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March 25, 2009


I'm a new reader to you, and I haven't read the other blog you reference, BUT thank you and I agree! My husband and I raise grass-fed beef, and while, yes, it does require more land for these cows to roam on (as opposed to a feedlot in which the cows have no room to move), I think the overall impacts on both the animals themselves and the land overall are worth it.

Second, as regards the cost, we are very aware of how much we charge for our meat. We try to keep it as close to grocery store levels as we can (which is why we lost money last year). Yes, we will be raising prices this year, but likely it will be on steaks and not on ground beef. I really think the average consumer doesn't get how much it costs the small farmer to raise food and how much government subsidies go into large-scale farming.

Finally, if money is a serious concern, I would challenge your readers to approach a small farmer and ask to work our some kind of payment plan. I know that we would be more than willing to figure something out if anyone talked to us about it. (We also donate meat to our local homeless shelter). I would argue that your small farmer has far more flexibility and, for the most part, interest in their customers than any grocery store/monoculture/feedlot producer.

OK I never disagree in comments, so I have no idea why I am now -- I am always afraid someone will see me as a troll.

And I wholeheartedly agree on point 1 about the meat. I also agree about part of point 2 (about subsidies etc). But as for organic growing not using more resources -- I have to wholeheartedly, emphatically disagree with you on this one. I'm an agriculture and food writer, and I have an equal amount of clients on the organic/environmental side as on the chemical side. If we all ate local and if we didn't have mono-culture -- we could probably manage. But the fact is the vast majority of the world cannot or will not (for so many reasons), grow their own food and for that reason we need large quantities of food grown for export. And I think we need a resposnsible crop protection industry. I know it sounds like I am their PR people, but I am honestly not -- I have a backyard, organic garden of my own. But I don't think it's even remotely possible to feed the world with organic production unless we drastically cut back our meat intake and put grazing land into production -- and even then I am iffy.

In Canada we do not have the subsidy regime that our US or Eurpoean counterparts do -- and I can assure there are plenty of cenventional farmers who make very high profits, even with the high cost of inputs.

Just thought I'd offer my two cents worth.

Fair enough, Jenn! Always welcoming of other (more knowledgeable!) viewpoints.

I wonder (and I do not have a firm viewpoint, just wondering) how the "feed the world" thing is going to work out in the future, though, as transportation costs and concerns change the equation. I'm hoping that we don't end up with some huge Malthusian crisis (are we already? Hard to separate from the legacy of colonialism, but the world is clearly squeezed for resources), but I'm just wondering how that will play out over the next fifty years or so.

I think we WILL have to cut back on our meat consumption, and I really don't see what's wrong with that. Americans eat way too much meat that takes up way too many resources. Sustainably raised meat SHOULD be more expensive because meat is expensive. And factory farmed feed lot beef should disappear. Period.

It's not grazing land that needs to be put into production. It's all the fields of corn which should be used to grow actual food for humans.

Oops -- I forgot to do the code at the bottom. Brooke -- I came back online just now to post pretty much exactly what you did about feed production. I should never post as I'm getting my son off to school -- I was rushed. It is amazing the amount of land that goes into feeding the food we eat. But if people want to get rid of feedlots (and I understand see why) -- that would mean more grazing if we keep eating so much meat.

And yes, Canadians and Americans no doubt eat too much meat. But taking us out of the equation, China's meat protein consumption goes up every year. And that's a lot of people who historically were not big meat eaters.

Like you Jo -- I wonder how we can "feed the world' long term. I don't think current systems are ustainable. I just don't think organic growing is necessarily the silver bullet.

Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver?

Loved that book! While I definitely haven't switched to only eating locally, it really was an inspiration to try harder to take advantage of farmer's markets during the summer. Not only did we lower our grocery bill, but we really enjoyed what we were eating. Between what they grew, raised and traded with others they were able to really eat a pretty wide variety of foods. Canning, preserving and freezing also made for better winter options.

In case you ever want to make your own soy sauce:


Scroll down to the entry for Nov. 28.

I agree with most of your points, I don't eat exclusively organic mainly out of my own laziness. There is a farmer's market about a 20 minute drive away that sells many lovely organic local foods (I live in California so it's a true bounty) but then I'd have to actually get myself together on a Sunday morning to go there. So instead I buy at the local urban market which has not the best quality products simply because it fits into my busy life.

The only thing I wonder about is whether exclusive organic farming can sustain the earth's population. I read an article in Sierra Club magazine a few year's back that said something like we'd need 3.5 earths to sustain the world's population exclusively through organic farming.

HOWEVER, that said I did have a small organic container garden on my teeny tiny balcony a few year's back here in the heart of urban Los Angeles, and it was hugely successful. I actually had to discard my mint because it grew so voraciously it threatened to take over my balcony. We couldn't live off it, but it did provide more herbs than we could ever use. So if everyone had a little plot of land or a container garden, maybe we could all sustain ourselves.

I've been veggie for over 15 years so my comments on meat consumption are quite biased - I don't think we need it, but also think everyone has the right to that choice.

RE: organic produce - yes, it is more expensive and I do try to buy as much as possible because I think until a large number of people buy organic, there will not be the demand that necessitates a much more systemic shift in terms of how we grow our food. I think people who can afford organic (even if it is a bit of a pinch) should buy organic - in the long term it will benefit those who cannot as the demands shift and more organic farming is created. I know it's more complicated than this, but from the simple model of supply and demand, there needs to be more demand.

"The only thing I wonder about is whether exclusive organic farming can sustain the earth's population."

It can't (although it depends on how you define "organic"). This is one of the most depressing things about trying to be environmentally conscientious about eating – on an individual basis, it’s great, but trying to enforce such practices worldwide is less humanitarian, in a way, because it means screwing over large parts of the world that cannot farm sustainably or organically enough to support their populations.

The irony is that industrialization and cheap, easy access to food has contributed to a worldwide population boom, compounding the problem. The world wouldn't be too big to feed sustainably if we hadn't started feeding it unsustainably in the first place.

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