By Fredrica Syren:
At an alarming rate all over the world, expansion of factory farms is forcing family farmers out of business. According to U.S Farm Aid, every week 330 farmers leave their land in the U.S alone. As a result, there are now nearly five million fewer farms in the U.S. than there were in the 1930s.
Factory farming relies on pharmaceuticals, chemicals, artificial feed, and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for its production. They are dumping waste; using too many natural resources like land, forests and water; and using pesticides to grow food. All of this comes with a terrible price. Huge amounts of water and land are required for meat production, a key factor in the deforestation taking place all over the world, mostly notably in Latin America, where rain forest there is being subjected to deforestation. On average, every eighteen seconds one hectare is lost to cattle ranchers there. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 70 percent of the Amazon forest has been turned into land for grazing. The fact is that factory farming — from start to finish — is responsible for damage to land, natural resources, humans and animals.
Compare them to small ecological farms that aim for protection and support of the local eco-system by composting and fertilizing the soil without any pesticides or chemicals. They produce food while establishing an ecological balance to prevent soil infertility or pest problems. The goal of organic agriculture is to take a proactive approach as opposed to treating problems after they emerge. According to FAO, organic agriculture contributes to mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil. Many management practices used by organic agriculture (e.g. minimum tillage, returning crop residues to the soil, the use of cover crops and rotations, and the greater integration of nitrogen-fixing legumes) increase the return of carbon to the soil, raising productivity and favoring carbon storage.
It all sounds like a clear choice, right? The problem eco-farmers face is that a commercial farm, for example, has a staff member paid to deal with all the paperwork required by the government while a family farm generally does not have that resource and easily can get lost in all the red tape. For those who farm the “old fashioned” way, there is an uneven field and they find it increasingly difficult to compete. The result is a steadily increasing number giving up on generations old family farming. Many family farmers feel there is a plan either by the government or by big corporations to make it too hard for the small farmers to stay in business. If they run most of the farmers off their farms, big corporations can take control of agriculture completely, thereby eventually being able to set their own price for agricultural products.
Family farms are very important in preserving green space within the community. Once a family farm is out of business, the land is sold to development and the green space is lost forever. Family farms are important to maintain substantial food grown in a healthy environment without tons of chemicals. Eating food from local farms saves the environment since the food is not transported such far distances and is not packaged in harmful plastic.
It’s time to wake up and see what is happening, or our children will grow up with family farms being something read about in history books. There are plenty of things we can do to preserve the remaining farms. The first is to always buy and eat locally grown food. Shop at the farmers’ markets and co-ops whenever possible. Ask your local store manager to use locally grown food, and ask your favorite restaurant to do the same. The more demand there is for locally grown food, the better chance we have to save family owned farms.