Writing about the impact of corporate and government interests on urban and sustainable farming techniques is more difficult than it seems or should be. It’s a simple enough question, but the answers are buried in layers of politics, science, pseudo-science, personal preferences, local outrage and global fear. What you ultimately learn is that food is important. And not just for its life sustaining qualities.
Food makes up 5% of the US GDP. It is the third largest household expenditure behind transportation and housing. Put another way, families pay more for food than they do for their healthcare, clothing, and education combined. Food is big money spent – and earned.
The concept of sustainable farming has exploded from its humble beginnings as a community movement and is now a hot topic in both national and international policy arenas, particularly with regard to its potential to reduce the risks associated with economic turmoil, climate change, and an ever-growing human population. Proponents argue that this type of farming is the key to saving energy, protecting water quality and sources, reducing topsoil erosion, and promoting biodiversity.
The sustainable farming model is popular with the wider public in many countries across the globe. Nonetheless, it routinely encounters near-constant and ruthless resistance. The big three ag companies–Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta–own roughly half of the world’s seed supply. As a matter of fact, proprietary, or brand-name seeds, make up 82% of the world seed market. The resulting seed monopoly cripples necessary biodiversity; without a strong base of diverse seeds, food production becomes more vulnerable to disease and damaging climate fluctuations.
This monopoly is big business. The seed market alone – before a single plant even sprouts – accounts for over $15 billion a year in sales. Revenues on this large a scale naturally garner protection from government agencies who stand to profit from safeguarding agriculture giants from the threat of organic farming. The United States government injects billions of dollars in the form of subsidies to farmers and agribusinesses every year in an effort to control the costs and supplies of such commodities as corn, sugar, wheat, soybeans, and coffee. It further enacts confusing and often contradicting legislation to regulate everything from urban rooftop gardening to personal rain water collection. These regulations make it harder for small farmers to get started, stay in business, or diversify. Because some of these farms are exempt from subsidies, they cost up to six times more to start-up than industrial farms when proportionate incomes are considered.
It sounds unfair – criminally so – because it is. And while sustainable farming is a responsible, worthwhile concept, its impact is incremental at best. The threat of a major food crisis always looms. Variables such as natural disasters, extreme temperatures, economic collapse, war, and drought mean that neither organic nor conventional agriculture is truly 100% sustainable. It’s up to you to make sure that you and your loved ones are protected against the of threat short and long-term food shortages.
For a comprehensive guide to planning and preparing for a food crisis, check outthefoodcrisis.org