by guest blogger Coach Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of the Rodale Institute.
The simplest of our children’s (and their children’s) basic human needs are being threatened every day. What are we going to tell them? Driven by comfort, habit, and fear, we continue to exhaust our resources beyond redemption. Some of it is simple consumption as the land that makes up our bread basket literally washes away. But much of it is consumption by pollution, as we slowly but surely create soil that will not grow food, contaminate the waterways that feed our drinking water sources, and poison the very air we breathe. What are we going to tell them?
Will we tell them that we…
…put toxic chemicals on our food and in our drinking water every day? More than 17,000 pesticide products for agricultural and non-agricultural use are currently on the market. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system disruption, infertility, a multitude of cancers, and even changes to our DNA. And the Environmental Protection Agency has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals currently in commerce. Some of these chemicals regularly show up in our water supply well above what are considered “safe” limits.
…created foods that made poisons in their very cells? Through the magic of genetic engineering, we now grow food crops (broccoli, potatoes, corn, rice, and more) that don’t just have pesticides on them, but actually have pesticides in them. Numerous animal feeding studies suggest serious health effects from these foods.
…spread human sewage on our farm fields? Biosolids, aka sewage sludge, can contain pathogens, heavy metals, flame retardants, pharmaceutical drugs, and other chemicals linked to cancers and endocrine disruption. Anything that goes down our collective drains—from medicine flushed down the toilet to paint brushes washed in the sink to industrial contaminants hosed off a warehouse floor—ends up in our wastewater treatment plants and then on our farms.
Or will we tell them that we…
…designed farms so crops can better resist pest and disease pressures? Rather than kill a mosquito with an atom bomb, organic farmers start with good design, crop rotation, trap crops, pheromone lures, barriers, and other low-impact methods of pest-control, using naturally derived products, but only as a last resort.
…grew thousands of different kinds of vegetables, fruits, grains, and animals? The recovery of heritage breeds and heirloom varieties adds to the richness and resilience of our food system. Biological plant breeding reduces the risk of selecting for one trait at the expense of the overall heath of the plants.
…fed our land by growing plants just for the soil and applying compost? By growing plants (called green manures or cover crops) that get turned into the soil rather than being harvested, or by making and applying compost, we can grow soil rather than lose it. Whatever is taken from the soil is returned.
It’s easy to forget that the real meaning of “intoxicate” is “to make toxic.” We are yet riding the highs of environmental intoxication—the shortsighted “benefits” of temporary abundance. Enough so in America that we manage to throw away 25 percent of the food we produce. But it is an illusion of security. We are borrowing against our children’s future food-producing capabilities, and the first hints of that inevitable hangover are just tugging at our consciousness.
It’s time to get uncomfortable and start asking ourselves, “Why?” Why are we stealing from our children’s plates? Why, indeed, when there are farmers, ranchers, citizens, and families living toward a very different kind of future. They are growing a future that will nourish and sustain generations to come. A future built upon rich, healthy soil and into which we can sink our roots.
Without clean air to fill our lungs, pure water to drink, and healthy soil in which food and flourish, all the economic and political arguments of today will no longer be anywhere near the table. We need to get back to the table—the kitchen table—and start building economies of soil rather than economies of scale.
Coach Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to Rodale Institute’s 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced Rodale Institute’s research efforts, as well as launched “Your 2 Cents,” a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore’s Climate Project presenting to over 15,000 people on the effects of Global Warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a long-time organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, and driven a team of oxen.