Biotrends 2011: Impact of Monoculture and Locavorism

November 5 2010

Monoculture and  locavorism: the first, grand-scale corporate; the other, micro-scale individual or small community. Polar extremes, yet both evolved from logical paths. Monoculture arose from the push to ever-higher agricultural productivity (followed, of course, by ever-higher profitability). Locavorism has growth with rising consumer interest in, and commitment to, sustainability.

For discussion purposes only (since nothing's clearly all good or all bad), let's call their "versus" counterparts agricultural biodiversity and dietary biodiversity.

Monoculture vs. Agricultural Biodiversity

Travel through the plains states, the northwest and western provinces of Canada. What do you see? In many places, as far as your eye can see, are "amber waves of grain." Monoculture.

The good? The monocultures of grain, corn, soybean and other crops in North America feed hundreds of millions of people. Their production actually uses fewer resources while improving the nutrition and relieving the aching backs of children and adults worldwide.

The bad? The rise of Roundup-tolerant superweeds, soil structure modification and loss of soil to erosion, the danger of a modern-day equivalent of the Irish Potato Famine, the homogenization of "culture" as people abandon their traditional way of life and food…well, maybe the last is not entirely a negative if it means a longer and healthier life.

The really, REALLY bad -- and ugly too: feedlots and high density "factory farming".

There's little I can add to the large volume of dis-passionate and highly passionate discourse on the really bad and really ugly factory farms.

Bottom line on the trends in monoculture and agricultural diversity?

For crops, I see a steady state for monoculture (because it's in the economic interest of large companies as well as the economic interest of consumers who seek ever lower prices for commodities).

I expect there will also be a slight rise in small-scale diversity such as heirloom seeds for gardeners and the small-mid-scale diversity of organic and "natural" crop farming, especially as the economy improves and consumer confidence begins to rise.

As to animal factory farming, I'm cautiously optimistic; I trust that information on these practices will continue to be readily available and that our innate humane sensibilities will not become collectively de-sensitized.

Locavore Practices vs. Dietary Biodiversity

There's an old Japanese saying that after a certain age (perhaps 40), every new-to-you food you eat will increase your longevity by seven years. If that's the case, I should rival Methuselah!

I "get" locavorism, to a point. Each spring through fall I simply walk a few steps out the back door to our small suburban garden with colander or bag in hand, snipping chives, mint and rosemary; breaking off asparagus stalks and lettuce leaves; plucking beans, tomatoes and cucumbers; pulling up carrots.

I also buy a lot of this same produce in the winter to stay healthy, and all year around I buy bananas, kiwis, grapefruit and oranges to stave off the scourge of scurvy and other diseases; I also buy New Zealand lamb, non-endangered fish harvested from the world's oceans, vino and "eau de vie" from many nations, among a whole host of ingestibles from near and far.

Ah, but you can buy local-grown tomatoes in January, some say. Yes, but at what energy and resource-intensive price for hothouse operations, vs. a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move a pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail, according to "Math Lessons for Locavores"?

Bottom line: the number of locavores will grow slowly in warm climes and during warmer seasons elsewhere. Hopefully, locavores in chillier regions will do the math and also heed their body's need for dietary diversity when local simply can't deliver.

Category: BioTrends 2011
Filed under: Organic, Energy/Fuel, Food/Nutrition, Locavorism