You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes. you just might find…
You get what you need...
—The Rolling Stones
At a time when per capita global food production and national food self-sufficiency ratios are shrinking, a hungry world is set to grow by another 1.6 billion people in the next 15 years. This is like adding another China to the world population. China has now replaced Japan as the second largest economy and has become the No. 1 importer of oil after the United States. As economic pressure on already scarce natural resources intensifies, the availability of locally grown food will be worth its weight in gold.
So… who’s your farmer? The average distance that food travels before it reaches an American dinner table is about 1,500 miles. This is not only beyond unsustainable; we are living in a fool’s paradise. When the days of cheap supermarket food are but a distant memory, locally grown food may be the only food available for your family.
With every purchase of industrially farmed food, Americans are voting to undermine food safety and security at the expense of the local farmer. Cozy “free trade” deals that favor food importation over local production have lulled Americans into complacency and a false sense of security. The battered U.S. dollar is still accepted as the global reserve currency today, but what will happen when the dollar crashes and there is no longer a surplus of food available at a price your family can afford?
In the 1950s, Montanans grew 75 percent of the food consumed within the state. With a bit of hard work and investment, greater food self-sufficiency can again become an attainable choice for Flathead families. Food sufficiency for the Flathead will require crop diversification and a commitment to simplifying our lifestyles around growing and eating healthy food. The clock is ticking. Nothing short of an all-out war towards food sufficiency will allow us to survive the future at a time when global energy needs are projected to be much greater than the available supply.
As Albert Bartlett said, “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food.” As finite global oil reserves dry up, the cost of agribusiness will rise beyond the world’s ability to grow enough food to feed itself at an affordable price. Peak oil will eventually morph into peak food. Prices for petrochemical fertilizers and food will inevitably climb as the global petroleum party comes to an end. Soaring food and energy costs have now converged in the economic cycle and can increasingly be switched from one use to another. Corn can be used for ethanol in cars and power plants, for plastics and for breakfast cereals. Natural gas can be used to heat a home or made into fertilizer to grow food.
The current state of American farming guarantees that unforgiving food shortages will hit the country at some point in the future. A goal of local food sufficiency needs to become a priority before hunger becomes an immediate emergency. The coming global food crisis will strip away the pretentious facade of trendy urban expectations that characterized the era of cheap oil in middle class America. Assumptions about work, culture, education, and economics need to be drastically revisited if America is going to feed itself in a post peak oil world. And don’t forget that many of the protests in the Middle East have been fueled by rising food costs.
Contrary to popular modern mythology, time is not money. Time is a force of nature created by the lunar cycle and the rotation of the Earth as it orbits the Sun. Money is a force of man created by a fraudulent fractional banking system and widely accepted as an abstract concept of value. Fortunately for bankers and politicians, money can be printed like a coupon, legally stolen through taxation, or simply fabricated electronically out of thin air. Culturally reinforced ideals about time and money prey upon our survival instincts and keep the hapless, commuting, consuming masses locked in a futile attempt to work harder and earn more than the inflation rate would otherwise rob from us.
It doesn’t take an economist to understand that food price inflation now takes a greater bite out of annual per capita earnings than it did just a year ago. Today, the average American family of four spends upwards of $8,500 a year on groceries. Our debt-driven work-a-day-world of shrinking monetary values has forced us all to pursue the singular objective of becoming paycheck slaves. This all consuming monolithic goal has replaced age-old social and cultural values that were once the cornerstones of civilization.
“Monopoly money” inflation steals more than just our purchasing power; it slowly erodes away our freedom as it conditions us for dependency. We have unconsciously sacrificed our collective humanity and devalued our lives on the altar of a counterfeit economy that picks “winners” and “losers” based on global forces that are far beyond our immediate control. The never ending demands placed on us in an economy deemed “too big to fail” and too presumptuous to think it could ever stop growing, have now pushed America to a critical point in history.
The current financial crisis is not merely a cyclical recession; it is a systemic crash caused by a feedback loop correction of fiat economics out of control. Economic obsolescence now applies to a broad demographic of job losers as millions have been permanently shut out from finding any employment at all. America does not need jobs at any cost as much as it needs to discover meaningful work once again.
America needs to get back to honest values; values of family and community that are fundamental to health and human satisfaction needs. A conscious effort to grow food locally will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, keep dollars in the local economy, restore the American diet to health and establish a value added culture that is sorely lacking today across the virtual American landscape.
For our own sanity, self-respect and preservation, we need to give back to ourselves first by getting back to the garden at last. This is only common sense. But Americans have been hypnotized by “Wal-market culture” into believing that the virtues of credit score consumerism are a birthright in perpetuity; that we can somehow continue defying the laws of nature and trust that “Happy Meal” economics will be there to save us from ourselves.
But a day of reckoning is fast approaching; a point of no return. America consumes 20 million barrels of crude a day; one fifth of global output. If we don’t start to adapt to the coming changes of living in a post-petroleum world, what will we tell our children? That we were too busy propping up China’s export economy with dollars borrowed from China?
Adding injury to insult, Americans are slowly being poisoned by pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified foods. The industrial food machine is designed to generate profits, not produce healthy nutritious food. Food production has metastasized into a multibillion dollar agribusiness monopoly in America. Industrial farming techniques require the use of herbicide resistant genetically modified crops and massive amounts of chemicals to feed a hydrocarbon dependent planet.
This practice has created “super weeds” that are resistant to applications of the herbicide Roundup. Dominated by the same myopic profiteering that crashed the housing market, Monsanto and DuPont are now in a race to patent the next generation of genetically modified seeds that can withstand applications of even harsher herbicides. In the greedy contest to grow larger and faster yields on sterile soils devoid of organic matter, we the people are the big losers. Industrial corporate farming is a worst-case nightmare scenario for our health and the future of the planet.
America today needs to declare independence — independence from industrial food dependency; independence from genetically modified crops; and independence from irradiated, nutrient-poor, fumigated, hormone-injected, medicated, pesticide-sprayed, processed, insipid food facsimile. If current dietary trends continue, a whopping 75 percent of Americans will be classified as obese in just 10 years. American society has not only accepted the exploding obesity rate as the new normal, mass marketing has cynically embraced low-income high-calorie culture and rewarded it with super-sized menus for the kids of mothers who wear plus-size clothing.
Good food takes time to produce and enjoy, but the sad fact is that good food is hardly even recognized anymore in America. The ubiquitous American fast-food meal is unceremoniously fried in fat, salted and gulped down with a 32-ounce refillable mug of diet cola. Undifferentiated American fast-food culture has ruined a generation on convenience, poisoned our water and soil, destroyed our health and reinforced already skewed social values regarding both time and money that we have unwittingly come to accept as authentic.
Food self-sufficiency will help us take back our lives and encourage healthy lifestyles based on hard work and community cooperation. Dying rural communities across America can be revived even if a small percentage of local homegrown foods begin to replace industrially farmed foods. With a staggering 25 percent unemployment rate during the Great Depression, starvation and hunger were not even pressing social issues, since fully one-third of Americans still lived on a working farm. At one time, canning homegrown food in America was not just a hobby; it was a seasonal necessity that pulled families together. But today, in a nation which continues to justify unsustainable deficit spending far beyond our means, over 40 million Americans must rely on food banks and food stamps just to get by.
Returning to Montana in 2008 after five years of growing organic vegetables in a remote village in northern Japan, I was struck by the incredible amount of land still available in the Flathead Valley for food production. If you travel the Hokkaido countryside in summer, your eyes will feast on row upon row of tidy vegetables packed in small well-managed plots stretching to the horizon. Everyone keeps a garden in Hokkaido and most homeowners have at least one small greenhouse in their yard.
Learning to farm in the foothills of northern Japan provided me with a unique opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of vegetables. I put my gardening skills and natural science degree to the test on 15 acres of rich volcanic soil. It was challenging at first, but we learned from the locals and from trial and error what grew well and what didn’t. In time, our family produced a large variety of organic vegetables for the Tokyo market. My goal is to see these same farming techniques widely implemented here in the Flathead Valley.
It’s time for a local revolution. If we try, we just might find, we got what we needed… and more.
Seymour is a resident of Kalispell.