We’re what some may call “documentary junkies”. For our latest “fix”, we invited my cousin and his girlfriend to Brooklyn to see a documentary entitled FRESH.
FRESH is a documentary about farming and food. The featured farmers were varied; some conventional and corporate while others were restorative and sustainable. Most people know that agri-business is bad business for the animals, the planet, and the people. (If you’re not sure why, check out The Meatrix.) However, Michael Pollan’s contribution to the film was most insightful to me. He explained that it is unnatural to grow a large number of the same species, in the same place, without biodiversity. This condition is known as a monoculture. When a monoculture exists, its natural enemies can easily propagate with voracious intensity causing animals and plants to be under constant attack by microorganisms or “pests”. To address this, the corporate agro model sprays the plants with herbicides and pesticides and pumps the animals with antibiotics and other drugs.
Some of the featured farmers sincerely felt like their hands were tied because their income is largely dependent on government subsidies that they receive for producing corn and soy. To keep “food on the table”, they strap on their masks and protective equipment to spray chemicals on the crops that most of us eat in one way or another. Corn and soy is worth alot to the United Corporations of America. Why? They’ve slipped soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup into the overwhelming majority of foods on most supermarket shelves. Furthermore, a significant portion of corn and soy is grown to produce feed for cattle. But, hold up. Aren’t cows supposed to eat grass? Right you are. They are supposed to eat grass but there is not enough space at the agro-penitentiary for grazing- only room for eating antibiotic-laden, corn mixed with dead animals and blood from their restrictive cell block. How gross is that?! Their manure is so “drugged up” and concentrated that it can’t even by used as fertilizer. It just runs off to pollute the surrounding water bodies.
The documentary featured a very enthusiastic farmer who is also featured in Food, Inc. This particular farmer truly embraced his farming as a means of good stewardship of the earth and restoring the land. He rotated his crops and moved his cattle routinely in an effort to mimic how herds function in the wild. After the cows graze an area, he brings in the chickens to eat the larvae left behind. Then, he allows the grass to regenerate before the cows return to graze. He has become a bit of an eco-celeb and points to the occurence of animal-contracted diseases and antibiotic-resistant viruses as resulting from unnatural farming techniques and models. Nature is trying to rise against the machine and get our attention: Avian flu, Swine flu, Mad Cow disease, and the list goes on.
On an urban scale, FRESH featured an inner-city micro-farm in Milwaukee that has been a means of community-building and self-sustainability. At this micro-farm, diverse groups of neighbors attend weekend workshops on composting, growing food, and some work the land and sell its produce. The farm is a superb model of high efficiency farming. They worm compost, grow microgreens, raise tilapia, and much more in a three-acre square area. They have also been contracted to compost some of their city’s waste and are trying to enact change in their local government.
FRESH concluded with a hopeful depiction of how consumers can support local and/or organic farming to oppose the corporate farming model that is failing us all. Research is now pointing to the advantage of medium-sized organic farming over super-sized corporate farming; so now we, the consumers, need to “vote” for sustainable food choices with our dollars. Even if organic options seem out of your budget, consider locally-grown produce. Not only is it better for your health, it’s also better for the earth and your local economy.