Friday, May 24, 2013
A winter highlight for this farmer is the Agriculture Trades Show in Augusta — three days of meetings, workshops, exhibits and reconnecting with friends at each step.
This year and last year’s shows, however, have been “blighted” (farmer’s terminology) by some very wrong-headed attempts to “bring together” organic growers and those who grow crops using chemical pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified practices.
In 2010, The Farm Bureau hosted talks that urged organic farmers to join their “conventional” brothers and sisters to use modern farming methods as the only way to feed the world’s population.
This year, under the title “Convergence = Sustainability II,” the bureau scheduled its major event for 2 p.m. Jan. 11, the same time as the annual meeting of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Nor was there any evidence of either “convergence” or “sustainability.”
Instead, Canadian author Misha Popoff spent an hour ranting about how easy it is to cheat organic certification and that surprise inspections early in the year would catch organic farmers as they spray illegal pesticides and pour on the herbicides.
On our farm, we would welcome a surprise inspection. We don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified seeds. We don’t even use organically approved biological pesticides since the one we tried three years ago didn’t work. If we can’t deter pests with healthy soil and plants, row cover, hand picking or rotations, we’re willing to put up with the minimal damage we have experienced.
I’ve been on many organic farms in Maine and have never seen evidence that the farmers are cheaters cashing in on the “premium” prices organic produce receives.
Since two years of Convergence = Sustainability haven’t produced either convergence or sustainability — or even the beginning of a dialogue, I propose this framework for the 2012 Ag Show: The Shanghai Communiqué.
In 1972, Richard Nixon was president and there was a war in Vietnam. China had been our worst enemy since 1949, when Mao Zedong kicked our ally Chiang Kai Shek across the Formosa Strait. We didn’t speak to the Communist Chinese. We didn’t recognize the most populous country in the world as a country at all.
In February, however, Nixon and a high-level entourage visited China, met with Mao, toured the Great Wall, and everyone parted friends.
How did this happen? The two nations communicated. First, each side outlined its basic problems with the other in a joint communiqué. China’s problems were Taiwan, withdrawal from Vietnam, unification of the Koreas, a peaceful Japan and cease-fire between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The United States’ list of problems with China was topped by suppression of human rights.
Then came a series of paragraphs that outlined what issues both countries could agree to discuss: Taiwan, scientific exchange, bilateral trade and normalization of relations between the two countries.
The world was changed from that moment.
So here’s how the Ag Show might go if the same framework is applied to “Convergence = Sustainability.”
Organic side :
• “Modern” farming practices have created a 16,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
• No labeling of genetically modified (GM) corn and soy products; GM crops require more chemical fertilizer and herbicide use, creating superweeds and superbugs.
• The majority of U.S. farmland is poisoned land producing mostly animal feed, ethanol and high-fructose corn sweetener, rather than healthful food.
• “Modern” farm practices are not sustainable since they rely heavily on government subsidies and fossil fuels.
And now, the “modern” side:
• Organic farmers are just a bunch of whiners. They control only 5 percent of the market but make more noise than the other 95 percent.
• They claim to be pristine — so they can charge high prices — but their biologically based pesticides kill everything, just as chemically based pesticides do.
• Organic farms are inspected, but farmers are warned in advance so they can hide their cheating ways — using herbicides, for example. How about a surprise visit from your inspection team?
• How do expect us to feed the world when you farm like a bunch of cavemen with your hand tools, cheap labor, and quack ideas like homeopathy and biodynamics?
It’s going to take the stature and patience of someone like George W. Mitchell to bring these sides together. Perhaps he will have solved the Israeli-Palestinian problem by then and will have some time on his hands. Let’s try to get him on the schedule for Ag Show 2012.
Come home, George, there is important work for you here in Maine.
Denis Thoet and his partner, Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner, firstname.lastname@example.org.