Warning: Subject matter below is bit heavier than I like to post, but it will tie in nicely with my following posts!
Intelligence is drained from rural areas as the educated individuals flee to cities and intellectual centers that provide income opportunities. Most farmers get trapped in a very feudal-seeming system of industrial contract raising of crops and animals. Debt for poultry houses, patented seed stocks, and equipment like large scale planters, harvesters, sprayers and irrigation effectively traps farmers into a system that rarely pays more than their mortgage payments. Most farmers have no control whatsoever over what they produce or their profit margins. These farmers are the ones that caution that there is no money to be made in farming, yet they refuse to implement a different model. Instead of addressing the issues in the existing model, industrial farmers patronize large corporations who produce hormones and antibiotics that mask the root problem rather than solve it. Society willing attaches a stigma to farming which further exacerbates the existing issue that the health of soils, atmosphere, waterways and food are consciously left in the hands of uneducated individuals.
Consumers have the greatest power to change this broken system. Accepting seasonal production that maximizes sourcing food in their local region. A study on the distance food travels to Chicagoans found that in 1998 produce traveled on average over 1500 miles to its dinner plate. Based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, it was estimated that the average distance a conventionally-sourced piece of produce travels is 1,546 miles to institutional markets. Keep in mind that most produce is over 90% water. By sourcing produce locally and accepting the seasonal growth, shipping and its fuel/environmental costs are reserved for higher caloric density foods like meat, cheese, etc.
By supporting products grown in a more sustainable manner, consumers can alleviate the vast dangers of industrial farming, mono-culture plantings or inhumane animal conditions. Critical impacts are already being seen in the beekeeping world that warns the pollinators responsible for providing food are in crisis. This article from Al-Jazeera has collected some great sources on the issue from the USDA, Mother Jones, Mid Atlantic Apiculture & Extension Consortium and many others. By patronizing farmers whose models assuage the need for pesticide applications, plant diverse cultures of crops and employ sustainable soil management techniques, customers can secure the ability of the human race to produce food.
Farmers have the responsibility of garnering respect as well. The industry has rightfully secured the reputation as dirty, unsustainable and rapers of the land. Any farm that smells is woefully mismanaging precious nutrients that under a well-managed model, will be returned to the soil. Manure lagoons should not exists. Pollutants leaching into air and waterways should not exist. These are the results of the rural brain drain that has left farmers following regulatory agencies who are run by executives for major industrial farming corporations whose guidelines are been responsible for recommending the feeding of rendered animal waste to live animals resulting in mad cow disease, poultry processing guidelines cause poultry salmonella outbreaks and antibiotic-resistant pathogens, whose food pyramid created by cereal grain corporations caused the obesity epidemic in the United States, and whose modern processing guidelines require chlorine baths and irradiation as the mechanical processing requirement rupture intestine resulting in a USDA-inspected chicken carcass being up to 15% fecal soup.
In the end, it comes down to the farmer respecting himself that will gain the respect of others. A competent steward of the health and future of soils, atmosphere, waterways and food production deserves a middle class salary? Health-food stores charge a premium on high-quality food while poor quality food is affordable. There is no middle ground currently. I have no desire to create an agricultural conglameration as I aim to bridge this gap by selling directly to local customers. I will not ship, have a middleman as a distributor or sell outside of my geographic region. This is why products from my core operations will be priced in a manner that supports my desired lifestyle yet still be affordable to my customers. Its up to consumers to provide a market that through creative endeavors, farmers can fill at a reasonable cost.