Since I have spent a number of years at various levels of food production and preparation, I thought I would share some of my experiences and thoughts about our food supply. I lived in farming areas part of my life and have known many farmers and heard about their problems and triumphs. In addition, I have worked in food processing facilities at various jobs and as a food inspector. This series will take you through all of these areas of food production with personal stories of what I saw.
I spent a few years doing substitute teaching and one of my favorite things to do when I first came to a class was to ask the kids “where does your milk come from?” “The store,” was invariably the answer. The community had at one time been mostly farming but orchards, vineyards and fields were cut down and covered with asphalt, housing projects, and shopping centers. This was some of the best agricultural land in the world located in and around Modesto, California. The land was not only ruined for farming, but children were cut off from direct contact with the plants and animals which resulted in many having little idea as to where their food came from.
In some of the housing projects, a fruit tree or two might be left standing. One of my many side jobs was to mow some of these lawns, and I used to laugh under my breath when the owners of the property confided in me that they were thinking of cutting down a fruit or nut tree because it made such a mess every year and they hated cleaning it up. The same people would buy fruit or nuts from the store.
Farmers are one of the most important groups in the world and one of the most maligned. This is a shame because they are also one of the hardest working groups in the world as well. When I was in high school, calling someone a farmer was a put-down. In reality, farmers are dedicated, hard-working individuals who get up before the crack of dawn and many days work beyond the setting of the sun. Sometimes when irrigating or harvesting, they might work all night. (Klaus Schwab let’s see your solar panels work all night like diesel does). They are at the mercy of the weather and when bad weather comes, they must batten down the hatches. They must know the soil, nutrients for the crops they raise and how to fix a piece of equipment needed for their operations as well as a hundred other bits of knowledge related to their job. Farming isn’t just sowing seeds and waiting for them to grow. Much prep work goes into a crop and while that crop is growing, other chores must be done. Harvest time is a very busy time as well. They deserve more praise than they get.
When we moved to the country, we moved into a debate of sorts. The USDA was pushing a way of maximizing crop yields. Some farmers were shaking their heads and wondering how well this whole thing was thought out. Others were ready to jump on the bandwagon as it looked like it would provide more income. A few rejected USDA guidelines and continued raising crops as they always had. Unfortunately, there were a couple of drawbacks to this. One was that city people were looking to move to the country without understanding country ways. In one case, a family moved next to a field which the farmer covered with manure every year to replenish the nutrients for the next crop. They sued the farmer for creating a noxious hazard near their living space. This discouraged a lot of farmers who still used the “old ways.” (Note: I was unable to find anything about this on the internet, but it was something I remember happening in the 1960s. I don’t recall how the suit played out, but I do remember that it was discouraging and outrageous to local farmers).
The second problem was that the new methods of farming included liberal application of pesticides, which killed off the pests and also the beneficial insects and animals that had formerly kept the pest population down. This problem was compounded when the pests evolved to resist the chemical solution so that more of the pesticide was needed and eventually another pesticide had to be used as the first had become ineffective. I’m not suggesting that we not progress in our knowledge but that we fully understand the implications of new ideas before we implement them.
Those who work on farms should have praise as well. You can only understand if you have been out in the fields sweating, bent over, with a hoe taking out weeds so the crops can grow, or harvesting berries, grapes, peaches, and other crops. It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay much. I know. I used to do it. When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I got a work permit and Dad would take me and a couple of friends down to the farm labor office. At 5 am, we would be standing in line waiting to get our assignments. He would drive us there in his truck with our bikes and leave us there for the rest of the day. After work, we would pedal our bikes home. Sometimes it was as much as 15 or 20 miles from the house. Personally, I don’t think it would hurt kids a bit to have this experience in modern times.
You see, farming is hard work, but the rewards are countless. It gives one a feeling of satisfaction. There is also fun to be had. When we finished harvesting, we would stop to take a dip in one of the canals or a stream. When we lived out in the farm country, after the work was done, we would go fishing, frogging, or hunting. We rode horses and sometimes cows, too. Sometimes, we would go for hikes and check out the wildlife living near the fields. Unfortunately, things have changed, and the waters are not fit for swimming, hunting, and fishing have also been curtailed. That doesn’t mean that the environment can’t be repaired and these activities brought back for kids.
What we need to keep in mind is that this is where our food comes from. It’s simple. No farmers. No food. There are some people who say most of our CO2 comes from farming and we should ban farming. They say this despite the cold, hard fact that it is not demonstrable that human produced CO2 is changing the climate. On the other hand, factory farming is the cause of many of our environmental problems. The run-off from fields in the corn belt of this country has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from the chemicals used for this method of farming. This method of farming has leached the nutrients from the soil leaving dirt. Even so, if we decided to change to a more sustainable type of farming, we will still need factory farming for a period of time while we transition. To think that eating insects, lab grown meat, and food made entirely or in part from chemicals will fill the bill for the nutrition we need is insanity. It’s highly debatable if this would save us any energy or prevent any pollution. There is also the problem of ramping up production of these unnatural products to produce the amount of food needed. Finally, it’s certain that the food produced this way would not be safe or as nutritious as food grown sustainably on a farm. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: No farmers. No food.
In the next article, I am going to scale down to backyard gardens. This is where traditionally at least a portion of a family’s food came from and it’s under attack. Stay tuned!
Bio of Ira White
I was literally born into the food industry. I started caring for and harvesting rabbits with Mom at the age of 6. Later, Dad bought a meat shop and the family worked together to make it a success. I also worked in the fields as soon as I could get a work permit harvesting berries, grapes, peaches, onions and performing other agricultural activities. Later, I worked as a cook and in the meat prep department of Campbell’s Soup company. I worked in a vegetable processing plant and turkey slaughter plant. I finished my career as a USDA IIC (Inspector in Charge) for more than half of my 26 years with the USDA.
In addition, I earned a BA from California State University, Stanislaus as well as a teaching credential. I served as a Grange Master as well as the President of the California State Youth Grange.