Looking around today, it’s hard to deny that our agricultural system is in trouble. Nitrogen runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Indiana. At the same time, farmers grow more corn than ever but are going out of business.
Somewhere down the line, agriculture stopped being about making food and started being about making money for industry. It’s time to rethink the system.
Before we can do that, it’s important to understand what a system is. A system is more than just a collection of parts. Think of a car — you can’t just throw together an engine, a transmission and some wheels and expect to get a smoothly operating vehicle. Even if you were to assemble the very best engine, a superior transmission, and a perfect set of wheels, there’s no guarantee that they’ll all work well together.
But since the green revolution, this is exactly what we’ve been doing to our food system. We’ve worked to optimize crop and livestock production separately and thrown the pieces together into an ugly monstrosity that produces more than we need and causes incredible damage as it lumbers through our world. We need to take a step back an look at the whole system and redesign the way it works.
Any new approach to agriculture will require ground-up work from farmers, scientists, marketers, and all of us who have a stake, but at the same time it has to start from the big picture. We have to be sure that all the pieces will fit together in the end.
We envision a new system built on innovative marketing and ecologically-based land management strategies for growers. We hope you’ll stick around and explore some of our ideas. The best place to start is with our post about integrated crop-livestock systems.