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Krupp: A cultural shift in food production

02/12/09 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) As we celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, commentator Ron Krupp has been thinking about one of his favorite Lincoln quotes.
 
(KRUPP) Abraham Lincoln once said, "The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small parcel of land."  Today, less than 2 percent of people farm the land. A hundred years ago, 35 percent of Americans were engaged in farming, and many rural communities were food self-sufficient.
 
Before World War II, New York City was served by farms in the nearby Hudson Valley and across the river in the Garden State of New Jersey. In those days, many families had home gardens, and some raised a small flock of chickens and a pig to boot. In many Vermont towns, if you go back further in time, there were canneries, grain mills, slaughterhouses, and creameries.
 
The big switch began to take shape during the late 1940s. A new industrial farm and food model replaced the traditional one. The use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, cheap water, cheap labor and cheap fuel ran the engine, and cheap food took over and continued to run the modern farm economy.  Progress was made with new technologies in refrigeration and food processing, interstate highways and large farm equipment. The government threw in massive farm subsidies. This new industrial model fed the nation and the world.        
 
Industrial food was inexpensive up to 2007 because of cheap energy, and the true costs weren't reflected at the supermarket check-out counter. Up until a few years ago there was little awareness of the damaging effects on the environment - leading to chemical pollution, soil depletion, water shortages, and global warming. The social consequences - the loss of the family farm and erosion of our rural communities - were equally devastating.  
 
But in the last couple of years there has been another cultural shift taking place. A farm and food renaissance has begun as people and communities are demanding healthy food grown close to home. This movement is gaining momentum with every mouthful, especially in Vermont.    
 
To feed the nation during World War II, millions of people grew vegetables in "Victory Gardens." If the current economic crisis gets even worse, that may happen again.  More of us may grow some of our own food in a community or home garden - or join a CSA, shop at a farmers' market, buy local food products and support local farmers.  
 
As consumers we need to become aware of how the food system operates, who it benefits, who it harms, and how it could be transformed. In effect, we vote every time we sit down for a meal. It's a kind of kitchen table democracy in action. I think Abraham Lincoln would feel right at home.
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