Slowed Food Revolution

Photo: Christopher Thomas (CC)

Photo: Christopher Thomas (CC)

Obama seeks to boost demand for organic food but doesn’t offer meaningful support for the people who grow it. Heather Rogers reports for the American Prospect:

Morse Pitts has been cultivating the same land in New York’s Hudson Valley for 30 years. His operation, Windfall Farms, is the very picture of local, sustainable agriculture. From early spring to late fall, the farm’s 15 acres are luxuriant with snap peas, squash, mint, kale, and Swiss chard. Its greenhouses burst with sun gold tomatoes and an array of baby greens. Pitts, who is in his 50s and is tall with gray hair, doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides or any genetically modified seeds. He cultivates biodiversity, not just vegetables.

Twice a week, he hauls his produce 65 miles south to Manhattan to sell at the lucrative Union Square farmers market. His converted school bus runs on biodiesel he makes from used vegetable oil, which he is also trying to use to power his greenhouses. Pitts does a brisk trade; demand for his produce is high, and the way he farms is increasingly valued. Since the mid-1990s the number of farmers markets has shot up 300 percent, and the organic sector has seen annual double-digit expansion.

But despite having no mortgage debt (he inherited the place), a ready market, and loyal customers, Pitts wants to leave his farm. His town recently rezoned the area as industrial, and if he wants to cultivate soil that’s not surrounded by industry and its attendant potential for water and air pollution, he has to move. The problem is, he can’t afford to.

Aside from the standard instability farmers must endure — bad weather, pests, disease, and the vagaries of the market — holistic and organic growers face great but often overlooked economic hardship. They must shoulder far higher production costs than their conventional counterparts when it comes to everything from laborers to land. Without meaningful support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their longevity hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the USDA showers billions on industrial agriculture. Growers who’ve gone the chemical, mechanized route have ready access to reasonable loans, direct subsidy payments to get through tough years, and crop insurance, plus robust research, marketing, and distribution resources. Whether organic and holistic growers raise crops, like Pitts does, or grass-fed, free-range livestock, they must contend with circumstances made harder by a USDA rigged to favor industrial agriculture and factory food…

[continues in the American Prospect]

13 Comments on "Slowed Food Revolution"

  1. emperorreagan | Jul 1, 2010 at 10:46 am |

    Sorry, the government is too busy funding worthless military weapons projects, paying for endless, meaningless wars, and sucking mega-bank dick to invest in anything as trivial as sustainable or organic agriculture.

    • Cerebralcaustic | Jul 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm |

      'Those who rail against profits and “greed” seldom stop to think through what they are saying, much less go check the facts. Most of the great American fortunes– Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, etc. — came from finding more efficient ways to produce a product or service at a lower cost, so that it could be sold at a lower price and attract more customers. If making a fortune represents greed, then greed is what drives prices down.'

      Thomas Sowell

      • emperorreagan | Jul 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm |

        I take the lesson of the figures mentioned that you can spend your youth engaging in illegal and unethical business practices, then buy your reputation in old age…

        • It's also a cum hoc ergo propter hoc error, but then Sowell and the rest of the laissez-faire morons are full of such illogic.

      • Wait…you quote a two bit hack neo-con apologist as if he's more than a fart in the media windtunnel? That's your backup? Sowell is probably a superb piece of evidence regarding how deeply racist neo-cons are…in the sense that they only promote fawning toadies of color with no regard for actual talent or ability (Justice Thomas, Chairman Steele…etc), propping them up just to prove they are't bigots…which, given that they didn't care about talent and use guys like him ruthlessly for their skin color, is about as racist as you can be without fetching the hood and some kerosene for your cross.

        And with the exception of Ford, both of the others used bribery, leverage and graft to prevent other players from making it onto the field…they valued monopolizing the market by any means, criminal or otherwise, and most modern laws (that remain) regarding criminal conduct by corporations have part of their origins in fighting the crimes of Rockefeller, Carnegie and others.

        Get a new racket…or at the very least, crack a real book and get some decent quotes. Citing the work of mental midgets isn't helping your case.

      • buy cheap, buy twice

  2. Cerebralcaustic | Jul 1, 2010 at 11:21 am |

    >Obama seeks to boost demand for organic food…

    If this claim is accurate, Obama doesn't understand economics or psychology very well.

    To an extent, it's possible to manipulate demand in the market. But in general, it's foolish to think one can manipulate demand. Try “boosting demand” for, say, horsewhips or typewriter ribbons…

    • Economics is psychology. I'd suggest reading up on behavioral economics so you could have a better understanding of what you're talking about, but I know religious fundamentalists tend to deny facts that challenge the omnipotence and omniscience of their deities.

    • I'm not sure I understand your point unless I just assume that you are a pedantic boor who just had your first course in basic economics. Obama could boost demand for organic food in a number of ways given the fact that he has the bully pulpit. He could make them seem more attractive. He could make substitute goods more expensive relative to the cost of organic goods. He could make organic goods cheaper relative to non-organic goods. He could lobby for a change in laws that do any number of things to make organic food more accessible and attractive. You say, “yes, yes, but those only increase the amount of the organic product demanded” yadayada. In the long run, all of this could reshape the demand curve. I'm with Andrew. You need a basic course in psychology. Your examples–horsewhips or typewriter ribbon–are a total non sequitor in this otherwise interesting discussion.

  3. Hadrian999 | Jul 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm |

    the only way i see demand going up is by drastically driving down price,
    most non metro yuppies simply can't afford to pay the cost of organic foods.
    we could subsidize them but then we'd all be whining about farm subsidies hurting poor 3rd world farmers.

  4. I don't think he should promote organic food.

    1.) Organic farms are less productive and require more land, reducing food supply as worldwide population continues to grow.

    2.) Harm from bacterial contamination is a much greater possibility from natural fertilizers. E. Coli, for example, is found in abundance in cow manure. By contrast, trace residue from pesticides in ordinary food is present in safe levels and can mostly be washed away with water. Over 30 separate investigations of about 500,000 people have shown that farmers, millers, pesticide-users, and foresters, occupationally exposed to much higher levels of pesticide than the general public, have much lower rates of cancer overall

    3.) Organic produce typically travels much greater distances to the supermarket, arriving less fresh, and therefore less healthy.

    I think organic farming is poor resource management. I better direction for Obama to go would be to stop subsidizing corn (and all the nasty processed foods that are produced from it), as Michael Pollan and others have suggested.

  5. Daizy Daina02 | Jul 7, 2010 at 8:42 am |

    Economics is psychology. I’d suggest reading up on behavioral economics so you could have a better understanding of what you’re talking about, but I know religious fundamentalists tend to deny facts that challenge the omnipotence and omniscience of their deities.
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  6. Daizy Daina02 | Jul 7, 2010 at 3:42 am |

    Economics is psychology. I'd suggest reading up on behavioral economics so you could have a better understanding of what you're talking about, but I know religious fundamentalists tend to deny facts that challenge the omnipotence and omniscience of their deities.
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