As seen in: Issue 38

Taking the Nature Out of Agriculture and the Impact on Human and Environmental Health

The world’s people have become almost completely disconnected from what sustains us – community, food, water, even Mother Nature herself. We have become corporatized and conditioned to a level of normal that is undermining us at every turn. We have unleashed synthetic systems on Earth that are not designed to reinforce environmental and human health, and we are in the throes of experiencing devastating consequences.

When it comes to human nourishment, we have lost our logical way – man-made materials do not grow living things. To compound the problem, we have collectively walked away from our responsibility for what nourishes us and our imagination for the scope and interconnections of the living systems that sustain us.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

The way back is easy enough, but given the generations of deceit and the fact that it is much more profitable for the powers to keep people and society sick so they can continue to invent seeming solutions, we have a lot of work to do. We can level up by stepping into our creative agency and prioritizing systems thinking or, as they say, seeing the forest for the trees.

Put another way; we cannot solve dynamic problems with linear thinking. Agriculture is a perfect application for the power in this concept. Agricultural threefolding moves us beyond farming and integrates the buying power of how and what we eat and the approach and impact our growing methods and diet have on the environment and our individual and public health.

This focus on food, farming, and health has profound implications on our ability to drive a healthier way forward. For example, pesticides generate human disease at an enormous social and economic cost. Still, when establishing commodity prices, the markets do not factor this impact into their bottom line. If they did, markets would respond to the actual cost, making it more expensive for consumers to purchase things that are degenerative and extractive, and we would have a mechanism for making common sense.

Another example is eating a fast food meal that has been engineered to be delicious and subsidized to be (fake) cheap. Did you know that a fast-food cheeseburger is estimated to cost more than $10 without federal subsidies? Incredibly, more than 36% of adults consume fast food on a given day. Do you think the average fast food eater considers the impact this has on our individual and collective health? Or the support they give to factory farming that is polluting our drinking water?

We Have A Solution

The basis of my work is that the significant challenges the world faces – climate, health, hunger, poverty, etc. – can all be solved by a healthy and righteous application of regenerative agriculture. Looked at from the other side, it is the misguided application of agriculture that has generated these big problems in the first place. Herein is the riddle; agriculture is the source of the problem and the solution.

Nature & agriculture

The modern agricultural system is failing us. Why? Nature is being removed from agriculture – artificial fertilizers, food science, genetically modified organisms, field robots, pharmaceuticals first, toxic pesticides, and more.

The status quo of agriculture is synthetic and not sustainable. The soil is being treated like a sponge rather than a living organism. Too many of us are eating food for the wrong reasons; we live to eat rather than eat to live. And farming is not being conducted to nourish people. Not only is 99% of farming conventional and using inordinate amounts of ecocides and genetically modified protocols, but the very biodiversity of our food system is being lost.

Lacking Diversity

The FAO estimates 75% of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000. That is an incredible number, as these are varieties the Earth will never see again. Much like the monocrops in our agricultural fields, our diet is becoming globalized and homogenized. For example, a study in the journal PNAS tells us that, while wheat has long been a staple crop, it is now a key food in more than 97% of countries. The soybean is now significant in the diets of almost 75% of nations.

Nature & agriculture

There is no incentive for diversity or food quality in our farming systems. Instead of nutrient density, food markets are driven by price, yield, appearance, and shelf life. Combine this with the fact that the average American sugar intake is three times recommended levels, and a whopping 61% of the American diet is ultra-processed foods that have had Nature completely removed. It is no surprise that the U.S. health care system is by far the most expensive in the world. Meanwhile, Americans continue to live relatively unhealthier and shorter lives than peers in other high-income countries.

The American way of eating is wreaking havoc on all of humanity. More than enough food is grown to feed us all around the world, And yet, an increasing number of people are trying to lose weight while 690 million people go hungry. Is this alone not a failure of action and imagination in agriculture?

The Healthcare Crisis

The crisis developing in our health care system is an even more immediate threat. We may be living longer, but are we living better? The numbers don’t say so. According to Dr. Phil Landrigan and Dr. Zach Bush, in the 1960s, an estimated 6% of the population was diagnosed with a chronic disease. In 1986, it was 12.4%, and now, the number is 54%. Further, in 2000, 1 in 150 children was diagnosed with autism, compared to 1 in 54 children as of 2016, and more than 50% of all people on Earth will now develop cancer in their lifetimes.

These sobering statistics can be explained by empty food, poor diets, sick care, conventional farming, and environmental toxicity. Meanwhile, the experts of the world have no answers. This, my friends, is the classic definition of a failure of leadership and a criminal racket.

The Poverty Problem

We live in a world where three men own as much total wealth as the bottom half of Americans. According to the World Bank, most people live in poverty. The stats are striking; 85% of the world live on less than $30 per day, two-thirds live on less than $10 per day, and 10% of people live on less than $1.90 per day. Of course, hunger and poverty are connected and most acute among rural agrarian small family farms that, despite the greenwashing of Big Ag, grow more than 70% of the global food supply.

We don’t have a capitalism problem; we have a capitalism construction problem where the profits trickle up. More specifically, we have a corporatism problem, where specific interests have control over government policy and global markets. This is accomplished and maintained through a focus on outputs instead of outcomes. Markets are flying blind to the invisible hands and overwhelming externalities of our collective actions. We have normalized this to such an extent that it becomes difficult to see the solutions. Round and round we go.

An Agricultural Act

The great Wendell Berry reminds us that eating is an agricultural act. He also said, “People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.”

We need to start viewing the problems and solutions through this broader definition of agriculture. We must commit to the idea that food, farming, and health systems do not live in isolated silos but, instead, operate in a tangled and dynamic web of life that is the foundation of the history of human experience. Then, we can start to see new solutions.

Nature & agriculture

Our opportunity, if properly leveraged, is to use our human superpower of logic and consciousness to implement regenerative methods that will allow us to think and act our way out of the circumstances we have generated over the last 50-60 years. We can bring about the abundance on Earth that we all know in our hearts is possible. Regenerative agriculture is the way.

This is not just high-brow language. How do we fix health care other than healthier people? How do we combat the catastrophic impacts of conventional farming without reversing backward incentives and implementing true cost accounting? How do we fight hunger or poverty without making moral and financial commitments and building a socioeconomic system that ensures people have enough food and essentials?

We live in a world built for the winners. We live in a world that values profit over people. We live in a world where we edify people like Elon Musk, who offers a $100 million prize for the ‘best’ carbon capture technology when this device lives for free under our feet in the soil food web.

Other than the ocean, there is no more potent source for sequestering carbon than living soil. It is precisely the conventional methods of farming that have been championed in the modern age that have mitigated the soil’s capacity to act as a carbon sink, contributing further to the carbonization of the atmosphere. We are even taking Nature out of climate change.

Just Imagine

The most frustrating part is that there is so much we could be doing. We could stop subsidizing fast food and corporate farmers and provide incentives for family farmers that grow the cleanest, most nutrient-dense foods. We could create a policy to end food deserts that would pay for itself in short order through improving the social determinants of health. We could prioritize local whole foods in schools and ensure all children know how to grow their own food. We could allow cities and counties to enact excise taxes on fast food and sugary drinks. We could call for a federal Farm Core for all Americans that provides a step up for those engaging in an agricultural experience and provide incentives for locally-led urban regenerative farms in all cities. The solutions are the easy part; the challenge is in generating the social and political will to change the systems.

If we are to thrive on Earth, we need a new set of priorities that generate a new set of solutions. We cannot ignore the results of our failed attempts to compensate for our disconnection from Mother Nature and assume we can think and invent our way out of the value that she brings to human life.

To thrive on Earth, we have to be brave enough to take ownership of the central importance of agriculture for all humanity.

To thrive, we must trust our gut and listen to our Mother.

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Evan is a regenerative agricultural consultant with a background across every facet of the farming and gardening spectrum. He has founded and operated many businesses over the years - including a retail hydroponics store he operated for over 14 years, a wholesale company that formulated beyond organic products and vortex-style compost tea brewers, an organic lawn care company, and a commercial organic wheatgrass growing operation. He now works as a consultant in his new project Be Agriculture where he helps new and seasoned growers take their agronomy to the next level. What we think, we grow!