Farms Finest: There’s so much more to learn about our food
Although I am ready to get on with 2015, I did reflect on what I learned while writing about agriculture and food last year.
But there are times when you can learn too much, and that happened mid-year when I started on a writing jag about Big Agriculture. Overall though, I continued to write about subjects that I simply was curious about — such as knowing how America actually started producing food.
It is the chicken or egg question — which came first? This morphed into several stories, and here are a few of the points I found most interesting:
In the beginning, 1862, the government created incentives to homestead land and encouraged immigrants to bring with them seeds from the old world. Later on, the railroads began laying tracks into the remote regions. The trains hooked up elaborate agriculture demonstration cars, which was an effort organized between the railroad, bankers and product suppliers with the sole objective of growing customers.
From these fancy boxcars, product representatives taught homesteaders how to turn raw land into productive soil. An organized campaign promoted agriculture success, thus population growth that also benefited the railroad industry greatly.
From this came another story about how the State Land Grant Colleges began in the 1860s for teaching agriculture skills. This spawned the extension services, which placed agents around each state to assist rural farmers and ranchers. With this system, agriculture knowledge was shared and established a foundation to produce food. It was a time when communities pulled together knowing that rich soil and more barn raisings meant a strong future.
In the ’40s the country worked together and the government encouraged Victory Gardens to be grown during World War II. Gardens were established even at workplaces to offset wartime food shortages. Managing (not monopolizing) food resources was important, as it should remain so.
But the tone of stories began to shift after the 1950s. I started to write about how a chemical company (Monsanto) had evolved into a seed-controlling czar and was taking control of the world’s seed supply. I wrote reams about genetically modified organisms and how food supplies are now controlled by a handful of companies, not farmers.
I questioned advertising calling some food “wholesome” or “all natural” when it is cheaply made from sugar, salt and fat. But even worse, I wondered why so many consumers are not questioning these hollow claims.
Even more shocking was discovering how the Titans of food companies have been building Trojan horses and quietly becoming household names — not only in our food supplies, but also in being sponsors of significant local events in our pristine valley.
For three months, I thought and wrote about more than a century of American agriculture history to date and ended up nearly depressed. So, I decided to reach back into the mid-1800s to find a lighter story. This time, I wanted to know more about those Mason jars that once filled farmhouse pantries.
This sturdy icon of Americana has made a huge comeback for farm-to-table decor all the way to cocktail shakers for chic bars. Proving, once again, simple and practical will endure the test of time.
Still looking for more positive stories to write about, I learned about the Aspen Valley Land Trust and attended its annual Save the Land Dance. Quietly, with little recognition, expansive, turn-of-the-century ranches are being saved forever. Yes, good for the public, but even more importantly this allows nature to have enough undeveloped land to survive.
The year rolled into two stories about Colorado’s most recent agriculture story, legal marijuana and its bumper crop of news. After visiting organic cannabis fields with Clean Green Organic Certification and going to the Aspen Cannabis Grand Cru, I have arrived to my own opinion and will write more in 2015. But I believe this roller-coaster ride between federal and state has barely started.
We must not forget the unsung agriculture superstar, hemp. Nearly lost in the publicity circus about marijuana, this cannabis relative fell in with the wrong crowd and is considered a Class One drug along with marijuana. Another interesting story to follow as hemp begins to regain its valued position in American agriculture.
Last year’s Farms Finest stories were rich in history. Who knows what this year will offer, but I do know this: Real food comes from the land and not a factory. There is much we can learn by referring to the old methods of simply working with nature.
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