So, to review, the industrial / commodity grain system is fraught with
problems...a heavy reliance on energy, water, and pesticides; increasingly
extreme spikes and dips in commodity prices that create difficulties for
both the producer and eater; and a focus on only a few crops which can leave
the system vulnerable to large-scale crop loss (as was seen in Russia this
summer). But what can we do about it? Mark Shipley, the latest
Industrial Harvest research fellow, has begun to collect some answers.
Check out Mark's interviews below (mp3 format) for some fascinating
models and thoughts on how we might be able to construct a more resilient
and environmentally sustainable system of staple crop production. If
you know someone doing interesting, innovative work in local / sustainable
grain production or creating alternatives to the commodity system, email
sarah "at" industrialharvest "dot" com.
1) The permaculture approach - a perennial-based system of non-grain crops.
Mark Shepard, New Forest Farms. Interview by Mark
min mp3 format.
Mark Shepard is the manager of New Forest Farms, a perennial polyculture
farm in Richland County, WI. The 100-acre property has been converted
from annual monoculture (commodity corn & soybeans) to a "food forest"
growing fruits, nuts, berries, asparagus and other woody perennials.
Shepard, like many permaculturists, believes that a food system that
relies on planting an entirely new crop every year is inherently unsustainable.
Although he still plants some grains (wheat, rye, barley) but they
are interplanted within the tree crops. "There's definitely a place
for annual grain crops, in that it's a real fast way to get a whole bunch
of food...but what I do think is a wrong turn is when we denude two thirds
of a continent just to plant annual grains," he
says. Shepard sees his approach as the way of the future, not
just environmentally but economically: "It's going to continue to be
a diminishing rate of marginal return in that your expenses are going to
go up & your return is going to go down."
2) Low-tech approaches to sustain small farmers.
Tillers International. Interview by Mark Shipley in three parts.
pt. 1 Tillers' Mission and Work.
4:30 min mp3
pt. 2 Macro-economics of Agricuture and Development.
pt. 3 Food Aid & Military Interventions.
Tillers International is a resource in countries around the world for the
preservation of low-tech farming techniques. Students come to Tillers from
countries such as Mozambique, Haiti and Uganda to learn farming, construction,
blacksmithing, how to work with draft animals, and other techniques.
Tillers also provides training internationally, including at their
new learning center in Mozambique.