How to Feed the World: Sustainable Food Production

By Madronna Holden

Updated 10. 25. 2012

“Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same land”.

Science Daily, July 11, 2007

The quote above comes from a review of a University of Michigan study that finds that organic farming is especially important in feeding developing nations.  The video recently released (on “Food Day”:  October 25.2012) by the Food Myths program gives a solid outline of why industrial farming is not only not needed, but counter-productive in feeding the world.  In turn, if new technology, chemical inputs into agriculture, and genetic engineering will not feed the world, as I have argued elsewhere on this site, the propagation fair I attended in Eugene, Oregon illustrates what we need instead.

The fair consisted of a free exchange of plants and seeds.  It also offered free scions of hundreds of varieties of pears, apples, and plums, carefully labeled as to taste, keeping qualities, and disease hardiness.  Visitors could take these for free for grafting onto existing trees.  Or they could use root stocks and/or take advantage of the help of experienced grafters offered at cost.

Workshops entailed such topics as seed saving and winter gardening. And informational booths ranged from a focus on honeybees and native pollinators to a school gardens program.

Notably, Vandana Shiva has noted that the same kinds of fairs existed in traditionally sustainable farming areas of India, where growers (largely women) got together to trade seeds and ideas.

Here are the hallmarks of this fair that illustrate what we do need to feed the world.

Community values

This fair expressed sharing for all rather than profit for a few. The volunteer grafters, the workshop leaders, those who staffed booths and those who brought plants and seeds to give away were enthusiastic about sharing both information and food-growing resources. This contrasts sharply with Monsanto’s “terminator gene”, developed to protect its patent—which also threatens our food supply through unpredictable and uncontrollable gene migration.

The fair also expressed the value of care— for the environment, for community, and for the varieties of trees and seeds to be preserved locally.

Care is a productive value when it comes to such things. Care such as Barbara McClintock’s “speaking with the corn”, treating each plant as an individual, led to work that earned her the Nobel Prize. This echoes the care with which indigenous peoples tended their fertile “gourmand’s paradise” in the Willamette Valley:  care for both the natural lives that fed them and the human lives to come after them.

Indeed, such care sustained human communities and environments together throughout the indigenous Northwest.

It is such care that the government of Switzerland replicates in their constitution guaranteeing the “dignity” of all natural life.


Here are the characteristics of sustainable food-producing technologies exhibited at the propagation fair.

Sustainable food-producing technologies should be place-based.

As opposed to the “one size fits all” technology of globalization, place-based technology is as flexible and particular as the individual yard into which it would be set—as special as each person’s choice of and care for a heritage tree or vegetable seed.

Such technology does not depend on a large plot of land.  As are many urban gardens today, a tree or vegetable plant can be placed in a backyard, on a parking strip, on a reclaimed vacant lot, or on a rooftop or terrace.

Seeds grown and saved from local gardens partnered with nature’s ability to adapt, rather than trying to force diverse ecological systems to adapt to human whims.

Sustainable food-producing technology should preserve biodiversity.

As Barbara Kingsolver observed, any society that relies on a single variety of an essential food source is one step from the devastating starvation suffered in the Irish potato famine when disease attacked the single kind of potato grown there.

Such a famine would not have happened in Peru, where the potato originated– and where traditional farmers grow uncounted varieties of this crop. Traditional farmers also keep wild areas open. There nature has a chance to grow whatever she wants—and farmers often find useful varieties arising in these wild places.

Maintaining this natural stock-producing area was also the practice of peasant farmers in Britain (where the hedgerows provided food to birds as well) and in Eastern Europe.

Sustainable food-producing technology should need few secondary material inputs.

Grafting needs no secondary technological inputs such as fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers, or expensive machinery.  Its tools are as simple as a grafting knife—and care in the hands and knowledge in the minds of those who tend grafted trees.

I would suggest that the complexity of a technology, as in the complexity of the grafting process, should center not on material input and fancy inventions, but on the complexity of knowledge and experience passed from one person to another.  Technology with this type of complexity relies not on depleting natural resources—but on the unlimited resource of human knowledge.

In an age of burgeoning human population and declining natural resources, we need this combination of complex knowledge and simple material input.

Sustainable food-producing technology should have a historical track record or careful research in terms of safety in line with the precautionary principle.

Grafting is an ancient human science. I once sat in an Arab garden on the Mount of Olives sustained by grafting techniques and local knowledge.  The caretaker of his tiny garden offered shade and comfort to guests, even as his garden offered up honey, olives, grapes and a dozen other varieties of fruit to the family that cared for it.  He told me that if something did not work on this land so densely planted that the leaves of the trees touches one another, he grafted other varieties that did.

He followed an ancient tradition that is all too little utilized in this war torn area.

Sustainable food-producing technology should have no deleterious side effects, for either the environment or other humans.

Side effects that negate the benefit of high-end technologies used in corporate farming include use of toxic chemicals and fossil fuels, drawing down the water table, and/ or carbon production.

Instead of such negative side effects, planting trees has the potential to ameliorate climate change and recharge ravaged water tables.

It is a wonderful that this process feeds us as well.

We have such technology and we can refine it.  We have no need to use technology touted as part of the “green revolution” that devastated lands such as those in Bangladesh reclaimed by the traditional and diverse farming methods of New Agricultural Moment or similarly in Mexico by Jesus Leon Santos.

It is a fool’s bargain to trade away temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us. Indeed, it is clearly irrational to give economic rewards to those who undermine the sources of our survival and spread toxins to any part of the planet we share.

By contrast, any robust economic system and the technology it develops must reward those who produce what we need for the flourishing of humans and other lives on this planet:  things such as nourishing food, secure livelihoods, clean air and water, good health, and a secure future for our children.

The more rare and precious are our natural resources, the more we must protect and care for them.

178 Responses

  1. […] potato varieties there are on PEI. And over at Our Earth/Ourselves, Madronna Holden ruminates on How to feed the world. A big part of her answer: A Propagation […]

  2. Good Article! I agree that creating a balance between new technologies and age old techniques is smartest and most effective way to address the needs of a growing (overgrown?) population in the face of climate change that means less available land suitable for crop production. I also agree that the health of the ecosystems where agricultural production occurs should carry equal weight in striking a balance between profit (human needs and wants) and the natural world.

    My grandfather and great grandfather on my dad’s side were horticulturists, my dad always said that his grandpa could grow anything. They owned nurseries and flower shops first in Illinois and then here in Astoria for years. Even though my grandfather died before I could even remember him, my son has a real interest in horticulture. He has taken high school classes for the past three years where he has learned the valuable art of horticulture. I tease him that his passion for plants is in his genes. I have though about how much knowledge Cody could have gotten from working with his grandfather and wonder about the knowledge and skills that may not be passing from one generation to the next because of more industrialized farming techniques taking the place of natural methods. So, I feel good when I hear about people taking a step back from technology and embracing natural techniques and preserving natural biodiversity.

    • Hi Molly, thanks for your comment. It sounds like horticulture might indeed be (teasing aside) in your son’s genes. I think the balance you speak of here is essential.
      I would also like to re-define (or refine) our concept of technology. I am not suggesting we take a step back from technology, but that we honor a technology with the suggested criteria–and we have some distance to go in this! Perhaps you and/or your son can take some steps in this direction.

  3. I thought overall that this article was interesting, but I wish it spent more time on the solutions and less on the problems, which I believe is already known (for the most part) to the readers.
    I found the importance of preserving biodiversity and the mentioning of the Irish and Peruvian people as examples of what happens when biodiversity is or isn’t kept in mind a great way to prove a point.
    Reducing the secondary inputs is something I believe really needs to happen. The corn industry is a great example of this. To get the yields that the farmers want they need to burn a lot of fuel and use a lot of nitrogen. The nitrogen, along with many other secondary inputs (like Atrazine), is causing havoc along the Mississippi and has created one of the world’s largest dead zones in the Gulf. Examples like this show what we are currently doing is not working.
    If we want to reduce the amount of damage to the environment from our food production, I believe we will need to do wean ourselves off a quantity type system and more to a quality type reward system. This would take a massive market shift where consumers are at the helm. Until that happens, not many farmers will be on board with any real “green revolution” because they won’t survive it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Zach. I am sorry that my enthusiasm for this positive example of a technology (and its attributes) that CAN feed the world did not come through to you. I was touched and heartened by this event-.
      Perhaps by negative you mean my critique of things like gmo production, which currently appears to me more like a sleight of hand than a real technology that has done anything to address our environmental/food crisis. I think it is important to think critically about the attributes of the technology to which we dedicate our time, energy and economic rewards.
      You have a great example in the case of corn — especially as regards ethanol production, since it takes more energy input to produce it than it yields in burning. I absolutely agree with your sense of the need for quality as opposed to quantity based food producing technologies. I am more hopeful about the transition here, which is already taking place on a scale unremarked in mainstream media.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hope you will find ways to contribute to the positive side of the technologies you would like to see developed in this arena.

  4. The essay states: “It is a fool’s bargain to trade away temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us”. This is so true. Unfortunately, I guess I feel like capitalism is a beast that is too powerful to destroy at this point. I know I’m utterly pessimistic, but I just can’t see how we can begin a real sustainable existence in the face of such greed and power. The essay also states: “Indeed, it is clearly irrational to give economic rewards to those who undermine the sources of our survival and spread toxins to any part of the planet we share.”. Economic reward is not only given to the individuals who profit off of this, power is given to them as well. They run this country! I want so badly to feel optimistic about the direction we are headed. I know that many people are working very hard to shift patterns, and sustainable technologies such as grafting can only help, but will we do enough before every piece of land is under intense agriculture and every natural resource has been exhausted?

    This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I am going into a field of conservation, but am I simply polishing the brass on the Titanic?! Sigh!

    • Hi Laida, thanks for your comment. I think there is some grief in being conscious of what is happening to our planet. I also think we absolutely need the kind of work you are committed to doing. The more dire our situation, the more imperative it is to act–and the more we need everyone to do what they can.
      Eventually the only thing we can do in the face of corporate power is take back power for ourselves and our communities. I once heard a lawyer from Portland who had been fighting to close down Trojan (nuclear power plant unhappily sited on the Columbia River wetlands near the Cowlitz) for years. Finally he and his coalition succeeded, but in the meantime, he made the point that the larger and more complex a human organization the less well it actually works–and thus though it may be dangerous in its unconscious behavior, it is easier, in the end, to tumble.

    • While reading the article, I highlighted and copied the same quote (It is a fool’s bargain to trade away temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us) that you used Laida, intending to start off my essay the same way. I feel that it does a fantastic job of summing up the situation. And I will say that I give in to the same worries as you about the feasibility of stopping the “capitalist beast” in time to change our ways. However, I consider myself a realist rather than a pessimist, and feel that a distinction between these two classifications is a sense of hope that comes with knowledge. From the limited reading I have done on this website I have seen prominent authors and educated individuals cite statistics that say we can support ourselves on the land we have. As more and more people begin to see the problems with instensive agriculture and overuse of resources people will begin to make small decisions on their own that will add up to make a difference.
      I like the idea stressed by the fair that Professor Holden attended, which was expressed in the essay as “sharing for all rather than profit for a few.” Capitalism is not inherently an evil or entirely flawed system, but it does take the emphasis away from what is important. It elevates money and trivial belongings and pursuits to a status way beyond their station. Hopefully as more people become disillusioned with these shortcomings they will begin to search out what is truly important and return to more a simplistic living that will be more fulfilling and sustainable.

      • I like your distinction between realist and pessimist, Spencer. Thoughtful evaluation of a central problem with capitalism– taking the emphasis away from what is most important. I also like your vision of an alternative. Any time that I see a capitalism that rewards people for the actions that the majority of us actually want (and that benefits the earth that sustains us), I am all for it.

  5. Being a former employee in biotech food research, I have a pretty strong opinion when it comes to sustainable food production. After working first hand with these genetically modified organisms, I’ve come have a very deep understanding of the technology. There seems to be a belligerence in the mentality of the GMO researchers that if it weren’t for their technology, the whole world would be getting cancer from pesticide application. One of the problems I see is that people are still getting cancer from pesticide application even with biotechnologically altered foods dominating the marketplace. In the GMO industry, there is a general attitude on intolerance and a reluctance to accept any other form of food production as a reasonable alternative. The mentally in this industry seems to conclude that if something isn’t working, you just need to persist and increase it. It’s like putting bigger and bigger Band-Aids on an artery laceration and thinking that eventually you will stop the bleeding. I read an article today where farmers were using a new 48 row planter to plant corn. The question to me seems to be why you need to exponentially increase the amount of non-nutritious food production. Planting more corn with low nutritional content to be used as filler in the human diet seems like another example of doing more of the same and expecting a different result. The farmers are no longer motivated by sustenance, but grow their crops to be sold on the open market. Whether or not that crop is a viable means of human nutrition and survival takes a back seat to gross profit and the business of farming. Coalitions like the one mentioned in this article seems to present a more sane approach to survival and food production. It gives control of the food back to the people eating it, and provides an alternative to the massive corporate oligarchy that currently controls the production and management in the United States.

    • Hi Josh, thank for this comment and for sharing your experience as a gmo researcher in a recent post here. Producing more and more ethanol when it takes more energy to produce it than it gives us in burning it is about as useful as producing greater crops of foods that lacks more and more nutrition. In this case, it is not only like going for a bigger and bigger bandaid but doing so while continuing to enlarge the cut. Illustrates the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
      There is obviously some blindness in the gmo mentality: of course there is motive to this madness, which is protecting special interests and their profits. I sometimes wonder if these folks haven’t noticed they live on the same planet as the rest of us and what they do will effect them and their children as well. But on the other hand, maybe they do a good job of denial of the critical consequences of their actions to justify their work.
      In the end, we can’t let folks with such critical blindspots determine our planet’s future: time to take things into our own hands as the folks at this propagation fair did. Without customers the gmo project as currently constituted will eventually fail. I just hope we develop alternatives quickly enough to protect the resilience of the natural systems that sustain us all.

  6. Do you really want to get me started about Monsanto, Dow Chemical and the other companies that are bent on destroying our future for the sake of a few dollars?

    They do not represent community values in the sense of sharing for all rather than profit for a few. They have developed plant species that are designed to be grow in any habitat. These species can spread and become an invasive species. Since they are “Round Up ready” there are very few chemicals that can eradicate them once they are established.

    These “high end” technologies are designed for large corporate farms. The chemicals are toxic, the commercial fertilizers are made from fossil fuels and this monoculture fetish uses considerable amounts of water to grow crops that are neither suitable nor safe for human consumption.

    Indeed, as is stated in this article, it is a fool’s bargain to trade away temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us. It is clearly irrational to give economic rewards to those who undermine the sources of our survival and spread toxins to any part of the planet we share.

    It is even more shameful for companies to keep producing chemical that are banned here in the USA. The same chemicals are not banned in developing countries so Dow and Monsanto sell them to these poor countries all the while knowing their harmful effects. I have firsthand knowledge of their ethics because I have dealt with them for years while I was on our farm. What they are doing is wrong, dead wrong.

    • Thanks for your perspective on the ways in which such “high end” technologies are not only wrong, but “dead wrong”, Jeff. And we are on the other end of the stick in terms of the production of toxic chemicals. Used to be we banned them here but made them for export (or allowed businesses to empty their shelves of them one way or another). Now we have lower standards than places like Canada, Europe and New Zealand– so we use toxic lawn chemicals banned there, for instance. Lisa Jackson, new EPA administrator is trying to change that. We should keep watch on this process and offer support when we can.

  7. The key statement in this essay is “It is a fool’s bargain to trade away temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us”. For too long this has been the story of the degradation of our lands. As this essay states, we need to have care for all that sustains us. That means not overuse and keep technology at a level in which it preserves the biodiversity in the land. High end technology only works for the large corporations like Monsanto. If we look at history, when the companies came in, the natural resources of the land were depleted. The salmon industry is a good example of this. Fish wheels and other technologies degraded the salmon fishery. In order to sustain food production for an increasing population, we need to use both care and lower end technologies. The key for future production is patience and efficiency in our use of technology and realizing community values

    • I like your comparison of high end technology with more sustainable technology, Scott. The example of the salmon fishery is a good one: pointedly, the traps that native people used, as Jim Lichotawich indicates, might have depleted the salmon runs if they had chosen to use them that way. So it is both the kind of technology we use and the way it is used that matter.

  8. I have come into this class with the same anxieties about our environment as it seems so many others who have already commented here. But this article gave me hope more than any other emotion. Maybe because I am determined to find a positive route and follow it and hopefully spread hope and healthier, more sustainable habits. I am in no way diminishing what others have written and the completely valid and educated concerns presented. I don’t have the knowledge or background that others have and was fascinated by the posts and actually learned a lot and will probably explore some of the information further when time permits. For my own selfish purposes though, I continue to look for those areas that offer hope and this article definately did. The propagation fair epitomizes what the quote of the week is speaking to. I see ‘traditional agricultural methods’ as meaning a deep understanding of the local eco-system and what it can sustain. This keeps bringing me back to Gaviotas and how they worked and experimented and learned from the environment. Rather than bending the environment to grow what they wanted they searched for what could be sustained and enhance the area. The results were so heartening(love that book!) This learning could then be taught to others and they shared it freely. Isn’t that what our readings are talking about? Learning from the environment then passing on the knowledge from generation to generation thereby building on what is already known. This propagation fair seems to be the essence of that belief system. I know I have to stop myself from writing too much but I also think this ties into Native American wisdom.

    I will try to be brief listing some of the thoughts I came away with from this article. First, I think that the propagation fair offers empowerment. What greater personal power than to know one can develop a garden to feed themselves and maybe some other community members in a sustainable and cost effective way. Not only that, but what satisfaction eating from one’s own garden brings knowing that the food is ‘safe’. If, indeed, one feels powerless against large corporations then isn’t growing your own and buying local an effective way to limit supporting those corporations? It may not feel like much but as more of us do it the dominant worldview will shift. One thing I know for sure is that constant anger, frustration, and feeling powerless can deplete what energy one might have to put toward finding solutions. Maybe that’s what corporations are banking on. I am not saying that those feelings aren’t justified, rather that we can find solutions and all is not lost if we work together. Maybe a shift to more community minded thinking is going to be necessary. Community gardens are brilliant. Learning from each other in how to develop a sustainable garden, strengthens communities, breeds respect for each other’s knowledge, keeps or can lead to buying local. It will also enhance good, effective and respectful communication. I think this propagation fair offered more than what appears on the surface. It offers hope and a path to a new world with sustainable living that can be good for everyone (maybe not the big corporations so much). We still have personal power and choices. Though the tide sometimes feels overwhelmingly like our power has been irrevocably usurped by big, faceless corporations making a ton off of us, this fair shows us that that might not necessarily be true. Your article gives me hope and that makes me happy and I like happy!

    • I like happy too, Sue! I am touched by the depth of your feelings here–and both the grief over what exists and hope for making a change. This fair was something else: it was just plain fun. Can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than talking about growing trees with those who love them.
      We are not powerless, as you remind us — though what we face sometimes seems overwhelming, our hearts can still guide us. Thanks for your post.

  9. When this article brought up the value of care, I immediately was reminded of Nel Noddings’ ethic of care. According to her theory, an act is right when it comes from a position of caring—it fortifies and nourishes relationships, from which our moral obligations arise. All living things are kin; family includes all members of our large biotic community of interconnected, equal parts. Humans are but one part of this community and hold no place of superiority. Eating reflects our deeply intimate relationship to our food, which should not be brutal or painful. It is important to eat in an environmentally friendly way to foster a more nutritive and sustaining relationship between humans and the plants and animals we eat. I think this ethic of care has a lot of overlap with what this article discusses in terms of sustainable food production. I believe that an ethic of care would foster a place-based approach to food technology, seek to preserve biodiversity, and rely not on depleting natural resources—but on the unlimited resource of human knowledge. Ultimately, an ethic of care would maintain and honor the land that sustains us.

    • Hi Kirsten. Noddings’ theory is especially interesting, as she links it to an ethic linked to the behavior of the feminine gender (not women per se) in this culture. Related in a sense to a recent book on the importance of “tending”.
      While I worked with Chehalis it did occur to me that the overriding ethic expressed by many of them with respect to both environmental and social behavior was care. You may a pointed–and hopeful– connection between the idea of care and knowledge: one an elder used in assessing the accuracy of the work of Thelma Adamson (an anthropologist who visited them in 1926)– she approved her work because of its care. You have an important point here.

  10. The production of food for household consumption is a very significant cause of our environmental problems, with the two main classes of- food meat and poultry, and fruits, vegetables, and grains. Consumption of these foods is responsible for most of the water use and contributes heavily to land use and to both common and toxic pollution. Producing food will always be a resource intensive activity, but impacts could be reduced considerably. Most of the changes must be systematic ones undertaken by farmers with the assistance and prodding from governments. But individual consumers can also help move things in the right direction by eating less meat and more certified organic produce. Clearly, sustainable agriculture needs to be regarded as an essential goal, and we can’t simply rely on technology to solve these issues we all are faced with.

    • Thoughtful response Kim. I think we need to evaluate just HOW a resource intensive activity like food production is intensive: that is, is it intensive in the inputs from oil or machinery or is it intensive in its complex fit with place and human labor and thought. I would like to see a shift to more of the latter. I think there is no doubt that eating less meat will help (1900-some gallons of water to produce one pound of hamburger), but I also think we have to look at context (which you imply in supporting organic food). Some beef is grazed on grassland not suitable for other agricultural purposes and not fed grain: some chickens run free in backyards and feast from insects and weeds (and your garden, if you don’t watch it!) The eggs and meat from these two very differently raised animals exert a very different resource load. I find it interesting that some meat is now labeled “sustainably raised”– I am not sure how we can judge that exactly, but thinking about this is certainly a move in the right direction.
      I think we might be able to rely on technology, but we need to understand technology from a broader cultural perspective than the toys of the modern age: a technology is simply a tool. Knowledge is a tool and stories are tools and so is the grafting down at this fair.
      Thanks for your comment.

  11. I think Sue’s post is awesome and I like the positive approach. I would say the solution does lie within each one of us. It is not the corporations who are going to change right away but if the people do, then eventually change will come. I lived in Nebraska where there was an ethanol plant, a mile down the road. Of coarse, we didn’t think anything of it because it brought work into a small town. Only through education, do we understand the repercussions of our actions. The problem I saw with the ethanol plant was early in the morning, and late in the evening when the winds came and so did the strange smell. Truthfully, I think when it comes to building our own gardens and supporting ourselves, most people would rather go the grocery store because it is easie even though, the food in the stores are dead and not beneficial. I find through understanding how to grow foods for ourselves, the benefits are enormous. However it takes a change of heart to bring change,and the actions come from us all.

  12. I find that this article has a lot to offer and the idea of using ancient and more natural ways to produce food is a good one, though when it comes to food sustainability on a global scale I dont see this technique filling the bill. The more resistant ,the shorter time it takes to mature may enable a better yield as well as possible two harvests per season instead of one. Also the ability to enable crops not normally available can be made so through hydroponic gardening with better yields and greater availability during off seasons. greater yields and more availability can feed more pepole and the human population is not shrinking. In the future we will have to learn to grow larger amounts in smaller areas to feed more pepole this is where genetic enhancing can really give us a jump start. While I do agree there are great advantages to natural farming I dont belive it will be able to sustain a growing population.

    • Thanks for your comment, Steven. I am not sure what you mean by “natural farming”, but you might want to look into permaculture–if you haven’t already. Traditional farming in Britain used winter gardening–and there was a workshop on winter gardening at this fair. Growing more on less land can only be done (as far as I know) by diversity and must be done without sacrificing the fertility of the land in the process. Check out the work done by the New Agricultural Movement in Bangladesh (there is a post on this there). And also by the Goldman Environmental Prize winner in our “quote of the week”– Shiva makes the point that in measuring high yields, what we must do is measure the diversity of all crops that are grown, rather than attempt to measure one super-crop. That is, we might produce more corn if we grown corn only: but if we add in other crops and animal husbandry on the same amount of land, we get less corn but a much higher overall yield.
      The time dimension is also important: as sustainable logging addresses: better to be able to take a sustained yield for one hundred years (as a Menominee hardwood forest has) and have the same board feet in the forest as you started with than to take out a two or three years’ yield all at once.
      As far as I can see, agricultural diversity is where it is at: check out the link in the first “comment” after this post.
      And keep thinking! I hope you also enjoy looking at Gaviotas and what they have done.

  13. I think that the seed fair is just what we need to do more of. Teaching and passing knowledge onto others, so that it will spread. I don’t know much about the topic of genetic engeneering of plants/foods, but it seems to me that it can’t be good. Anything that is done for profit only benefits those making the profit. It seems like scientists trying to have a quick fix, but quick fixes never have positive outcomes in the long term.
    I think passing down knowledge to natural farmers, and teaching individuals to grow their own food when possible is the best long term solution. This is something I am trying to do for my children. We don’t have extra money, and struggle to buy groceries some weeks. So when we can gather food from our garden to make dinner, or pick fruit when we want a snack–we save money. (and we have all noticed how much better tasting it is)We’re just learning, but I want my children to make conscious decisions about what they put in their bodies, and how their choices affect others, including the earth.
    I think that when you make choices that consider others, it helps to show respect for oneself, as well as others. I think the worst decision I have made are done out of convenience. I am trying to change that and take the time. As I stated before, I don’t have alot of knowledge on this subject, but as I learn, I want to pass it on to my children, so that maybe they will act thoughtfully and respectfully as adults. I do feel more hopeful when I learn about people who are teaching others ways to improve and make a difference, like the “sharing for all rather than profit for few” concept at the fair.

    • Thanks for your comment. Good point that “quick fixes never have positive outcomes in the long run”; time to trade some sustainable and disciplined action for technological sleight of hand.
      What a wonderful example you provide in the ways in which you and your children rely on your garden which gives you more security that the money that comes to you in whatever way. I absolutely agree that making conscious consumer choices indicates respect for ourselves as well as the world we share.
      I think that knowledge flows from values and the kind of motivation and experience you express here!

  14. This is a great article, and I found the section titled “sustainable food-producing technology should need few secondary material inputs” particularly thought-stimulating, as it pertains directly to the concept of elders and scientists we have been talking about in lesson one. It seems that as the human population continues to overuse our non-renewable resources, more and more technological advances emerge such as more “efficient” machinery or new types of fertilizers or pesticides. The article implies, and I whole-heartedly agree, that we should not be applying mechanical band-aids, but we should be reverting on a large scale to the methods that were effective prior to the industrial age. Localizing our resources is more important than ever as we dig ourselves deeper into global environmental distress.

    • Hi Kate, thanks for your comment. I agree that localizing our resources are more important than ever-and that an important measure of the efficiency of food-producing technology should be how little secondary input it entails.

  15. I’m very happy to see you addressing the issue of positive and negative food sources for the world. Especially of interest was the idea of diversity in plantings – we never know what kind of weather or issues a year is going to bring, so how can we know what to plant for? I believe we’ve changed our thinking regarding planting fruit and vegetables – in order to make the best use of space, the most logical answer is to plant varieties that are going to survive most anything, not plant a number of weaker varieties and expect a few to succeed. As a gardener myself, the mindset at the beginning of the year is that we’re going to harvest from every one of the plants that are in the ground. Losing plants would be discouraging. I think an even more concerning problem that has resulted from GMOs than relying on a single variety is the practice of relying on a single crop type- monocultures. Endless fields of corn, strawberries, garlic, anything – the lack of variety creates a large expanse with no biodiversity. Imagine a field that a frog can’t even hop through. It’s like a giant target for insects and disease, because there is nothing to break up the spread.

    This reminds me very much of many of Michael Pollan’s novels. One of his earlier books, Botany of Desire, goes into detail about man’s relationship with potatoes, and how biotechnology came about.
    Overall, I have to say that there has to be an interest in growing plants in order to foster the ideas you speak of in this article. It is very easy to grow plants to provide food for your family in the US, even in urban areas. I think the main issue is will on the part of the people. Case in point, how easy is it to purchase and make healthy food for your family compared to how many people actually do it? How to make people understand the importance is the real roadblock.

    • Hi Jamie, thanks for the response from a gardener! I do leave a bit of room in my garden for experimentation– seeing what does and does not make it. I can do this since I have so many fruit trees from which I get abundant crops. I have so much shade in my yard from these it is hard to grow many veggies except for greens and native understory plants, so I am also a part of a local CSA.
      A novel is a work of fiction; I thought this book of Pollan’s was a real history. Have you read Pollan’s recent list of guidelines for healthy eating- they are very thought provoking. Seven key ones are reproduced here: “”.
      And I do think urban gardens are catching on, and agree with you about the dangers of monocultures– it always did seem like a field of one crop all neatly weeded with space between each plant was a field of sitting ducks for insect and disease attacks.

  16. Caring for the environment as stated in community values should be the single most important value in sustaining the environment. Anyone can plant trees and graft plants. Without continued caring for these plants it would be useless. It’s the accumulation of neglect that we all develop that ruins our environment. The natural world suffers because of this. We’re all consuming at a horrible ratio to the environment. I don’t feel that we need any special technologies to sustain the environment. “Sustainable food-producing technology should need few secondary material inputs.” We really need to slow down our consumption and start planting with care as much as we can. The propagation fair can help us realize the Care we all need to develop. Caring should to be sustained, because our environment is too easy to neglect.

    • You have an excellent point on the negative consequences of the “accumulation of neglect”. I absolutely agree with you that care is a central value that should be sustained–and is the value upon which our hope for facing current environmental crises can be based.

  17. In the current economic times I think that more people are opting to grow at least a small garden – tomatoes, green beans, etc. In the local nurseries it is sometimes hard to determine which plants are genetically engineered or tweaked. In my experience labeling something as genetically altered tends to steer potential buyers away from that particular item. Perhaps if there were stronger consumer labeling laws consumers could make more informed decisions about their food choices.

    • Good point about labeling, Kristen. Consumer advocates have been trying to institute labeling of gmo foods for several decades: the industry (Monsanto in particular) have fought pitched battled using money and influence to prevent this, since their research has told them such labeling will cut into their sales. I think this is inexcusable.

  18. I really appreciate what you touched on about grafting. When you stated “Technology with this type of complexity relies not on depleting natural resources—but on the unlimited resource of human knowledge.” It really got me thinking about our industrial world. It is apparent that we look to find ways of sustaining ourselves in which depleting the natural resource is the result. Society is consumed in developing technology more and more each day. If the industrial world were to practice care instead of practicing quantity, I strongly believe the problems raised today would not be problems. Just like the fair you recently attended, gatherings like these exercise the use of sustainability in the way of only taking what you need. Therefore not only does the industrial world need to take into account the excessiveness of products they provide for the consumers, but the consumers also have to be aware of how and where these products came from.

    • Hi Angela, thanks for your comment. I’m with you on the idea that care is an essential value we all need to cultivate– just as are taking what we need, and living lightly and wisely. And I actually think we need to cultivate more technology–but technology of the right kind. Wisdom passed between generations is also a technology.

  19. I went to the website for the ‘propagation fair’ but found useful information. When you mentioned that they had workshops and one that included winter gardening I got very excited. Living at 6600 feet doesn’t offer much in the way of traditional summer gardening. I am very into the belief of ‘food over lawn’. My own front-yard currently houses 7 fruit trees and will soon (as of mother’s day) include 6 seedless grapevines. Next year I hope to add berries and apricots, after that I will add nuts. My husband handles the garden and greenhouse.

    I also agree with the biodiversity plan of multiple varieties. I have three different varieties of cherries in four different varieties of plums. It was interesting the mention of the hedgerows as food sources in England, that being the way I plan to grow apricots.

    I was also very interested in the area that discusses grafting as we are planning to purchase a citrus tree that will include graftings of five different fruits.

    The area that discusses toxic chemicals and fossil fuels as well as pesticides was all so very interesting since there are so many non toxic ways to care for your plants. I use marigolds and onions around our garden as my major pest control and for specific plants I would use either diluted dish soap or ladybugs.

    I totally believe it is a fool’s bargain to trade temporary profit at the exchange of the destruction of the land. I have never lived on such a small plot of land before and still felt encouraged to be able to produce some of my own food.

    I would have commented on ‘quote of the week’ if I could have found it. Sorry.

    • There are a number of excellent gardening references on winter gardening, Cendi. I don’t know where you live, but there is likely something available for your locale and climate– though it is great to be at a verbal presentation. The Oregon State University Extension service website is a great source of things like preserving info.
      I especially like to grow fruit trees and vines such as the ones you have since they are so low maintenance and high producing. Happy Mother’s Day grapevine planting!
      Thanks for sharing something of your own gardening success. As for quote of the week: you should see it in a box on the top left hand corner (under the heading) of every page you view on this site. Each “quote of the week” is moved to quotes to ponder when a new quote is added each Sunday:
      The last quote on this page is the one that can be related to this fair and its methods: here is the flier for the fair:

  20. I am very pleased that people are really starting to question the origins of their food. Sustainable food production has so many good impacts on us and the earth. If we focus on trying to grow or locally purchase the majority of our food we can cut down on our carbon footprint, consume better foods and support our local economy. I have found that local growers have that community spirit expressed in the article; that love to share their knowledge and encourage home food production. One of my favorite things is dinners that focus on slow food with a love for conversation with good friends.

    Sustainable food production also includes refusing harmful food production. This is where biodiversity is imperative. We are offered reasonably priced beef because the process of raising beef has become a cheap, mass production. This is due to the cattle consuming corn in large quantities; the cattle’s system cannot digest the corn and need antibiotics just to live. The major contributor to this absurd method of farming is the corn industry; the corn farmers have become the biggest lobby in Washington, DC. Due to politics our country has become the largest corn producer in the country and we are consuming more antibiotics in addition to the cattle.

    Reducing our carbon footprint includes shopping locally. Buying that water from Fuji or grapes that are out of season from Chili may seem cool but think about how far that product and how many fossil fuels were burned to arrive at your doorstep. There are many items that need to travel some distance and I feel blessed that I live in California next to the bread basket of the nation but we all can take small steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

    If we as a nation can expect to move into a sustainable life we need to focus on our environment, our livelihoods, and our food. I am excited to see what the future holds. (Sorry about the rant, this is something I feel passionate about).

    • Thanks for your comment, Renea. I am glad you shared your passion with us– could be because I agree. I think we can judiciously shop for international goods that are not local but ONLY if they are “fair trade”: that may be more expensive, but I don’t it will hurt us to limit our consumption of such luxury goods. Also, whatever we buy should not be made to ultimately throw away in the non-food arena.
      Though the problem is that all we need in modern life is not always available in durable and/or local versions, consumers can drive a substantial change in their choices. And growing our own (in concert with our neighbors) is a step many of us can take in whatever small way.

  21. I liked the concept in this essay. Though I didn’t know what grafting was, I had to google it. Now I’m wishing I had a house with a yard instead of a small apartment. I especially liked the idea of growing food on the roof. Just the other day I was looking out the window which is level with all the houses roofs near by and I thought to myself how useful all that space would be if the roofs were flat. All that useless space in every city and suburb could be made into gardens. I believe I read that soil is a good insulator as well, so there would be less heat needed in the winter. There are endless possibilities here.

    • Thanks for taking the initiative to find out about grafting, Jennifer. The internet is sometimes useful that way! In the Middle East, rooftop gardens are classic: although it doesn’t rain t here the way it does here– we need some slope to keep most roofs from leaking. However, there is always a window box– and I wonder if you have any community gardens in your area. And if that fails, you might find a “csa” (partnership with a local farm) around that you might join. Here is a link to “local harvest” which tells about csas and gives a map of them all over the country. If there are too many veggies for you in a membership, you can also share it with someone.

  22. I once read a novel of Barbara Kingsolver in which a man tried to plant a garden in Africa because he wanted to feed the hungry in a village and teach them how to feed themselves. He didn’t realize the seeds he brought from America were meant for American soil and that the local pollinators wouldn’t touch the stuff.
    This was the first time I realized how important variety was when it came to growing food. I think it is very important that people realize what damage monoagriculture can do. A devastating starvation is that last thing a planet this populated needs. I am so glad that there are people out there that are educating others on the need for sustainable agriculture. The fact that they don’t need all the secondary technology and large plots of land saves money and fuel.
    Like the man in Ms. Kingsolver’s novel, they may have originally meant well with genetic engineering. We know now that the only thing coming from that is a quick buck for the wealthy.

    • I like your example of well intentioned problems that come with globalization that does not pay adequate attention to place. Mono-agriculture causes serious problems indeed– ones we cannot afford in our current environment situation. Thanks for your comment, Ashley.

  23. This week’s quote, “In order to survive, help others to survive,” could be both the subtitle of this particular article and of Lesson One. These very concise and well-made points about sustainable gardening and farming promote this ethic throughout each suggestion. We cannot use techniques, tools, or chemicals that will harm other plants or life-systems in order to further promote the livelihood of one individual crop. This principle is also reflected in the readings on Thomas Berry’s religious environmental ethic of citizenship ( and in the writings on Indigenous peoples, found both on this site and in Suzuki & Knudtson’s Wisdom of the Elders. It appears to be a historical fact that survival for any living being is crucial to helping others.

    I especially enjoyed the information on the “complexity of a technology” which states that the complexity should be based on the knowledge source and experience base that the technology is originated from. This speaks to me as yet another reason indigenous wisdom cannot be ignored or devalued – it is one of the very few sources modern humans have for technology with a significant historical backing.

    One last note from this article that really stood out to me – the idea that “one size fits all” farming and gardening is never appropriate and that the way we plant and grow crops (whatever their size) must be adapted to the nature of the land we’re working with, not the way we simply *feel* like doing things. Again, the idea of partnership becomes important here – we have to pay attention to the land we’re working with and treat it as something that we can learn from, not as something that we have an authoritative dominion over & which can be bent to our will. Clearly, with the current and past issues in agriculture (the Irish potato famine as an example mentioned in this article) it has been proven that people cannot truly bend the land to their will or specific agricultural practices, and to do so is foolish at best, but also often dangerous to both the well-being of ourselves and other living beings.

    I found this last point especially interesting as I have grown up around small scale gardeners who seemed to have an intimate knowledge of which plants and methods worked and which would not work with the land they were growing their spring & summer crops on. When they were in direct connection with the land, and had spent many years working in the same location, they had come to know the individual agricultural “personality” of their yards, pastures, etc. It always amazed me when my grandfather knew with such ease what plants would thrive in his back yard, which would fail, and those that could make it with extra help and care to adapt. Articles such as this one illustrate for me how he gained this knowledge and how important first-hand knowledge and experience can be.

    • How fortunate you are to have grown up among farmers who express what Wendell Berry terms the “agrarian mind”– that carefully attends to and nourishes particular landscapes. Your grandfather was obviously a wise man who has passed on some of his perspective to you as indicated by the insights expressed in this comment, Lauren. Adapting ourselves to particular ecosystems through knowledge sanction by experience and passed on between generations is essential to addressing our current environmental crises. It is a time when we can hardly afford to ignore the wisdom of a man who knows just what plants will thrive on the land he tends and how to provide the care for these.

  24. I completely agree that with all the new innovations we have made over the years, and the inventions that we have created, we completely forget about all the old techniques that we once had. While these inventions and innovations that we now have might work better in some situations, but often they create so many side effects that it ruins the products. From a business stand point, using the old techniques is usually two slow and you can’t make as much money. But from a ecofeminist stand point, we need to focus more on our old techniques. While these older techniques make take longer, they develop a much better product, and leave no harm on our nature system, or on our populations. There have been many occasions of people getting sick from pesticides, and various things of that nature. Before there were these chemicals we used, it was completely all natural, and much better for our bodies.

  25. The topic of seed saving is new and interesting to me. As for the rest of the essay there are a few thoughts that I have taken away from it. I know with the problem of world hunger and child malnutrition is an issue that needs to be addressed earlier rather than later. People are dying every day from not enough food, when there is enough food, at least the possibility of having enough food. Instead of always try the most painless way of solving the problem, we need to try and create more appropriate ways of solving it. People are just taking the easy way out while trying to produce the most so they can reap the profits. It really is time we think smarter and act smarter with how we eat, and produce food. Even if that means having a small garden in your backyard, don’t the vegetable you grow taste better anyways???

    • They taste better to me, Jonathan– so does the fruit I harvest from my trees. How fortunate I am to have a yard with such trees in it. As you point out, the instant (or get rich quick) approach isn’t handling our need to feed the world: we need to be “smarter and smarter”. Thanks for your comment.

  26. Place based technology is what is driving a grass roots approach to locally grown food. Obtaining your food from local farms and ranches is a great way to get food that is fresh and tasty. It helps the local economy and allows you food that grows best in your area instead of produce that has been in cold storage for months.

    Sustainable food produced technology is the basis for heirloom seeds and plants. These plants only grow best in certain areas so if they grow in your area they will thrive and produce abundantly. Heirloom seed banks are trying to keep seed biodiversity alive and thriving.

    A dedicated gardener will not need any secondary material inputs. Practical problem solving helps by just being aware of all the elements in your garden. By eliminating secondary material inputs a person can produce bountiful fruits and vegetables with no chemicals. Good old weeding does wonders.

    Gardeners often keep logs or a history of what works and things to avoid. The history of a garden helps one know what the future can hold. This is where you can avoid secondary material inputs.

    Maintaining a garden with no harmful side effects is not complicated or hard. Natural approaches like applying ladybugs for aphids or making manure tea for nutrients aids a gardener in creating a garden that can be enjoyed naturally.

    These are all applications that should be applied to the crops that feed the masses.

    • Great points about the advantaged of place-based gardening, Renea– down to the specific places where we live.
      I very much like your point about “good old weeding”–and if you pull these weeds rather than spray them not only do you avoid harm to yourself, your family, and the environment, you can compost them into “green manure”, thus avoiding, as you note, secondary inputs.
      I would guess you are a bit of an avid gardener yourself.

  27. I think this article brings up a good point in saying that we need to participate in a system that promotes “sharing for all rather than profit for a few”. It’s sad to me that farmers are continually growing crops that will get them the most money instead of paying attention to nutritional needs.One of the other articles on this site also says that we have all the resources we need in our local area to sustain our nutritional needs, but we don’t utilize them. Instead a majority of the land that could be used to produce a variety of foods is used mainly for grass seed, something that can be sold to make a profit, but not something that we can use to feed our communities. I think if people were able to shift their focus from money for themselves to helping others we would be a lot better off. Unfortunately the system we have set up now makes this hard.
    I like Renea’s comment (above) when she points out that growing a garden without any negative side effects is actually simpler than some people think, because it really isn’t hard! Not only is it not complicated, but everyone would be much better off without all the harmful chemicals some people dump on their gardens.
    I think it’s also important for people to realize that growing a reliable and less harmful food source doesn’t mean not using any technology at all– it just means we need to find a better balance of technology that won’t leave harmful side effects.

    • Thanks for your comment, Amy. Since knowledge is also a form of technology (which simply means tool in its broadest sense), sharing knowledge and learning from one’s own experience are technologies that certainly help us to garden well. It is unfortunate that we need to earn a living with money– so that some is necessary for survival, but we don’t need to accumulate it for its own sake, thinking that someday we will get enough to be secure. Security lies in a different direction, and caring for the earth that sustains us is an essential part of that.

  28. Back in the mid-60’s (before all this ogano-vegan stuff got started) average per capita consumption of meat in the USA was about 160 pounds.

    Now, after several decades of being pounded with the advantages of the vegan lifestyle per capita meat consumption is more like 240 pounds.

    I say, when you order that triple whopper at Burger King, that you should never, ever, ever, ever say “Hold the lettuce, onion, or tomato”.

    • Seems to me we have been even more pounded with fast food/junk food ads than organic ones. Time, as you note, to give veggies some equal time. Thanks for your comment, Joe.

  29. I agree with the above article and most of the material learned throughout this course (Phil 443). The issue I cannot seem to grasp and comprehend is how we as a society have come to this? This article illustrates excellent examples of sustainability in respects to food production with seed regeneration and grafting techniques, as well as multi-cultural and ancient success to this respect. However, my concerns are this: if only a small portion of our modern world are aware of these environmental issues and care to make a difference, how can such a drastic change be implemented if many of our kind are still neglegent and unwilling to make the required changes? I try to remain optomistic, but it often seems difficult, frustrating, and nearly impossible dealing with the unwilling!

    • Thanks for your comment, Josh. It is sometimes hard to face the issues confronting us and remain optimistic: which is why I think the inspiration of those in “how can you not plant a rose in wartime” (essay here) are so important to all of us.

  30. Sustainable food sources and the open sharing of information go hand in hand. Just as sustainable food and the sharing of this resource would revolutionize and future proof our food supply, the removal of outdated copyright laws and the non-sharing ways on our current society would do the same for our minds and culture.

    Sustainable food is needed for there to be a hope of a future that allows for the continuation of our race. Synthetic food substitutes have been shown to be dangerous and might be altering our very genetic makeup. This would eventually lead to a select few with the power and resources necessary to grow natural food. Undoubtedly this would lead to the elite taking advantage of demand and need to elevate themselves while damning the masses.

    This is similar to the copyright giants and corporation of today using their resources to restrict the flow of information to the people. Without a change to this system, books and knowledge will eventually become such a bartering tool that it becomes inaccessible to the people.

    The continue as a race, we must strive for the open and free flowing, share based economy and mindset. Without doing so, there is no hope for a bright future.

    • You have an essential point on the sharing of information here, Rick. This is especially true with respect to new patent laws that protect the right to patent living things such as cells and plants and animals. I understand the next big push of the agribusiness folks is not only to patent natural products used by indigenous peoples (neem, for instance), but then to stop the same people who originated its use from using it without a fee. There is no rational or moral basis for such a move– which I think we must certainly stop.
      Knowledge (as in traditional stories) might be “paid for” with certain acts among traditional peoples– but these acts were geared to proving a child was ready to handle the knowledge, not to locking it up for the profit of some based on the starvation of others.
      Indeed, our right to know is essential to democracy– how can we make moral or rational decisions– on the ballot or in the grocery store– if we don’t know what we are choosing?

  31. Although there can be some benefits to genetic engineering, there is still little we know about the long term potential harm to human health and ecosystems from widespread use of these crops. And, if GM organisms are released into the environment and cause some unintended harmful genetic and ecological effects, they can’t be recalled. Also, large corporations have not only polluted, but have patented and gained executive ownership over an important component of agriculture that has been around for thousands of years, even suing farmers to make them use their seeds. It’s pretty clear that modern industrialized agriculture has had a greater harmful impact on the environment than just about any other human activity. More sustainable forms of community food production and sharing will greatly reduce the harmful environmental impacts of current systems while increasing food security for all. Making the transition to more sustainable forms of food production poses some challenges. But it can be done if we heed the ecological lessons from nature, and like indigenous communities- simply care.

    • I like the balance in your comment, Kimberly. I think there are better agricultural models to follow–like those of nature itself. It will take some doing, as you point out, to make the transition, but I am heartened by the fact that we are already in transition in terms of this change. Now all we need to do is shift our will — and our science to the common good rather than profit for a few at whatever cost.

  32. This is why I love going to the farmer’s markets. Where I grew up was int he middle of desert and cattle country. The only fields you saw were of cotton, for as wide as the eye could see. It was like seeing fields of clouds. But seeing vegetables, fruits, unless it was a small backyard garden, carefully tended in the heat, you just didnt see it. Houston, well, there was a farmer’s market, but so unstable, it was never in the same place twice.

    But here, they are everywhere, and the varieties…….so far beyond anything you can get in the store. Purple potatoes and purple tomatoes still surprise, and delight me. Green beans as long as my arm. I love to get a bag of them and just munch on them as my wife shops. Hubbard squash, I have never seen anything so large.

    To some people who are from this area, this may seem normal, common place. But to someone such as me, who has lived completely from a grocery market, the idea of a purple potato and a purple tomato are just laughable, and never to be believed until it is seen. By solely relying on a grocery store, we have limited our range of available food stuffs, and our taste buds. We set ourselves up for disaster as non-traditional foods slowly disappear simply because they are commerically viable or wanted…….

    I would much rather have that purple tomato, please!

  33. I found this article very interesting, especially regarding the grafting techniques and ideas of appropriate seed dispersal. Being a typical suburban youth, I never had a garden or grove of fruit trees. As I read more, I realized that I had little to no knowledge about the rearing of produce. Sadly, this is a fundamental means of survival. It reminds me of my work in the bank. Daily, I have customers who have no concept as to how to balance a checkbook, a seemingly simple financial skill. However, there is little education for these practical skills. The same goes with education regarding agriculture. Now, I’m not saying that every high school should have “Gardening 102”, but as future consumers, our youth should be informed on how to make positive choices when they are on their own. Teaching about the economics, science, and politics of food could greatly impact future generations. Perhaps we could begin to minimize some of the damage that has been inflicted due to monoculture, pesticides, and GMOs. I would like to think that I would have made some very different choices if I knew the state of our food supply ten years ago when I first stepped out on my own.

    • It is never too late to make different choices based on knowledge you now have. It is my hope that with more trees and urban gardens, it will be less and less the case that children growing up in cities will have so little connections to growing things. Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Clayton.

  34. I definitely agree that a grass roots gardening movement is a great way to begin a culture of sustainable food production. The example in a prior article of community gardens in Oakland bringing the community together was a great example of the great benefits that gardening holds. I also agree that gardening creates a healthy biodiversity. Sustainable food producing is quite obviously our future as well as our past, its interesting that presently mass produced GMOs are the status quo.

  35. There is a lot of knowledge contained in such propagation fairs. The world is entirely too diverse and complex to think that a one size fits all industrial approach to a global economy will be effective. We might be able to fit the shirt on, but circulation will be cut off somewhere and respiration will be uncomfortable.
    For me it all comes down to an argument I heard a few months back. If we have managed to mess up our planet and our health to the degree that they are referred to as epidemics and disasters in only a couple centuries, we are obviously doing something wrong. Humanity survived for hundreds of thousands of years prior to this without threatening their own survival.

    • Good points, Spencer. I don’t think there is any knowledge we can afford to ignore– and I think we will need to protect all the biodiversity we can in order to gain the flexibility to deal with current and coming environmental crises. Thanks for your comment!

  36. This propagation fair sounds really interesting and it seems like a lot of good information and knowledge was shared and exchanged. All of the workshops and informational booths sounded beneficial, and I really liked the idea of the school gardens program. In my opinion school gardens are excellent learning tools on many different levels and I wish that they were a more common component of schools today. Within the discussion of the components of “sustainable food-producing technologies” I think the idea of adapting technology to the needs of the local environment and to the needs of the local people is such an essential aspect of creating a sustainable food culture and a sustainable future in general. I also wanted to say that I recently watched a documentary titled “Blue Gold” based on the book by Maude Barlow about the world’s current water crisis. The video made it very clear that multinational corporations, and organizations that facilitate global trade such as the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund play a significant role in creating and perpetuating the development of technologies and trade structures that are harmful to local environments and to the local communities. So I think in order to protect our natural resources we need to empower local communities, develop and implement technologies based on the local environment, while utilizing collective knowledge and fewer material inputs and at the same time address economic and political institutions that create and perpetuate unsustainable and socially unjust practices.

    • These are very important points that come up again in the two posts here that follow this one. I have not seen this video, but I know that water is “gold” indeed–and that there are currently shortages of clean water all over the world. We in the US are headed for similar difficulties given the rates at which we are drawing down our water tables from industrial agriculture and development. The IMF has had a key role in dislocating peoples from their lands for the sake of extractive development– especially replacing subsistence farming– and thus exaggerating global hunger and ecological destruction.
      This sounds like an important video– it is time for each of us to get all the information we can on this essential topic–and then act accordingly.

  37. I just wonder how Monsanto’s workers (especially their top decision makers) live with themselves. I find it quite ironic that a company who is purportedly trying to help feed the hungry would be so stingy with their patent as to develop a terminator gene. I am not quite sure about what this gene entails, but I can make inferences. And I have to wonder, do companies really believe that food is a privilege? Food, above most things, should be a right. We need it to survive, so why would anyone be stingy with it? The idea just doesn’t sit right with me. Profits might be the answer. They are trying to protect their profits. Well, no amount of money would make me feel less guilt if there were people dying of hunger because of my actions. Just saying.

    I am very touched by these propagation fairs. It gives me hope that there is a small, but growing, faction of people who would not have the system as it is. They would rather have a community than wealth. When it comes right down to it, this would be anyone’s choice. They just may not know it yet.

    • I often wonder about this myself, Amanda. Do these folks feel that they somehow live in a different world than the rest of us and that what they release into it– or the social situaitons they help to create– won’t effect their own children. Your characterization of the terminator gene as “stingy” pure and simple, could not be a better one. Food should indeed be a right. I think, once again, the focus on profits above all are the answer– what better way to turn a profit than to lock up the food supply? Part of our worldview entails the idea that we need to “earn a living”–and those with money have the right to control this. As you note this has tragic consequences.
      My hope lies in the fact that not everyone agrees with and lives by this idea. For instance, there is a huge movement (“millions against Monsanto”) working to stem such corporate greed.
      I was touched by the propagation fairs as well. I think your last line is right on: there is so much more to life that might bring us true satisfaction!
      Thanks for sharing your insight and your passion here, Amanda.

  38. I love the idea of a fair dedicated to sharing sustainable agriculture and food production methods. What a great way to learn about these practices, than outside and by example. I did take a horticulture class in Junior High and I think that was my first hands on class learning about plants, irrigation and sustainability. Back then, not as much emphasis was placed on environmental issues, but we did get lessons on changes that needed to take place in our communities.

    Looking at the possible ways to grow local produce without genetically engineered food is simple. Why even go to the lengths harming people and creating chemicals, and unleashing toxins? When the solutions are as simple as practices that have worked for centuries it makes no sense why they would not be used today all around the globe. Pushing these practices should be a major issue and I hope these fairs can gain some major help to spread this information. I really want to start my own garden and learn the best ways to do that.

  39. We need to get back to growing our own food. Every home should have a garden – every community should have a garden. This is the only way to feed the world’s population sustainably. People have lost the basic agriculture skills that were passed down for thousands and thousands of years. I, like most Americans, no absolutely nothing about how to grow my own food. Nor do I really have the means to do that – I am a renter and gardens are actually prohibited by the owner! Buying locally and growing our own produce are the best way that we can help ourselves and our society. I think that every building in the world should have to have a garden somewhere on or around it – just as every building has walls. . The civilized world would be so much more beautiful and healthy if every building had a garden.

    • What a sad think for a landholder to prohibit gardens–when they might increase the value of his property. Perhaps he has not heard that a single large tree is worth tens of thousands of dollars– too bad you can’t use that argument to talk him in letting you plant, say, an apple tree. If there are not community gardens that you and your neighbors can take advantage of, there should be! Perhaps your vision of a world of garden that is both beautiful and healthy is the vision of the true “civilization”.

  40. The idea that we don’t need a huge portion of land to grow food producing plants is so important for people to be aware of. We can grow in so many random places like the example of a rooftop, or even indoors with proper sunlight. Becoming more knowledgeable about something like grafting is so beneficial for each individual, but can do so much for our earth as well. If there were more people growing their on foods, even if it is just one or two kinds of veggies, we would be reducing the need for so much production.

    • I like your perspective, Stefani: we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the way we care for small parcels of land is very important. A good reminder in the face of a worldview that so often values things done in large sweeps!

  41. Really, I thought the article pointed out just a few of the technologies that needed to be looked at when thinking of sustaining our population. As far as the togetherness with communities I think the problem in some places in finding someone willing to give instead of simply making a few dollars. Really all that is needed is a generous person willing to give instead of simply make a profit.

    I remember something like this growing up though. My aunt was given an heirloom tomato that my great uncle gave her and this mid-size tomato ended up both selling like crazy to restaurants in Chicago, NW Indiana, and Southeast Michigan, and the seeds were now given to countless individuals who have planted them in their own back yards and continued the life of those tomatoes. I think people tend to forget how much life just a few seeds have.

    As far as this, being something that would work for the future I definitely have to agree. Once a speaker of the House said, “all politics is local” and I have come to realize that while states work together it’s this local actions that smooth out operations. Ultimately, while gm foods are prevalent today we do need some I think but to limit this would do wonders for not only our health but for nature.

    • Thanks for your comment and sharing the experience of your aunt’s heirloom tomato, Christopher. I hope someone somewhere is still growing it. The local is the building block for anything that goes beyond.

  42. In order to feed the world, we have to make the food available. We already are producing mass amounts of food with the help from current technologies, but the propagation of seeds to more remote areas is important to get poor areas a source of food. This idea of propagation is used in many indigenous cultures exchanging with one another. The problem that arises in Western culture is the lack of profit in a propagation fair. Like it was stated in the essay, it is”A fools bargain to trade temporary profit for a few for the destruction of the land we need to sustain us.” This short term greed will have drastic negative effects on the earth from dangerous chemicals and genetically engineered plants of lower quality. The community needs to speak out against these agricultural corporations who are hell bent on gaining higher profit margins before entire nations end up ingesting more dangerous chemicals and genetically modified food.

    • Food and especially seed distribution is an essential point in feeding the world, as you point out, Kyle. Unfortunately, many indigenous peoples with large stores of seed variety are losing these due to globalization. On the other hand, there is some good news, multi-cropping “eco-agriculture” can be used to turn around the disasters caused by overuse of the land. In the deserts of Tanzania, many hundreds of acres have been reclaimed by this type of agriculture, which includes the planting of trees in multi-cropping strategies.
      And justice has a good deal to do with distribution issues: some of the world’s hungriest countries are net exporters of protein to the world’s wealthier nations because of trade agreements and debt repayment requirements.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I totally agree with you on the points of the essay about how a short term greed will allow for irreversible destruction of precious lands. We as a society need to speak out against these agricultural corporations whose only goal is profit. If we want our farming lands to be protected for future generations we have to demand it, because if we leave it up to the agricultural corporations nothing will be done.

      • I absolutely agree that we need to speak out against those corporations that would ruin the soil we need to support ourselves–and our children will need just as much if not more. One action we can take is to support our the house bill calling for the labeling of gmo foods- that would not only give consumers choice, but cut into the undeserved profits of a dangerous corporation like Monsanto. (see sidebar “action alert here)

  43. Good response to your previous article on GMO’s. The requirement that technology need few secondary material inputs makes a lot of sense. The simplest solution is often times the best, and when you take a lot to make a little it kind of defeats the purpose.

    • Great observation that “when you take a lot to make a little it kind of defeats the purpose” of supposedly high-efficiency agricultural technology. Thanks for your thoughts here, Frank.

  44. In a world where we clearly have the resources available to feed everyone, but lack the will, sustainable agriculture and urban farms may be our only reprieve.

    Just as surplus agriculture lead to one revolution, I hope that community farming and localtarian lifestyles could lead to an abundance of good, more moral, food. Though I am sure this is a logical fallacy, I would then expect these communities, who have had their needs met, would be taking care to grow their own food in a moral way, to share their bounty with those who are in need.

    • I am not sure which logical fallacy you are thinking of here– I don’t think we can predict that people will share will others once their own needs (for food and community) are satisfied, but if human (indigenous) history is any predictor, we can have more of an expectation of sharing under these circumstances than we can under the system of modern capitalism, which focuses on competition instead.
      Thanks for your comment.

  45. It is great to hear that people still get together to swap seeds and trade skills in relation to growing food. This is something very basic that everyone should be familiar with. I feel that if more people understood and took growing food seriously, we wouldn’t would look for so many short cuts.
    In particular, with seeds, there is so much potential in to create new breeds without crossing or genetically modifying them. It is amazing looking through a seed catalog and seeing all the varieties of vegetables. Yet the differences aren’t significant to many outside of growers. It would be great if the palette that some bring to distinguishing different wines, noticing the differences of not only type of grape, but also things like region and year, because there is that potential in vegetables, where even each farm could have it’s own take on a certain vegetable. Being discriminatory with our tastes, I think, would bring more recognition to farms and farmers.

    • I was very impressed with this knowledge sharing, Andy. I think you are right about “taking shortcuts”– shared knowledge of this type helps us be smarter about our larger political and economic decisions.
      The immense diversity of these seeds does indeed, as you note, contain the potential for new breeds adapted to local conditions without genetic modification. Very nice point about discrimination of a diverse palette bringing “more recognition to farms and farmers”. The biodiversity in the indigenous Pacific Northwest indicates the way the vast variety of native resource utilization supports sustainable ways of surviving on the land (

    • I think it’s really interesting that so many Americans eat the same varieties of fruits and vegetables all the time and don’t even know about the existence of non-mainstream produce. It’s true that a HUGE variety of crops exist (and taste pretty good too!), even though most people never see or buy them. I think what you suggested is a great idea. Farmers deserve a whole lot more recognition than they are given! Especially the small farms that do everything by hand and without pesticides.

  46. I would really love to attend a fair like this! I would really like to learn more about gardening as I haven’t had a chance to have a garden previously. Imagine how much less dependent we would be on grocery stores if every household had a garden on its roof and in its backyard! At home my parents have a garden, and I swear the beans that grow there are the best I’ve ever tasted! It makes sense that as the world’s population is exploding, we should be looking for more sustainable gardening practices like you discussed. I think the best way to do this is to increase education about the issue and gardening, but who will pay for that?

    • It was a joy, Allison. No one paid for this (all volunteers) except for nominal costs of grafting– I don’t know if LCC charged for the use of their cafeteria, but it was wonderful to see this outpouring of sharing of knowledge and resources. I grafted three apple trees there: one I gave away and the other two have a place in my yard– and haven’t lost their leaves yet this season, so I know they are taking hold.

  47. A friend of mine has been religiously posting information on her Facebook about GMO foods and the detrimental consequences of them. She comes from the same rural area I am from, where ignorance and conservatism takes over (and where “liberal” and “environment” are foul words not to be uttered). It is constantly refreshing to see the information she distributes to our mutual rural-country-bumpkin friends. The other day she posted a graph that indicated the different parts of a hot dog, as well as what is in American “cheese” ( – while not legit, still a pretty accurate analysis I would reckon).

    We are all about living forever, but we are poisoning our bodies, the vessels through which this longevity would come, with genetically modified ingredients that create things like square watermelons. When will we learn? Let’s hope that information like this will help.

    • There are a number such ironies in contemporary live, Crystal. It is very unfortunate that labels provide a means of rejecting an idea rather than considering it. Thanks for hanging in their in terms of educating your community.

    • I really like your point that while we value longevity of life in our culture we are poisoning our bodies with the chemical side-effects of our technology. I think this shows how much faith we put into technology to solve all of our problems. Our fixation on technology to improve our lives just leads to a vicious cycle of constantly needing new technology to fix the harm caused by previous technologies.

  48. Sustainable food production sounds like it will not only sustain us, but will create a greater connection to our food and our communities. This is why community gardens, and the designation of large city blocks to food growing are a wonderful idea. I am always astounded when I think of all that we know and what the world could be like if we could just get enough people to know and understand. I believe that everyone wants the same things, that is why companies spend billions convincing us that theirs is the best way to get those things. If we could all just un-hook somehow, we could realize that the answers are beautiful and that we can do it without big-ag and other heavily moneyed organizations. The truth is, it would be better for all of us, even those who stand to lose profits from better food production.

    • It is a wonderful positive side effect of such gardening that it connects us to our communities as well.
      And as for those who “profit” from the current set up– I think we might well consider just what our definition of profit is.
      Thanks for your comment, Michele.

  49. Having grown up on a farm, worked on a farm, and still live in a farming community, the process of designing crops, farms, communities, and families into a sustainable food production area is a lot easier said than done. If there was anyway possible for a mass production of sustainable foods could be achieved, I know for a fact that my community would be one of the first to jump head-first. The fact of the matter is though, that sustainable practices are not implementable (yet) on a mass food production scale that is necessary to reach the food requirements that are currently in place. Hopefully through tried and tested technologies, we can soon move into sustainable practices.

    • I am not sure mass production is the only choice: indeed, mass production (as you indicate) often conflicts with local choices– and creates more problems than it solves, as in the example of the cod fishery and the high yielding rice in Bangladesh (see the “green revolution– Whoops). Can you envision a network of place and community specific-technologies that implement smart sustainability? This fair was full of farmers and orchardists who made their living that way… there is also the movement in urban gardens that allow us to produce a good deal of food!
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I really appreciate this comment. I wonder if the problem comes from the way communities are set up. To survive in a farm community currently I feel like you have to produce for a larger community, due to competition and the need to pay bills. I think if we want to make sustainable farming a financial possibility for the majority of farmers we need to makes communities smaller and more self-sustaining. We need communities that keep products around them and can afford to live off of the sales there. While I think that with the way the government is set up now allows for a few local farmers I think we need to change the reward system (for consumers and producers) if we want sustainable farming to be a common practice for farmers.

      • Thoughtful observation about the potential problems with producing for others, Caroline. Local and interpersonal connections between those who produce our food and ourselves seems a great idea on a number of counts.
        And it certainly time to reward those businesses who actually produce what we want (as opposed to toxics).

  50. This fair seemed very interesting and educational. If we as a country go back to growing our own food we could feed the nation easily. We could also come together as a community to not only help each other, but also the environment.

  51. We don´t need to mass produce. We just need to produce more locally grown foods that are more accessible to everyone. This will eliminate the added preservatives, hormones, etc that are in foods currently as long as we eat and buy locally grown foods. We need to get rid of the mass producers of all the nasty food if possible. But, I don´t think this will ever be possible.

    • I just read the research of an ecologist at Berkeley (his site on agroecology is linked under our links page here) that indicates that the smaller the plot a farmer tends, the more productive per acre it is. This indicates a good deal of potential for community gardens–and our own urban gardens in our years.
      I not only believe but hope with you that we will never be getting rid of the farmers that grow our food: I would just like them to be small farmers who are treating the land with care.

    • I agree with you Jennifer. Local is the way to go, and I think we are slowly coming back to staying local rather than shopping at large chain stores. Like you, I wonder if its possible to get rid of the large producers since most people shop in large chain grocery stores where everything is impersonal and comes from all over the world.

  52. I think it’s a step in the right direction for farmers and grafters to be sharing their seeds and grafts with one another. I hope that one day we have cultivated a wider variety of crops to feed the planet. This seems like a much better option than using GMOs. A grass-roots movement to increase the biodiversity in agriculture in he United States is vital since corporations like Monsanto will fight this tooth and nail. Perhaps biotech companies want us to feel like we have to use their products to feed our growing population. Our food is in the hands of large conglomerate corporations who don’t care about our well-being. I would not be surprised there are unresearched side effects of GMOs that would also put money into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies; it’s a win/win situation if for them if so. The bottom line is that the public should be very leery of what we are consuming.

  53. It is sad to see our culture so focused on what I can get for myself that we would rather kill the competition than share what we have found. I really want to visit one of these fairs to learn about the different ways we can grow food locally and provide bio-diversity in our own backyards. Do you know if they have any of these up in Portland? My wife and I were thinking of trying to start a garden once we move up there.

    • Congratulations on your garden to be, Kyle. I don’t know what fairs such as these might exist in Portland– but there are a few links to investigate on our links page that might steer you in the right direction.

    • I totally agree with you. It is a shame that the competitiveness of our culture limits our ability to make positive changes for nature. We would all be better off if we focused on working together rather than beating one another.

      • To be sure, Jenni, as the latest forum on sustainable agriculture in Science puts it (see our “quotes to ponder”), it is not a matter of technology and science that we don’t have sustainable agriculture– what we are lacking is the political and social will– to change perverse subsidies, for instance.

  54. I really enjoy reading about people sharing with people most would consider strangers.
    I also enjoy the sustainable food idea. The one that I found most important was the one regarding the idea that there needs to be a historical track record for the food producing technology.
    Often someone comes up with an idea they think is good and it sometimes is…. For a minute.

    • Thanks for your comment–and seconding the idea of an historical track record: the natural world has taken millions of years to test and calibrate the ways in which aspects of an ecological system go together. It is pretty foolhardy to think we have a better plan “for a minute”. Obviously one with this “for a minute”.point of view also doesn’t still around to check out the long term consequences of their bright idea.

    • And after that minute, we often regret having made such irrational decisions. A lot of the time, we act before understanding the consequences of our actions, and then it is too late to take it back. The idea of cause and effect is a simple one, so it is frustrating that we often fail to prepare ourselves for negative impacts.

  55. I think the bolded statement above, “sharing for all rather than profit for a few,” says it all. If we applied this mindset to every aspect of our lives, we would all be much better off.
    The points above that I think are most significant include place-based technologies, preserving biodiversity, and following the precautionary principle. My family and I have concentrated on eating local foods and produce throughout the seasons to support local businesses and the environment. By doing this, we support sustainability and decrease our carbon footprint, even if just by a small amount. Preserving biodiversity is important because the earth thrives in its natural state. The more we change things, the less sustainable we are being, so food production needs to preserve natural environments. Finally, the precautionary principle is a recurring idea in this class, and each time I read more about it, I agree with it more. There is no reason to advance for the sake of advancing. Let’s focus on finding ways to properly use the technologies we have already discovered.

    • Very thoughtful considerations, Jenni. Indeed, there is “no reason to advance for the sake of advancing”– especially if we haven’t even considered what “advance” might really mean. Just because we are using new technology does not mean it is an automatic “advance” for ourselves or our communities of all species.

  56. How simple it could be! I would have loved to attend a fair where I was taught how to graft and which plants would do well in my area. Last year I raided an abandoned house’s pear tree- which was growing a prolific amount of pears all on its own after many years of being left abandoned. The Canada Geese led me to the tree and I grabbed my pesticide free pears and ran with them.

    I once had a conversation with an interpreter about the fruit and nut trees that grew here and learned that black walnut, pecan, persimmon, red mulberry, and acorn producing oak were a staple to the indigenous people that lived in my area of the east coast.

    How wonderful would it be if I was able to learn the art of self sustainability- or at least community sustainability. I currently buy as much as I can at the seasonal market and can with my husband but I would be so much happier if I were able to grow my own food at home and then eat it. Perhaps I ought to plant some corn, beans, and squash all in a clump and see how long it takes for my neighbors to complain. Until then…I give thanks to my community growers and might try a little harder to find a workshop like the one you attended,

    • Heart-warming response, Raquel. Good for you and your pesticide-free sheers–and for ferreting out the knowledge of what species are best suited to your area!
      Perhaps the reason we do not have more such events is that no one is making any money from them–as our “quotes of the week” sidebar notes, the recent Science forum on transforming agriculture noted that we have the science to create sustainable agriculture– in fact, many are doing it already on a small scale What we lack is the political will to make the right decisions.

  57. I definitely agree that our food production practices are not sustainable. We mass produce almost all of the food we eat in America, we use pesticides, and we do not have an implementable set of rules to regulate production. The idea that I liked most in this was the idea of biodiversity in food production. Today there are millions of different types of foods, yet even just today I struggled to think of something “new and exciting” to eat. I think that having more local, and diverse foods would make people healthier, and would increase general interest in sustainable diverse foods.

    • Thoughtful point about consumer interest in diverse foods (even aside from the good biodiversity does for the environment). If you read the article here on biodiversity in the Pacific Northwest, you will see what a range of natural goods local peoples once sustained themselves on.

  58. Moving toward more sustainable practices should be a goal for every industry, but especially food production. We tend to consume and consume and not think of the effects until they are looming upon us. Taking a more proactive role will help to ensure that the food supply survives despite what is going on globally. The more people that are involved in a transaction the more chance there is for mistakes and missteps. When food is grown and consumed locally there is less chance for spoilage, contamination, and a host of other problems. Not only does doing this boost local economies, but it also helps reduce the environmental impacts. Buying locally is possible in almost every area, it just takes some effort and some research. It is well worth the time!

    • Interesting point about better food (healthier, cleaner, etc.) being handled by fewer people, Amanda. It is certainly harder to keep track of responsibility as the links in the chain from farm to table become more and more complex.

  59. As with the famine with the Irish potato, this could happen to much of the world because of our dependence on so many differing resources. We do not have an interdependent lifestyle with the natural world anymore but rather a dependent one which poses a great threat to our civilixation.
    We need to go back to the thought of every plant being an individual so we can think of the importance each plant gives us and helps keep us alive. Switzerland hsa gotten it right in where they have gurnateed dignity of every plant in their constitution; I believe the rest of the world should follow suit to ensure we keep the natural world alive and thriving.

    • Great perspective, Cyria. I am very heartened by a neighborhood tour of sustainable homes I did earlier today–and all the seed saving that is going on–and/.or allowing veggies to reseed naturally.

    • Cyria, I agree with your perspective completely. I find you comment and the discussion about treating every plant with dignity as an individual very intriguing. I think it reflects how our worldview sees each of the members of our ever-growning world. My opinion is that in America we advocate for the recognition of diversity, but when it really comes down to it, the sources of power and influence really just see us all as a big mass with no respect for our individualistic beings. We prefer monoculture and a mass of bodies that do the work that keeps the nation afloat. We value the plants that are seen as ABSOLUTE necessities, but all of the rest are seen as dispensable and “in the way,” which is parallels the decisions to place hazardous waste facilities in the backyards of some of our nation’s poorest communities. We will continually struggle to recognize the importance and individual qualities of the natural world as long as we continue to have the extreme social justice issues we do now. With such a humancentric worldview (at least in the majority of Western societies), it is absolutely necessary that we focus energy into advocating for our human counterparts because I feel that unfortunately it is the only way we will ever be able to move onto the bigger, more important issue of our world. Small steps are the answer to change, and from experience, change must begin in an area where others are comfortable – it is difficult to argue for reverence of nature and kinship of all life forms when we cannot even show reverence for and kinship amongst one another.

      • Very thoughtful response to a situation fraught with conundrums, as you lay them out, Amber. There is much to consider as we take such small steps leading to larger ones– and caring for the life world that includes humans and more than humans must be holistic. I don’t think there is any other strategy for success in an interdependent world, such as the natural world is.

  60. The idea of sharing at this fair is very important and makes me think of zuccinni season. Farming brings people closer and makes life long connections and who doesn’t want literally a ton of free zuccinni when the season happens.

    It is an unfortunate thing that we are so reliant on so few and often fickle crops. It is also unfortunate that so many people do not grow even a small amount of their own food. It would be surprising to many people how easy it is to grow lettuce, tomatoes and herbs even in small garden boxes if need be.

    I have heard that the government has tried to potentially make movements to make it illegal to grow your own food at small farms. This is something that should not be allowed to happen. Aside from the violation of personal rights and the evermore trap of a society we live in, the destruction of local farming would devastate people’s livelihoods and ruin biodiversity even more.

    • I am not sure what you are referring to in terms of making it illegal to grow your own food, Carly. I can’t think how this jives with Michelle Obama’s victory garden at the White House (which certain industries protested because it was organic). It is not the government but Monsanto who has attacked small grow-your-own industries that compete with gmo products– especially those that save seeds– by prowling the fields of these places looking for wind propagated gmo crops, which it sues the farmers for. The World Trade Organization has attacked folks like corner seed oil pressers in India, on the grounds that they compete unfairly with the gmo soy oil Monsanto has dumped on this country. Neither of these is very savory in the ethical field, but I have not of our government’s attempt to make it illegal to grow your own food– though if some of that food is for sale, the government might want to inspect it for safety, etc.

    • When I was growing up we had a small home garden of cantaloupe and tomato plants. One year our cantaloupe harvest was so good that we could not even give out enough cantaloupe to our neighbors. Now that I live in a city where the only lawn I see is the neighborhood park…. I don’t get the opportunity to share in the harvest that took all summer to grow. I saw advertisements about those little indoor gardens that you can raise small crops, however I’m skeptical that they really work. So at this point I’m 100% reliant on others to provide produce for me to purchase. I’m sure this trend will increase as more people move to cities or suburban areas controlled by a home owners association.

      If companies like Monsanto were to have their way we would all live in the city and be 100% reliant on them to provide their produce.

      • Thanks for sharing your situation, Jon. I am heartened by the increase in urban and community gardens. I hope one comes to a locale within walking distance of you soon! It may seem like a long shot, but they are springing up everywhere.
        Thoughtful point about who we rely on: I for one concur with your implication that we don’t want it to be Monsanto. I have seen no evidence that they have our best interests at heart.

  61. This is a brilliant and effective solution for a growing problem, I think. It’s really a win-win situation all around, potentially yielding the most benefits to the most people — the community, biodiversity, air quality and the impoverished and undernourished. Of course, the actual production of food would be a slow process, but that is just more incentive to start now. I would love to see this catch on and become a huge movement. Anyone can graft, plant and tend a tree, and doing so puts the global crises of world hunger and global warming into perspective.

  62. Your quote, “The more rare and precious are our natural resources, the more we must protect and care for them.”, is a very true statement indeed.

    Your essay also points out a very big problem that agriculture in this day and age does not deal with and that is biodiversity. Today’s crops have been genetically altered so that only the best genes survive and are all placed in a single crop farm. Corn is not mixed with other crops like soybeans and wheat like it was 30-40 years ago. Today the small farmer no longer exists and the rise of the corporate farmer takes land and builds single crop farms in order to reduce the cost of planting by using economies of scale. Eventually this single crop method will lead to problems as you pointed out with the potato farms that were destroyed by a single disease. The documentary “King of Corn” points out many of these flaws with the corn farmers of today versus the corn farmers of only 30 years ago.

    • Actually, the small farmer does still exist–and I find this hopeful, but you also have a point in the gobbling up of small farms into large industrial farming operations. King Corn is both an information, humorous (we get to laugh at ourselves–a good way to gain perspective) and scary documentary!

  63. I like the rule; “Sustainable food-producing technology should need few secondary material inputs.” In general, I feel like in the west del feel we can make anything better by the addition of more stuff! I appreciate the example that illustrates how we can get better results by making choices that simplify the system. Some choices give us the opportunity to improve nature and sustain ourselves at the same time, and I think we need to find a way to start making these choices on a large scale.

    • I very much like your statement about the choices that allow us to sustain ourselves and add to the natural world (rather than take from it) at the same time: those choices may take discipline and many trials (as with the folks at Gaviotas), but they may wind up restoring the rainforest (as happened in that case) if we persist following the proper values. Thanks for your comment.

  64. Moving toward more sustainable practices should be a goal for every industry, but especially food production. We tend to consume and consume and not think of the effects until they are looming upon us. Taking a more proactive role will help to ensure that the food supply survives despite what is going on globally. The more people that are involved in a transaction the more chance there is for mistakes and missteps. When food is grown and consumed locally there is less chance for spoilage, contamination, and a host of other problems. Not only does doing this boost local economies, but it also helps reduce the environmental impacts. Buying locally is possible in almost every area, it just takes some effort and some research. It is well worth the time!

    • Good point about cutting down on the “middle people” involved in the food industry– such that if a dozen people hand our apple as it is grown and eventually shredded into a tiny fleck in an “apple” cereal, we lose nutrition–and incur economic cost–at every step of the way as well as increasing the change for spoilage, contamination, etc. (and thus the need for preservatives). Making the farm to table process more direct has several benefits.

  65. NPR’s “Marketplace” ( is currently running a series about how to feed the world now that we’re at 7 billion people and going to hit 9 billion in the next 40 years. I listened to it last night, but was so angry when I heard them talking all about increasing corn and wheat production. My partner teased me that it was just the Irish coming out in me, with my fear of monocultures. But seriously, when will we learn that biodiversity is the only way to keep ourselves fed without having to worry so much about devastation?

    • They must not have read the Omnivore’s Dilemma and monocultures, and investigated the serious problems linked to the overproduction of corn (which continues to be the current case). Much as I often like NPR, I can’t help but wondered if these folks did their research and/or who the underwriters were for this piece. I have noticed increasing sponsorship by large food producers and distributors of their programs. Tragic– since we need a voice that is beholden only to the facts.

    • As a former Truck Driver, I depended on NPR for my news daily for over five years. after the 12 hour shifts I was working I had no energy left to watch it at home, but the radio kept me company at work. There are millions of people now in that same situation. There is so much misinformation that goes into the news already, I find it disheartening to hear that one of the last unbiased sources has fallen to corporate greed.

  66. I agree that instead of growing vulnerable and costly (both in terms of economic input and environmental and social cost) monocultures, we should be growing polycultures suited to the local environment. The fact that there are over 2000 species of edible plants that we know of on the planet and yet that we use only 14 of them to produce 80% of the worlds food is terrifying when we relate it to our knowledge of the potato famine that killed millions of Irish and forced millions more to emigrate. As new york Irish, I am directly descended from the results of this terrible tragedy. We should learn from such historical mistakes now, before it’s too late and Monsanto takes us to the potato famine again, only this time on steroids and on a global scale.

    • I actually heard an even larger statistic from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I believe she said that humans have consumed 80,000 different plants: to narrow those down to a 14 plant majority is foolhardy to say the least. Thanks for sharing the reason for your personal fear of this approach.

  67. I think that community gardens as well as backyard gardens are great ways to sustain the neighborhood. A few of my neighbors and I grow different varieties of vegetables and fruit and share what we cannot use with each other. Not only do our grocery bills go down, but we get locally grown food that is free of any chemicals other farms use. It is a great way to help each other out.

    • I think that coorpration is the most important thing in the world. We can accomplish our goal by helping each other. I was interested about sharing veges and fruits. What kind of veges and fruits were there?

      • Quite a detailed list. There were seeds for perhaps 20 or 30 kinds of veggies. Fruit scions and grafts were most apple, pear and plum (hundreds of varieties); and there were some free raspberry canes there as well.

    • Stephen,
      Your right that it is a good way to substain the neighbourhood and it has been a few years for me so I thank both you and Dr.Holden for reminding that small gardening is easy and fun. I use the excuse that I’m to busy. But not this year.

    • Stephen I think that is awesome that you and your neighbors share such a closeness and connection as only growing food can provide. Many people miss out on such tremendous opportunities because of the fast-paced lifestyle that has been so thrust upon us that we now take it as the norm. More people need to get outside as you and your neighbors do and experience the real and free 3D that is all around them instead of marveling at the latest pixel clarity combination on their TV sets.

      • Indeed, Trent: I also find it wonderful that gardens foster community in this way.
        And as for “marveling at the pixel clarity of their TV sets”, not much to say on that one. I can only hope it is a short term activity.

  68. The need to honor, respect and develop human capital is so important. It is absolutely wonderful when it is offered freely and people learn from each other – knowledge is passed on and traded. However, even if offered at a nominal fee it should be considered far more important than material goods. I would love to see more small businesses form that do precisely this. For instance, the trades – such as carpentry and sewing – have diminished so much, and so few people know how to do these things. The fair you describe is beautiful! There is a small local market near where I work. Since we are a small ecological firm, we walk over there daily and get soup and sandwiches for lunch, and organic groceries, soaps, spices, cheeses, meat and other goods. Unfortunately, Sue is not able to continue because she does not have enough customers. We are trying to figure out a way to help, because about 50% of our food comes from Mabry’s!

    • It is so important that we all support small businesses that provide us with local and fair products. We too have a small grocery store in the tiny town where we live, that we support by buying most of our food there. For us it would be a true loss if they were unable to continue. I hope your little shop is able to make it, it’s so sad when these little places go out of business.

  69. I think communities gardens and local markets are a more sustainable solution to many different problems in several different ways. The first is that growing your own food you choose how to grow it. It makes is so you can grow several different varieties of foods together and have a holistic garden almost feeding its self with the amount of nutrients the plants are sharing. Another you can choose to use pesticides or herbiacides or none at all. This is not a choice when you walk into a supermarket. Another is a healthy mind. People with gardens tend to be happier and more social as well as more likely to help others. This could help promote community gatherings and tradings of different produce produced by their gardens.

  70. The food production needs to be maintained since the population has been increased dramatically. Technologies have been improved so nowadays we can produce foods constantly even though it is out of the season. It is important for us to have clean water when we make any food, so water contamination can negatively effect on food production. I wonder that we can provide enough food for 10 billion people in the world. We actually have not reached to the minimum food production. It is obvious that people in Africa are suffered by lack of nutrition.

  71. Trading seeds and ideas of gardening, what a great idea and gardeners can be such happy fun people. I like spring and summer and going to garden tours and Saturday markets. Yet this web comment makes me think about how technology can learn from this concept of not getting ahead but getting to the root of sharing and caring. If technology or big businesses could see it as our future and not a dollar we could fight hunger together.
    The idea of even little gardens in backyards and roof tops is so great. I have done pots on my porch with tomatoes and potatoes that did well and I know others that do small backyard gardening. I should do that again this year for it cost me very little time or money thank you Dr. Holden for the idea.

  72. I like this article, as it is finally a positive piece amongst all the other articles I have been reading, and finally money is not the dominating factor here which is nice to see. It allows me to appreciate some of the efforts all ready present in my community, like community gardens, and reaffirms my desire to volunteer with the school garden program. Refreshing to see that sharing knowledge and resources to benefit the whole, rather than a few, and flourishing human life while protecting the environment can be more important than making a profit

  73. Ok, I have to take a minute to brag about my wife’s employer a little. She works for a farm that is certified as 100% sustainable and honestly is a model of how fairly large-scale farms can be profitable as well as good stewards of the land. Much to the chagrin of the Wall Street horde, life really shouldn’t be solely about money; how much profit you can wring out of something and how much you can amass over your lifetime.

    They even make their own electricity with the leftover food wastes after harvest. This naturally breaks down and becomes compost, but they intervene beforehand, capture all the gas in this natural breakdown process, and use it for fuel with their biogas plant. Afterwards the waste product is still used for fertilizer. There you have it, energy with the only inputs being the initial machinery to make it possible. I will withhold the name of the farm unless I am asked for it so as not to be seen as a promotional plug, however I am very proud of both her and the farm for the work they do.

    If all farms, and individuals as well, followed the tenets Dr. Holden has outlined here our planet would experience a paradigm shift and we would be headed toward improving this planet rather than the course we are on now that is destructive of it. I often wonder how our descendant’s will view us and the choices that we made. Will they condemn us as ignorant, apathetic, and selfish? Unless we change our current path, I think they will.

    • Brag away, Trent. We need more of such successes and such models in the realm of agricultural sustainability.
      Is there a weblink that might allow us to look at this farm and its choices (if it wishes us to do so?)
      There are also a number of local farms on the same track, as featured in the Willamette Valley’s Farm and Food Coaltion’s annual list:

  74. The fair and the methods the people at the fair were sharing sound so amazing. All I can do is agree with all that you said. I would love to meet people who are willing to share technologies that are tried and true, that have no ill effects on the health of us or our land and other resources. I actually just bought an apple tree that has 5 different kinds of apples grafted on it, and I can’t wait to try some of the other fruit trees like this.

    • Congratulations on your five in one tree purchase, Kendra. I know that this can be great because of variety and cross-pollination. They can also be problematic, since some grafts/ kinds of apples are not as vigorous as other. It is not unusual to lose more than one of the grafted apple varieties over time– but let’s just assume yours will do just fine!
      A great thing to do is purchase or find a rootstock that thrives in your area and then find a tree with a wonderful apple variety you love and graft your own– or find someone to help you with this. You can even do that with a tree you already have growing, though you may have to try more than once to get such a graft to take.
      I once visited a Palestinian garden who had an absolutely amazing garden on a half acre on the side of the Mt. of Olives outside Jerusalem. He made that garden absolutely lush from his skill in grafting.

  75. Today, we have the most sophisticated food production methods in the world. Yet, there are still nearly a billion hungry people worldwide (, people still experience chronic malnutrition, and many millions are undernourished as well. On the flipside of this, we live in a society of the underfed and the overfed: obesity, diabetes, foodborne ailments, and foods linked to cancer are all prevalent while people still go hungry in America. It is plain and simple, our food system is broken. Any person with an ounce of common sense can see this is a problem. It is really a time to end our production of foods empty of nutrition, those grown with excessive chemical inputs, and any that are from gmo’s. Food is supposed to nourish the body and mind, yet we consume products that do not decay or will not be consumed by other organisms. We really need to reconnect with our food in order for us to begin healing ourselves and our environment. This connection will benefit more than just us. By fixing our own plates, we can begin to assist and feed some of those whose lives are imperiled by this constant state of hunger.

  76. This was a good essay laying out good ideas on how to feed ourselves as the years go on. I agree that we should try to focus on helping each other, on a personal level, at least, when thinking about these kind of things, offering up volunteer time and favors in hopes of teaching a man to fish, so to speak, though I would argue that this should be more on a personal than legal level (and if indeed it manifests on a personal level the results will likely be more legitimate and far-reaching). I also see the value in simple knowledge of food plants and a factoring in of the climate when raising crops. Though I notice little was said of meat in this article-surely there’s a way to raise meat for consumption in a sustainable fashion as well?

    • Raising meat sustainably is being dealt with in models like that of Polyface farm–and those on the northern Plains who are crazing cattle (and sometimes buffalo) on grass ecologies– on land unsuitable for tilled agriculture–or in lands like the agroforestry in Bangladesh and Tanzania, which combines raising of multiple vegetable crops and fish and/or animals raised for dairy and meat in the same habitat. There is still much to be done in developing such models– perhaps you yourself will someday lend a hand in this?
      As for the personal level, what impressed me about the grafting fair that I wrote about was that it was not only personal but interpersonal– it took a community to put it together, and a vital community to respond to it. And there are many urban and other community gardens that fall under any “legal” radar of the type you seem to indicate here. Perhaps you might like to take a look at YES magazine (you can access it online) for a sense of the creative possibilities emerging in such communities. The latest issue is on housing.

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