Roots 2014: Lee Jones on Keeping America Close to Its Food
What significant changes, good or bad, have you seen in the attitudes toward the preservation of agriculture, farming resources, and climate change awareness have you seen in your lifetime?
My father, my grandfathers, and their grandfathers knew a totally different kind of agriculture than we face today. They knew a farming system without chemicals, a system where you produced your own nutrients and brought very little onto the farm from the outside world. They were participants in sustainable agriculture before anyone heard of the term. They grew their own seeds, produced their own nutrients, and to a great extent used their own crops. Storage and processing as we know it was nonexistent.
My father has seen the change from that basic production agriculture to a chemically based, commercial operation, based almost entirely on off-farm inputs. Now, in modern commercial agriculture, all of the seed, nutrients, and inputs are brought in from off the farm. On the other end of the spectrum, almost the entire output of the farm goes to some form of processor. This was brought about by many changes including government policy, the money to be made from chemical inputs by those producing them and the necessity for the farmer to become more and more efficient at producing cheaper food for a growing world. These farmers have become the most efficient and productive ever known. That does not mean that this method of farming is the best for the world.
I, fortunately, have seen a tremendous turn in agriculture in America. Although still in its infancy it is a turn toward the original agriculture in which my ancestors participated. Our goal is to get back to the system of my ancestors, where we produce the greatest possible share of the inputs needed on the farm. This is not an easy path and at times not the most economical, but what it does do is to allow us to produce the safest, healthiest and best tasting vegetables possible. This is a continuing path, learning this method of agriculture over again does not come quickly or easily. But it is the right thing to do. We are making progress day by day, year by year, toward that goal. Just as our ancestors never attained the ideal, we probably won't either, but we do intend to continue making progress toward that goal.
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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.