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Mindful : April 2015
Community Supported Agriculture net works that supply regular customers with mixed baskets of fresh food, farmers markets, buyers clubs, and co-ops. But there’s much more to be done before the larger food system really begins to change. “To what extent can we reclaim the land for our own ag riculture?” Fleming asks. “ We need to supply not just food out of the ground, but value-added prod- ucts as well, like butter from our milk, bread from our wheat, sausages from our pigs.” Gradual incremental changes are worthwhile and shouldn’t be undervalued, Fleming adds, a message brought home to her on a visit in Kentucky with renowned American poet and farmer Wendell Berry, whose activism spa ns decades. “ He said to me, ‘ Young lady, there is no big solution. There a re only small solutions.’ That rang true for me. As I watch all the successes of young farmers in this movement, I see so much positive change in so many places— more locally grown food, increased attention to land stewardship and crop diversity, and a rebuilding of local capacity and self-reliance.” Another change Fleming has her eye on is a demographic trend that could literally transform the landscape: the average age of a farmer in the US is 59, and 70% of the farmland is owned by people over 65. “This land will change hands, and as it changes hands, we have the opportunity to shift how it is farmed, for the better,” Fleming says. “ But unless there is a major intervention, trends point to farmland becoming more and more consolidated.” While the amount of cropland being used for orga nic farming is climbing (estimated at 3.1 million acres of certified orga nic cropland a nd 2.3 million acres of pasture and rangeland), the USDA reports that overall, certified orga nic cropland accounts for only 0.7 % of US cropland. A small percentage of the top US field crops—corn, soybeans, and wheat—were grown under certified orga nic fa rming systems. On the other ha nd, organic vegetables (6% of US vege- table acreage) and organic fruits and nuts (4%) were more common. In addition, US orga nic food sales continue to grow—totaling $28 billion in 2012—but that a mounted to just over 4% of total at-home food sa les, according to the US Depa rt ment of Agriculture. And there are forces pulling in other directions that can’t be ignored, both in the form of indus- trial ag riculture production and the powerful GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) lobby. The proliferation of genetically modified crops is the antithesis of the local food movement, and there are troubling sig ns of a pushback against states that have passed laws requiring GMO labeling on foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is a mong the groups suing Vermont for its GMO labeling law, and the result of that suit will have ramifications for states like Maine and Connecticut. However, in mid-December, organic food activists from 16 states marched in Washington to protest the House Energy and Commerce Commit- tee’s resolution called the Safe a nd Accurate Food Labeling Act, which allows for disclosure of GMOs to the Food and Drug Administration but not to the general public. Opponents, led by the Organic Consumers Association, have dubbed the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act. The protestors included a g roup of chefs led by Tom Colicchio, head judge on the TV show Top Chef, who a re pushing for mandatory labeling so consumers can be made aware of what is in their food. In California—where massive-scale industrial agriculture and organic and local farming activism live side by side—veteran good food advocate and restaurateur Alice Waters spoke up about another problem f ront: the takeover of orga nics by big food. “The timing is right for bringing up all the issues but we want to have a conversation around the country that is provocative,” Waters told The Guardian. “ We need to expose the practices of the big food compa- nies, which are hijacking all the good terms of our movement—the ideas of sustainability and natural a nd homegrown. They are using that to promote food that isn’t good for us. We need to read the labeling and get the facts to be put on the table.” → On facing page: Eliza Greenman is ever enterprising—she’s currently planning a commercial-scale fruit and nut forest using a diversity of apple genetics and native Appalachian species. Below: Even Green- man’s shed displays her passion for variety, with a poster of apple species. Right now she works with 400 varieties of heir- loom apples. PHOTOGRAPHSBYJOSHUASIMPSON April 2015 mindful 53 mindful food revolution