Distance From the Farm

As more people have left rural communities and moved into cities, our culture has become removed from the cycles of life and death that are necessary for existence. Dead animals, dead plants, worn-down rocks, manure- these things and many others- combine to make a distinct soil. This soil is where the seeds are placed that grow into plants, becoming our food. Each component of the soil is vital.

Vegetable farming is dependent on animals. Soybeans are grown from the manure of chickens and pigs, this manure being one form of organic fertilizer. Much of our world's vegetables are grown with this type of fertilizer. If we were to stop raising animals for meat- we would lose a main source of organic fertilizer. This would have a dramatic impact on our civilization. Our alternative would be to produce much more synthetic fertilizer. To do this, we'd have to mine more potassium and phosphorus, which is extricated from finite natural deposits like the one at the Dead Sea. Twice as much nitrogen would need converting to ammonia- a process heavily dependent on natural gas and coal. These synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using non-renewable energy and would become scarce in the decades and centuries ahead. Manure is a renewable resource.

Our cultural separation from the farm, and the land, has led to a misunderstanding of the nature of life, and particularly of the harsh, often violent, realities of existence. There is no doubt, in the full exuberance of spring, when the first flowers bloom, one cannot think of a word other than beauty when describing a garden. This, however, is only a part of the reality of a garden. The other truth is that many animals and plants were disrupted, and often killed, either purposefully or incidentally in order to create the beauty we perceived in the garden. The same is true of a vegetable farm. When one visits a field of ripe tomatoes in the late summer, and has the pleasure of plucking a sun gold tomato and tasting the burst of flavor directly from the vine, it seems like a wholly peaceful and transformative experience. And yet this is again only a small spectrum of the reality. We are often not aware that the farmer was forced to shoot half a dozen crows to preserve the crop, and that when using the combine to harvest potatoes in the next field over, bunnies and birds may have been shredded within the essential machinery of the farm. Agriculture, in part, is a violent act. Forests are cleared, prairies burned, ecosystems transformed. There is no death-free agriculture . There is no cruelty-free meal. The reality of life and of agriculture is infinitely complex, equal parts wondrous and terrifying.

The reality is stark- our agriculture faces many challenges today. Most of the animals we eat are being raised in ways that require massive amounts of energy. Energy for feed, for crop-dusters, for heating, for cooling, for water, for transport, it goes on. Because of these externalities, the amount of meat our world consumes is out of balance with the resources we have available. The vital news is that we have alternative methods of animal agriculture- although far from perfect- that harness the cycles of life, death and manure to substantially reduce the external inputs needed. These low-input models combined with increased local distribution will bring us closer to finding the proper balance of animals in our diet, a number which will be substantially lower than today- although a number that pragmatically, and ethically, is not zero.

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 12:42:30 -0400