I love October. It is, if nothing else, the month during which the fields begin to bustle. And yesterday, almost as if by clockwork, they did just that. For miles around the soybean fields are empty now, bare stuble the color of new cornsilk left in the place of the green, bushy plants of summer.
Harvest is one of my favorite times of the year and this time it has taken on a greater meaning. I’m melancholy over missing much of the first two weeks of it — it’s a time when the landscape of rural America changes faster than the blink of an eye and I know I will return to a different place entirely — but it’s much more than that.
A couple of weeks ago Kelly left a comment on this post asking if we were using our ground wisely. As I venture to Ethiopia with ONE and the other ONE Bloggers later this week and throughout next, it’s a question that I expect will come up both in our group and among those who are journeying with us in spirit from here at home. ONE is placing a lot of focus on nutrition in the coming year, and it’s natural for agriculture to come into the limelight by extension of that conversation. Our food, after all, is our nutrition and it’s our farmers who produce our food.
Here, in the US, we have inherited some of the single most fertile farm land in the world — land that has the capacity to feed far more people than could fit atop it — and wondering if we’re using that resource wisely is both natural and productive. In our global community, with great resources come great responsibility.
And so, Kelly’s question is an excellent one; one I believe lies at the very center of solving the hunger problems we see around the world today. So good, so important, in fact, I fret a little about the complexity of the whole and truthful answer to it. I worry that I am not capable of doing it justice and that the inherently unpopular principles at its core will silence it before it gains traction, before we can make a difference.
In the developed world, we are blessed with so many food choices we don’t even recognize some of them as choice. We take for granted our food supply’s abundance and affordability to such an extent that we are among the few nations in the world where we not only have the privilege to even consider methods of production that sacrifice efficiency, but the individual resources to pursue and support them on matters of principle and personal preference. For much of the world’s continually hungry population that alone is a luxury so far out of reach the idea of even desiring it is absurd. Yet we’ve come to a point in our own agricultural history that we allow it to cloud our food and farming dialogues every day.
In many ways even our farming problems have become first world in nature. Which isn’t to say our concerns aren’t valid, or there isn’t room for improvement. They are, and there is. But what’s happening on American farms is, by and large, very good — no matter what the media may try to tell you otherwise. We are, in virtually every way, using our land (and resources and technologies) wisely.
We are simply in an incredible position of privilege; one that allows us to put agricultural methods that sacrifice efficiency on a pedestal. It’s a position that makes it easy for us to misinterpret our minor shortcomings as major failures, that pits us against one another on account of small differences of personal preference. Instead of starvation, we worry about GMO labels. Instead of the stress that comes from spending fifty-four percent of our (meager) income on food, as is the norm in Ethiopia, we weigh the pros and cons of paying a premium that may amount to twelve or fifteen percent (instead of the national average of less than ten) for food we perceive to be “better”.
My hope going into this trip is that by sharing the stories, pictures, and experiences of people who live without knowing that privilege we can all gain a greater perspective on our agricultural future.
I’ll be traveling to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.