Saturday, September 27, 2014

On Farming -- Family Farms Under Siege

Long time no blog.  Sorry -- though some of you may have enjoyed the respite. :)

On Twitter I follow a wonderful person who is both a farmer (mainly dairy) and a lawyer.  It may seem odd to some, but I think it is a wonderful combination.  Farmers need advocacy, and when that advocacy comes from one of their own, it stands a chance of being more helpful.

It is no secret that small "family" farms have been under extreme pressure for several decades.  Large scale farming, driven by "agribusiness" and other factors were the initial forces feeding the change.  Corporations that produce genetically engineered crop seed have been a big factor.  The public claims by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and others in this space has been that not only that yields can be dramatically increased through GMO (genetically modified organism) technology, but that it is necessary to feed an exploding global population -- that the available arable land and "conventional" farming methods cannot feed the planet.

Without going to deep, I totally disagree with that claim and am convinced that GMO technology's true purpose is to sell pesticides and trap farmers into purchasing only from the Monsantos of the world.  My Twitter contact (whom I won't name because I haven't asked permission) and thousands of other farmers become financially unable to break away.  As my "Tweep" posted, "since we can't afford to buy non gmo grain to supplement our cows diet , yet another strike against us"  Isn't that the definition of serfdom -- the rural equivalent of a company town?

Fundamentally I am anti-GMO because of biology.  My undergraduate degree is in biology, with an emphasis in invertebrate zoology, aquatics and ecology.  Even though I do not work in the field, my concern for the health of the planet, its ecosystems and the essentials of life -- food, clean water, healthy food -- is incredibly deep.  And so is my commitment to basing my opinions on reliable data.  That isn't easy, and I freely admit I don't always succeed.  But if I find myself wandering away, I yank myself back and try to do my homework.  Eventually. 

Enter the anti-GMO and foodie movement.  I will be the first to admit that at times the anti-GMO signal-to-noise ratio is so bad that "sane" people have to switch off.  Activism itself is good, a force for change.  But rabid activism driven by 1% fact, 9% myth and 90% rabid, frothing emotion is destructive.  Suddenly, anti-GMO rage turns against farmers who care deeply about their land, about food, about farming, but for their own good reasons, whether financial or other circumstances, do not have non-GMO certification.

Small farmers, once "only" pressured by corporate farming operations, are suddenly demonized by crazy-eyed, wealthy urbanites who can afford the higher prices of non-GMO products.  And the local food movement eschews anything not grown within 100 miles -- or 161 kilometres in Canada.  The financial impact can be real, resulting in more families having to abandon the profession and lives they have loved.  The emotional shock reverberates through the countryside.

It is no wonder then that any anti-GMO discussion, especially in the shortened 140-character Twitterverse, is a huge emotional trigger for small farmers.  Those of us who respectfully disagree with genetic engineering on scientific grounds get lumped in with the "nattering nabobs of negativity".  Meaningful dialogue, a true exchange of ideas, stops or is at least delayed or diminished.

Thus went the Twitter thread with my friend, more than once.  I hope my observation on what lies beneath does not come across as somewhat harsh, or even condescending, but I want to offer it in a true spirit of friendship.

The source of suffering is attachment -- this is the Second Noble Truth.  When I am so emotionally attached to something, I will suffer.  We all find this out the hard way -- I know I did.  Two failed relationships, both tragedies in my life which sent out ripples, if not small tsunamis, of karmic hurt, finally brought me up short.  There were hundreds of other, seemingly smaller, attachments that inevitably led to the two major blow outs.  Even if I am "right" about something and others are "wrong", being emotionally invested at a very high level will bring about suffering.  And not just my own.

We all need to separate emotion from objective evaluation.  I hear you, and I totally agree -- that's not at all easy to do.  It takes practice.  It takes the recognition that while emotions are completely valid and an essential part of our true selves, being out of balance is not healthy.  It takes learning to treat ourselves gently and to treat others gently.  When we fail to do either, we need to forgive and regenerate the commitment and effort.  Or suffer.

This is about letting go.  My stuff is my stuff; the stuff of others isn't mine.  If someone else, if that frothing-at-the-mouth-rich-SOB-faux-foodie won't listen even to calm, dispassionate, logical discussion delivered in the most loving way ... that's their stuff.  And behind that stuff is more stuff -- layers and layers about which we have no idea.  There is pain, suffering and who knows what.   It is theirs alone to acknowledge and confront.

The sooner I recognize that, acknowledge it, let it go and honour my self, the sooner I can continue to breathe and be psychologically healthy.

I grow some of my own food -- not nearly as much as I want, and not nearly as much as I plan to grow.  Every year I bring more of our land out of ornamental grass (sod be gone!) into production.  I put no chemicals in the ground.  Yes, I am fortunate to have the gift of good land, and no, I have not had any drastic infestations or other challenges.  So I don't judge others who are faced with adversity, even while sticking to my convictions to grow organically and plant non-GMO stock.

My small farm friends, I am with you.  If I disagree with you on genetic engineering, pesticides, herbicides, the place of meat production, please don't lump me in with the shrieking crowd.  Believe me, I want you to be successful and happy.  Happiness makes for good food.  Stick to your guns, but know when to tune out the noise and to not return fire with the same ammunition.