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Old 05-07-2008, 05:07 PM
 
Location: The beautiful Rogue Valley, Oregon
7,244 posts, read 15,273,020 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sponger42 View Post
However, I am beginning to think that conversion to the dispersed production and dispersed pollution of small-scale or "organic" farms en-mass may not be as green as the concentrated yields and managing the concentrated pollution of large-scale agribusiness.
Well, if you go by Michael Pollan's (Ominvore's Dilemma, Botany of Desire) model, the trick is local smaller farms, preferably organic. As he points out, the very large "organic" farms are not all that green and the trick is to eat local first, organic second, cutting out the massive petro-chain from the food supply.

For cources, take a look at some of Pollan's on-line articles:
Michael Pollan - By Subject (http://www.michaelpollan.com/subj.php - broken link)
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Old 05-07-2008, 05:38 PM
 
Location: Bike to Surf!
3,080 posts, read 9,918,496 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sean98125 View Post
I'd guess that most of the world's food is raised on small farms around the world...
Good point. I hadn't thought about that. Previous agricultural societies have been sustainable, why not now?

Is that sort of sustainable agricultural economic model compatible with modernization, industrialization, and the benefits of improved medicine, longer life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, and the accompanying population increases?

I hope the answer is "yes". In that case, how do we bring about that sort of sustainable agricultural production here in the US?

However, if the answer is "no":
Can we extend the benefits of modern society to places like Sierra Leone without overtaxing the planet, or do we require that 75% of the world's population continue to live at a lower level of human development?

Should we consider reducing the levels of development of 1st and 2nd world nations so that our own mortality rates increase and our environmental impact decreases?
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Old 05-07-2008, 05:40 PM
 
Location: Bike to Surf!
3,080 posts, read 9,918,496 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PNW-type-gal View Post
For cources, take a look at some of Pollan's on-line articles:
Michael Pollan - By Subject (http://www.michaelpollan.com/subj.php - broken link)
Thanks. I'll look into his writings. I'd like to see an informed perspective from someone who's thought about these questions and done the research.
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Old 05-07-2008, 06:56 PM
 
3,460 posts, read 4,934,842 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sponger42 View Post
And what of the other 5 billion people who have no yard in which to plant an apple tree?
Let them eat cake
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Old 05-07-2008, 08:19 PM
 
Location: Maine
6,048 posts, read 11,401,771 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sponger42 View Post
I grew up on a "small" (family owned around 1000 acres of dispersed corn and soybean fields, not corporate in the 10's of thousands like on the plains.) farm--not "organic" though.
We're diversified between vegetables and poultry (chickens, ducks, turkeys). We have only 45 acres.

Quote:
We used what chemicals were available to us to increase yields at the time. Nobody was willing to shell out more money for "organic" stuff back then, in fact the word simply meant anything made from living things.
My farm is not organic. We grow naturally with compost, green manures, etc. We can't legally say this farm is organic, nor would we want to.

Quote:
So, if you had asked us if our chemicals were "organic" we would've truthfully told you "yes" since they mostly came from petrochemicals which were once living things.
Not many people understand this. Another bit of misinformation is that organic farming is chemical free. As you said, it's all chemical. And, organic farmers can and do use chemicals. I'll be using spinosad tomorrow because I have a pest problem in one of the greenhouses. Spinosad is an OMRI approved organic as in natural, not synthetic, not petrochemical pesticide. That said, it is still chemical. It still has to be used carefully because organic doesn't guarantee safety. It could wipe out honey bees if not used properly. It has a withdrawal period before consumption. There are some organic as in natural pesticides I won't use because they're dangerous. Rotenone is one example.

Quote:
When I moved to the city, I noticed that the lifestyle we had on the farm was considerably more wasteful per person than your average city dweller of equal income and frugality. Where we drove a low-mpg pickup truck for miles just to get to the store, city folk didn't even own cars, and rode on trains powered by electricity which could be produced by powerplants with scrubbers on their exhaust (or clean nuclear/hydro plants; wind and solar were experimental back then). If everyone in the city drove a truck 30 miles to get groceries every other week, they'd have consumed a lot more resources than they were doing by concentrating all their services and production in a small area.
If you're in a city you probably don't need to drive 30 miles to get groceries, right? I'm in the middle of no where, surrounded by thousands of acres of forest and can buy all of the groceries I need and a lot nobody needs in a store 10 miles away.

Quote:
When I saw that, it made me think about how concentrating production and consumption in general is more efficient.
Maybe. Maybe not. It's more efficient for me to compost, rotate crops, extend the growing season (I harvested fresh vegetables all winter in an unheated greenhouse) to maximize efficiency, mulch to conserve water and add organic matter to the soil, and more. How many large farms can be this efficient? There are a lot of small farmers who feed their small communities a diverse selection of vegetables and a few fruits. On the other hand, I no longer raise beef and pork. There are others who do a better job of it than me. They have land more suited to animals. It only makes sense that I grow their produce and they raise my beef, pork and lamb. They also produce poultry but I do too so I don't buy from them.

Quote:
Our equipment was leased and we had to drive it from field to field, burning up a lot of gas just hauling stuff around, passing other farmer's fields who weren't sharing the equip with us. If we'd all been in the same co-op (or part of a corporation), we could've saved a lot of fuel just not shifting equipment around, coordinating what areas had which crops, etc.
Other than greenhouses my largest pieces of equipment are a TroyBilt Horse and Heald Hauler, both purchased used for a total of $550. We don't need a tractor but will buy one this year. Little of its use will be related to my work in farming. I can hire someone with a tractor for a couple of hours if I need to. It's a lot less expensive than buying one.

Quote:
I won't argue the quality, but I wonder if you (and a bunch of independants like you) could fulfill the demands of all the people who buy food at that supermarket with less resource consumption than oversized "factory" farms.
I'm a staunch proponent of eating locally and in season. There's nothing green about most of the food you find in a grocery. There is a lot of packaging and other resources related to getting the food to those shelves. Even the warm and fuzzy feel goods like Whole Foods aren't green. Think of the packaging and transportation alone it takes to get the food to the store and the rest of the resources not used when eating locally.

Quote:
I'm sure there's inefficiencies in your process that could be eliminated; say, transporting your crops by rail (or barge, or bigger truck) rather than by truck, were your farm big enough to warrant running a rail line between it and the grocery distribution centers.
In my process? No, no rails, big trucks or barges. There aren't many of them necessary when you're buying local. There isn't much that we consume that isn't provided for us locally. If I could just figure out coffee... That's unlikely in Maine though.

Quote:
Yet thousands of acres of wheat are needed to feed everyone--even if people only took what they needed. So, in manufacturing the staples, isn't large scale better than small scale?
Probably. I don't have enough knowledge of staples like wheat to know this for sure. It does sound right.

Quote:
But the large feed lots can justify large waste-treatment and reclamation facilities while the small farmer doesn't go around collecting cow chips from his fields.
Manure is left in the pasture to return to the soil to nourish the grass that feeds the cow that drops that manure that's left in the pasture, and so on.

Quote:
The large feed lot doesn't increase runoff pollution and soil erosion (per head) like free-range cattle do.
Back up. Beef cattle don't live their lives in feed lots. Feed lots cover a short period of time in a cow's life. Those feed lot animals were free ranging on cattle ranches before they were shipped out to be artificially fattened up on corn they, and we, don't need.

Quote:
Also, it only takes one regulator one day to inspect the waste being produced by 10,000 head at the feedlot, while it takes that same regulator several days to get an idea of the environmental impact of 10,000 head of free-range cattle scattered between a half-dozen ranchers--if he even bothers.
Remember, these are the same animals. Why not eliminate feed lots and keep them grazing naturally? That would eliminate the need for the corn the animals are fattened up on. If we eliminate the corn these ruminants don't naturally eat we can eliminate antibiotics to keep them "healthy." There's absolutely nothing green about feed lots. They aren't necessary. None of us will die if we don't eat corn fattened beef. Naturally grazed/grass fed beef is much healthier. When we changed to grass fed meats we started eating less meat. We're eating more meat and less fat and are satiated on less. Less meat equals less animals.

[quote]Plus, it's easier for those ranchers to hide their environmentally damaging practices if they don't care to take their pickup's used oil to a reclamation center or something. After all, it's just a few quarts of oil and he's got a lot of empty land, what's the harm in dumping it, as opposed to spending the time and money to collect it and take it in to be processed? [quote]
Still the same animals, still not spending their entire lives in feed lots. It's not a valid argument because it's not ranchers or feed lots, it's both.

Quote:
Just because the environmental impact is spread out over thousands of acres and is harder to measure doesn't mean it's not there.
Very true. But the environmental hazards of feed lots can be eliminated entirely. Erosion control can be implemented.

Quote:
No argument on the feed or antibiotics, but I doubt they outweigh the other costs/environmental impact savings.
I disagree. If we eliminate corn fed in feedlots we eliminate all it takes to grow that corn. That land could be used to grow something else. If we eliminate antibiotics we regain control of antibiotic resistance. We can eliminate the expense of antibiotics by not deliberately causing the problems antibiotics are given to cure. Imagine that - we could have naturally, truly healthy animals that aren't crammed into manure covered pens. When you eliminate all that manure and the unnatural diet you drastically reduce the incidence of e-Coli contaminated meat.

Quote:
It should be easier to fix the waste problems, because it's TECHNICALLY easier to regulate and control large farms. Now, maybe because they have more money, they can bribe their way out of trouble more often, but I'd like to keep this discussion on the technical aspects of large-vs-small scale.
It's in the small farmers best interest to manage his or her farm using BMP. That includes putting manure to good use. Petrochemicals will artificially feed plants but damage the soil. Spreading manure feeds the soil. Healthy soil feeds the plants. Dead dirt feeds nothing. Spreading manure improves the percentage of organic matter in the soil. Waste is only waste if it isn't used well. BMP (best management practices) keeps e-Coli and other potential problems in mind and manges them so that they don't become problems.
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Old 05-07-2008, 11:41 PM
 
Location: Jax
8,204 posts, read 32,153,448 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sponger42 View Post

Also, the use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers means more yield per acre (otherwise they would never have been employed by the corporate farm in the first place) which means less arable land is stressed by the crops, which means less runoff, less soil nutrient depletion, and generally fewer barrels of oil needed per bushel produced.
And let's not forget the creation of hybrid plants which do not come true from seed and GMOs.

Yes, the yield is higher for the large-scale commercial farmer, and that demand was the force behind the creation of the hybrids and the GMOs, but I don't think we can call these plants anything remotely resembling green.

And supposedly these GMOs can alter the soil permanently, so much so that there are now recommendations for farmers to grow GMOs in soiless mixes.

So with large-scale farming, I worry about the effect on the soil, the loss of plant diversity...and I'm only talking about farming vegetables, with animals it's even more complicated.
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Old 05-08-2008, 09:24 AM
 
Location: Maine
6,048 posts, read 11,401,771 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by riveree View Post
And let's not forget the creation of hybrid plants which do not come true from seed and GMOs.
Unlike gmo's, hybrids do happen naturally. Though they don't come true when saving seed they do usually grow and produce. Sometimes they produce something you like better than what you started with. An heirloom tomato that tastes great but dies before it ripens many fruit could cross with another heirloom tom and create a great variety that ripens 30 pounds of great tasting tomatoes before first frost. Another good example of this is the pumpkin we leave when we clean up our autumn decorations in the fall. When the soil warms enough in the spring we get volunteer pumpkin seedlings. I'm eager to see what last year's gourds, pumpkins and squash produce. They were piled together at the edge of the field. I'm hoping for some warty pumpkins that have the red color and squat shape of a Cinderella. They haven't yet germinated. Pollinators and wind can easily cross pollinate plants.

Many of our heirloom plants started as hybrids that were naturalized and now breed true. It takes several years and some careful planning but it's not difficult. But, there's a downside. If you save a few ears of your open pollinated corn each summer, dry it, store it for the winter and plant it the following spring and it has been cross pollinated by GE corn even though you don't know this, you could be in trouble. Corn pollen travels on the wind. The large scale GE farms can easily cause a lot of trouble and ruin a lot of seed before we realize what's really happening.
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Old 05-08-2008, 10:15 AM
 
3,698 posts, read 10,199,260 times
Reputation: 2609
Quote:
Originally Posted by sponger42 View Post
Good point. I hadn't thought about that. Previous agricultural societies have been sustainable, why not now?

Is that sort of sustainable agricultural economic model compatible with modernization, industrialization, and the benefits of improved medicine, longer life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, and the accompanying population increases?

I hope the answer is "yes". In that case, how do we bring about that sort of sustainable agricultural production here in the US?

However, if the answer is "no":
Can we extend the benefits of modern society to places like Sierra Leone without overtaxing the planet, or do we require that 75% of the world's population continue to live at a lower level of human development?

Should we consider reducing the levels of development of 1st and 2nd world nations so that our own mortality rates increase and our environmental impact decreases?
They are fully compatible with improved health care, decreased infant mortality and population increases.

They aren't as compatible with people owning 3500 square foot McMansions with granite countertops and TVs and computers in every bed room, and driving cars that get 12 mpg while living 50 miles from where they work.
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Old 05-08-2008, 11:19 AM
 
Location: Bike to Surf!
3,080 posts, read 9,918,496 times
Reputation: 2978
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maine Writer View Post
If you're in a city you probably don't need to drive 30 miles to get groceries, right? I'm in the middle of no where, surrounded by thousands of acres of forest and can buy all of the groceries I need and a lot nobody needs in a store 10 miles away.
I've repped you Maine, because I don't disagree with anything you say. In fact, I think you are probably a good example of answering my question with a "no:" big-box, corporate agribusiness is not the most efficient or greenest process in some cases. Perhaps in all.

What you say is absolutely true. In the city in which I live now, there are those who will drive the equivilant of 30 miles (due to traffic) to get to the "organic" grocery. I pitched a fit if anytime I had to start the car.

Quote:
How many large farms can be this efficient? There are a lot of small farmers who feed their small communities a diverse selection of vegetables and a few fruits. On the other hand, I no longer raise beef and pork. There are others who do a better job of it than me. They have land more suited to animals. It only makes sense that I grow their produce and they raise my beef, pork and lamb. They also produce poultry but I do too so I don't buy from them.
For small communities (perhaps counties with populations of <100,000) I think your system is superior. The low density population is probably more or less sustainable in your region and many other rural or sub-urban areas.

I think that economies of scale may only become green in areas near metropolises of >1,000,000 residents. Or perhaps not at all. I will certainly agree that no small town in any arable rural area needs a rail line to the nearest 30K acre beet farm.

Quote:
I'm a staunch proponent of eating locally and in season. There's nothing green about most of the food you find in a grocery. There is a lot of packaging and other resources related to getting the food to those shelves. Even the warm and fuzzy feel goods like Whole Foods aren't green. Think of the packaging and transportation alone it takes to get the food to the store and the rest of the resources not used when eating locally.
I could not agree more!! However, the population of the world's cities is increasing faster than rural populations. I believe (maybe because I haven't done enough research) that city dwellers, on average, could consume fewer resources and reduce their impact on the environment if their food and power consumption were serviced by fewer large-scale concentrated industrial farms rather than more widely-spread individual farms.

Also, I read and agree with your points on feed lots, thank you for the education.

Quote:
They are fully compatible with improved health care, decreased infant mortality and population increases.

They aren't as compatible with people owning 3500 square foot McMansions with granite countertops and TVs and computers in every bed room, and driving cars that get 12 mpg while living 50 miles from where they work.
More good points. That much is certainly true. I wonder what level the average environmental impact of a US citizen could fall to, if we were able to successfully encourage people to eliminate such wasteful practices?
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Old 05-10-2008, 01:29 AM
 
Location: Jax
8,204 posts, read 32,153,448 times
Reputation: 3392
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maine Writer View Post
Unlike gmo's, hybrids do happen naturally. Though they don't come true when saving seed they do usually grow and produce...Pollinators and wind can easily cross pollinate plants.

Many of our heirloom plants started as hybrids that were naturalized and now breed true. It takes several years and some careful planning but it's not difficult. But, there's a downside. If you save a few ears of your open pollinated corn each summer, dry it, store it for the winter and plant it the following spring and it has been cross pollinated by GE corn even though you don't know this, you could be in trouble. Corn pollen travels on the wind. The large scale GE farms can easily cause a lot of trouble and ruin a lot of seed before we realize what's really happening.
Right, hybrids absolutely do occur in nature . I was referring to the man-made hybrids and the issues surrounding them. You made reference to a very important issue in your example of the corn cross-pollinating (have you heard about the lawsuits to the small farmers when this occurs? ). I touched on the loss of plant diversity which also goes hand-in-hand with the monopolization of seeds (you will buy your seed from me....I have a patent ).

I think we're on the same page .

Quote:
Originally Posted by riveree View Post
And let's not forget the creation of hybrid plants which do not come true from seed and GMOs.

Yes, the yield is higher for the large-scale commercial farmer, and that demand was the force behind the creation of the hybrids and the GMOs, but I don't think we can call these plants anything remotely resembling green.

And supposedly these GMOs can alter the soil permanently, so much so that there are now recommendations for farmers to grow GMOs in soiless mixes.

So with large-scale farming, I worry about the effect on the soil, the loss of plant diversity...and I'm only talking about farming vegetables, with animals it's even more complicated.
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