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Farming Feed Over Food

August 9, 2017

If we’re all still here, it’s a good morning. So let’s take a minute, breathe in the air, and let that sink in a moment. We’ve got another day. Let’s make the best of it.

Last night Mrs. Fussy was saying that apocalypse Twitter was the worst kind of Twitter, and I’m inclined to agree. I’ll try and stay off that platform today as well. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and we’ll find some way out of this current predicament without millions–or even thousands–of people dying in the process.

Part of me is very glad I’m on the farm this week, surrounded by my family. But do you know what else we’re surrounded by? Farms. Seriously, there is corn as far as the eye can see. Even still, if civilization were to collapse around us on this trip, we would be completely screwed.

Most likely, we would starve. And here’s why.

All of the acres and acres of corn we drove through to get to the farm, and all of the fields that are filled with tall stalks of the stuff, are destined to be chopped up and turned into silage. That means it’s not meant for human consumption. The time, energy, labor, and land that goes into its production really is just one small part of the supply chain for the meat and dairy industries.

This produce isn’t grown to be delicious or nutritious to those who labored so hard to raise it.

One of the really interesting things I’ve noticed around these parts is just how many farms have gardens. At first it was a challenging notion to comprehend. If your full time job is helping plants to grow, why do you carve out a separate area of land to grow different plants?

Part of that makes no sense. If you want carrots, and you have a farm, plant a field of carrots. Same goes for tomatoes. Or lettuce. Or whatever it is you feel like eating. To me, that would seem to be the one advantage of having a farm.

But then it hit me. These farms, as small as they may be, are still businesses. And as such, they are being run as businesses. Just like one might be reluctant to use company resources for their own personal projects, it makes sense to keep the work of the farm free from distractions.

I don’t begrudge the farmer for trying to make ends meet. This is a hard job, with a huge amount of risk, and few rewards.

Let’s just say, in the parlance of our times, that I’m hating the game.

If things go well, I’ll get to spend more time talking with more farmers. Because while it may be a “safe bet” to plant silage corn, it’s hard to imagine that being in the same boat with all your neighbors and farms everywhere across the country is the smartest business decision.

In my experience, the way to be successful in business and make money is to zig when others zag.

More than anything all of these farms with gardens make it feel as if the current agricultural system is broken. Working so hard to bring forth a product from the earth that’s unfit for human consumption can’t be terribly satisfying.

And if the work isn’t rewarding, it’s going to be hard to get kids to become farmers. So, how do we change the game? I don’t know. Let’s see if we can make it through summer, and then maybe we can figure it out.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Trusted Commenter permalink
    August 9, 2017 10:00 am

    The answer is ludicrously obvious. Daniel, what you’re driving past is the back end of meat farming. By one estimate (http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat, and there are many others like this), those cornfields could produce enough additional plant protein for 800 million people if they weren’t being used for meat animals’ silage.

  2. August 9, 2017 10:24 am

    Your argument ignores the economies of scale that are key in a business where you need to transport and sell your product in a quantity sufficient to attract a commercial buyer. If you like carrots, grow carrots, but you are going to need to grow far, far, far more than your family and neighbors can eat to make a living at it.

    I just came back from a weekend in Amish country where I saw farming operations large and small, including vast amounts of corn. Amish farmers are flexible, creative and thrifty but they like others tend to grow large fields of a cash crop and maintain a separate kitchen garden.

    Incidentally, I saw a lot of peppers growing, huge fields of peppers. Seems are a good rotational crop with corn, and the world cannot have too many peppers. Koreans use a lot of peppers. Maybe we can swap out a pepper race for the arms race, and convince our kids to grow more peppers–the bigger and hotter the better.

  3. August 9, 2017 10:58 am

    Stop eating meat. I’m no crazed activist, I’m practical. I eat maybe a pound of meat a month now, which is a pretty large departure from my past habits. You can talk “sustainable” meat all you want, but have you seen a cow? Those bastards are huge. Eat bugs or something.

    Also, there should be a shame campaign against anyone with the space/means for a kitchen garden who does not keep one.

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