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Reboot Agriculture! (the Land Institute)

March 27, 2011

just a theory

Why are we in the wasteful habit of eating annual plants – plants that die every year?   That answer dates back over 10,000 years to the fateful day when, so the paleo-theory goes,  a prehistoric Homer Simpson noticed cornstalks growing out of his trash pile and suddenly a light bulb – or perhaps a flaming mastodon dungball, I dunno – appeared over his head.   Presto:  birth of a nasty habit.  D’oh!

Since then, every year we’ve been planting annuals –  food crops that die off completely following each Fall harvest.  Each Spring, we repeat the cycle and, in the process, inject fertilizer and pesticide chemicals into an ever-expanding clear-cut swath of jungle to keep pace with our growing World population’s needs.

Ecosystems work best when they are diverse, yet we carpet broad swaths of land with homogeneous crops.  In the process, we create chemical and nutrient run-off that poisons aquifers, rivers, oceans and their attendant food chains – which we then ingest.   Tuna steaks, anyone?

While the notion of creating disease-resistant genetic modified (GM) annual crops seems a partial answer, that approach seems like such a plate-spinning exercise compared to what follows.

Enter the Land Institute, where researchers like Wes Jackson are working on rebooting agriculture – developing and identifying perennial food sources.  What if we used perennials, rather than annuals, as our chief food sources?  We could reduce or end our use of poisonous chemicals that contaminate our plant and animal food chains and our environments.  We could conserve precious natural nutrients in our soils.  We could extend growing and harvesting seasons, all without destroying naturally balanced food systems.

Instead of rebooting our crops each Spring, we might someday have an always-on, self-refreshing agriculture base.

Do you think this could work?  What stands in the way?  How would you overcome it to help us get there?

If these questions leave you feeling small, then start small.  Think:  what can you do to support more economical use of crop resources?   Can you supplant annuals with perennials in your diet?   Check out the Land Institute and see what they recommend.

Meanwhile, in these days of high oil prices, why not buy local food in-season?  Patronizing local organic farmers’ markets might seem expensive, until you factor in the notion that less oil was consumed in growing the food, getting it to you, and you getting to it.   As the game show host intones:  Now, how much would you pay?

What else? Chime in below!

From now on, every day is Earth Day.

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