counter on tumblr



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 Shipley in 56 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.  
Dick Roosenberg, Tillers International.  Interview by Mark Shipley in three parts.
pt. 1 Tillers' Mission and Work.  4:30 min mp3 format.
pt. 2 Macro-economics of Agricuture and Development.  24:23 mp3 format.
pt. 3 Food Aid & Military Interventions.  6:02 mp3 format.

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.