Feeding the world

I’ve begun to wonder when the idea of feeding the world first became a moral imperative among farmers. Why is it that farmers have inherited the responsibility to feed everyone who has decided to do something else no matter what the personal cost?

I think I know how this idea came into being. As scientists and governments conceived of the idea that there were “too many farmers” back in the 20s and after, more and more people stopped farming to do other things. Yet, these people still needed food, so they came to rely on the people who continued to farm more and more. Now, the number of people who farm has decreased to less than 1 percent of the population (which also begs the question what the more than 99 percent of everyone else is actually doing), so the rest of the population is desperate for the farmers to keep farming, whether they realize they are or not.

Further, the non-farmers are often terrified of any suggestion that farming might need to be done differently, because changes that fail could spell no food for them. In a lot of ways, farming has become like social security: let’s not change it because changes might affect me, even though I am doing nothing to contribute to the system’s success as it currently exists.

Meanwhile, the system itself is failing. Because so few people farm, very few people know what it actually takes to feed the world. And what it takes is a huge amount of equipment and fuel, both of which are becoming so expensive that fewer and fewer farmers can afford to continue doing it. If things continue the way they are now, eventually farmers won’t be able to feed the world because the world will have made farming to expensive to be done by anyone.

I understand that many, many people will counter what I am saying here with variations of the argument: “how is paying a farmer to raise food for me any different than paying anyone else to do something for me I can’t or won’t do?” To me, the answer is that most other things you pay people to do for you don’t necessarily have to be done and you probably won’t die from them not doing it.

So now, the question for me is why am I doing this? I know the answers, and I have come to realize that I am not doing it to feed the world. I’m doing it because I want to convince the world to feed itself.



Part of the revolution in food production I am joining is to reject commodity markets in favor if finding ways to raise food that we will sell directly to the people who eat it. The last time I checked, no one eats the GMO field corn and soybeans that dominate our agriculture sector, mostly because they can’t. That field corn and soybeans are only good for industrial food factories that churn out products that have names many people can’t even pronounce and have to be regulated by the FDA.

Instead of raising chemicals for the industrial food supply, my goal is to raise food that belongs in your pantry and flour jar. To that end, I’m experimenting with a variety of grain and legume products, including amaranth, barely, flour corn, oats, quinoa, and rye. This year, I’ll be able to harvest what I’ve planted by hand, but at some point I’d like to grow more, and the easiest way to do that is with machinery.

Unfortunately, if you’ve looked recently, the entire food production world is geared toward making growing anything but commodity products on a huge scale in the United States almost impossible. The big equipment companies assume you want to farm 2000 acres of the same plant, and the small equipment manufacturers in Asia and Europe can’t find distributors in the US because most implement sellers don’t think anyone is interested in buying.

It seems like an impossible situation unless you’re stubborn like me and have a habit of looking at every implement yard you pass.

Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester 72

In which case you would see this very good condition Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester 72 sitting in an implement yard. In basic terms, this is a small combine that you pull behind a tractor, and it’s perfect for harvesting small amounts of grain without the headaches of a regular combine, which includes having another engine to maintain and fuel.

If I were to buy this thing, I would be able to harvest small stands of any kind of field harvestable product–from alfalfa to zinnias–even just an acre. Perfect for what I need, except that it requires me to spend money–really my mother-in-law who owns the farm’ money–and that’s hard to do when one is trying to be as responsible and frugal as possible.

So for the moment, I ponder and I pray. Here’s a chance to take another step toward what I know I want to do. Now I just have to decide if it’s the right time to do it.