AGRICULTURE

DEFINITION

Agriculture

A large-scale farming enterprise

The practice of cultivating the land or raising stock

I sit here in my small room writing, looking out over the island and the vegetable garden that has been created, at the retreat where I am volunteering. Meanwhile, my first attempts at agriculture are reaching fruition! For the past week, I have been nurturing a small tray of cress seeds, which are apparently very tasty in salad. I have been keeping the compost moist as instructed, and was happy to see most of them germinate (cause to grow or sprout).

    They grew slowly but steadily, gradually shooting upwards at the heady pace of about two millimetres per day, until finally the green tops of the cress started to show. This morning I have checked them again, and most of them are ready to be harvested so I will pick them and add them to my salad for lunch!

    I know agriculture is supposed to be large-scale farming, and that my cress seeds will be gone in less than one serving, but I was amazed watching them grow. Here was life being created before my eyes, and anyone who has ever grown their own fruit and vegetables from seed will know that it is a wonderful process, of man working with nature, and trying to protect the seed from predators (without using pesticides to kill them, I might add).

    Sport lovers may see it as a game; like playing cat and mouse with the predators. Can our lettuces survive the dreaded slugs in a race against time, us versus them? The final whistle blows: Lettuces 28 – Slugs 10. Not a bad result. After all, slugs have to eat too, and for all you slug haters out there, try to remember one thing; all things on this earth have a purpose. They are neither good nor bad, that is merely subjective.

    Farmers, who engage in large-scale production, also have a one-sided view of pests (any unwanted and destructive insect or other animal that attacks food or crops or livestock etc.). They see anything that comes between them and their money as a pest, but nature is just doing its job, feeding all living creatures on the earth. If you are someone who thinks because something eats your crops, it must die, then you have a seriously distorted view of the world and what reality really is.

    All over the world, farmers are spraying their crops with deadly chemicals that kill everything in their path. Why? Because these “pests” come between the farmer and his profits. Do you think he is a humanitarian, growing vegetables etc. for the good of the world, and he wants to feed the starving, or do you think he just wants to feed his own pockets? People may take issue with this, but let’s talk here. Farmers are not the natural guardians of the planet and feeders of the hungry. They are in it for a couple of reasons: (a) their father was a farmer before them, and (b) they are looking to make money.

    Money rules agriculture. There is no compassion in large-scale farming. At the start of this topic, I was talking about the magic of watching a seed germinate, but farmers have no time for such quaint ideas. They are interested in “maximising yields” and “maximising returns.” Things that get in their way are called pests. You may dislike this analogy, but isn’t this the same way a dictator gets what he wants? If the people are not conforming, he kills them. If someone disagrees or challenges him, he kills them. Well, the slugs and insects are challenging the farmer. He plants seeds. They eat them. He kills them. Thanks for your compassion farmer!

But before we get carried away with lynching all the farmers who use chemicals in agriculture, let’s step back in time; to a time when we hunted and gathered all our food. Back then, life was tough. There was no time for anything else in the world; we spent all our time looking for food. If we were still doing that, I would not be sitting at a desk, writing on a computer, with a cup of tea by my side, in a warm room, looking out at a windy wet day through double glazing! I’d still be out there looking for food. Do you understand?

    Without the progress, which resulted in agriculture being established, all the other things couldn’t have happened. If everyone is out looking for food, who is going to have time to design a house to keep out the elements, or invent electricity, or the telephone, or indeed a rocket to go to the moon (or not, if you believe the conspiracy theories). We’d all still be out there foraging, taking our chances. I know where I’d rather be, don’t you?

    So before we all start criticising farmers, let’s give our thanks to those people who developed agriculture all those years ago, which allowed man to become a specialist. No longer was everyone involved in the gathering of food; now just one group of specialists (farmers) would be involved in the large-scale growing of food required to feed the new cities. Our farmers are descendants of these early pioneers, so let us give thanks to them also for pursuing a career which is – for want of a better word – “challenging.”

    It’s pretty hard to make ends meet when you’re a farmer. It’s a business like everything else these days, and is subjected to free market pressures. You may want forty pence a lettuce, but if your customer wants to buy twenty thousand, and he only wants to give you fifteen pence a lettuce, what are you going to do? No one else will take that number of lettuces, so you try to negotiate, and eventually give in.

    The thing about farming, is that it is a long process, and vegetables don’t grow overnight, so the farmer has to nurture his crops with water and fertiliser, and stop other animals and insects from eating the crops. If his crops are decimated, he won’t get his money, and he won’t be able to eat. It’s catch 22.

    So what happens? A nice chemical company comes along and offers to help him maximise his crop yields. They will grow better, and will be more resistant to pests. What is he going to do? He accepts their offer. He needs to have a successful crop. The people are relying on him having a successful crop so they can eat. If the crops fail everywhere (and we couldn’t import anything) we would eventually starve to death. You can still see it happening all over the world. Crops fail, followed by famine, followed by a desperate attempt by the international charitable organisations to save millions of people starving to death.

Don’t get me wrong, pesticides help. They stop known pests from destroying crops, which saves the farmer’s livelihood and feeds the people. It all seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? So why are people starting to buy organic now? Organic (of or relating to foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or hormones) vegetables are a lot harder to grow, as they aren’t resistant to pests and disease. The yields are lower, and they have a shorter shelf life. It all seems difficult for the poor farmer, who is, after all, not in business to save the world, just to make a living. That must be remembered before we criticise. If you want to criticise, try to make a living in agriculture, and you will see how difficult it really is.

    “The consumer has been empowered,” go the ads, “People don’t want chemicals in their foods, they want it naturelle!” This is all very well, but organic food is more expensive to produce than food treated with chemicals, and so costs more at point of sale. People on lower incomes, who spend less of their disposable income on fresh fruit and vegetables, will buy even less fresh food, because it is so expensive. So what is the answer?

My father and his wife have long since been converts to organic produce. Every week they go to the supermarket and buy organic foodstuffs. They believe that if more people buy it, the price will come down. Basic economics, right? But let’s look a little more closely at their purchases shall we? Where do their organic products come from? Are they from a british farmer? Have they been sourced locally? No, of course not. They have come from a central distribution point to the supermarket, and if you look at the label, you will notice that actually, most have come from farawayland.

    So, although the product may not have had any hormones added, or been sprayed chemically, it has been flown or transported over thousands of miles (which uses fuel, and in most cases is not in season locally). This is turning into a complex subject, so you can see why your local farmer is much happier to spray his crops with pesticides and be done with it!

    We haven’t even started on gm (genetically modified or genetically engineered crops) foods yet, as I believe that to be a subject (whether we allow it to be grown or not), that shouldn’t even be up for discussion. As humans we know little enough about nature and her processes, so how can we start to use new technologies, that are untested, to change the underlying genetic characteristics of our food? Whatever your argument for gm, it must have a financial motive. It cannot be to feed the starving in africa.

For millions of years we have survived on this planet; sometimes we have gone hungry, sometimes we have had an abundance of food, but nonetheless, the human race has persisted, without pesticides, and without genetic modifications. I don’t know why we waste our time having arguments about the ethics of genetically engineering food. It is unnecessary and can only benefit large seed companies.

    Over thirteen billion years have passed (if the scientists and evolutionists are to be believed) since the so-called “big bang,” where ten billion years after the event, life started on earth, and developed from single celled organisms to the complex organisms we have now, including homo sapiens. The human. You and me. All without interference.

    Can you imagine the complex processes that have taken place over the past four billion years? I mean, really imagine? Do you think a species that is driven by greed, desire, and violence has anything to offer nature in the form of scientific advice about plant growing! Please think about this carefully.

    Do not be led by governments and company officials singing the praises of gm food. It will not save people from death, it has merely created a corporate dependence in the developing world, and who knows what damage it will do to us and the environment in the future. Still, the scientists, who are working on it, will be long dead when they suddenly get an “oops” moment, as they have done, so many times in the past.

As we have said in other topics, growing food is big business. It is also a weapon that can be used to make people conform. Revolutions of any kind are easily quelled when you withhold people’s food. This is not talking about there being a great conspiracy to control our food from corporate headquarters, this is about facing reality.

    Agriculture has got out of hand. Not only is the west producing too much, there was even a time when some farmers in europe were being paid not to grow specific produce (myth?). Nonetheless, we, the citizens, are always kept in the dark when it comes to things like agriculture, but as long as we get cheap fruit and vegetables we don’t really care, do we?

    We may like to buy organic, which we should be doing all over the world, if we don’t want nasty chemicals sprayed on our fruit and vegetables. We may even buy from a local farm and eat seasonally, but we haven’t addressed the real issue here, and that is compassion.

“Why is compassion important in agriculture?” you may ask. “Vegetables aren’t people, neither is fruit.” But everything is alive, isn’t it? We live on a “living” planet, so we must care for everything on it – from the small worms which aerate the soil that grows our vegetables, to the bees who pollinate the flowers that become the fruit we eat. Everything is part of the natural world. We are not living in isolation, although sometimes we act like it. Think blanket spraying of pesticides. Think shooting animals that get through fences to eat crops.

    For us, it’s all about me, me, me. We are not the only species on the planet! There are other species here, and they have as much right to everything on this planet as we do! Does that shock you?

Imagine if we were not the dominant species. How would we feel if we were treated the way we treat animals (from the largest to the smallest). We are a dictatorial species. We decide how it’s going to be, and that’s that. This planet and its resources are for us, and us alone, and when we’ve used this one up we’ll just up and off to another one (we think). I don’t like bringing doom and gloom to these pages, but we really do have to wake up to what we are doing.

    We grow so much food and we waste so much as well. What should be a human right is now a multi-billion dollar global industry. Doesn’t this make you sad? We pretend to care so much, yet we care so little.

    Remember my little cress seedlings I grew in a pot for the last week? Well I “harvested” them and had them for lunch in my salad. They were delicious, and tasted all the better for having been hand nurtured. But imagine if I had decided to create a farm growing and selling cress as my career. How different would my approach to the cress be? Would I still look after them the same as I had done in my small pot, or would I see the pound signs in front of my eyes, and do anything to make as much money as possible, without a thought for the land, the animals, and the insects that my cress and I share the planet with?

    If I applied compassion to my farm, my primary motivation of profit would be replaced by a desire to nurture the land and create healthy sustainable food for the local community, not the worldwide export market; that is the domain of the man who lives for profit, not the compassionate farmer.

    I am not saying you shouldn’t make a profit by selling your goods. After wages and expenses you need a little left over to reinvest in the business. If you want to run it on a not for profit basis, even better! You can run it like a community scheme, whereby community members volunteer their time, and you employ someone full time to manage the project. All vegetables grown are sold to the community with the money raised going to fund new schemes to help local projects. It’s up to you!

    I ask you to think of the satisfaction of being involved at a community level, where growing food for yourselves is the only priority. Suddenly it’s not a career, it’s a fun, creative way to get organic (of course) fruit and vegetables to local people, without the involvement of global chemical and fertiliser companies; without the involvement of the tax office, and without the involvement of other businesses. Just you and the community doing something worthwhile with love and compassion. Am I dreamer?

    Is this what you want, or do we once again close off another topic by concluding that no one cares because they’re too lazy, or too busy too care what is happening to their own planet? I will assume for once that there are millions of you out there who care. How much you grow is up to you. How you get the land is also up to you. Create a community charity; raise money for the land, ask your council to donate a large piece of land to this project. Then get it up and running.

    There will be ups and downs; crops may fail, but over time you will learn, and you will be able to pass that knowledge on to others. Go for it.

    Imagine the satisfaction of sitting down to dinner, knowing you helped create the vegetables you were eating, and that other people all over the community were thinking the same. That may be a dream for me, but wouldn’t it make an even more wonderful reality. If you care, then now is the time to act.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned animal farming. I have covered the slaughter of animals in other topics, but to finish, I would like to draw your attention to something important. I don’t normally like to use statistics, but in this case I feel I have to.

    Every day we kill millions and millions of animals for human consumption – that you know. You may also know that we destroy the natural environment (i.e. forests) to create grazing areas for cattle and sheep etc. and you may also know that by everyone just giving up meat for a day you would be saving millions of animal lives, and freeing up land that could be used for growing vegetables. You may also know that you could grow nearly 40,000 pounds of potatoes per acre compared with about 250 pounds of beef, and that over 50% of farms are dedicated to animal production. You may also know that it takes about 5000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef! You may also know that most of the corn and oats grown, goes to feed livestock.

If we all stopped eating meat, or at least cut down to eating it once a week, the volume of natural resources we would consume would drop to negligible. We use nearly all of our resources and available farming land producing beef and other meats. For what? So you can have a burger, or a lamb chop, and say “Mmmmm, that was tasty.”

    We are the most intelligent species on the planet, yet we can’t seem to do the maths. Eating meat on the scale we are now is killing the planet, and is doing our health no good either. If you care, you will do the research. Investigate the statistics. Don’t believe me. But don’t just dismiss what I am saying and carry on what you are doing. Unless you don’t care of course. But I think you do.

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