The common saying, “it takes a village,” applies also to farming and the production of good, healthy food. Good food is food that is nutritionally strong, does not contain chemical poisons, and is not genetically modified in ways that make it unwelcome and unusable by those who eat them. Good food nourishes, it heals, it builds up, it stabilizes, it empowers, it satisfies, and it tastes good.
Ten thousand years ago, our ancestors made civilization possible by creating agriculture. They domesticated wild grasses to develop cereal grains, and thereby made stationary village life a reality. Their collaborative work with nature was the beginning of wholesome, sustainable agriculture.
While today’s industrial agriculture is celebrated as a marvel of production, it is no more than a mono-culture of genetically engineered crops on large tracts of land treated with toxic chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers that pollute the earth, the ground, the rivers, the streams, and the people who eat the resulting pseudo-food. Last year, agri-business applied more than one billion pounds of pesticides to the land in the US alone. The federal government estimates that annually there are "10,000 – 20,000 acute poisonings among workers in the agriculture industry.” But our government (and therefore, We the People) subsidizes these massively misguided efforts at food production, enriching these ‘farmers’ at the expense of the health of the people, animals, and the earth. These questionable methods threaten the future itself, because the very young, the newborn, and the unborn bear the brunt of the toxic ill – effects, ranging from organ damage, to emotional instability, to fetal deformities and birth-defects, to late-stage miscarriages.
As threatening to life and health as contaminated food is, the chemicals found in the water are even worse. “Traces of 18 unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from more than one third of US water utilities in a nationwide sampling. Included are 11 perflouridated compounds, an herbicide, two solvents, caffeine, an antibacterial compound, a metal, and an antidepressant.”
So a food fraud has been perpetuated on us, but the blame is ours. Instead of good food, we’ve voted with our dollars for cheap food, junk food, fast food, fun food, processed food, and ‘exotic’ foods from faraway places. We have walked away from our farms, homesteads, and gardens, preferring instead for someone else (anyone else!) to feed us, and to feed our children. We have abdicated our personal responsibility to ensure that what we eat is good for us, good for our children, and good for the earth. We have valued ‘things’ more than good food and the health it promises. Our power was not taken, it was given away. Now the time has come for us to reclaim it.
But as we begin to do so, our reclamation must not seek to be an individual effort, rather a collective one. Together we must become educated and educate each other on the dangers of pesticide-poisoned food. We must insist that our food is organic, nutritionally strong, and from a local source. More than this, we must return to growing some of our own food. For the working poor living in food deserts, we must demand that fresh fruits and vegetables are available in close proximity. Urban farms, community gardens, backyard and patio gardens are all part of our reclamation solution. As we re-connect with each other and get reacquainted, we will redefine our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities in ways that inspire cooperation with the critical well-being issues we face: securing our health and our future, training and developing our youth, building mutual trust and respect, and securing good, healthy food.
C. Bernard Obie is the steward of Abanitu Organic Farm in Roxboro, North Carolina.