Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on Soil, Health and Society

In my more naïve past, I viewed farmland as a nostalgic ideal linking us to a simpler time. Now, unfortunately, I realize that for most of this pastoral landscape, a hazmat suit is a more apt symbol than a pair of denim overalls.

We are only as healthy as our soil, yet we continue to treat our soil like a sewer. The toxic pesticides used on our crops have deprived our soil of its nutrients and made it sick; not surprisingly, we suffer from the same fate.

So much of our farmland is now dedicated to growing five crops: corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat. Many farms are monocultural; the same crop is grown year after year, creating a nutrient imbalance in the soil. Intelligent rotational planting helps avoid this problem; nutrients taken from the soil by one crop can be returned by another the following year.

However, the love affair with corn (used for processed foods and biofuels) and soybeans (processed foods) precludes grand-scale polycultural farming. Skyrocketing commodity prices for corn (up 115 percent since June) and soy (up 50 percent) have only led farmers to dedicate even more land to these crops.

Our society’s eating habits don’t help our soil’s health. Our processed foods are made up primarily of corn and soy, most of it genetically modified to survive almost anything, including the toxic pesticides that sicken farm workers and those living near farmland.

Taxpayer dollars subsidize the overzealous production of these nutrient-poor primary crops, which find their way into supermarkets, schools, hospitals, prisons and nursing homes. The long-term costs of our short-sightedness will be staggering.

Yet, if an honest person questions the system, he is deemed a wacko by Big Food, its lobbyists and the politicians whose pockets are warmed by the bright glow of corporate dollars.

The frustration mounts.

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