By Eric Leitzen
Food should not be a business. Like clean water, clean air, dependable shelter and, yes, healthcare, food should be considered a public good that is guaranteed for everyone. When you look at something like a business, it becomes a competition, and when you have competition you have to have winners and losers. There should be no losers when it comes to whether or not someone gets to eat today, especially not when we throw out a disgusting amount of food. Likewise, there should not be losers when it comes to the people who want to produce the food: growing food should not be something done to make a buck, it should be done for the reason that farming has been done for millennia: because you want to provide.
Treating farming as a business immediately gets people thinking how they can get more with less, how they can cut corners, how they can increase that all-important profit margin… and how has that worked out? Rampant climate change, water insecurity, wild temperature swings, and other nightmares caused by a world that cares more about making a buck than taking care of the place where our food comes from. This experiment at better farming through science and cutthroat competition has been a failure: a few people have gotten incredibly wealthy, and the rest of us have worse food that is more expensive while at the same time actually making it harder to be a farmer. It’s clear this was not a system set in place to improve lives for those who farm, it was instead another get-rich scheme from the oligarchy.
We need to encourage farms that go back to basics: small, sustainable, local. Farms you can touch and see and feel, not farms that feel like they have to hide what they do from anyone with a video camera. We make enough food at present to feed everyone in the world, but we can’t because it’s not “profitable.” Meanwhile, just trying to be a farmer like my family was a generation ago gets harder and harder as farming becomes bigger and bigger, more corporate, and more controlled by Wall Street than anyone you’ve ever met.
My dad was a farmer, and so was his dad, and his dad, and his dad, and so on. I would have been a sixth-generation American Leitzen farmer if it hadn’t been for people who put finance above farming in the 1980s. Our old family farm is now, you guessed it, gobbled up by some larger operation. These larger operations have become factories that care less about the land and more about making money, and that’s leading us into situations involving literal leaky lakes of manure in our backyards, generations like myself who saw their future irreparably changed, and a little article from very-not-left-wing outlet Forbes: “at the current rate of soil degradation, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years.”
I know farmers. I’m related to farmers. I went to school with farmers. Farmers don’t care, and don’t want to care, about the complications of the soybean market, they just want to grow soybeans. Those folks who seem to not care if the good earth turns to dust, so long as they can make a profit, are not farmers. They are speculators rolling the dice and gambling on the future of human survival. We must return to small, sustainable farming or we risk another Dust Bowl. The choice is clear: sacrifice the convenience of California carrots on demand and encourage local options, or keep irrigating a desert at our own peril. Having food on the table should not come down to a matter of dollars and sense, but should instead follow the words of Christ himself and be given to all, no matter what. Keep farming small, local, sustainable, and healthy. Encourage new farmers and help them get started. Break up the big corporate operations. Grow food instead of gasoline. It’s the only way our grandkids will have a fighting chance.