When it comes to being an organism, there are two big concerns: food, and shelter. For those of us who have never had to worry much about either, it’s easy to forget how central they are to our lives.
In our society, agriculture is everything. After all, ‘agriculture’ has got the word ‘culture’ right in it! The decision roughly 10,000 years ago by our ancestors in the Fertile Crescent to build walls and plant crops was maybe the single most important decision that lead to our modern civilization.
It was the decision to move away from a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle and the relative freedom that came with it, for the security of walled towns and agricultural plots, that allowed early societies to grow beyond groups of a few hundred into cities of tens of thousands.
Today, agriculture is just as central to our lives as ever. With only about 1% of the population in the United States involved in food production, we have less people directly responsible for growing food than ever in the history of agriculture.
With less people to grow the food, and more food needed than ever, we’ve had to make compromises. Farming is not the idyllic, pastoral lifestyle we grew up imagining. The majority of farming is now heavily industrialized. Especially in the United States, massive monocultural farms are the norm.
These enormous industrial farms rely on cheap labor, heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and widespread, horrific abuse of animals.
- Agriculture is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gases, and a major source of freshwater contamination.
- Old growth forests are being clear cut to make space for ranches and palm oil plantations.
- Pesticide use threatens bees, birds and other wildlife, and is killing the soil.
- In the United States, activists who report on and expose the sickening abuse of animals on factory farms can face prosecution on terrorism charges.
- Several states have passed “Ag Gag” laws, prohibiting the filming of operations on farms.
The situation is grim. But there is hope. For the first time in generations, people are starting to take genuine interest in and responsibility for the agricultural system. The organic movement — now over 100 years old — has started getting real mainstream traction.
Farmer’s markets and community gardens are springing up all over the world. Communities are taking back the agricultural systems, and putting the Culture back in agriculture.
See our Ways to Help page if you want more information and inspiration on how you can help build a better world for all.