Friday, June 30, 2006

Raw is Good (part 2)

First of all I apologize that I am longwinded. I have a feeling my uber-long posts tend to make people shy away. But hey, you should meet me in person, it's even worse! :-)

Rob left a great comment on my Raw post that I thought justified a response. If you haven't read either the post or the comment, it's good stuff! Plus, if you don't, what I'm about to say won't make any sense.

Rob, first let me thank you for making a good argument. But I'm afraid your knowledge is limited to just what you've been exposed to. I.E. horribly expensive Organic food at the grocery store. (Which btw I couldn't agree more. Most regular stores know Organic products are a hot item these days and in essence are raping the customers at the register. If this area had a completely organic store, you wouldn't notice a huge increase in your total bill. But the stupid economy in this area is for another post!) The economic plus side of chemically treated fields is actually becoming less and less a good thing. There is an alarming trend in the quality "and" quantity of commercial farm outputs. It is on a drastic decline in both areas.

Consider for a second the cycle of a typical farm field.
1. In the early spring a general herbicide is applied to the dormant field to kill the weeds.
2. Then a month or so later the seed is treated with another chemical to prevent soil-born diseases.
3. That treated seed is then planted into the field, followed shortly after by a artificial fertilizer that also eliminates weeds.
4. When the plants have their first true leaves, a general pesticide is added to destroy the bugs that are starting to hatch.
5. When harvest time comes the entire plant is cut low to the ground and removed.
6. The field is then sprayed again to kill the weeds that may start in the off season.

Now consider how these things are harmful.
1. The first green plants that will be killed anyway when planting happens if left alone would become a natural green fertilizer that would have benefited the new crop's propogation.
2. This is a silly process. Soil and dirt have no natural diseases. The guy pushing this stuff is one good salesman! He's selling rocks to a mountain. In other words, they don't need them!
3. This process is to done to get a quicker-than-normal harvest time. This fertilizer makes the plant grow unnaturally quickly which means a stunted plant body that can't hold up to a large crop that a naturally growing body could sustain. Stunted plant body=stunted yields.
4. This pesticide destroys "all" bugs and all animals. Even the bugs and animals that would eat each and every bad bug ever found.
5. This action, which was only developed about 15 years old, destroys the habitat of those bugs and critters just mentioned. And it also leaves no plant material to rot and replenish the soil for next year.
6. This kills all the green matter that would protect the soil from erosion as well as provide minerals and nutrients for next year's crops.

The end result of this vicious cycle? The soil on 90% of all commercial farms has almost 0% mineral content which is necessary to sustain year-after-year growth. This causes the fields to produce less and less each year which in turn causes the farmer to plant more and more fields each year. (And dropping prices due to chain-stores setting prices causes them to make less profit each year. Again, another post.) So Rob, your economic arguement about increased field production is less true every year.

As for your quality argument, that is also fostered by the absolute crap sold in the local stores around here. I would place either my own or the guy I co-op with's, beans, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, garlic, and almost anything else we grow, against anything in your local store. In size, taste, texture, and overall quality. Regular or organic. That's a hefty claim! If you want to test me on it, come to our big party in August and try out our food!

As for your last argument, yes if we eliminated all chemicals this nation's food supply would be in bad shape. In fact, I think we have already passed the point of no return. It would take years to return our once-fertile soils back to healthy natural levels needed to sustain growth. And no one is willing to make the sacrifice for that to happen. (I will enjoy watching the country scramble to survive when the next economic Depression hits and only the essentials can be afforded. Sorry, once again, another post!) We have grown into what could be only described as an addiction or a dependancy on chemicals. And I have to agree that it is a scary situation.

I'll close with this final comment, I think that even though Organic food is becoming a hot-item, I think the general public is being screwed again by big business. They are being raped at the register, the good stuff is going to the good stores, and the public is being tricked into the quality-quantity-too pricey mindset when it comes to the organic lifestyle. Ell and I spend about $20 a month on groceries and about $30 a year on seeds. And guess what, it's all organic. I call that economic and beneficial. Thanks for the thoughts Rob! Can't wait for that Cabin-Conference!

6 Comments:

Blogger Rob Osborn said...

Obviously i can't respond to such a well-educated post on short notice. But, i do have some counter-points (again). I just need to check some facts first.

I think we may be talking about slightly different issues, and i have some suspicion that we're being over-simplistic in our arguments. Typically when i think of this issue i think in terms of big scale grain and corn production--you're obviously thinking about produce. There are many more factors than just chemicals that affect crop production and quality (for example, the simple act of plowing a field [that is managed organically or not] for several years in a row can lead to problems with the soil that will decrease production potential).

And, just so you know that i'm not talking completly out of my butt, i actually studied some of these issues when i was in college (way back in the day). I also know that there are always two extremes to any argument. In this debate, 'completly organic' is one extreme, and 'completely artificial' is the other. The answer is nearly always found somewhere between the two.

And again, i'm not rejecting the notion that organic is better--i'm simply saying that it would never be practical for a country like ours to embrace it. A $300 yearly grocery bill would be pretty nice, but there are also opportunity costs to consider. I'd rather spend $2500 a year and not have to spend 500 hours weeding a garden and canning tomatoes. That is personal preference.

I think the main problem i have with issues like this is the inferrance that if we would all go back to the life of 150 years ago life would be better. That is a notion that i will argue against until the day i die (i do realize that you never actually made that point, Sam. I'm just saying that arguments like this often end up there).

I'm enjoying the debate--no offense inteneded. More later.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Great stuff.

To answer you about different issues: No, I was also talking about big-production crops such as grains and corn. They are showing the biggest loss in production. Produce is also declining but at a slower rate due to advances in irrigation.
You are correct though about No-Til planting causing less damage to the land. Erosion, loss of minerals, etc are major concerns. I in fact, am using No-Til practices on certain parts of my garden as I build up the quality of the soil. But in keeping with my mineral-depletion argument, the actions of chemicals have caused a major deterioration of dirt to the point that No-Til is the only option to retain the lay of the land. And even though I too use No-Til, that process has been proven not as effective as previously thought. Every major Farming organization in America has recommended plowing at least one year in every four.
As for our country embracing the concept, I could not disagree more. What do you think this country did before 1968? Grew organic! The only thing they ever added was fertilizer, and that was natural. Like I said earlier though, I think we are at a point now where we can never go back to that. So to do it now would be impractical.
As for preferences, they will always be there. I actually weed to come down from my crazy job. My brain goes 40-11 different ways all day, and weeding is one thing and one thing only. For me, nothing compares to taking off my suit and getting my hands into the dirt. Once again, a preference!

Thanks Rob for making me think!

11:28 AM  
Blogger Rob Osborn said...

I think what it all boils down to is economics. This is not a bad thing.

We obviously started using chemicals to improve crop yeilds--which in turn create more income for the farmers, and a better food supply for the world. The deal is, though, that as the chemicals we use run their course and if (as you state) crop yeilds are going down, economics will once again be the driving motivation. Crop yeilds aren't going to depreciate to the point where we either starve or we use up all the available crop land in this country. Eventually, someone will take more of a financial hit than they want to take, and they'll figure out a better way to grow corn, fruit or whatever that will be more cost-effective than the current method. (the same argument is true for oil production as well--as soon as it's too cost prohibitive to drive a gasoline fueled engine some company will be financially motivated to create a viable fuel alternative that is practical both in cost and in use)

I assure you--as soon as organic is the best, most viable, most cost-effective method of farming, our entire nation will once again be farming organically. There is no motivation like financial motivation.

I don't believe that there's some conspiracy to poison the citizens of this country with a bad food supply. Food growers are simply trying to grow a cost effective crop that will allow them to make a business profit. We should be thankful that the system works like this. It's what keeps food on our table, and famine something we read about in the global news.

Another factor in all of this is plant genetics. Scientists are constantly working to improve the internal genetics of crops and plants to be more resistant to insects and diesase. As these impovements are made we'll most likely see less use of chemicals, because they won't be needed.

I'd be a lot quicker to buy this whole 'organic' argument if there was a noticeable change in death rate or in life expectancy when all of the chemical farming was implemented. I realize that there are many other factors that play into life expectancy, but, at least in the short-run, we're not seeing people dying in mass at the age of 55 from chemically grown food. Sure, rates of cancer might be higher in some cases (as well as other examples you've cited), but i still say it's an unfair blanket statement to blame it all on the way we're growing our corn and beans.


The last point that i wanted to make was a response to your step #2. Modern farmers are too smart to be sold a bag of goods by a snake-oil salesman. If they're using a chemical on the soil, they're doing so for a reason (it goes back to the economic factors i've already talked about). It's true that soils don't have natural diseases, but, they can act as a carrier for disease the same way that mosquitos or rats can carry and spread diseases to humans.

Anyway...i've enjoyed digging into this debate. I'm sure we'll go on....which i'm willing to do while it's all in good spirit.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I too have enjoyed this. I have to admit I didn't expect the bulk of the comments on this issue to come from you. So it's been fun to hear your thoughts.

I agree with you about the whole soil thing. But I have to wonder if we didn't amend the soil with so much artificial stuff, would it be able to sustain itself without any help. At least in Ohio, we used to have some of the most fertile farmland in the whole US. (According to historians, Ohio was the promised land for the colonial people. Only when it started to fill up did anyone even dream of leaving.) And now the mineral content and PH is just as low as the dry earth found out west. Makes one wonder what we did and if we can get it back. I doubt it, which calls the chemicals back into need to make things work economically.

This has been fun Rob. It's made me stretch my brain and my thoughts. I'm not so arrogant to think I have the corner on all the good ideas. So thanks!

2:02 PM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

I wouldn't know you, Sam, if you walked into my living room but I just don't picture you as a suit kind of guy...how's that for intellect.

BTW, I took no offense to the conversation, as it turned out to be. I know my limits and my vegetation amounts to chico bushes. We don't even have one blade of grass on all our land.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi All,
I know that this comment is a little late. I just stumbled across this exciting debate. (there's a little rhyme for all your poetry fans), But I have something that I would like to say on the subject.

First, I would like to say that I think that the use of organic foods is (if you have the means), a great way to eat.
Second, I understand that the use of organic foods as a healthier alternative to store bought is a choice one usually would make based on facts, or perceived fact. That being said, I feel that a fact that you stated in your original post was misleading or intended to scare. Primarily the comment about how cancer is rising at the same rate as the use of chemicals on fruits and vegetables. As a counterpoint to that fact, I have included the statement by the American Cancer Society concerning the use of chemicals on our fruits and vegetables.

"Many kinds of pesticides are widely used in agriculture in the production of our food supply. High doses of some of these chemicals have been shown to cause cancer in animals, but the very low concentrations found in some foods have not been associated with increased cancer risk. In fact, people who eat more fruits and vegetables, which may be contaminated with trace amounts of pesticides, generally have lower cancer risks than people who eat few fruits and vegetables.

Residues of some pesticides such as DDT, which is now banned but was used in agriculture in the past, degrade slowly in the environment and can accumulate in body fat. These residues have been suggested as a possible risk factor for breast cancer, although study results have been largely negative. Continued research on pesticide use is essential for maximum food safety, improved food production through alternative pest control methods, and reduced pollution of the environment.

In the meantime, pesticides play a valuable role in sustaining our food supply. When properly controlled, the minimal risks they pose are greatly overshadowed by the health benefits of a diverse diet rich in foods from plant sources."

I did find a study done by a credible source that noticed a very slight decrease in cancer in children under 2 that have been raised on organic produce. They stated that pesticides aren't as easily eradicated from the smaller bodies of babies. But they again found no increase in cases of cancer in adults because of store bought food.

Just a view from the other side. Talk to you later.

4:32 PM  

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