23 January 2009

“What’s so Clear is Whether They Can do It Quickly”

NPR ran a story on Honduras farmers and how the Honduras government is beginning to invest in her small farmers since food has become such a crisis. Twenty years ago, international institutions and some of the "world's smartest economists" told the Honduras government that growing grains like beans, rice and corn, was for losers. Instead these people told the Honduras government to focus on tourism and textile exports. This resulted in food imports of rice and corn. The small farmer, neglected, was left to starve.

A newer and smarter Honduras government is supporting its small farmers by distributing (yuck) fertilizer and seeds (GMO). This is a start for a small country to gain control back, invest in itself, return to the roots of agriculture and be a role model for other developing countries. NPR stated, "Some of these programs started even before the current food crisis. Now they have become urgent." They believe the programs will work and that poor farmers can grow more food, but can they grow the food quick enough.

This brings me to how I view the current upcoming crisis in the U.S. The U.S. has lots and lots of farmland, but will farmers be able to transfer from farms that rely on large quantities of fossil fuel energy in order to produce food crops in time. Current large scale agriculture in this nation is in serious trouble which, in turn, means the citizens of this nation are in serious danger of having less food on the shelves.

With our "fix-it-now" and "want-it-now" mentality, Americans don't even know where their food comes. Many people don't realize that it takes anywhere from 80 to 100 days from the day the seed is planted for a mature tomato to be ready to eat. That's 3 months! And it can only happen during summer months (late winter for Florida). It is like that with every vegetable. Fruit takes longer. After planting that luscious sappling, vine, or bush, all you can do is wait...usually two or three years before the plant produces something you can eat. Don't expect to make jam that first year the plant produces either, because that first crop is usually relatively small. It takes years to establish a strong producing orchard.

There are other factors to consider like weather. It may take longer for vegetable plants to germinate if the soil refuses to warm up. A late or early frost may take out plants and fruit blossoms or cut a season short. If there is no rain, if people aren't practicing water catchment, they can expect big water bills or dead crops.

Farming has a large learning curve as well. It may take a few seasons to know when the proper time of year is to drop a seed or transplant in the ground. It could take years to get to know the bugs, diseases and rotations. There are tricks like companion or interplanting. Right now we have the luxury of buying seeds and transplants, and what if that is threatened? Seed saving is also a learned practice that takes time and patience. GMO and hybrid seeds can not be saved. So a farmer needs to save heirloom seed to assure sustainabilty. Only heirloom seed guarentees the same product year after year. How many average Americans know this?

How many Americans even know the basics of gardening like how to make a garden plot? How many know their agricultural zone? Do northerners know that they have a very short growing season and rely on greenhouses for a large portion of the growing season? Do Floridians know that the start of their growing season is in the winter? Do people know how to build up poor soil or how to terrace a slope if they haven’t level ground to plant on? How many people compost?

Most people go to Home Depot, Lowes and Volde-Mart to get what they need. They buy the crap and plants off the shelves not knowing where it comes from. They fertilize with chemicals. They kill bugs with chemicals. This existence is not only extremely toxic to the earth, it isn't sustainable because the stuff at these big stores comes from commercial farms (refer to paragraph 3). It is industrial, and more than ever, the mark of peak oil is shutting down the industrial age...THANK EARTH, THANK GOD, THANK GODDESS! But is there time?

Is there time for Americans to return to the Victory Garden? Will cities change codes so people in center cities can raise chickens and goats? Will people learn sustainable techniques and change their worldly food perception and eat local? Will schools teach farming/gardening in schools? Will big business allow permaculture to move to the forefront? Will governments listen to permaculture design and incorporate permaculture principles into cities planning commissions? Or will there have to be a more serious crisis then the current one, and by then, will it be too late?

We can grow food, but like the Honduras farmers, can we do it quickly?

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