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Dirt Between My Toes—the Need for an Urban Agricultural Policy

by : Monica Davis
Friday June 26, 2009 - 03:43

In this day of mega, modern, and super-automated food production, the spirituality of food, the essence of our connection with the Great Mystery, through the food production and cooking process has been destroyed. It is imperative that we reclaim our spiritual appreciation of food and the process of growing, cultivating, preparing and cooking the food that sustains us.

I have always felt that the way we procure food today is unhealthy, both spiritually and physically. Somehow, we have lost our way and allowed food production to become an unhealthy assembly line of vitamin deficient vegetables, pesticide poisoned grains, steroid and antibiotic smothered meat products which spends too little time in the ground and too much time hauled across the continent in fuel gulping trucks.

The modern addiction to meat gluttony, combined with an industrial, assembly line approach to livestock production has generated an energy and resource intensive industry which generates an unacceptable level of pollution and resource depletion. The move from family farms and small operations have turned agriculture into an oft disease laden, unsustainable enterprise, which contributes to water pollution, oceanic dead zones and disease.

The type of family farm that sustained my mother’s ancestors for generations is close to being but a memory. Small operaters continue to be snuffed out by hostile federal farm policies, economic uncertainty and various unsustainable risks associated with agriculture—from pests, to drought and increasing operational costs.

I remember those simpler days, times when I and my cousins ran barefoot through cornfields, turned pears into weapons and tried to fly off the hen house. I remember the smell of freshly plowed earth, and still get high when I smell mowed grass, wild onions and sweet summer rain. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the subtle shades of tobacco green, soybean jade, and corn yellow waving back and forth through sultry summer winds, memories which still soothe my soul and send my senses a dancin’ for joy.

But, looks are deceiving. What looks like the same crop of yesteryear is sadly deficient in nutrients today, right out of the ground. I’m told that the corn and vegetables that I pick up in the produce section of the grocery store have less than 40% of the nutrients of my green childhood playmates. Today, megafarms continue to replace the family farms of my childhood, and many of our vegetables are imported from countries around the world.

Vegetables, even beef, may travel thousands of miles around the world before it reaches our grocery stores. The ten thousand year old spiritual harvest ritual has long since been replaced by shopping trips to the grocery store, where we purchase over-processed food, wallow in syrup saturated soft drinks and consume millions of pounds of subject-to-recall beef, pork, chicken and fish.

The safety of our food supply should be a national security issue, but, unfortunately, it seems that the government is more interested in grinding down family farmers, than it is in securing the safety of the food supply, protecting our rivers and streams, or protecting precious soils from erosion and depletion. Food inspections, packing plant sanitation, food chain security have all gone by the wayside over the last decade.

With a massive lack of inspectors, millions of pounds of contaminated meat can hit the food supply before a problem is found. Rather than spotting the problem at the processing plant and doing a local recall, the process has become so loose that by the time somebody gets around to saying there is a contamination or disease problem in the food supply, the bad meat has already gone on down the line, into the packaging plant and into the various trucks and rail system transports.

Houston, "We have a problem." Yes, indeed. We have a distance problem, an inspection problem, a chemical problem, a soil problem, a water problem, and, most importantly, we have an appreciation problem. Modern food production has become so antiseptic, that many of our children can no longer identify which animal or which plant or vegetable product the food on their plates.

This mechanization of our food supply and the dehumanization of of the food production process has a generated a 6-fold problem: 1.We have lost control over the production of our food 2.We have lost the spiritual connection between planting, harvesting/slaughtering and eating 3.We are at the mercy of factory farm production companies 4.We spend too much money on food because we no longer produce our own, even in the garden 5.We are depleting soils; polluting water and are too dependent on petro-farm chemicals 6.Many health epidemics, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease is directly traceable to poor food quality and bad dietary habits.

Today’s health insurance debate could be simplified if we grew our own vegetables and put children in charge of the family garden. This would give both children and adults a vested interest in healthy eating, and would also decrease the family’s dependence on processed "store bought" vegetables and food. More importantly, it would give both children and our urbanized adults a deeper appreciation of the growth cycle and our place in it. Most of all, the move to home grown food could be the foundation of a movement away from over-processed, nutritition deficient, syrup saturated junk food which has generate the most expensive dietary generated epidemic of diabetes and obesity in human history.

Our penchant for manicured lawns and store bought food is consuming too much of our hard earned wealth, at the expense of human health and environmental sustainability. As modern city dwellers, Americans spend more time growing grass for manicured lawns than we spend in the garden growing food. We ply our yards with billions of tons of chemicals to grow better grass and keep out weeds and bugs, and buy over-processed food that is often transported thousands of miles before it reaches our plates.

This is a waste of time and resources that we can no longer afford. Money is increasingly scarce in this economy. Jobs are drying up; food is getting more expensive and it makes absolutely no sense that we sit on so much valuable real estate, without planting a garden in our back yards and growing some of our own food.

It is time to rethink the agricultural industry, time to restructure the way we obtain food, and what kinds of foods we consume. There is a crying need for an urban food policy: If we restructure what we eat and use the family garden to promote healthy family diets and family solidarity, we could save billions in healthcare costs—including mental health costs. Good mental, spiritual and physical health begin with healthy diets.

If we take control over what we eat, where it is grown and invest more of our spiritual assets in the natural process of food production, we would be a much more balanced and healthy people. We can’t talk about healthcare, unless we talk about food, diet and agriculture. Without a dietary component to the healthcare debate, we are tilting windmills.

We need a national urban agriculture policy which promotes healthy living through healthy diets, which generates an understanding of the connection between healthy diets, food security and health. And, if we can not bring ourselves to depend on the federal government’s self-destructive farm policies to help urban farmers, we must come together on our own.

When push comes to shove, Americans must take responsibility for our own food security and stop allowing ourselves to play victim to corporate farmers and Big Agriculture. Our future is in our hands, if we have the intestinal fortitude to take control of our own diets and personal food production.

Besides, a garden is a great way to soothe your soul, calm down those fractious children, and keep some of the money in your pocket instead of shelling it all out at the grocery store.

Monica Davis is an Indiana-based author, columnist and public speaker. She specializes in economic, history and public policy issues and has written articles on land loss, bank failure, environmental justice and alternative energy. She is published in Great Britain, the U.S. and India and home schoolers in New Zealand have used her articles as teaching tools. Ms. Davis has given presentations on land lynching and the farm catastrophe at churches, museums and universities. Her articles have been read into the Congressional Record and used as the basis for interviews by other reporters. She is available for speaking engagements. Her author web site is http://www.lulu.com/davis4000_2000. She may be reached at davis4000_2000@yahoo.com.



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