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Plowing Our Common Ground

The first Paleo book I read was The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, in which I learned that people were actually a lot healthier before the agricultural revolution. When we transitioned from hungry hunter-gatherers (HG’s) to year-round agricultural laborers and consumers, we lost height and vitality. You’ve read the book, so I don’t need to detail the many physical characteristics that deteriorated when we started filling our plates from the furrowed field rather than from foraged findings. In one of the many ironies of progress, natural selection was blunted as more individuals were likely to survive on consistent food, but their health and vitality deteriorated as they began to partake of what they could raise as opposed to what grew wild all around them.

Although there are a few among us who would once again take to the hills as a path to optimizing our health, the rest of us compromise by modeling our foods as much as possible on the nutrient qualities of the HG’s diet. Somewhat ironically, our best friends in our quest for nutrient dense food are farmers. Not industrial farmers, but the local farmer that raises me a heritage pig and has eggs to share when my hens stop laying over the winter, the farmer that has tomatoes when mine get mildew, and offers greens before and after my own garden provides.  I’m obviously not alone —our growers’ market is a bustle of activity from March through November, a well-loved site for school visits, individual shoppers, and tourists. In fact, I imagine that the Paleo movement is one of the best things that has ever happened to family farms.

It is no surprise that to come anywhere close to the nutrient density of wild-gathered food, we run from the crops of the “green revolution” that produces food that deteriorates in quality as the quantity of the food is significantly increased by artificial means.

We want food grown in naturally-nourished soil, and meat raised on grassy pastures, or snuffling through whatever pigs and wild boars snuffle through. If we eat dairy, we want it as untarnished as possible, and again, raised on grass, not grain. Not only do we want that food, but there is some evidence and opinion that in fact small-scale organic farming is not only viable but the only realistic method for feeding the world.

As we turn to the produce of small farms, those farms are becoming overall harder to find. The number of farms in the US peaked in 1935 at 6.8 million, back when we were a nation of 127 million. While our population has almost tripled, the number of farms has been cut to a third: just 2.2 million farms. The US farm population also continues to dwindle, the average age of a farmer currently is about 57 years old. The largest category of farms are considered “residential/lifestyle” farms, meaning they are not the family’s principal source of income.

The bottom line is that it’s the bottom line that is most worrisome to small farmers, for at least three reasons:

  • Small farmers are operating within a very tight margin, for which there is no guarantee. A spell of bad weather can put a small farmer under.
  • Economic concerns arise also with any threat of legal action, always possible for farmers operating outside the norm, whether they are raising cows that provide raw milk, heritage pigs and wild boars, or simply providing food for a farm-based dinner.
  • Finally, organic farms (ironically required to produce expensive certification of their organic status while chemicals can be dumped willy-nilly on amber waves of grain) are incredibly vulnerable to contamination both when GMO crop pollen drifts across their land and makes seed-saving a non-viable option, or if wild or domestic animals are found to have defecated anywhere near their crops.

Yet there is good news amidst the bad: young folks are taking up farming as a good bet and a valid lifestyle .

Corn belt farmers are finding they can make more money growing fruits and vegetables for local markets, $2000 an acre for apples compared to less than $300 an acre for corn.  Even urban farming is thriving, around the world!

Truth is, our farmers need more support than cheering their occasional good fortune. Our business is valuable at growers’ markets, and we can encourage local grocery stores to purchase from and label locally grown produce. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is always happy to have more membership. The nationwide Farm to School program has put 21 million school kids in contact with farmers, resulting in greater appreciation for both the farms and the foods they produce. In our area, business and athletes come together to raise money for Farm to School every fall in a great community athletic event called the Siskiyou Challenge. Almost every corner of the country has some activism about the threat of GMO crops.

So, what can you do? If you love your farmer: go shopping or join a CSA or buy half a cow! If you want to make sure your farmer is there next year—and thriving—there’s probably something else you can do to promote and sustain farming where you live.

Farmers Market Photo reused under The Creative Commons.

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