Looking around it’s hard to deny that our agricultural system causes trouble. Nitrogen runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Indiana. Superweeds are springing up faster than new pesticides can be invented. We are vulnerable to droughts and other disasters because our farms are concentrated in the Great Plains.
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. This syste produces more calories per person than ever in history, but still leaves a billion hungry and food insecure. 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. Our post about integrated crop-livestock systems or early ideas about goMarket (aka Durham Locally Grown) are probably good places to start.