Friday, October 16, 2009

Agriculture & California

In the ongoing discussion between the needs of industrial agriculture and the more specialized issues emanating from the environmental movement, what can often be lost is the vital importance of American industrial agriculture—especially that within the great valleys of California—to the growing population of the world.

This article from New Geography examines this gap.

An excerpt.

“A complex agriculture, along with urban culture, is one of the fundamental pillars of human civilization, and one of the fundamental bulkwarks of American prosperity. For families and communities involved in farming and ranching it’s also a way of life that is cherished, oftentimes passed on through generations, taking on reverential if not religious overtones.

“At the same time in today’s overwhelmingly urban culture, cooking has become prime time entertainment, dining a social event, and what a person eats is increasingly associated with a healthy body and mind – sometimes a sort of spiritual well being. This elevates agriculture to an important issue even among those who have never spent a day on a farm.

“Sadly, recent years have seen mounting efforts to discount the value, in particular, of the industry’s productive core. A just published feature story in Time magazine – Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food – makes the following claim. “With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later.”

“Yet it is industrial, highly commercialized agriculture that first transformed America – and increasingly such countries as Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Canada – major forces in the world economy. The trend towards smaller-scale specialized production is indeed a welcome addition to our agricultural economy, but it is principally large-scale, scientifically advanced farming that produces the vast majority of the average family’s foodstuffs and accounts for all but a tiny percentage of our exports.

“The attack on “industrial” agriculture reflects a growing trend by environmentalists to subordinate all productive industry to their own particular agenda. Some extremists in the local food movement would discourage cold climate inhabitants from the luxury of a midwinter tropical fruit because of the energy used in shipping. Others propose elaborate schemes for urban farming so that land can be left to nature instead of cultivation.”