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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why I want to be a Real Farmer

You can thank Michael Pollan and his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma for helping me focus my energies on local food.  I have known for a long time that our industrialized food system is broken but it took this work of investigative journalism to show me a way out. I opted out of factory meat farming at age 20 and have never looked back. Now as I approach age 30 I’m learning how to get out of the system all together. The trouble with that is there is not enough infrastructure to get us all out yet. That’s where I come in. Not just me, but a whole movement of young (some not so young) individuals who realize that our current method of food production is not working and the only way to fix it is to move the farms back into the communities that they feed. This means we need more farms and more farmers.

Briefly, here are a few reasons why current industrialized farming is bad for us, bad for the planet, and bad for the farmers who have succumbed to it.  What you are about to read is over simplified for the sake of space and time. If you have any specific questions I’ll try to answer them in the comments.

Monoculture is the practice of growing large quantities of one crop in one place year after year. This is common practice in much of the middle of the country. Corn and Soybeans are grown almost exclusively by a large percentage of farmers in the US. They are then turned into “food products” in laboratories. You’ll find these in the middle of every supermarket in the US, wrapped in plastic or boxed in cardboard. Through some market tricks and government subsidies the price of corn is kept artificially low and farmers have to grow more and more each year just to break even. The only way to do this is buy seed that is Genetically Modified (GMO) to have high yields and be resistant to specific pesticides. These seeds have had their DNA spliced and extra genes inserted with the help of viruses.  This technology is new and we don’t really know what the long-term effects will be. These seeds are also programmed to created infertile seeds in their fruit. This forces the farmer to buy new seeds every year. These seeds are also patented. This means that any cross-pollination leaves farmers who have opted out of GMO plants subject to prosecution when their fields are inevitably cross-pollinated (contaminated) with GMO seed.  This is becoming a big problem and has put several farmers out of business when they get sued for everything their family has built up for generations.

If a farmer chooses to buy and grow these GMO seeds the nice thing for them is that they can spray incredibly powerful pesticides on their fields without harming the crop. The crop is genetically resistant to the pesticide but it’s nasty stuff and will kill everything else in its path, arguably even us. It is also convenient that farmers can buy the seeds and the pesticide from the same company.  

Once the crop has left the field it will be shipped for processing and distribution. The concept of food miles helps us understand how far food travels from farm to fork. The average food item in the US travels about 5,000 miles. It’s no mystery that fresh food is perishable. In order to get it to a grocery store looking good genetic modification comes back into play along with expensive and energy intensive refrigeration and an arsenal of chemical assistants.

By the time your GMO tomato has made it to the supermarket it has been grown in soil that was depleted years ago, fertilized with concoctions derived from munitions chemicals that we had in excess after WWII, sprayed with pesticides derived from nerve gas from the same era, picked by underpaid, overworked and often sick from chemical exposure immigrants, shipped thousands of miles and in the end has no flavor to speak of. It is no wonder Americans today don’t love vegetables, many of them have never tasted a truly fresh one.

I could go on, and I will later, but this is enough for now. For all these reasons and more I am leaving a life in the theatre for a life on the farm. I’m ready to work harder than I ever have and to reap the rewards of that work with good food for myself, my family and my community. I couldn’t be more proud of this decision or more grateful to my friends and family for supporting it. I look forward to sharing this journey with you through this blog as I grow into a farmer.


  1. very good article! i look forward to hearing about your new adventure, erica. good luck!

  2. I'm so glad you're finally going ahead and actually doing this! Can't wait to read about your adventures.


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