin farmers are
so committed to organic principles that they
often go above and beyond basic requirements by
giving their cows room to roam in fresh air and
bucolic environs, and providing them with
excellent nutrition and an overall good life.
Anita Sauber, who works for the county to certify
that Marin's farmers uphold U.S. Department of
Agriculture organic standards, said this group
does not require a lot of policing. In fact her
employer, the Marin County Department of
Agriculture, has rarely had to issue sanctions
for failing to meet organic standards.
Six years ago when they began issuing
certifications, there were only a few hundred
acres of organic farms. Today it's pushing 20,000
acres, still only 20 percent of the county but
Paying More 'Worth the Money
But who can afford organic food ?
A major complaint about these items is high
prices. By one estimate some organic products can
cost as much as 50 percent more than conventional
grocery products, as the extra time and energy
used to grow organic food combined with
small-scale production leads to higher prices.
But that's not turning away all customers. Los
Angeles resident Nicole Lewis is raising two
boys, ages 1 and 4, and said she first began
buying organic food after her first baby was born.
"Everything changes when you turn into a mother
and you are 100 percent responsible for a human
being," she said.
In a recent shopping trip to natural foods
wholesaler Whole Foods, she discussed the
difference between grass-fed and organic beef
with the butcher before deciding to buy a cut of
organic filet mignon for the holidays.
Looking at baby Isaiah in the stroller she said,
"It's worth the money to know that I'm not going
to be giving him pesticides. If there's an
organic option I'm pretty much always going to
pick the organic option."
Last spring megaretailer Wal-Mart began offering
mainstream brand organic foods, signaling the
products on the shelves with special green signs.
Wal-Mart's idea is to bring the cost down for
those on tighter budgets.
The company promises the best prices in the
organic marketplace. According to Fromartz, this
is evidence that "organic has really gone into
But megaretailers in the organic family are not
always welcome by the organic diehards.
Dave Evans in Marin favors growing and selling
locally, and worries that when organics go
mainstream quality is lost and the environment
suffers. "Does it make sense to fly an organic
product 2,000 miles when you can buy an equally
good organic product right down the road?" he
He said local food distribution saves on fossil
fuels both in costs and pollutants released into
the atmosphere. He raises cows at his Marin Sun
Farms, and also sells the beef at his butcher
shop in nearby Point Reyes Station.
He estimates that his beef never travels more
than 200 miles, allowing him to cultivate rapport
with his clients. His farthest customer, Stanford
University, buys hamburger patties
"I am a relationship marketer, which means I sell
to everyone I know. I know my customers," he said.
And he promises that you can taste the difference
in the meat he sells. Holding a slab of rib eye
with a line of flavorful fat intersecting it, he
said he also knows a great organic zinfandel to
go with it. You can bet that with neighbors like
the Napa and Sonoma wine countries, the grapes
were also locally grown.
Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
‘Tis the day before Thanksgiving and I am up at 4:30am in order to brine the 25.9LB organic, pastured, hormone and antibiotic free, locally raised (by Dale Filbrun) turkey. So far I have gotten the turkey out of the fridge in the barn and have bleached out a cooler. Now I am Googling a brine recipe because it has been over a year since I have brined a bird of any kind.
Brining is simple, it is a salt and sugar and water solution that you put a chicken, duck, turkey or any meat into to soak for 4 to 24 hours. I will be doing a 6 hour brine so I can get the turkey into the oven by around 2pm today so I am not up all night with the bird. Brining tenderizes the meat by removing all the blood and replacing that with a salty sweet solution via osmosis. This also means the bird will roast more evenly and all the meat will be moist. In other words brining prepares the bird to roast up in the most foolproof perfect way there is.
It is now 5:50am and the turkey is in a cooler full of a salt and sugar solution (2 cups kosher salt and 1/4 cup sugar per 2 gallons of water repeated 4 times to almost cover the turkey in the cooler (he's a big boy but not quite a birdzilla). Upon reading full brining instructions I find I am supposed to brine a turkey 12 to 24 hours. This one will get 7 to 8 hours and that will have to be enough time to remove the blood and replace it with a sweet salty solution (this tastes a lot better than it sounds, really). otherwise I will be getting up at around 5am tomorrow to get the bird in the oven and have it done by 11am so we can eat around noon or 1pm on Thursday. I don't want to do this because I will need the oven for things like the garlic cheddar biscuits and dressing I am making and a couple of pies Eugene will be making.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
THE ROLE OF ORGANIC FARMING ON THE SMALL FARM
by Eliot Coleman
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then
--Mahatma K. Gandhi
Thor Heyerdahl's classic adventure story, The Ra Expeditions, has a lesson
for agriculture. Heyerdahl wanted to prove that ancient Egyptian sailors
could have reached the new world in traditional boats made of bundled
papyrus stalks. He and his crew studied fresco paintings, three to four
thousand years old, on the tomb walls of pyramids for instruction on how to
construct the crafts. In the paintings there was one rope represented, from
the in-curled tip of the stern down to the afterdeck, for which they could
discern no purpose according to modern physics, and in the ensuing
construction it was left out. Ra I collapsed in mid-ocean for lack of that
rope. Their second attempt, Ra II, with the newly appreciated rope in its
assigned place, completed the voyage without a hitch. As Heyerdahl puts it,
"Ra II . . . was perfectly designed and crossed the Atlantic without loss
or damage to a single papyrus stem."
In the story of agriculture's transition from the natural knowledge of the
past to the chemical realities of the present, there was a part left out
which is the rope's equivalent -- an unappreciated part without which the
boat will fall apart. That crucial part is called "soil organic matter." In
the mid-1930s, organic farming arose from a recognition of the vital
importance of this soil ingredient. Some farmers saw the undesirable
changes in their soil and the diminished health of their livestock that
followed the shift to chemical farming in the 20th century. Their
appreciation for soil organic matter was reborn. They realized that they
needed to return to pre-chemical practices, and improve them if possible,
rather than reject them in favor of chemical shortcuts. They believed this
was the direction in which they needed to go if the health of the soil, the
health of the produce, and the health of the human beings consuming the
produce were to be maintained. Some of their improvements included more
successful methods of compost making, better management of crop residues --
the leaves, roots, or stems that are left after harvest -- and adding
mineral nutrients, where necessary, in their most natural form.
The organic pioneers wrote and spoke about their realization that the farm
is not a factory, but rather a human-managed microcosm of the natural
world. Whether in forest or prairie, soil fertility in the natural world is
maintained and renewed by the recycling of all plant and animal residues
which create the organic matter in the soil. This recycling is a biological
process, which means that the most important contributors to soil fertility
are alive, and they are neither farmers nor fertilizer salesmen. They are
the population of living creatures in the soil -- whose life processes make
the plant-food potential of the soil accessible to plants -- and their food
is organic matter.
The number of these creatures is almost beyond belief. It is often said
that a teaspoon of fertile soil contains at least one million live
microscopic organisms. Hard to believe as one million may be, the number is
now considered far too conservative. Once you begin to understand that the
soil is a living thing rather than an inert substance, a fascinating
universe opens in front of your eyes. I once watched a specialist on soil
creatures perform a minor miracle. He held the rapt attention of a roomful
of teenagers by showing slides and telling tales of the endlessly
interrelated and meticulously choreographed activities of these creatures.
The students were entranced because the subject matter was like a trip to
another planet. They were peeking into the secret world of nature.
The idea of a living soil nourished with organic matter also helps cast
light on the difference between a natural and a chemical approach to soil
fertility. In the chemical approach, fertilizers are created in a factory
to put a limited number of nutrients in a soluble form within reach of
plant roots. The chemical idea is to bypass the soil and start feeding the
plants directly with preprocessed plant food. In the natural approach, the
farmer adds organic matter to nurture all those hard-working soil
organisms. The natural approach is usually called feeding the soil rather
than feeding the plants but what it's really doing is feeding the soil
creatures and that is why it works so well. The idea that we could ever
substitute a few soluble elements for a whole living system is a lot like
thinking an intravenous needle could deliver a delicious meal.
It is important to stress that what has been accomplished to get organic
farming from the early pioneers to where it is today is the story of a
groundswell of natural truths flourishing in the face of a passel of
corporate/industrial lies. I remember the situation very well as it was
when I started back in 1965. The forces were definitely arrayed against us.
The defenders of the chemical side, claiming that organic farming was
foolish and impossible, were the USDA with its scientists and its enormous
budget, all of the land grant universities and smaller schools of
agriculture, the extension service, every feed and seed store in the
country, and of course the enormous money and power of the massive
agrochemical industry. On our side, claiming not only that organic farming
worked but that it worked much better than chemical farming, were a few
old-time large-scale farmers who had never bought into chemicals in the
first place and a bunch of idealistic young newcomers who wanted to farm
and who found the concepts of organic farming totally in line with their
thinking about humanity, sustainability, and the welfare of the planet.
When a study came out in 1977 from Barry Commoner's group at Washington
University in Saint Louis showing that in a side by side, paired up
comparison a group of Midwestern organic farmers were just as successful as
their chemical using neighbors, it was the first eye opener of the world to
come. The other side had no idea we were that good. There were some
newspaper and magazine articles but far less press than this should have
received if the public had been aware of the massively unequal array of
forces on the opposing sides. In my mind what had just happened was the
equivalent of your local junior high football team splitting a home and
away series with the Oakland Raiders. The type of press those football
games would get in the sports pages, is what this incident deserved.
The first of a number of studies positive to organic farming had begun
appearing in the early 1970's. I had a friend at the USDA and I used to
call him up as each one of these appeared. He was consistently dismissive.
The first one I told him about was a very positive study by a French
farmer's organization. "Ha!", he scoffed, "The USDA isn't going to pay any
attention to a bunch of French farmers." A couple of years later a
significant study was done by the Dutch department of agriculture. " Ha!"
he scoffed, "The USDA isn't going to listen to the Dutch department of
agriculture." Then the Washington University study came out. "Ha! The USDA
isn't going to listen to Washington University." I had lost touch with him
by 1980 when the USDA's own very positive study, Report and Recommendations
on Organic Agriculture, came out but I would not have been surprised if he
had said, "Ha! You don't expect the USDA to pay attention to the USDA do
And that was, truly, the sad state of affairs. As a fearless early organic
farmer I used to accept all invitations to speak. To be prepared, I did my
homework and I spent countless evenings in the stacks of the local
university library. I found an enormous number of applicable academic
studies, which reinforced the basic tenets of organic farming, published in
the major agricultural journals. Occasionally, my speaking invitations were
from universities themselves. I can remember a number of those instances.
During my talk I would have made a point about soil fertility or plant/pest
relationships and there would be an interruption from the audience. "Oh,
yes, you're Dean Smith, aren't you?", I would acknowledge the questioner.
"Go ahead, what is your question?" "Well, that is the most ridiculous
statement I ever heard," he would huff. "Where did that foolishness come
from?" "Hmm," I would say innocently, "lets see -- that's from a study by
Jones published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, January, 1967, pages
172 to 181. Haven't you . . . read it?"
In other words, the myth that organic farming could not work was so
ingrained, so much like a religious belief, that it was accepted out of
hand by agricultural university faculty members who were not reading, or if
reading, then not paying attention to the published literature in their own
fields. And, of course, none of them had ever investigated it in person. If
the reason for the general disbelief among agrochemical minds was that
these ideas were brand new, then some of their disbelief might be
understandable. But they are anything but new. Many of the books I read
when I started out in 1965, books that extolled the benefits of a
biological rather than chemical understanding of farming, were already 10
years old like P. H. Hainsworth's Agriculture: A New Approach (1954) or
almost 20 years old like Leonard Wickenden's Make Friends With Your Land
(1949) or more than 30 years old like Selman Waksman's The Soil and The
Microbe (1931). Other excellent volumes had been published as much as 70
years earlier. But these ideas were hardly new then. Read K. D. White's
tome Roman Farming and you will find that the benefits of compost, green
manures, mixed farming, crop rotations in general and legume rotations in
particular were basic knowledge 2000 years ago. Read F. H. King's Farmers
of Forty Centuries and you realize they were common knowledge 4000 years
ago. Of course they were. How do you think agriculture managed for all
In fact you don't even have to go beyond material published by the USDA
itself to be convinced that organic ideas represent sound agricultural
thinking. The 1938 Yearbook of the US Department of Agriculture, Soils and
Men, reads like a basic organic farming textbook with sentences like,
"While the continuous use of chemical fertilizers tends to deplete the
essential elements not supplied to the soil, the use of stable manure, leaf
mold, wood ashes and peat tends to conserve them... In some cases soil
deficiencies are not revealed by any effect on plant growth, yet the plant
is not being supplied with a sufficient quantity of some elements to
produce a normal healthy growth of animals feeding on it." And the 1957
Yearbook, Soil, is even more emphatic, "All these experiments point to
profound effects of fertilization on the nutritional quality of a plant. .
. we will have to determine the balance of plant nutrients in the soil
that will produce a plant of optimum nutritional quality."
So how was it in the mid 1960's that organic farming, which concerned
itself with exactly the issues raised in those quoted statements, was
ridiculed, and chemical farming was called conventional' agriculture? It
wasn't done by the farmers. It was imposed upon them by scientists and
merchandisers. Let me tell a metaphorical story from my background. Before
I got into farming I was an adventurer. One of my passions was rock
climbing. My thinking is still patterned by that rock climbing background.
It makes me a problem solver. It makes me adore challenges. Rock climbers,
like farmers, are interested in solutions, each one simpler and more
elegant than the last. Whereas the rock cliff scientist, if I may invent
such a character, might spend time speculating on the coefficient of
friction and surface fracturing between the granitic base and the basalt
outcropping or invoking the law of gravity, and the rock cliff merchandiser
might be speculating on what products could be sold to palliate the
impossible, the rock climbers are down at the bottom of the "impossible"
cliff quietly studying and planning how to climb it. To the climbers it is
a challenge. To the climbers a problem is something to be solved not
something to be studied to death or marketed.
This distinction occurs in part because of the positions from which the
different parties see the situation. The scientists and merchandisers are
standing out far away from the cliff, looking over at it, indulging in
their love of reductionism and speculating on the difficulties. The
climbers (like farmers) are standing right next to the problem, celebrating
their love of solutions and speculating on the possibilities. Where you are
looking from and what your goals are determine what you see and what you
do. My goals as a farmer are to solve problems, to overcome difficulties,
and do it with my own resources. The goals of the scientists and
merchandisers are to study problems, to emphasize the difficulties, and to
recommend purchased palliatives.
The implications of this situation are clear. If the cliff can be climbed
-- and I assure you that it can be -- then there are only two options open
to the merchandisers and the scientists. First, they can admit that their
science and their merchandise are unnecessary because solving the problem
has required only imagination and determination. Or, second, they can use
all their resources to manipulate the situation through spin and
obfuscation so that very few people will know about the climbers and their
elegant solution and the general public will continue to believe it
impossible. In other words to create the climate of ignorance and
opposition that organic farming has faced from the start.
The reason for this still very active attempt to villainize organic farming
is that our success scares the hell out of the other side. Just like the
fear of Nature that the merchandisers and scientists have worked so hard to
create in farmers, in order to make purchased chemical products and
reductionist science seem indispensable, so has our success with organic
farming created in the scientists and merchandisers a terrible fear -- a
fear of their own redundancy. A fear that agriculture will realize that
other solutions are possible. A fear that agriculture will learn the truth.
Organic farmers have succeeded in producing a bounty of food through the
simple means of working in harmony with natural processes, without any help
from the scientists and the merchandisers. If us rock climbers/farmers can
make it up that impossible cliff on our own, then we have proved them to be
very dispensable indeed, and we are consequently very frightening.
Since the 1930s, organic farming has been subjected to the traditional
three-step progression that occurs with any new idea directly challenging
an orthodoxy. First the orthodoxy dismisses it. Then it spends decades
contesting its validity. Finally, moves to take it over. Now that organic
agriculture has become an obvious economic force, industrial agriculture
wants to control it. Since the first step in controlling a process is to
define (or redefine) it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hastened to
influence the setting of organic standards -- in part by establishing a
legal definition of the word "organic" -- and the organic spokespeople
naively permitted it.
Wise people had long warned against such a step. Thirty years ago, Lady Eve
Balfour, one of the most knowledgeable organic pioneers from the 1930s,
said, "I am sure that the techniques of organic farming cannot be
imprisoned in a rigid set of rules. They depend essentially on the attitude
of the farmer. Without a positive and ecological approach, it is not
possible to farm organically." When I heard Lady Eve make that statement at
an international conference on organic farming at Sissach, Switzerland, in
1977, the co-option and redefinition of organic by the USDA was far in the
future. I knew very well what she meant though, because by that time I had
been involved long enough to have absorbed the old-time organic ideas and I
was alert to see the changes that were beginning to appear.
When you study the history of almost any new idea it becomes clear how the
involvement of the old power structure in the new paradigm tends to move
things backwards. Minds mired in an industrial thinking pattern, where
farmers are merely sources of raw materials, can not see beyond the outputs
of production. They don't normally consider the values of production nor
the economic benefits to the producers. While co-opting and regulating the
organic method, the USDA ignored the organic goal. And since it is the
original organic goal, and not the modern redirection set on course by the
USDA, which I believe can save the family farm, we need to know the
difference. To better convey this difference, I like to borrow two words
from the ecology movement and refer to "deep" organic farming and "shallow"
Deep-organic farmers, after rejecting agricultural chemicals, look for
better ways to farm. Inspired by the elegance of Nature's systems, they try
to mimic the patterns of the natural world's soil-plant economy. They use
freely available natural soil foods like deep rooting legumes, green
manures, and composts to correct the causes of an infertile soil by
establishing a vigorous soil life. They acknowledge that the underlying
cause of pest problems (insects and diseases) is plant stress; they know
they can avoid pest problems by managing soil tilth, nutrient balance,
organic matter content, water drainage, air flow, crop rotations, varietal
selection and other factors to reduce plant stress. In so doing,
deep-organic farmers free themselves from the need to purchase fertilizers
and pest-control products from the industrial supply network -- the
mercantile businesses that normally put profits in the pockets of middlemen
and put family farms on the auction block. The goal of deep-organic farming
is to grow the most nutritious food possible and to respect the primacy of
a healthy planet. Needless to say, the industrial agricultural
establishment sees this approach as a threat to the status quo since it is
not an easy system for outsiders to quantify, to control, and to profit
Shallow-organic farmers, on the other hand, after rejecting agricultural
chemicals, look for quick-fix inputs. Trapped in a belief that the natural
world is inadequate, they end up mimicking the patterns of chemical
agriculture. They use bagged or bottled organic fertilizers in order to
supply nutrients that temporarily treat the symptoms of an infertile soil.
They treat the symptoms of plant stress -- insect and disease problems --
by arming themselves with the latest natural organic weapons. In so doing,
the shallow-organic farmers continue to deliver themselves into the control
of an industrial supply network that is only too happy to sell them
expensive symptom treatments. The goal of shallow-organic farming is merely
to follow the approved guidelines and respect the primacy of international
commerce. The industrial agricultural establishment looks on
shallow-organic farming as an acceptable variation of chemical agribusiness
since it is an easy system for the industry to quantify, to control, and to
profit from in the same ways it has done with chemical farming. Shallow
organic farming sustains the dependence of farmers on middlemen and
fertilizer suppliers. Today, major agribusinesses are creating massive
shallow organic operations, and these can be as hard on the family farm as
chemical farming ever was.
The difference in approach is a difference in life views. The shallow view
regards the natural world as consisting of mostly inadequate, usually
malevolent systems which must be modified and improved. The deep-organic
view understands that the natural world consists of impeccably designed,
smooth-functioning systems that must be studied and nurtured. The
deep-organic pioneers learned that farming in partnership with the natural
processes of soil organisms also makes allowance for the unknowns. The
living systems of a truly fertile soil contain all sorts of yet-to-be
discovered benefits for plants -- and consequently for the livestock and
humans who consume them. These are benefits we don't even know how to test
for because we are unaware of their mechanism, yet deep organic farmers are
conscious of them every day in the improved vigor of their crops and
livestock. This practical experience of farmers is unacceptable to
scientists who disparagingly call it mere "anecdotal evidence." Good
farmers contend that since most scientists lack familiarity with real
organic farming, they are passing judgment on things they know nothing
It is difficult for organic farmers to defend ideas scientifically where so
little scientific data has yet been collected. However, the passion is
there because the farmer's instincts are so powerfully sure that
differences exist between organic and chemical. I often cite an experience
of mine in an unrelated field -- music -- in defense of the farmer's
instincts. Twice I have been fortunate to hear great artists perform in an
intimate setting without the intermediary of a sound system. The first was
a sax player, the second a soprano. The experience of hearing their clear,
pure tones directly, not missing whatever subtleties a microphone and
speakers are incapable of transmitting, was so different and the direct
ingestion of the sound by my ears was so nourishing (that is the only word
I can think of), that I remember the sensation to this day, and use it as a
metaphor for differences in food quality. That unfiltered music is like
fresh food grown by a local deep organic grower. That same music heard
through a sound system is like industrial organic produce shipped from far
away. Through a poor sound system, it is a lot like chemically grown
Like most other farmers, I am aware of the reaction of my customers,
especially young customers, as evidence of the advantages of organic over
chemical farming. Children are notorious for hating vegetables, but that is
not what I hear from parents in the neighboring towns in response to the
vegetables we grow on our farm. The eating quality of our vegetables has
won out over all the junk food advertising. We have been told that our
carrots are the trading item of choice in local grade school lunch boxes.
We have been told by stunned parents that not only will their children eat
our salad and eat our spinach, they ask their parents specifically to
purchase them. I put great faith in the honest and unspoiled taste buds of
children. They can still detect differences that older taste buds may miss
and that science cannot measure.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk alerting us to the takeover of many
organic labels by the industrial food giants. But to anyone who worries
about the survival of small farms, I say the sky is not falling. These
takeovers only involve industrial shallow organics. They only involve those
companies large enough to attract takeover money. Most of these companies
sell processed foods, which are substandard nutritionally, whatever the
provenance of their ingredients. When the organic version of the Twinkie
eventually appears, it will be immaterial who controls it. Some of these
companies do sell staple foods, but they only meet the shallowest of
standards, thus ignoring those valuable production practices that only
family farmers seem to care about any more.
In other words the only organic companies that have been bought out are
those whose quality is so dubious you don't want to buy their food no
matter how many times they can legally print the word organic on the label.
Real food comes from your local small farms, run by deep-organic farmers.
These farms won't be bought out because they are too honest and too focused
on quality over quantity to attract the takeover specialists. Small,
committed, organic family farms are the fastest growing segment in U.S.
agriculture today. Old-time deep-organic farming will save these farms
because there will always be a demand for exceptional food by astute
customers who can see past the hype of the USDA label and realize the
importance of making their own fully informed decisions about food quality.
In Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pynchon says, " If they can get you asking the
wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers." The question
we now need to ask is not "is it organic?" but rather "is it nutritious?".
I firmly believe that quality food is vital to the well being of humans and
other animals. Therefore, as a grower, I have an awesome responsibility.
Organic farming has to be much more than the absence of the negatives --
chemicals and pesticides. The area where organic farming must excel is the
presence of the positives -- the full nutritional complement of the
foodstuff. I have read a number of articles by paleopathologists who have
studied the skeletal remains of hunter-gatherers. Most significantly, they
remark on the superior health and stature of the hunter gatherers compared
to modern humans. They attribute the difference to the very natural diet
which our ancestors ate. Well, since deep organic agriculture is a human
managed copy of natural processes, we have it in our power to make our
agricultural products as nutritious as those wild foods. We need to make
sure we are managing those processes with the greatest possible skill and
care to produce food that contains everything Nature designed it to
contain. That means varieties chosen for taste and nutritional value, two
factors that are closely related. That means creating growing conditions
aimed at optimizing the plants physiological potential. The soil's ability
to deliver every mineral in balance is the key to that goal and we pay
close attention to trace elements, soil aeration, and making exceptional
The success of organic farmers has proven that it is best for the health of
the soil not to have our soil food manipulated by industry. Doesn't it
follow logically that it is best for the health of humans not to have our
human food treated that way. The food we eat should obviously be fresh but
I mostly want it to be what I call "real". I can't imagine a livestock
farmer feeding hay with parts removed, or silage with preservatives, or
ultra-pasteurized milk to a calf, or a grain ration made with white flour,
hydrogenated soy margarine and sugar. Surprisingly, products like that,
with "organic" labels, are sold in "health food" stores to be fed to
people. That is not my idea of organic. Our vegetables fill the produce
cooler of our local food co-op. That is "real food." But the shelves
overflowing with over-processed junk in the rest of the store are not in
the same category. One day at lunch when I was ranting about this. I said I
wanted to open a store that only sold "real food". My wife Barbara, who
tries to bring order to my more extreme impulses with gentle humor, said
that was nice and she had the perfect name for the store. I could call it
the "Wholier Than Thou Market."
Well, I am very serious about the need for such a store although I'm sure I
don't have time to open it. I offer the idea and the store name to anyone
who would like to take the next step beyond where industrial pressure has
stalled the organic movement. This food store would sell nothing packaged.
Breads and crackers would be whole and made fresh daily. There would be no
aged bags of flour but only whole grains for the customer to grind into
fresh flour with the store's mill. Milk would be raw from a local grass fed
herd and so would the butter. If you wanted juices they would be squeezed
fresh into your own glass container. Meat, poultry and eggs would be local
and range fed. The produce would be fresh year-round from nearby fields and
greenhouses. The only processed foods would be the traditional ones like
cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, dried tomatoes, wine and beer. The
only sweeteners would be honey and maple syrup. Real food. We all know what
You can easily imagine the displeasure of the food processors with the
"Wholier Than Thou Market." They are already dismayed at nutritionist Joan
Gussow's truthful reference to their products as "value added,
nutritionally degraded." But I'm convinced that it is in the best interest
of healthy humans to make food processors redundant. Furthermore, all the
items in the "Wholier Than Thou Market" would be purchased directly from
nearby growers. No middlemen, no energy intensive long distance shipping,
no need for preservatives. Whoops! We have just made a few other mercantile
Is this radical? Possibly. But then organic farming seemed pretty radical
when I started. Does it make sense? Well, the implications of a large body
of nutrition research back it up. Will humans embrace the idea? That
depends. The propaganda from the food processors tries to make us think
their food is better just like the propaganda from the chemical companies
tried to make us believe their fertilizers were better. Both assertions are
false. In the cases of both eaters and farmers, they were sucked in by the
intentionally addictive nature of the processed foods and processed
fertilizers and the relentless advertising behind them. We must now decide
that we want to take charge of our body's nourishment as successfully as we
have taken charge of our soil's nourishment. Real food, whether for the
soil or for the body, takes more time and more commitment. But the reward
is the perfect world we would all like to see. Happy, healthy children and
adults optimally nourished with exceptional quality food. The drug
companies then become redundant also.
So, how did deep get turned into shallow and good food revert to mediocre?
It is a logical result in a world blind to the elegance of natural systems.
Humans think in terms of more milk rather than exceptional milk; cheaper
eggs not better eggs. Since modern humans mistakenly consider nature
imperfect, they focus on improving nature rather than seeking to improve
our understanding of agriculture and human nutrition within a perfect
nature. Humans want to change the rules rather than try to operate more
intelligently within them. A recent advertisement from a biotech company
pointed that out by highlighting the phrase, "Think what's possible." Yes,
it's true that these companies think they have the power to remake the
parts of nature they don't understand. However, if they understood them,
they would realize they don't need remaking. It is just our human
relationship with the natural world that needs remaking.
The historian Howard Zinn has written, "The truth is so often the reverse
of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far
enough around to see it." Organic farmers have done an admirable job since
the 1930's in turning heads around to see the whole truth about soil
nutrition. It is my hope that the universal year-round availability of
fresh, local, "real" food grown by deep organic farmers can allow us to
turn heads around far enough to clearly see the whole truth about human
nutrition as well.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The Idea of a Local Economy
by Wendell Berry
LET US BEGIN BY ASSUMING what appears to be true: that the so-called
"environmental crisis" is now pretty well established as a fact of our
age. The problems of pollution, species extinction, loss of wilderness,
loss of farmland, loss of topsoil may still be ignored or scoffed at,
but they are not denied. Concern for these problems has acquired a
certain standing, a measure of discussability, in the media and in some
scientific, academic, and religious institutions.
This is good, of course; obviously, we can¹t hope to solve these
problems without an increase of public awareness and concern. But in an
age burdened with "publicity," we have to be aware also that as issues
rise into popularity they rise also into the danger of
oversimplification. To speak of this danger is especially necessary in
confronting the destructiveness of our relationship to nature, which is
the result, in the first place, of gross oversimplification.
The "environmental crisis" has happened because the human household or
economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of
nature. We have built our household on the assumption that the natural
household is simple and can be simply used. We have assumed
increasingly over the last five hundred years that nature is merely a
supply of "raw materials," and that we may safely possess those
materials merely by taking them. This taking, as our technical means
have increased, has involved always less reverence or respect, less
gratitude, less local knowledge, and less skill. Our methodologies of
land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate
natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the
methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more
technologically powerful and more brutal.
And so we will be wrong if we attempt to correct what we perceive as
"environmental" problems without correcting the economic
oversimplification that caused them. This oversimplification is now
either a matter of corporate behavior or of behavior under the
influence of corporate behavior. This is sufficiently clear to many of
us. What is not sufficiently clear, perhaps to any of us, is the extent
of our complicity, as individuals and especially as individual
consumers, in the behavior of the corporations.
What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently
most people in the "developed" world, have given proxies to the
corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and
shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or
governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of
the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of "service" that once
were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or
households or communities. Our major economic practice, in short, is to
delegate the practice to others.
The danger now is that those who are concerned will believe that the
solution to the "environmental crisis" can be merely political - that
the problems, being large, can be solved by large solutions generated
by a few people to whom we will give our proxies to police the economic
proxies that we have already given. The danger, in other words, is that
people will think they have made a sufficient change if they have
altered their "values," or had a "change of heart," or experienced a
"spiritual awakening," and that such a change in passive consumers will
cause appropriate changes in the public experts, politicians, and
corporate executives to whom they have granted their political and
The trouble with this is that a proper concern for nature and our use
of nature must be practiced not by our proxy-holders, but by ourselves.
A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another
pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life. The
"environmental crisis," in fact, can be solved only if people,
individually and in their communities, recover responsibility for their
thoughtlessly given proxies. If people begin the effort to take back
into their own power a significant portion of their economic
responsibility, then their inevitable first discovery is that the
"environmental crisis" is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our
environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals,
as family members, as community members, and as citizens. We have an
"environmental crisis" because we have consented to an economy in which
by eating, drinking, working, resting, traveling, and enjoying
ourselves we are destroying the natural, the god-given world.
WE LIVE, AS WE MUST SOONER or later recognize, in an era of sentimental
economics and, consequently, of sentimental politics. Sentimental
communism holds in effect that everybody and everything should suffer
for the good of "the many" who, though miserable in the present, will
be happy in the future for exactly the same reasons that they are
miserable in the present.
Sentimental capitalism is not so different from sentimental communism
as the corporate and political powers claim. Sentimental capitalism
holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal,
natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the
"free market" and the great corporations, which will bring
unprecedented security and happiness to "the many" - in, of course, the
These forms of political economy may be described as sentimental
because they depend absolutely upon a political faith for which there
is no justification, and because they issue a cold check on the virtue
of political and/or economic rulers. They seek, that is, to preserve
the gullibility of the people by appealing to a fund of political
virtue that does not exist. Communism and "free-market" capitalism both
are modern versions of oligarchy. In their propaganda, both justify
violent means by good ends, which always are put beyond reach by the
violence of the means. The trick is to define the end vaguely - "the
greatest good of the greatest number" or "the benefit of the many" -
and keep it at a distance.
The fraudulence of these oligarchic forms of economy is in their
principle of displacing whatever good they recognize (as well as their
debts) from the present to the future. Their success depends upon
persuading people, first, that whatever they have now is no good, and
second, that the promised good is certain to be achieved in the future.
This obviously contradicts the principle - common, I believe, to all
the religious traditions - that if ever we are going to do good to one
another, then the time to do it is now; we are to receive no reward for
promising to do it in the future. And both communism and capitalism
have found such principles to be a great embarrassment. If you are
presently occupied in destroying every good thing in sight in order to
do good in the future, it is inconvenient to have people saying things
like "Love thy neighbor as thyself" or "Sentient beings are numberless,
I vow to save them." Communists and capitalists alike, "liberal" and
"conservative" capitalists alike, have needed to replace religion with
some form of determinism, so that they can say to their victims, "I am
doing this because I can¹t do otherwise. It is not my fault. It is
inevitable." The wonder is how often organized religion has gone along
with this lie.
The idea of an economy based upon several kinds of ruin may seem a
contradiction in terms, but in fact such an economy is possible, as we
see. It is possible however, on one implacable condition: the only
future good that it assuredly leads to is that it will destroy itself.
And how does it disguise this outcome from its subjects, its short-term
beneficiaries, and its victims? It does so by false accounting. It
substitutes for the real economy, by which we build and maintain (or do
not maintain) our household, a symbolic economy of money, which in the
long run, because of the self-interested manipulations of the
"controlling interests," cannot symbolize or account for anything but
itself. And so we have before us the spectacle of unprecedented
"prosperity" and "economic growth" in a land of degraded farms,
forests, ecosystems, and watersheds, polluted air, failing families,
and perishing communities.
THIS MORAL AND ECONOMIC ABSURDITY exists for the sake of the allegedly
"free" market, the single principle of which is this: commodities will
be produced wherever they can be produced at the lowest cost, and
consumed wherever they will bring the highest price. To make too cheap
and sell too high has always been the program of industrial capitalism.
The idea of the global "free market" is merely capitalism¹s
so-far-successful attempt to enlarge the geographic scope of its greed,
and moreover to give to its greed the status of a "right" within its
presumptive territory. The global "free market" is free to the
corporations precisely because it dissolves the boundaries of the old
national colonialisms, and replaces them with a new colonialism without
restraints or boundaries. It is pretty much as if all the rabbits have
now been forbidden to have holes, thereby "freeing" the hounds.
A corporation, essentially, is a pile
of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.
The "right" of a corporation to exercise its economic power without
restraint is construed, by the partisans of the "free market," as a
form of freedom, a political liberty implied presumably by the right of
individual citizens to own and use property.
But the "free market" idea introduces into government a sanction of an
inequality that is not implicit in any idea of democratic liberty:
namely that the "free market" is freest to those who have the most
money, and is not free at all to those with little or no money.
Wal-Mart, for example, as a large corporation "freely" competing
against local, privately owned businesses has virtually all the
freedom, and its small competitors virtually none.
To make too cheap and sell too high, there are two requirements. One is
that you must have a lot of consumers with surplus money and unlimited
wants. For the time being, there are plenty of these consumers in the
"developed" countries. The problem, for the time being easily solved,
is simply to keep them relatively affluent and dependent on purchased
The other requirement is that the market for labor and raw materials
should remain depressed relative to the market for retail commodities.
This means that the supply of workers should exceed demand, and that
the land-using economy should be allowed or encouraged to overproduce.
To keep the cost of labor low, it is necessary first to entice or force
country people everywhere in the world to move into the cities - in the
manner prescribed by the United States' Committee for Economic
Development after World War II - and second, to continue to introduce
labor-replacing technology. In this way it is possible to maintain a
"pool" of people who are in the threatening position of being mere
consumers, landless and also poor, and who therefore are eager to go to
work for low wages - precisely the condition of migrant farm workers in
the United States.
To cause the land-using economies to overproduce is even simpler. The
farmers and other workers in the world's land-using economies, by and
large, are not organized. They are therefore unable to control
production in order to secure just prices. Individual producers must go
individually to the market and take for their produce simply whatever
they are paid. They have no power to bargain or make demands.
Increasingly, they must sell, not to neighbors or to neighboring towns
and cities, but to large and remote corporations. There is no
competition among the buyers (supposing there is more than one), who
are organized, and are "free" to exploit the advantage of low prices.
Low prices encourage overproduction as producers attempt to make up
their losses "on volume," and overproduction inevitably makes for low
prices. The land-using economies thus spiral downward as the money
economy of the exploiters spirals upward. If economic attrition in the
land-using population becomes so severe as to threaten production, then
governments can subsidize production without production controls, which
necessarily will encourage overproduction, which will lower prices -
and so the subsidy to rural producers becomes, in effect, a subsidy to
the purchasing corporations. In the land-using economies production is
further cheapened by destroying, with low prices and low standards of
quality, the cultural imperatives for good work and land stewardship.
THIS SORT OF EXPLOITATION, long familiar in the foreign and domestic
economies and the colonialism of modern nations, has now become "the
global economy," which is the property of a few supranational
corporations. The economic theory used to justify the global economy in
its "free market" version is again perfectly groundless and
sentimental. The idea is that what is good for the corporations will
sooner or later - though not of course immediately - be good for
That sentimentality is based in turn, upon a fantasy: the proposition
that the great corporations, in "freely" competing with one another for
raw materials, labor, and marketshare, will drive each other
indefinitely, not only toward greater "efficiencies" of manufacture,
but also toward higher bids for raw materials and labor and lower
prices to consumers. As a result, all the world¹s people will be
economically secure - in the future. It would be hard to object to such
a proposition if only it were true.
But one knows, in the first place, that "efficiency" in manufacture
always means reducing labor costs by replacing workers with cheaper
workers or with machines.
In the second place, the "law of competition" does not imply that many
competitors will compete indefinitely. The law of competition is a
simple paradox: Competition destroys competition. The law of
competition implies that many competitors, competing on the "free
market" will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors
to one. The law of competition, in short, is the law of war.
In the third place, the global economy is based upon cheap
long-distance transportation, without which it is not possible to move
goods from the point of cheapest origin to the point of highest sale.
And cheap long-distance transportation is the basis of the idea that
regions and nations should abandon any measure of economic
self-sufficiency in order to specialize in production for export of the
few commodities or the single commodity that can be most cheaply
produced. Whatever may be said for the "efficiency" of such a system,
its result (and I assume, its purpose) is to destroy local production
capacities, local diversity, and local economic independence.
This idea of a global "free market" economy, despite its obvious moral
flaws and its dangerous practical weaknesses, is now the ruling
orthodoxy of the age. Its propaganda is subscribed to and distributed
by most political leaders, editorial writers, and other "opinion
makers." The powers that be, while continuing to budget huge sums for
"national defense," have apparently abandoned any idea of national or
local self-sufficiency, even in food. They also have given up the idea
that a national or local government might justly place restraints upon
economic activity in order to protect its land and its people.
The global economy is now institutionalized in the World Trade
Organization, which was set up, without election anywhere, to rule
international trade on behalf of the "free market" - which is to say on
behalf of the supranational corporations - and to overrule, in secret
sessions, any national or regional law that conflicts with the "free
market." The corporate program of global free trade and the presence of
the World Trade Organization have legitimized extreme forms of expert
thought. We are told confidently that if Kentucky loses its
milk-producing capacity to Wisconsin, that will be a "success story."
Experts such as Stephen C. Blank, of the University of California,
Davis, have proposed that "developed" countries, such as the United
States and the United Kingdom, where food can no longer be produced
cheaply enough, should give up agriculture altogether.
The folly at the root of this foolish economy began with the idea that
a corporation should be regarded, legally, as "a person." But the
limitless destructiveness of this economy comes about precisely because
a corporation is not a person. A corporation, essentially, is a pile of
money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance. As
such, unlike a person, a corporation does not age. It does not arrive,
as most persons finally do, at a realization of the shortness and
smallness of human lives; it does not come to see the future as the
lifetime of the children and grandchildren of anybody in particular. It
can experience no personal hope or remorse, no change of heart. It
cannot humble itself. It goes about its business as if it were
immortal, with the single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money.
The stockholders essentially are usurers, people who "let their money
work for them," expecting high pay in return for causing others to work
for low pay. The World Trade Organization enlarges the old idea of the
corporation-as-person by giving the global corporate economy the status
of a super government with the power to overrule nations. I don¹t mean
to say, of course, that all corporate executives and stockholders are
bad people. I am only saying that all of them are very seriously
implicated in a bad economy.
UNSURPRISINGLY, AMONG PEOPLE WHO WISH to preserve things other than
money - for instance, every region's native capacity to produce
essential goods - there is a growing perception that the global "free
market" economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human
health and freedom, to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in
the land-use economies; and furthermore, that it is inherently an enemy
to good work and good economic practice. I believe that this perception
is correct and that it can be shown to be correct merely by listing the
assumptions implicit in the idea that corporations should be "free" to
buy low and sell high in the world at large. These assumptions, so far
as I can make them out, are as follows:
1. That stable and preserving relationships among people, places, and
things do not matter and are of no worth.
2. That cultures and religions have no legitimate practical or economic
3. That there is no conflict between the "free market" and political
freedom, and no connection between political democracy and economic
4. That there can be no conflict between economic advantage and
5. That there is no conflict between greed and ecological or bodily
6. That there is no conflict between self-interest and public service.
7. That the loss or destruction of the capacity anywhere to produce
necessary goods does not matter and involves no cost.
8. That it is all right for a nation's or a region's subsistence to be
foreign based, dependent on long-distance transport, and entirely
controlled by corporations.
9. That, therefore, wars over commodities - our recent Gulf War, for
example - are legitimate and permanent economic functions.
10. That this sort of sanctioned violence is justified also by the
predominance of centralized systems of production supply,
communications, and transportation, which are extremely vulnerable not
only to acts of war between nations, but also to sabotage and
11. That it is all right for poor people in poor countries to work at
poor wages to produce goods for export to affluent people in rich
12. That there is no danger and no cost in the proliferation of exotic
pests, weeds, and diseases that accompany international trade and that
increase with the volume of trade.
13. That an economy is a machine, of which people are merely the
interchangeable parts. One has no choice but to do the work (if any)
that the economy prescribes, and to accept the prescribed wage.
14. That, therefore, vocation is a dead issue. One does not do the work
that one chooses to do because one is called to it by Heaven or by
one's natural or god-given abilities, but does instead the work that is
determined and imposed by the economy. Any work is all right as long as
one gets paid for it.
These assumptions clearly prefigure a condition of total economy. A
total economy is one in which everything - "life forms," for instance,
or the "right to pollute" - is "private property" and has a price and
is for sale. In a total economy significant and sometimes critical
choices that once belonged to individuals or communities become the
property of corporations. A total economy, operating internationally,
necessarily shrinks the powers of state and national governments, not
only because those governments have signed over significant powers to
an international bureaucracy or because political leaders become the
paid hacks of the corporations but also because political processes -
and especially democratic processes - are too slow to react to
unrestrained economic and technological development on a global scale.
And when state and national governments begin to act in effect as
agents of the global economy, selling their people for low wages and
their people's products for low prices, then the rights and liberties
of citizenship must necessarily shrink. A total economy is an
unrestrained taking of profits from the disintegration of nations,
communities, households, landscapes, and ecosystems. It licenses
symbolic or artificial wealth to "grow" by means of the destruction of
the real wealth of all the world.
Among the many costs of the total economy, the loss of the principle of
vocation is probably the most symptomatic and, from a cultural
standpoint, the most critical. It is by the replacement of vocation
with economic determinism that the exterior workings of a total economy
destroy the character and culture also from the inside.
In an essay on the origin of civilization in traditional cultures,
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy wrote that "the principle of justice is the same
throughout...[it is] that each member of the community should perform
the task for which he is fitted by nature..." The two ideas, justice
and vocation, are inseparable. That is why Coomaraswamy spoke of
industrialism as "the mammon of injustice," incompatible with
civilization. It is by way of the principle and practice of vocation
that sanctity and reverence enter into the human economy. It was thus
possible for traditional cultures to conceive that "to work is to
A viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up
of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common.
AWARE OF INDUSTRIALISM'S potential for destruction, as well as the
considerable political danger of great concentrations of wealth and
power in industrial corporations, American leaders developed, and for a
while used, the means of limiting and restraining such concentrations,
and of somewhat equitably distributing wealth and property. The means
were: laws against trusts and monopolies, the principle of collective
bargaining, the concept of one-hundred-percent parity between the
land-using and the manufacturing economies, and the progressive income
tax. And to protect domestic producers and production capacities it is
possible for governments to impose tariffs on cheap imported goods.
These means are justified by the government's obligation to protect the
lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its citizens. There is, then, no
necessity or inevitability requiring our government to sacrifice the
livelihoods of our small farmers, small business people, and workers,
along with our domestic economic independence to the global "free
market." But now all of these means are either weakened or in disuse.
The global economy is intended as a means of subverting them.
In default of government protections against the total economy of the
supranational corporations, people are where they have been many times
before: in danger of losing their economic security and their freedom,
both at once. But at the same time the means of defending themselves
belongs to them in the form of a venerable principle: powers not
exercised by government return to the people. If the government does
not propose to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its
people, then the people must think about protecting themselves.
How are they to protect themselves? There seems, really, to be only one
way, and that is to develop and put into practice the idea of a local
economy - something that growing numbers of people are now doing. For
several good reasons, they are beginning with the idea of a local food
economy. People are trying to find ways to shorten the distance between
producers and consumers, to make the connections between the two more
direct, and to make this local economic activity a benefit to the local
community. They are trying to learn to use the consumer economies of
local towns and cities to preserve the livelihoods of local farm
families and farm communities. They want to use the local economy to
give consumers an influence over the kind and quality of their food,
and to preserve and enhance the local landscapes. They want to give
everybody in the local community a direct, long-term interest in the
prosperity, health, and beauty of their homeland. This is the only way
presently available to make the total economy less total. It was once,
I believe, the only way to make a national or a colonial economy less
total. But now the necessity is greater.
I am assuming that there is a valid line of thought leading from the
idea of the total economy to the idea of a local economy. I assume that
the first thought may be a recognition of one's ignorance and
vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer,
one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where,
exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used
in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of
producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such
questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one
is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied
certain significant choices. In such a state of economic ignorance it
is not possible to choose products that were produced locally or with
reasonable kindness toward people and toward nature. Nor is it possible
for such consumers to influence production for the better. Consumers
who feel a prompting toward land stewardship find that in this economy
they can have no stewardly practice. To be a consumer in the total
economy, one must agree to be totally ignorant, totally passive, and
totally dependent on distant supplies and self-interested suppliers.
And then, perhaps, one begins to see from a local point of view. One
begins to ask, What is here, what is in me, that can lead to something
better? From a local point of view, one can see that a global "free
market" economy is possible only if nations and localities accept or
ignore the inherent instability of a production economy based on
exports and a consumer economy based on imports. An export economy is
beyond local influence, and so is an import economy. And cheap
long-distance transport is possible only if granted cheap fuel,
international peace, control of terrorism, prevention of sabotage, and
the solvency of the international economy.
Perhaps one also begins to see the difference between a small local
business that must share the fate of the local community and a large
absentee corporation that is set up to escape the fate of the local
community by ruining the local community.
SO FAR AS I CAN SEE, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two
principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood,
neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another,
and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and
nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be,
in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic
part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just prices.
Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a
viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up
of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is
the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm,
protects its own production capacities. It does not import products
that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products
until local needs have been met. The economic products of a viable
community are understood either as belonging to the community's
subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be
marketable abroad. A community, if it is to be viable, cannot think of
producing solely for export, and it cannot permit importers to use
cheaper labor and goods from other places to destroy the local capacity
to produce goods that are needed locally. In charity, moreover, it must
refuse to import goods that are produced at the cost of human or
ecological degradation elsewhere. This principle applies not just to
localities, but to regions and nations as well.
The principles of neighborhood and subsistence will be disparaged by
the globalists as "protectionism" - and that is exactly what it is. It
is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local
producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local
consumers. And the idea that local needs should be met first and only
surpluses exported does not imply any prejudice against charity toward
people in other places or trade with them. The principle of
neighborhood at home always implies the principle of charity abroad.
And the principle of subsistence is in fact the best guarantee of
giveable or marketable surpluses. This kind of protection is not
Albert Schweitzer, who knew well the economic situation in the colonies
of Africa, wrote nearly sixty years ago: "Whenever the timber trade is
good, permanent famine reigns in the Ogowe region because the villagers
abandon their farms to fell as many trees as possible." We should
notice especially that the goal of production was "as many...as
possible." And Schweitzer makes my point exactly: "These people could
achieve true wealth if they could develop their agriculture and trade
to meet their own needs." Instead they produced timber for export to
"the world economy," which made them dependent upon imported goods that
they bought with money earned from their exports. They gave up their
local means of subsistence, and imposed the false standard of a foreign
demand ("as many trees as possible") upon their forests. They thus
became helplessly dependent on an economy over which they had no
Such was the fate of the native people under the African colonialism of
Schweitzer¹s time. Such is, and can only be, the fate of everybody
under the global colonialism of our time. Schweitzer's description of
the colonial economy of the Ogowe region is in principle not different
from the rural economy now in Kentucky or Iowa or Wyoming. A total
economy for all practical purposes is a total government. The "free
trade" which from the standpoint of the corporate economy brings
"unprecedented economic growth," from the standpoint of the land and
its local populations, and ultimately from the standpoint of the
cities, is destruction and slavery. Without prosperous local economies,
the people have no power and the land no voice.
Wendell Berry's poems, essays, and works of fiction have won him
numerous honors and a wide following. His latest collection of poems is
titled Given. He lives and farms in his native Kentucky.