You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.So isn't it nice that Michelle Obama embraced this PR-friendly past time and started her own White House garden? The Mid-America CropLife Association doesn't think so.
But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction. The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
Michelle's organic gardening elicited "shudders" from some of MACA's employees. And this letter from another:
March 26, 2009
Mrs. Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mrs. Obama,
We are writing regarding the garden recently added to the White House grounds to ensure a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables to your family, guests and staff. Congratulations on recognizing the importance of agriculture in America! The U.S. has the safest and most abundant food supply in the world thanks to the 3 million people who farm or ranch in the United States.
The CropLife Ambassador Network, a program of the Mid America CropLife Association, consists of over 160 ambassadors who work and many of whom grew up in agriculture. Their mission is to provide scientifically based, accurate information to the public regarding the safety and value of American agricultural food production. Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture is the largest industry in America generating 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99% of U.S. farms. Over 22 million people are employed in farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing and sales. Through research and changes in production practices, today's food producers are providing Americans with the widest variety of foods ever.
Starting in the early 1900's, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities. Today, an average farmer produces enough food to feed 144 Americans who are living longer lives than many of their ancestors. Technology in agriculture has allowed for the development of much of what we know and use in our lives today. If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?
We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs.
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.
Farmers and ranchers are the first environmentalists, maintaining and improving the soil and natural resources to pass onto future generations. Technology allows for farmers to meet the increasing demand for food and fiber in a sustainable manner.
* Farmers use reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres to prevent erosion.
* Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.
* Contour farming keeps soil from washing away. About 26 million acres in the U.S. are managed this way.
* Agricultural land provides habitat for 75% of the nation's wildlife.
* Precision farming boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protection applications to local soil conditions.
* Sophisticated Global Positioning Systems can be specifically designed for spraying pesticides. A weed detector equipped with infrared light identifies specific plants by the different rates of light they reflect and then sends a signal to a pump to spray a preset amount of herbicide onto the weed.
* Biogenetics allows a particular trait to be implanted directly into the seed to protect the seed against certain pests.
* Farmers are utilizing 4-wheel drive tractors with up to 300 horsepower requiring fewer passes across fields-saving energy and time.
* Huge combines are speeding the time it takes to harvest crops.
* With modern methods, 1 acre of land in the U.S. can produce 42,000 lbs. of strawberries, 110,000 heads of lettuce, 25,400 lbs. of potatoes, 8,900 lbs. of sweet corn, or 640 lbs of cotton lint.
As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America's farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.
The CropLife Ambassador Network offers educational programs for elementary school educators at http://ambassador.maca.org covering the science behind crop protection products and their contribution to sustainable agriculture. You may find our programs America's Abundance, Farmers Stewards of the Land and War of the Weeds of particular interest. We thank you for recognizing the importance and value of America's current agricultural technologies in feeding our country and contributing to the U.S economy.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
Bonnie McCarvel, Executive Director
Janet Braun, Program Coordinator
Mid America CropLife Association
11327 Gravois Rd., #201
St. Louis, MO 63126
Food is a science best left to the scientists.