Industrial farms yield real price of food

Raina McGowen
In Motion Staff Writer

In places like Daytona Beach — and in other cities around the world — farming may be one of the last things on our minds, but many of us are concerned about what’s in our food and where it’s coming from.

Questions of “GMO (genetically modified organism) or non-GMO?” and “organic vs. conventional?” are quite common, but perhaps a more pressing question would be, “industrial or sustainable?”

Many modern luxuries are thanks to industrialization, but can you have too much of a good thing? In the U.S., many of our major crops (such as corn, soybeans and wheat) are genetically modified and grown monoculturally — meaning vast amounts of a single crop are being cultivated in one area. The problem therein is that different crops require different amounts of nutrients. Over years of monocultural farming, the crop saps the soil of the desired nutrient, then demands large amounts of fertilizer and causes inevitable erosion.

These single crops are also more vulnerable to pests and require larger amounts of pesticides. William Wetzel, lead author of a study conducted by the University of California in 2016, sheds light on the reason why.

“Insects have a perfect nutrient level that they really like. When it’s too high or too low, they do poorly.” When acres upon acres are filled with that one perfect crop, pests are bound to thrive. With more diverse crops, nutrition is no longer optimal and results in more manageable infestations.

We wash the produce we buy at our chosen supermarkets to avoid ingesting chemicals, dirt or manure and write pesticides off as a necessary evil. The issue then overlooked is what’s happening to the chemicals that aren’t making it to our kitchen sinks.

Karen Perry Stillerman, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote about drinking water contaminated by chemical run-off, stating that “the national price tag for pollution of water resources with agricultural nitrogen has been estimated at $157 billion a year.”

Thanks to a growing social movement known as Farm-to-Table, more and more restaurants and communities are getting their produce from local farmers whose methods are more ecofriendly, benefitting not only the environment but small businesses as well.

In Duval, St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties, those who want the farm to come straight to their kitchen table can order boxes of locally-grown produce from Front Porch Pickings. This Ormond Beach-based company “supports over 75 local farmers and artisans across the state so your investment stays in your own community,” according to their mission statement.

But Front Porch is only one of numerous table-to-farm operations sprouting up across Volusia County, the oldest of which may be Tomazin Farms in Samsula, which has been in continuous operation since 1915. “Barefoot Bill” Tomazin is the topic of a recent documentary created at Daytona State College and airing on WDSC. (See this month’s cover story by Shellie Turner.)

Critics of the movement claim that alternative methods, such as organic farming, produce lower yields and therefore take up more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms. Some may argue that that alone is reason enough to stick to what we know: high yields at a high price — one that is being paid by both tax payers and the environment.

Amid suggestions that food production needs to double by 2050 and a bill being backed by Republican Congress known as H.R.861 (which if enacted would abolish the Environmental Protection Agency), we need to ask ourselves how much more are we willing to pay?