Advocates for organic crops speak at Hillel

by Travis Reed

Two decades of consolidations have put large corporations in control of a growing majority of U.S. agricultural production.
Because most family farmers are unable to compete with giants like Cargill or Monsanto, many have expanded into a new market: organic foods.
Two advocates of sustainable agriculture led a small Sunday meeting at Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center.
Jan Diek VanMansvelt, the former head of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, and California author Patricia Dines spoke about their experience promoting organic foods and balanced ecosystems — two tools they say can help family farmers stay in business.
When farmers limit themselves to growing only one or two crops because they bring the best prices, they ruin the idea of buying produce locally and building self-sufficient communities, VanMansvelt said.
He said profit-oriented production has crippled the agricultural industry.
Growers should instead focus on maintaining ecosystem balance when growing crops and raising livestock, VanMansvelt said. In practice, farmers would have to create an environment that supports a broad spectrum of both livestock and crops instead of a select few grown in large amounts.
“If everyone grows the most profitable crop, it lowers prices,” he said.
Dines has seen first hand how the commodity system can harm agriculture. As a resident of Sonoma County, a region famous for its vineyards, she says farmers’ need to generate profit has caused most to focus on producing only grapes, a trend that is harming the industry.
“In my area, the wine grapes are so famous that no one wants to grow anything else,” she said. “I don’t know when we’ll hit the self-balancing point, but it’s really changing the character of our area.”
Both speakers stressed the importance of consumers buying locally produced food, arguing that it is wasteful to transport food from one region to another. Dines said that neighboring Napa County imports nearly 90 percent of its food because its farmers use the area’s resources to produce grapes only.
Dines became an advocate for organic farming when her neighbors began spraying pesticides on their crops. She said the chemicals caused health problems, including severe headaches, nausea and memory loss.
To drum up support for organic farmers in her area, Dines published a pamphlet titled, “The Organic Traveler’s Guide to the Wine Country.”
She said she and other activists hope organic foods will increase in popularity as more farmers turn to sustainable agriculture to stay in business.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected]