Many think the quaint and tranquil working the land by hand is the future of agriculture. Uh, no, its ont.
In some ways, it is not surprising that many of the best fed, most food-secure people in the history of the human species are convinced that the food system is broken. Most have never set foot on a farm or, at least, not on the sort of farm that provides the vast majority of food that people in wealthy nations like the United States consume.
In the popular bourgeois imagination, the idealized farm looks something like the ones that sell produce at local farmers markets. But while small farms like these account for close to half of all U.S. farms, they produce less than 10 percent of total output. The largest farms, by contrast, account for about 50 percent of output, relying on simplified production systems and economies of scale to feed a nation of 330 million people, vanishingly few of whom live anywhere near a farm or want to work in agriculture. It is this central role of large, corporate, and industrial-style farms that critics point to as evidence that the food system needs to be transformed.
in a modern industrialized society, most people will live in cities and suburbs and will not work in agriculture. As a result, most food will need to be produced by large farms, with little labor, far away from the people who will consume it.
Many sustainable agriculture advocates tout the recent growth of organic agriculture as proof that an alternative food system is possible. But growing market share vastly overstates how much food is actually produced organically. In reality, organic production accounts for little more than 1 percent of total U.S. agricultural land use. Meanwhile, only a bit more than 5 percent of food sales come from organic producers, mostly because organic sales are overwhelmingly concentrated in high-value sectors of the market, namely produce and dairy, and fetch a premium from well-heeled consumers.
People are disconnected to how food is produced, and are oblivious that their local well stocked produce section of their local supermarket depends on a large network of food production and delivery.
You can’t actually “eat plenty of fresh produce each day” and “buy local” at the same time – in much of the country – without a large and diverse agricultural system. People in California, where the growing season is about 10 months long, are oblivious that in much of the northern parts of the U.S., the growing season is 3 to 5 months long!
When I was in college (1970s), a group of students were discussing a related topic and it turned out most everyone in the group had at least one grandparent (sometimes parents) who grew up on farms, ranches, or if not, had lived on large plots of land where they grew or raised much of their own food. At some point in the 20th century, people became disconnected from how food was produced.
One couple discovered their Big City friends had no idea where food came from – which led to their creating the True Food TV Youtube channel that explains it all. Worth checking it out if wondering where and how your food comes from.