When people want to know why we farm, sooner or later the talk will come around to Faith.
Do you really think, they’ll ask us — often with politely-veiled incredulity — that the industrial food system is headed for failure? And, if so, why?
It’s a funny question. Not because the answer is obvious — no, if you wanted to really unpack it, you could be talking a long time. Rather, it is funny because, although the people who ask it invariably fall into one of two antipodal categories — either they know pretty much nothing about how the food they eat is produced, or they know a great deal — in neither case do they seem to know why they, themselves, consider the food system stable.
The first kind may or may not like the food, the industry that produces it, or the government that keeps it all under regulation, but he apparently believes, because so far in his relatively short life the food has always been there, that it’s simply a law of nature that it always will be there. Fan of big government, the military-industrial complex, and industrialism as a whole he may not be, but Believer he certainly is: Industry will take care of the food question.
The second sort — the agri-knowledgeable person — has seen decades of lightning-fast changes, the complete mechanization of plant and animal production, chemicals replacing fertility and disease-resistance, new chemicals to replace those as they lose effectiveness in just a few years, massive soil erosion, the exit of 94% of American farmers in a century. He knows, moreover, that the rate of change is only increasing, the degree of industrialization accelerating. He knows every fix inevitably needs a new fix, sooner than later. But he is certain the fix will be there; what is he, also, but a Believer?
As for us, we are also Believers of a sort. We believe that Nature works. Sunlight is captured by plant leaves; photosynthesis makes food out of thin air. Grazing animals eat the leaves and turn them into milk, meat, manure; biota break down organic matter to renew the soil. Nutrients flow through a web of living things; waste does not exist. People can help it happen.
Three kinds of people; two kinds of faith.
We guess the real answer to why we have no faith in the industrial food system is,
‘Why do you?’