Food is a big issue. No, strike that, Food is a huge issue. It is loaded with politics, tied to big economics, at the heart of our ceremonies and celebrations, and connected to memories and comfort for many of us. Food is also going up in price, down in quality, and is a source of more confusion now than it has ever been. What is the state of our current agricultural system? Can the current system be maintained? What are our alternatives? Are we moving toward a more sustainable form of food production?
I wanted to understand the issue better, so I posed a single question to twelve of the smartest, most in touch people I know. Some of our panel experts are nationally known, some are super stars of the Front Range, and some are backyard farmers just like you. What they said surprised me, educated me, and gave greater depth to my consideration of this issue. Like any good panel our experts don’t all agree. They cite different pieces of evidence for their claims, and they come at the issue from all angles. It makes for great reading and an even better conversation. Check out their responses below and leave a comment at the end – we’d love to know what you think.
What do you see as the single most significant marker that as a society we are shifting toward a more sustainable form of agriculture?
“The growing abundance of organic and humanely grown livestock and produce available to the average consumer is a clear marker that our society is moving toward a more sustainable form of agriculture. Only a decade ago, only the most obscure health food stores and farmers markets sold free-range meat and eggs, and organic and locally grown produce. Today, thriving health food grocery chains are offering an abundance of organic produce and humanely raised animal products. Major supermarket chains are jumping on the band-wagon, and not only have entire aisles dedicated to healthy, organic food, but are even offering sustainably raised eggs and dairy products.”
2) Deanna Duke – Author, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You & blog, The Crunchy Chicken
“Increased public interest in GMOs and awareness of industrial agriculture like Monsanto and Cargill and their affects on our food systems. This gives me some hope.”
3) Sylvia Bernstein – President, The Aquaponic Source Inc., Author, Aquaponic Gardening
“Any massive paradigm shift is only going to happen when either conditions necessitate it or consumers demand it. With regard to sustainable agricultural practices I see both happening concurrently. The increasing price of oil and gas, concerns about water scarcity, the near extinction of wild fish from our oceans, and the rise of Round-up resistant super weeds are all examples of changes in the agricultural landscape that are going to, hopefully, move us towards more sustainable types of agriculture. But much more importantly is that people are demanding it. You just need to look at the explosion of farmers markets and the fervor behind California’s GMO Labeling Proposition 37 to see that our blind faith in “big ag” is abating rapidly.”
4) Gianaclis Caldwell – Cheesemaker, Author, and Goat Farmer
“As the world’s population continues to grow, it seems that even though there is a growing awareness among a vocal and enlightened faction, the “need” for cheap, mass produced foods also grows. I think this is evident in many places, whether that is through observing the health status of Americans (even Europeans are now following us in that regard) or the increasing number of processed products on grocery store shelves. Those of us that have opted out of that lifestyle and interact with other like-minded consumers sometimes are unseeing of the huge footprint that industrial ag – in response to what might be seen as an over population of people – creates.”
5) James Bertini – Founder, Denver Urban Homesteading
“While I fervently hope that we are shifting toward a more sustainable form of agriculture, I am not certain that we are doing so. Our society is filled with wasteful and harmful practices, from buying cheap furniture sold by megastores that we throw away when we move, to marching into supermarkets like robots and blindly purchasing any food that big agriculture puts before us in pretty packages. Unless we learn to take charge of our own lives, beginning with growing and raising some of our own food or even just buying and preparing food that is truly good for us, we will continue our wasteful, gluttonous and environmentally-destructive ways.”
6) Sandor Katz – Sandor Katz, Author of The Art of Fermentation, Wild Fermentation, and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved
“The most significant marker of our societal shift toward more sustainable agriculture is the explosion in farmers markets, not just in big urban centers but in rural and suburban towns everywhere. People are seeking out local food and supporting farmers who are providing it. And increasingly, young people are deciding to take up the hoe.”
7) Becky Elder – Permaculturist
“Many people are turning to the local food movement, although still a small portion of the people. Indicators are everywhere for this… growth of community supported agriculture and the fast growth of local farmers markets, community and school gardens, indicating more people growing and producing, and also speaks to the desire of the communities to receive and support this food. One clear sign that the authentic local foods movement is emerging is when all the large corporate shops – Wal-mart, Whole Foods, Safeway, etc, begin to ‘copy’ the trend and turn it into marketing concept. We also see this everywhere.”
8) Nate Storey – Owner/Inventor, Bright Agrotech, LLC
First, public consciousness has come to bear on the quality of food and the way it is grown as much as the cost of food. Agriculture is becoming a pop cultural topic and it means demand for better food and more accountability for producers. Second, private enterprise and entrepreneurs are increasingly eyeing farming for start-ups and innovative enterprise. Any time young, thoughtful entrepreneurs start to look at an established industry, you can expect some awesome things to happen!
9) Rachel Kaplan– Eco-Somatic Coach and Author, Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living
“The growing trend in urban homesteading, of course. Millions of people around this country are recreating the agriculture system by taking matters into their own hands, growing their own foods, relearning heirloom skills of preparation and preservation, and choosing hyper-local, organic food over the industrial option.”
10) McKenzie Haglund – Urban Farmer and Video Blogger
“I believe one indicator that we are moving toward a more sustainable form of agriculture is the dialogue that is starting to happen around food. People are becoming very aware of what they are putting into their body. This is not only from a agricultural standpoint but also from a processing standpoint.”
11) Malik Yakini – Executive Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
“There are several indications that the food system in our society is moving toward sustainability. First, organic food is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the food market. Second, is the proliferation of gardens in the City of Detroit grown without chemicals. And third, is the national dialog on the need for a sustainable food system. These are all encouraging signs.
12) Barbara Pleasant– Award-winning Garden Writer & Contributing Editor to Mother Earth News
“As a writer, sustainable agriculture has been my beat for over 30 years. It is only in the last ten years that organic farming has become economically viable – until then it was a labor of love by highly committed people who believed in a better way. It still is, but the obvious demand for fresh, local food evidenced by CSAs and farmers markets have finally turned organic farming into a viable business. At the consumer end, I applaud the attitude of the IM generation, who expect a world well stocked with good organic food. Never give up.”
Enjoy what these rock star sustainability experts had to say? Have an opinion of your own? This conversation is just beginning and it needs your voice. Share the love and pass this post on to folks in your networks who are also passionate about sustainable agriculture. Leave a comment below and tell us what you think. We need you to be a part of this conversation – the future of food depends on it.