In his latest essay for the Rodgers Forge newsletter, Jay Dunn writes nostalgically about "just a few of the things that are disappearing in our country." It just so happens that four of the 12 disappearing things he lists are either directly or indirectly related to agriculture -- and are just the sorts of things that our organization is trying to address. Here are the four farming-related items that Jay lists:
Blue Crabs in the Chesapeake Bay: As everyone knows, they are disappearing. Jay notes that it's because of overfishing, invasive species, and pollution -- but many people don't think about the source of that pollution. The bay is choking on nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, two elements abundant in chemical fertilizers. A great deal of the harmful nutrients in the bay are coming from industrial-chicken operations. But a good chunk also comes from urban and suburban lawns. Chemical lawn fertilizer is highly soluble and tends to run off in the first rain, into the streets and gutters, and then out to the bay. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program: "Stormwater from urban and suburban areas contributes a significant amount of pollutants to the Bay. Every time we drive our cars, fertilize our lawns, leave pet waste on the ground or forget to fix car leaks, we contribute to pollution in our local rivers, streams and the Bay. Seventeen percent of phosphorus, 11 percent of nitrogen and 9 percent of sediment loads to the Bay come from stormwater." We encourage people to have less lawn and more garden, and we discourage the use of chemical fertilizers.
Dying Honeybees: In the past few years, people became alarmed when honeybees started dying off. The phenomenon was called Colony Collapse Disorder, and now researchers have come up with some theories about why it's happening: One cause might be stress on bee colonies, which are trucked around the country to be used as pollinators in industrial farming. Another might be the widespread use of pesticides. Both of these factors weaken bees' resistance to various pathogens. We encourage people to grow pollinator plants (starting by letting Dutch white clover grow in lawns) and avoid pesticides. (Kudos to the Rodgers Forge neighbor on Stanmore who keeps a beehive in the alley. Join our group!)
Family Farms: People see that they spend more and more money on food, but that rising dollar value is not getting to the farmer; instead, it largely goes to middlemen, who transport, repackage, and market the food, as you can see in this report. Jay notes that family farms have declined from 5.3 million in 1950 to 2.1 million today. But go back a few more years, and you'll find that the decline is much more drastic: Just prior to World War II, there were almost seven million farms in the United States (and around 130 million people). Today, in a country of 300 million, a mere 1.2 million people claim farming as their principal occupation, and the average age of those farmers is around 55. About 74,000 farms, or 3.5 percent, accounted for more than 60 percent of the market value of agricultural products sold in 2002. This means that food production in our country is concentrated in industrial megaproducers and a dwindling, aging population. We need to rediscover our agricultural roots, and we need to diversify the kinds of landscapes that grow food. This is what the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative is all about. We also encourage supporting local farmers, which leads us to "disappearing thing" number 4....
The Milkman: Jay says he misses the milk that was delivered to his home when he was a kid. "When Mom would let us have chocolate milk, well, oh boy!" He can still get that good milk, and support good local dairies, if he wants to. The South Mountain Creamery is just one local dairy that still delivers milk -- in old-fashioned glass bottles, no less. (And it even comes in chocolate. Yum!) Trickling Springs Creamery is another local dairy operation, as is Clear Spring Creamery. All of these dairies try to adhere to sustainable farming methods. You can also get South Mountain goods at the weekend farmers' markets, in Waverly and under the JFX; Trickling Springs is available at Atwater's in Belvedere Square. We support local producers like these, because they add resilience to our foodshed.
So, we invite Jay (and you) to join the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative. We seem to be concerned about some of the same things he is.