By Dr. Mercola
Will Allen, owner of Cedar Circle Farm in Vermont, has spent the last 14 years pioneering a process where a relatively small farming community feeds thousands of locals, and teaches them about organic urban agriculture. He is widely recognized as a pioneer in the organic agriculture movement.
I visited Will's farm in Vermont last year just prior to attending the BioChar conference. We did the interview at his farm. Their community-supported agriculture (CSA) program has 200 households in it during the summer, and another 100 households join their fall program.
"When we first started out, we decided that it's going to be an educational farm because most of the farmers right now are not producing young farmers," he says. "We're trying to train the next generation of farmers and trying to change farming by training that generation to be organic and community-focused...
We have several young people and middle-aged people who got trained here and who are now running their own farms. We put them through a program where they have to be here two or three years. But they get paid a regular salary; it's not like an apprentice program," he says.
His farm sells produce within a 50-mile radius, and his customers include local restaurants, co-ops, and farmer's markets. Well over 1,000 children visit the farm each year, and the farm even runs a farm-to-school program with the local grammar school and high school. There's also a backyard garden program, where budding gardeners can learn the tricks of the trade.
What's Old Is New: Pesticide-Free Crop Growing Techniques
Allen has been part of the organic movement for about 40 years. When he first began, he had the first organic farm in the San Joaquin Valley in California. Rather than relying on chemical pest control, Allen used age-old principles of fighting pests with beneficial insects.
Eventually, he became director of the Rural Toxics Program for the California Institute for Rural Studies, which did outreach programs to cotton growers. Cotton is actually one of the most toxic crops there is. Over half of all the pesticides used worldwide are used on cotton.
"We were able to teach cotton growers how to grow organic cotton, and we did an outreach to 62 clothing companies," Allen says.
As a result of this outreach, a number of well-known brands have switched over to organic cotton, including Patagonia, which uses nothing but organic cotton for its line of clothing. About 18 percent of Nike's clothing line is now also organic.
"We did it kind of in the same way the chemical companies do it. See, they're drug dealers. I mean, the chemical companies are the old dye companies of the 1800s, and then they became pharmaceutical companies...
The way drug dealers sell stuff is they give it away at first, until you get hooked... We did exactly the same thing with cotton... We were able to give 150 growers 30 acres of cotton that we monitored, and we released the beneficial insects on their cotton fields....
The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program was developed at the University of California, the Division of Biological Control. They finally phased it out in 2001, but it was an incredible program that taught people how to use biological integrative pest management."
The way it works is that adult insects look for nectar. The nymphs they produce in turn look for meat and chitin, the outer shell of insects, which they need for their metamorphosis. The nymphs provide the bulk of the pest control in this way. To entice these beneficial insects into the fields, all you really have to do is plant nectar-producing flowers near the crop, and nature will take care of the rest.
How Avoiding Factory Farmed Foods Helps the Environment
About 80 percent of genetically engineered plants grown in the US end up as animal feed, and approximately 40 percent of all corn grown is used for ethanol.1 Clearly, this is not wise stewardship of our resources. But how can we change this trend? Allen is currently writing a book on climate chaos and agriculture, and according to his research, 92.5 percent of our acreage is devoted to animals or food for animals. Only 7.5 percent of our acreage is devoted to food that goes directly to feeding humans.
"We're completely out of kilter with the environment in terms of what we're producing and what we're eating," he says. "We're eating all the wrong things. That isn't to say that some of those things couldn't be right if we're eating them in moderation. It's not like you got to give up meat; it's just like, 'Wait a minute, can your body take this? Can the planet take this?'"
Ronnie Cummins, founder and Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), believes a major part of the answer is to stop eating factory-farmed meat and animal products.
"People ask me, 'What should I do about the climate, I feel helpless. I can't as an individual stop the coal industry from operating. I can't stop that XL pipeline by myself' and so on. The number one thing people should do is boycott all factory-farmed meat and animal products; boycott all genetically-engineered processed foods, and eat organic every chance you get," Cummins says.
"[O]nce animals can get back on the land and graze, it's going to cause a change in the grasses, the environment, the root structure, the sequestration of carbon, and we can hopefully bring back the climate back into balance."
He cites a number of other reasons for avoiding factory farmed animal products as well, including:
From a nutrient quality point of view, factory farmed foods are inferior. They're also responsible for the vast majority of food-borne illnesses The animals are treated inhumanely The farm workers or feedlot workers are generally exploited It produces large amounts of methane The animals are being fed an entirely unnatural diet (Cows for example, do not naturally eat grains. They eat grass) The animals' feed is genetically engineered Factory farming is chemical-intensive Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) promote antibiotic-resistant disease (80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US are used in large-scale livestock production)
Why Organic Food Really Is the Least Expensive Food on Earth
As illustrated in a graphic2 created by Washington State University, Americans spend less than seven percent of their income on food—mere peanuts compared to the vast majority of other nations. On average, Americans spend $151 per week on food. Even high income earners still only average $180 per week.3 But cheap food is not quality food. And the fact that food can be had for cheap also does NOT mean that it's actually the most cost-efficient choice. As Allen explains:
"[O]rganic food is the cheapest food in the U.S., because you only pay for it once. You pay for chemical- and genetically modified food at least five times:
(1) The first payment you make for is at the supermarket; I call that the down payment.
(2) The second payment is at tax time, and it costs the same as the first one. Eighty percent of our food is processed food. Processed food is corn, cotton, soy, canola, rice, wheat, and sugar. They eat up 98 percent of all the subsidies. Those subsidies are paid for on tax day.
(3) The third time you pay for it is when you go to the doctor. In the last 20 years, an average of 60 million people have gotten food-borne illness in this country. About 200,000 over that 20-year period have gone to the hospital. As soon as you go to the hospital, prices soar.
(4) The fourth payment is the illnesses that you get from it. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, obesity – all of those are food-borne illnesses. It's what you eat that is making you sick.
(5) The fifth thing is: who's going to clean up that farmland when the [factory] farmer leaves? Those guys are going to go bankrupt as soon as you tell them to clean it up... so we're to have to pay for it."
Organic Farming Can Help Reverse Environmental Crisis
Many of the chemicals used in non-organic farming have a half-life that is decades long. Meanwhile, organic farming techniques can achieve all the aims of conventional farming without any of these toxic agents. Organic farming also improves the health of soil, air, and waterways, and soil health is actually critical for growing nutrient-dense food.
“Organic is all about increasing the organic matter in the soil because the organic matter in the soil is what feeds the soil microorganisms,” Allen explains. “The organic matter in the soil, which is what we have to increase on all of our land, is what enables us to sequester carbon. We need to bring the carbon that’s in the atmosphere back into the soil. There are five [carbon sinks] in the world: farmland, forest, atmosphere, ocean, and fossil deposits.
The carbon sinks for agriculture and the forest are bankrupt because we've overcut our forest, and we've farmed badly for the last 150 years. We have to correct that, and we can correct that quickly... [I]f you have four percent organic matter, you get a hundred pounds of nitrogen just from the soil microorganisms. Those soil microorganisms are the best farm laborers in the world because they work 24/7."
As explained by Ronnie Cummins, even if we put an end to greenhouse gas pollution (51 percent of which comes from conventional agriculture; the remaining 49 percent comes from coal, cars, and polluting industries), we'll still have a hundred billions tons too much carbon (CO2) in our atmosphere. So how are we going to get it out of the atmosphere back to where it used to be – in the plants, in the trees, and in the ground?
The way to accomplish that is by exponentially increasing plant photosynthesis, because plants suck down CO2, release oxygen, and secure a considerable amount of carbon through their roots into the soil. Through organic agriculture, rotational grazing of animals, reforesting, and restoring the wetlands, we can "suck down" that hundred billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere and put it where it belongs. Over time, this would help restabilize CO2 levels. Moreover, we'll also have more fertile land, healthier food, healthier animals, and healthier people.
If you'd like to learn more about Cedar Circle Farm, located in East Thetford, Vermont, you can visit Allen's website, www.CedarCircleFarm.org. It's also listed in the Lonely Planet travel guide for this area, if you'd like to pay them a personal visit. The train stops right at the farm on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.