Agriculture, food distribution, the future

January 23 7:50 am

ON CHICK-FIL-A (rant deconstructed, go deeper, help them understand, less emotions, explain more about our supply food chain and barriers to getting good food into the market)

Following an impassioned rant inspired by the crowds of people who attended the opening of Chick-fil-A in Bend, Oregon this week, I sit here with my coffee dedicating my morning to an attempt to go deeper and go beyond emotion, and make this event (hopefully?) a teaching moment. Sometimes, I forget how much I didn’t know just 3 years ago, and so from where I stand now it can be easy to forget where most people are standing in their understanding of our industrialized foods system, of the implications these systems have on our physical and mental health, the health of the animals within the industrialized system, the health of the soils that house the industrialized production, the effects on the waterways all over the country due to these industrialized agriculture systems. It’s horrific.

What The Green Revolution began in the 1950s/ 60s in agriculture is now being quantified and studied by soil and human biology scientists who are revealing the chemical effects on soil and human health. Since the 60s, the rise of endemic diseases, autoimmune diseases, mental illness, declining fertility rates, autism, and more have seen alarming increases in prevalence. I’m not a health care professional so I can’t speak with confidence in these issues, but I can refer you to professionals who are studying these correlations between them chemicals introduced to our food system during this period and the rise of these diseases. I gleen this information from a mass of podcasts and interviews I listen to (probably too much for sanity’s sake) that have been informing my life’s path over the last 2 years.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve been on a journey to learn as much as I can about our modern food production and distribution systems. Part of this journey has been through our farm, Casad Family Farms, and our journey in scaling up from a small, direct to consumer, CSA and farmers market style farm, to a larger entity attempting to grow food at wholesale quantity and reach more humans through the wholesale market. As first generation farmers, this has been an immense effort and, honestly, learning to grow, harvest and process at-scale has been the easier part of the journey. The most difficult part of this is the distribution systems, and that is what I want to focus on more deeply. Solving the puzzle of growing Organic food, employing regenerative/ sustainable farming methods, and entering a market that is now designed and engineered to only support huge, monocrop type Agriculture systems… well I think this is going to be my life’s work (outside of building hats, that the fun stuff that is keeping me sane.) It’s very difficult currently for mid-sized, biodiverse farms to enter the market, which means it’s very hard to actually get the safe, nutrient dense food to the people in a bigger way.

As regenerative agriculture becomes a trendy thing (conflicting feelings about THAT for another day,) people need to understand that it doesn’t matter what regenerative, beneficial methods you employ to grow your food if you can’t get it to the people. Since our food distribution systems evolved to rely on the increasingly monopolized Agriculture systems growing commodity crops at massive scale, using massive amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the smaller family farms and Organic weirdos took to the farmers markets and focused on direct to consumer CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. These are wonderful and these systems should be supported by anyone with the means to do so. It’s a beautiful direct relationship between consumers and their farmers, a connection that goes far deeper and wider than just exchange of money or food on the plate. Starting relationships with farmers growing the food I started to eat in 2013 changed my life. But, these systems don’t get safe, nutrient dense food into the supermarkets where a majority of urban-dwelling people shop for their food, and it certainly doesn’t begin to solve the food-deserts we have in this country. That is what I’m increasingly interested in, how do we get the safe food TO THE PEOPLE in a bigger way. Safe food should not be a privilege, I believe it is a right.

Let me use Central Oregon as an example, this scenario is happening everywhere but this is the region I have direct experience with.

In Central Oregon, there are only a few food distributors delivering fresh foods to supermarkets, restaurants, school kitchens, institutions like hospitals etc. All of these distributors except one won’t work with the local farms because most are just too small for them to justify the effort. Food distributors make their money on small margins placed on food items they are moving. In our industrialized agriculture world, food buyers are looking for the “best prices” which means the lowest price. This means the distributor’s margin must be small enough to be competitive, which means they need to source the lowest priced produce, and they need to move A LOT of it to make their small margins work for their business. So, local small and mid-sized farms don’t make the cut in this economic scenario we have created. That means, by and large, the safest most nutritious food being grown in your region is not making it to the people.

We have only one local foods distributor, Agricultural Connections, in Central Oregon. Our farm has worked with AC for many years, and we have seen their fight to carve out a place for local foods in our community and I will tell you, it’s been a FIGHT and AC deserves all of our respect for what Liz and her team have been doing in a system that tells you, “Nope, doesn’t work.” The price of produce we sell is more expensive than commodity crops, because :

-We pay our workers living wages

-We don’t use agent-orange derived pesticides to kill the weeds, so we spend more time tractor cultivating, hand- hoeing and/or mulching to suppress weed pressure

-We don’t take government subsidies to produce commodities which would require us to plant huge mono-crops which deplete the soil and cost us REALLY SCARY amounts of top soil (please remember the dust bowl was a relatively recent thing, we’re headed that way again humans)

Instead we maintain a biodiverse farm growing smaller amounts of many things, rotating our crops and planting beneficial cover crops which yield no products to sell, they are planted solely to feed the soil, to make sure it’s alive and healthy, so that the food we grow on it is alive and healthy for you to eat. Crops grown on dead soil are almost dead foods themselves. Most produce you eat, purchased in a large supermarket and coming from the industrialized commodity market are pretty much dead upon consumption.

-In this way, we sacrifice our profit/yields per acre in the name of soil vitality aka HUMAN VITALITY (Long game view)

There are so many other examples and tangents I go to off on to try and explain why regenerative, biodiverse, mid-size family farms can not compete in an economic landscape which can only accommodate the lowest bottom-line.

We can’t compete with monocrop agriculture, we can’t compete with chemical models of farming (labor wise- I would argue our yields are better using regenerative management in the long term,) we can’t compete with government subsidized crops, we can’t compete with slave-labor in the global food system.

I heard in a Zach Bush MD interview that as of recent, Organic agriculture makes up about 4% of the market. According to his resources, if that number rises to 16% the industrialized food giants such as Bayer (formerly Monsanto) would no longer control the market. In a system that is dependent on their margins controlling the majority of the market, just that 12% decrease of their hold on the market could take them down, or potentially market pressure would force them to change their poisonous ways and move toward a more regenerative model. I have zero faith in ethos driving this change, but I do know those types of corporations will FOLLOW THE MONEY and follow the market demand.

This is why I am so passionate about communicating, WE THE CONSUMERS HOLD ALL THE POWER. This isn’t a utopian/ idealistic dream, this is straight up economics!! That’s why I’m hopeful, and that’s why I’m ok with the agonizing I do trying to fight this system, communicate and educated anyone I can, and work endless hours including being an unpaid laborer for our farm and putting in so many hours of unsponsored learning, because quite literally, our futures depend on it.

At the rate we are going in the United States with these endemic diseases, and the rate of loss of top-soil, and glyphosate literally poisoning every waterway in our country and literally now raining down on soils… in 20-30 years the United States will be so screwed by the cost of health care for an entire nation of sick humans, we will not be a global leader in any way. Perhaps the AI / robots will save the nation? With all the humans too sick, too diseased, too stupid to contribute, the robots will have to lead? Made myself laugh at the dystopian picture in my head as I type that, now I feel sick because it’s not a sci-fi script, this is real.

Anyways, let me try and wrangle my thoughts here. I could go on, I could go deeper, I could bring you more statistics but this is what I want to say.

FUCK CHICK-FIL-A IN BEND, AND THIS IS WHY:

As much as The Green Revolution and its chemical warfare changed our food paradigm in the 20th century, re-engineering the system to only accommodate a certain type of agriculture, normalizing a bottom-line economic structure that feeds our nation dead/ antibiotic-laden/ inflammation-inducing/ endocrine-disrupting/ endemic disease resulting food… We must now re-Revolutionize our food system with a new economic model that can only be CONSUMER DRIVEN.

So, before you line up at the Chick-fil-A in Bend and you support the destructive Industrialized Food System that those chains rely on and incentivize…. Please consider this bigger picture of our futures. Please don't celebrate what Chick-fil-A represents. The choices you make today with where you spend your dollars, it counts as your vote for the economic model we allow. Don’t go about life already assuming we are defeated, like we can’t fight this existing model. The statistics show that if we can increase the demand in the Organic market by approx. 12% we may dismantle the existing agricultural paradigm! That is real possibility folks, the corporations will follow the money! This should motivate all people with the economic means to spend $2 more at the restaurant for the Local Regenerative Burger over the feed-lot/ corn-fed/ commodity imported beef. This should motivate you to seek out the locally grown, organic food at the supermarket and pay $1 more for the 5# organic potato bag, or the .30 cents more a pound for the locally grown, Organic onion. It should motivate you to ask the produce manager at your supermarket, “Where is the local foods section?” and if there isn’t one yet, encourage them to create it! If enough people ask, it will happen. It should encourage you to ask your favorite restaurants who they are sourcing from locally? If they aren’t, suggest they create those relationships, you’d be willing to pay a couple dollars more TO DISMANTLE THE ECONOMIC MODEL AND INDUSTRIALIZED AGRICULTURE SYSTEM MAKING OUR BODIES, OUR SOILS, OUR WATERWAYS SICK. Then tip your server well.

Before I sign off I want to add this. I do not want to demonize any farmer, anywhere, who might be in the system of Industrialized Chemical Agriculture. Farmers who are a part of this system are often trapped in the economics of it, and they have been successfully sold a model that was supposed to make them more profits, and keep them and their families alive. What has in fact happened is most farmers are owned by a few huge chemical/ag corporations and their necks are on the line to meet their input/ output/ yield models that can only be attained via use of their chemical fertilizers and pesticides (in the short term, we are already seeing the increase of yield diminishes after a period of time, and the chemical companies then tell them to buy and use more fertilizers, taking more from their profit margins, enslaving them further…) If we revolutionize our 21st century food system through our Consumer-Driven pressures, those farmers at the mercy of the chemical companies may see a way out.

I hope this is a productive piece, I will likely write more about this, as we (farmers in Central Oregon and a few radical chefs and our ONE local foods distributor) are very actively working on solving our food distribution road-blocks for our community. If we can prove in our Central Oregon community that a new economic model can be created, I hope to see it proliferate to every community possible across the United States. Thanks for reading, share with a friend or a family member. Take the discussion into your community, speak to your fellow human nicely when you do talk about it, we are all learning and trying to figure this mess out together. It will take collective understanding, collective teaching, collective compassion, and collective action to make the change. I believe in us.

Sincerely, forever passionately,

Cate


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