Industrial Farming Is a War with Nature

Industrial farming is a war with nature. It’s about killing everything so one plant can grow. “You could argue that modern agriculture has brought about the most wholesale ecocide on the planet by killing the astonishingly rich microbial life of the soil,” writes Verlyn Klinkenborg for The New York Review of Books. Scraping away layer after layer of fertile, living soil, industrial farmers since the 19th century “simply mined their way downward … until they reached the place we are now.” That is, at the barren limit of rock bottom.

The implications of fertility-depleted farmlands reach well beyond the earth beneath our feet — and into the atmosphere above our heads. “Mega-sized farming encourages practices that degrade the soil, waste fertilizer and mishandle manure, all of which directly increase emissions of greenhouse gases,” according to Georgina Gustin of Inside Climate News. “At the same time, it discourages practices like ‘no-till’ farming and crop rotation that grab carbon dioxide from the air, store it in the soil and improve soil health.”

How did our relationship with our food become so destructive, parasitic, and unsustainable? In days of yore, when unclaimed (read: unceded) land was plentiful and laboring hands were comparatively few, the ideal farm was “self-provisioning” — producing a variety of crops in a time-honored rotation, abundantly enough for a single farmsteading family to eat and exchange for other necessaries.

But by the mid-20th century, the species of the self-sufficient, family-operated small farm had all but gone extinct. In its place metastasized a cancer of massive industrial monocultures run by multinational corporations.

More and more land is concentrating in the hands of fewer and richer people. “More than a third of cropland is on farms bigger than 2,000 acres,” Gustin writes. “That’s twice the share of land held on big farms 30 years ago.” On the government’s dime, that land is producing a shrinking diversity of crops — mostly, only the fertilizer-guzzling duo of corn and soybeans. Subsidies go to farms that produce this topsoil-eroding pair on the largest scale and are supplied seeds, chemicals, and even practical demands by huge corporations like Monsanto.

In a word, agribusiness has gone the way of the fossil-fuels industry: ruthlessly consolidated and recklessly extractive, with a powerful army of lobbyists taming Washington into submission.

Here’s what needs to happen — a pie-in-the-sky but desperately needed vision that will have legs only if We the People get our shit together. We have to hit corporations hard, right where it hurts. Yank away their corporate charters unless they can show that they will act for the public good. Implement a True-Cost regime that puts the price of gut-rotting foods where it should be: way above the price of healthy, unprocessed — and, yes, affordable ones. And get national food guides out from under the thumbs of the same companies that sell us all that junk . . . and into the hands of the people, so they can be re-written to include the facts, not propaganda.

Who’s going to do all this? Not the government. Certainly not the corporations. It’s up to us — the revolutionary Third Force, a new kind of resistance, a movement that operates completely outside of geographic borders and political structures — to get it done.

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