he recent literary salon hosted by the University of Nebraska Press on Leslie Duram’s Good Growing: Why Organic Farming Works should have been attended by anyone who eats or who at least cares about what they eat.
Those who did attend the April 20 salon at the Lincoln Woman’s Club were privy to an excellent discussion that left me wondering (and worried) about how we so willingly allow our very sustenance to fall into the hands of a few conglomerates that daily stir up an unholy alchemy of chicken nuggets and cheez puffs.
Salon co-host Jim Bender, a Nebraska organic farmer and author of the Press book Future Harvest: Pesticide-free Farming, called into question the very morality of our food systems. Co-host Chuck Hassebrook, University of Nebraska Regent and Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs, blasted public research universities for chasing the almighty dollar and national prestige while largely ignoring their original land-grant mission to serve the needs, both mind and body, of state citizens.
The pursuit of money for money’s sake has led to a closed system that leaves few dollars for organic research or for any research that questions the morality or the sustainability of corporate production, including genetically modified crops and livestock injected with hormones and antibiotics that find their way not only into our soil and water but directly into our stomachs.
One can be encouraged by the growth in the demand for organic products nationwide, but there are concerns that as big-box retailers become major distributors of organic products, the standards for what is considered organic will be watered down. Moreover, any product offered on the big box retail level is likely to travel many thousands of “food miles,” so even if that carrot or cut of meat is certifiably organic, it still requires millions of gallons of fossil fuels to bring it to the marketplace or to our dinner table.
What’s worse, it may one day be impossible to even produce wholly organic crops, as Bender notes that a good portion of his organic crop is sacrificed to genetic drift from neighboring fields (a much bigger problem than herbicide or pesticide drift, he says).
Thankfully, a brave few soldier on in research, including Nebraska’s Charles Shapiro, who is laying the groundwork for long-term organic farming efforts at UNL, including the establishment of the university’s first certified organic research plots in different ecological zones across the state.
Good luck, Professor. In the meantime we can all do our part by becoming more aware of our food systems and start making better choices as consumers, choosing organics over other food products and, as much as possible, buying from local producers.
Another good place to start is with Duram’s book, Good Growing: Why Organic Farming Works, and Bender’s Future Harvest: Pesticide-free Farming. It also helps to speak up to your elected officials. There are far too many rules out there that favor corporations over local economies and hard-working citizens. Make some responsible choices now, or there may not be an opportunity for choice in the future.