Opinion/Editorial Archive

Looking Ahead: How Do Small-Scale Farmers Survive?

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: Tom Willey is a policy advisor for The Cornucopia Institute. He recently gave a speech on labor issues in farming, and shares it with us here.

by Tom Willey

Tom Willey
Courtesy of T&D Willey Farms

I did not set out forty-some years ago to be a hippy, organic or alternative farmer of any sort. Deeply disillusioned after a few years striving to reform society’s miscreants in the prison and parole system, I ached to produce something of unquestioned value for myself and my community, namely food. Though a jolly good ride, that proved to be not as simple as it looked either. Let me share a “thing or two about a thing or two” that I learned along the “way of the dirt farmer.”

Few are aware that this business of growing our own food we call agriculture is a rather short-lived experiment, the final results of which are yet uncertain. Astonishingly, Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel indicts agriculture as “the worst mistake in the history of the human race,” while at the same time admitting that its invention “enabled us to build the Parthenon and compose [Bach’s] B-minor Mass.” Diamond argues that along with humankind’s abandonment of hunter-gatherer subsistence ways, that characterize 95% of Homo sapiens’ history, to henceforth scratch the soil and grow food crops, “came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence” to this very day. I once believed that California agribusiness originated the sinful practice of exploiting economically desperate immigrants as low-wage farm laborers, until I traveled abroad and witnessed impoverished North Africans and Eastern Europeans living in the hedgerows of Italian farms on which they toiled. Read Full Article »

Pesticide Poisoning Our Children Was Out, Now Maybe Back In

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: After five years of study, the EPA found that the commonly used pesticide chlorpyrifos is likely causing lasting harm to our children, in utero. With President Trump’s planned regulatory cuts, it is unclear whether chlorpyrifos manufacturers, Dow Chemical, may be able to override science and continue to peddle their lucrative toxic chemical.

Protect Our Children’s Brains
The New York Times
by Sharon Lerner

Source: Naomi Pincher

In the fall, I began to research an article that I gave the working title “The Last Days of Chlorpyrifos.” A widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos affects humans as well as the bugs it kills. Back in the halcyon days before the election, the optimism of the title seemed warranted. After years of study, the Environmental Protection Agency had announced in October 2015 that it could no longer vouch for the safety of chlorpyrifos on food.

The agency had acknowledged for decades that chlorpyrifos can cause acute poisoning and in the early 2000s it had prohibited its use in most home products and reduced the amounts that could be used on some crops. But the 2015 announcement stemmed from the agency’s recognition of mounting evidence that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos could have lasting effects on children’s brains. Read Full Article »

Organic Values are Conservative Values

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: Our colleague, Jim Riddle, argues that organic is a naturally conservative growing method, noting that enforcing organic regulations worldwide will help bring business back to U.S. farmers from foreign organic grain importers.

Organic farm leader Jim Riddle seeking common ground with Donald Trump, conservatives
The Plain Dealer
by Debbi Snook

Jim Riddle

While organic farming groups are moving an arm’s length from President Donald Trump’s views, from immigration to an agriculture secretary nominee, Jim Riddle is leaning in to the new administration with a corn-huskers’ handshake.

Riddle, a 60-year-old who grew up on an Iowa farm and now raises berries in Minnesota, says there’s an unclaimed common ground between organics and conservatives.

His own perspective is certified organic. For 20 years he was an organic inspector, one of those folks who show up at least once a year to determine if certified farms really do merit the federally approved organic label by avoiding harmful pesticides and genetically modified seeds, among many other strictures. Read Full Article »

The Adventure of Organic Farming

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Eliot Coleman has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry. He is the author of The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and the Winter Harvest Handbook. He produces year-round vegetable crops, even under harsh winter conditions (for which he uses unheated and minimally heated greenhouses and polytunnels).

by Eliot Coleman

Eliot Coleman

For someone like me, whose passions, before I began as an organic farmer, included other supposedly impossible activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, and white water kayaking, organic farming has always felt like an adventure – an adventure into a new part of the natural world – the miraculous part beneath our feet. Exploring the mysteries of the soil doesn’t involve high altitude cold or vertical rock faces or raging rivers but it still offers the same sense of accomplishment, of satisfaction, and of excitement. So, thanks to that adventurer’s background, when I first became interested in food and farming some 50 years ago in 1965, I was imbued with the adventurer’s ethic.

That ethic is crafted on minimalism, respect for the natural world, and independence. Adventurers want to experience the boundaries of the natural world as purely and cleanly as possible guided by the decisions they make themselves. The ideal in climbing is to avoid all artificiality, to have little need for superfluous technology, and to attain the closest possible intimacy between the adventurers and the reality of the world around them. The dream is to seek out challenges, succeed at doing them, and leave a pristine world for others to follow – to pass through a landscape like sunlight through wind. The goal is in doing it elegantly, and the delight is derived from that accomplishment. Read Full Article »

Do We Want Organic Agriculture, or Just Organic Food?

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Cornucopia’s Take: Cornucopia contends organic is a system of land and environmental stewardship, not just the absence of chemicals. Enjoy this commentary below by Matthew Hoffman of the Norwegian Centre for Rural Research.

“hydroponics is not organic — it’s not even agriculture”
Greenhorns blog
by Matthew Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman

The farmers market in Jack London Square in Oakland, California was a bustling scene when I worked there in the late 1990s, and my customers liked to tell me how devoted they were to organic agriculture.

I remember one devotee in particular.  Her tote bag bulged with produce and her brow wrinkled beneath the brim of her floppy hat as she stopped one day to study the sign above my new display of organic flowers.  At length she turned to me and said, “How can flowers be organic?”

This was not the first time that I realized a devoted customer had no idea what organic meant.  So I explained to her about how organic farmers take care of the land, maintaining healthy soil and a healthy environment for plants to grow in without the use of synthetic chemicals—and how organic practices apply just the same to flowers and fields of grass as to lettuces and bell peppers.

She nodded thoughtfully and seemed to appreciate this explanation, but then she frowned again and asked, “What does it matter if you’re not eating them?”

Then it was my turn to stare and wrinkle my brow as the gears slowly turned in my head. Read Full Article »