Farm-o-liciousnes

Carla Axtman

My passion for land use policy is born from a social justice perspective. This area of policy often pits those who have money and access to power against those who don't.

But besides the issues of social justice, good land use policy is also, in many cases, just good common sense. You don't build a nuclear power plant next to a school. You don't build a prison next to a playground. And hopefully, you don't pave over high value farmland to build strip malls and destination resorts.

That last one is surprisingly contentious. In reality, it shouldn't be.

Eric Mortensen, The Oregonian:

Farming's direct economic impact in Oregon adds up to 10 percent of the state's sales, 12 percent of jobs and 7 percent of its value-added activity, according to a new report by the state Department of Agriculture.

Add the sales, services and professions that sprout from farming -- everything from fertilizer purchases and tractor repair to land-use lawyers -- and the impact is even greater. But dollar signs don't tell the full value of the 16 million acres devoted to farming and ranching in Oregon, according to department economist and policy analyst Brent Searle.

He maintains farmland provides ecological and even social benefits as well.

In addition to growing food and fiber and supporting livestock, farmland filters water, shelters wildlife, stores carbon dioxide, gives tourists something to look at and provides residents a sense of open space, Searle says in the report.

In addition, the state's farmland is adaptive, renewable, sustainable, efficient and primarily family-owned and operated. For those reasons, Searle concludes, it's crucial to avoid converting farmland to housing, industry, shopping or other business use.

It's unrealistic to try and preserve every scrap of land in Oregon for farming. But this report demonstrates that it's vital that we preserve as much as we possibly can. It's cheaper for taxpayers, it allows us to grow our food and other crops locally and it provides a stable, long term economic engine for the state.

And the gravy? We keep this beautiful, scenic, liveable place.

Comments

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    Although I agreed in general, I don't agree with several of the social benefit assertions: "filters water", "stores carbon dioxide", and "shelters wildlife". The greatest source of turbidity in our streams is runoff from farms. The greatest source of excess heat is farming to the stream edge and leaving no riparian boundary. Most farming does little to support wildlife and most ground animals are considered pests and eradicated from farmland. Carbon storage is extremely transitory - it is part of the carbon cycle but not sequestering excess carbon from fossil fuels (anyone know if more carbon is sequestered in a tract of wood-framed houses or a wheat field?).

    I'm very supportive of our land use laws to protect farmland, but think some of those claims go over the top or contradict actual, widespread practices even is there are some exceptions.

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      I think it depends on the kind of farming. Certainly corporate style food farming would do much of what you're saying. But tree farms and most berry farms I've seen do not.

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      Let me add a bit to this. Animal agriculture is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on Earth. It's incredibly resource intensive, a top polluter of water, soil, and air. It's responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry. A climate change study a couple years back (I think UN sponsored) determined that we must make a significant shift towards a plant-based diet in order to truly address climate change.

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        Joshua, the study you're thinking of is probably one titled "Livestock's Long Shadow". It's a very biased report and many people no longer put much stock in it.

        As to animal agriculture, how the animals are managed is key to whether a particular farm or ranch is destructive or supportive of the local ecology. There are many, many farmers and ranchers who maintain riparian areas and actually improve the conditions of streams and the soils that are on their farms and ranches.

        When done properly, ranches using managed intensive grazing (MIG) can actually use fewer energy resources than extensive plant agriculture, increases soil depth, sequesters loads of carbon and when combined with other types of farming systems and/or other species of livestock, row crops and proper management systems actually make for very healthy and diverse wildlife populations.

        So it's not agriculture or animal agriculture, that's the problem. It's some of the systems that some farms and ranches operate under. For instance, under some GAP (Good Agriculture Practices) farms are encouraged or even required (under the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement implemented by some large distributors) to remove any potential wildlife habitat from proximity with their fields for certain vegetable and greens crops. This is to protect the public who might come into contact with and consume the crops from becoming sick from animal borne disease (anyone remember the Oregon grown strawberries that gave people E. coli 0157.H7?).

        Others of us, such as myself, manage our farms with wildlife in mind and accept some risk when growing vegetables, grains, fruit, berries and leafy greens, specifically so that wildlife does have a place alongside the livestock and the row crops.

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          Well Joanne, here's a link to a piece (UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet) in the Guardian from 2010 discussing the report from the United Nations Programme's international panel pf sustainable resource management.

          http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet

          "many people" happen to put a lot of "stock" in this report along with mountains of evidence demonstrating the enormous environmental toll of the animal food industry.

          As someone who makes money commodifying animals, you're opinion is also happens to be "biased."

          Generally speaking, rasing animals for food produces much more pollution and uses a lot more natural resources than growing plants for food, not to mention that plant based diets reduce rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, etc. which translates to lower healthcare costs.

          "By eating these whole foods, and getting away from processed foods, getting away from the dairy, and anything with a mother, anything with a face -- meat, fish and chicken -- it's incredible how powerful the body can be. If we are going to have a seismic revolution of health in this country, which is really right at our fingertips, then the major behavior that has to change is our food (intake). That is absolutely the key card, it trumps everything." -Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Cleveland Clinic, author of "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease"

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            Joshua, is this the report you refer to? The link in the Guardian article is broken and I had to look it up at the UNEP website -

            Assessing The Environmental Impact of Consumption and Production - Priority Products an Materials

            I think you missed the whole point of my post. It's not animal production that's the problem regarding environmental degradation, it's the type of production systems that much of animal agriculture currently uses.

            For thousands of years humans have used animals for everything from food to traction. I would hazard a guess, that between the wildlife and the livestock, I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't as many animals on the planet 1,000 years ago as there are now. But the systems that the bulk of them were managed in were very different than today.

            And too, plant agriculture can be every bit as degrading to the environment as animal ag can be. Anyone remember the dust bowl? Even now, substantial topsoil is being lost in many parts of the USA through plant agriculture. There are also issues with salinization of the ground, and other environmental issues associated with plant based agriculture. But, as with animal agriculture, it's not plant based ag that's the problem, it's the system in which those crops are managed and produced. Around the world the environment is being degraded, and human rights issues are being recognized as indigenous and peasant farmers are being pushed off their land. Not for animal ag, but for plant based agriculture much of which is to produce oil seed and other oil producing products for processing.

            As to health issues associated with eating meat, I don't think that it's the meat itself that is causing heart disease, diabetes, etc. It's more to the increased consumption of heavily processed foods, the bulk of which are plant based, in conjunction with reduced activity levels. Look at any processed food out there and you'll see that even the ones that contain meat, are mostly made up of plant materials - flour, starch, whole grains, tubers, as well as vegetables and leafy greens. I think that even if someone were to become a vegan, if they were to eat primarily processed food (RTE meals, etc.) as opposed to consuming home prepared foods made from whole raw ingredients, they'd probably have as many health issues as the anti meat/animal agriculture people say meat eaters have.

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              I've read your opinions on farming and health but I think I'll go with experts like President Clinton's (Bill is now vegan) doctor from the Cleveland Clinic, professional organizations like UNEP, and world renowned institutions like Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future which all back up my claims, NOT yours.

              "By eating these whole foods, and getting away from processed foods, getting away from the dairy, and anything with a mother, anything with a face -- meat, fish and chicken -- it's incredible how powerful the body can be. If we are going to have a seismic revolution of health in this country, which is really right at our fingertips, then the major behavior that has to change is our food (intake). That is absolutely the key card, it trumps everything." -Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Cleveland Clinic, author of "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease"

              "Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says"

              "A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today."

              "It says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

              Your claim that "the problem" with animal agriculture is simply the way it's done is plain wrong. Animal agriculture has a place in a sustainable human food system, it's just a very small space. Generally speaking, plant agriculture it takes far less natural resources and creates far less waste.

              And yes, some plant foods, especially those which are highly processed are not healthy. More brilliant insight. Meat and dairy consumption are connected to most of the health problems that ail Americans and drive up our healthcare costs.

              The dairy industry is undeniably unnecessary, unhealthy, resource intensive and inherently cruel. Cow milk is for calves.

              You're empty pro-animal agriculture rhetoric is a bit reminiscent of climate change denial.

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            As to being in favor of animal agriculture because I 'commodify' animals, I'll let you in on a little secret. I sell way more in plants and row crops that I'll ever sell in livestock or poultry. Over 90% of my farm's production is plant based, albeit animal supported. Produce through the CSA program, growing produce for restaurants, and then there's the nursery business which is 100% plant products. So I actually 'commodify' plants for a living much more than I do animals. Although the livestock are an integral part of the farm, they make up a miniscule portion of sales. If it weren't for the horses and goats, I'd be dependent on chemical fertilizers to feed the soil organisms who in turn feed the row crops that I harvest. And BTW, all of those earth worms, bacteria, and beneficial insects? Those are animals too.

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              "And BTW, all of those earth worms, bacteria, and beneficial insects? Those are animals too."

              Thanks for the brilliant insight.

              I'll let you in on a "little secret." Your farming statistics have 0% relevance to the points that I've made.

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