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The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter released a report on agroecology today, which you can access at http://www.srfood.org. And. It. Is. Amazing. Seriously. It says that eco-farming (agroecology) can DOUBLE food production in 10 years.

I've had a secret crush on de Schutter (well maybe not so secret) for some time now, because he's constantly fighting for the right of all people to healthy food that was produced in a fair way. It's amazing to see someone in a high profile role like his, ACTUALLY DO HIS JOB. It's so rare, in fact, that a recent Guardian article called him "an unapologetic radical" for trying to "feed the world and still save the planet." That's a radical agenda? That's, like, what every fourth grader will tell you they want to do when they grow up. It shouldn't be radical. And yet, when you see how few of the rich and powerful people in the world actually follow De Schutter's recommendations, well...

More below. You can also see my piece on Alternet about this.

What Is Agroecology
Agroecology is probably what you would call "organic." But it's so much more. I recently asked Food First Executive Director Eric Holt-Gimenez for his take on how much US farmers have actually embraced agroecology. He answered it by noting that most US farmers are in "stage 1" of agroecology (although I think is overly generous to call it even stage 1) and that is reducing farm inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. (For those who don't know, it takes a LOT of natural gas to produce fertilizer, and the fertilizer then depletes the soil and adds to greenhouse gas emissions in the form of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times worse than CO2.)

Stage 2 is where most organic farmers in the U.S. are, according to Holt-Gimenez. That's particularly true on large, industrial organic operations. Stage 2 is "input substitution." That means I stop using nitrogen fertilizer and start using manure. I stop using highly toxic pesticides and I start using organic approved ones like Bt instead. I stop using herbicides but I till a lot to kill the weeds, which ruins the tilth of the soil.

But true agroecology? That's rare in the U.S. Joel Salatin is probably the best known example of somebody who is truly practicing agroecology. It means mimicking nature to accomplish agricultural goals. Tanya Kerssen of Food First also adds:

Agroecology also values traditional and indigenous farming methods, studying the scientific principals underpinning them instead of merely seeking to replace them with new technologies. As such, agroecology is grounded in local (material, cultural and intellectual) resources.

While rare in the U.S., agroecology is practiced by peasants worldwide. When I was recently in Chiapas, the Zapatistas I visited with actually had an agroecology team in each of their five zones that was assigned to help local farmers. We Americans don't like to think that peasants with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing are more sophisticated than us, but in this one way, they are.

Examples of Agroecology
One example of agroecology, mentioned in the report, was also described to me by Michael Hansen of Consumers' Union. He saw it used in China when he toured the country in the late 1970's. You first start growing your rice plants and then you time the hatching of your ducklings so that the rice plants are just a little too big for them to eat. As your rice grows, the ducks grow too, pooping out fertilizer and snacking on weeds and bugs that might otherwise harm your rice. And you can also grow azolla, an aquatic fern, in this system. Azolla crowds out weeds, fixes nitrogen, and serves as duck food.

Another agroecological system described in the report is called the "push-pull" system, and it is used widely in East Africa. From my piece on Alternet about this:

The “push-pull” method involves pushing pests away from corn by interplanting corn with an insect repelling crop called Desmodium (which can be fed to livestock), while pulling the pests toward small nearby plots of Napier grass, “a plant that excretes a sticky gum which both attracts and traps pests.” In addition to controlling pests, this system produces livestock fodder, thus doubling corn yields and milk production at the same time. And it improves the soil to boot!

Feeding the World
In the U.S. we often hear calls for doubling food production by 2050 to feed a population of 9 billion people. This report promises that agroecology can double food production in key areas within 10 years based on studies of yield increases where it has been implemented already. That means could be done by 2021 if we start now. But I think a few things should be added to this discussion.

First, I went looking into the "double food production by 2050" claim. It turns out that it's complete and utter bullpucky. The UN FAO says we need an increase of 70 percent by 2050, and even that's questionable, given that it assumes that we Americans continue to eat ourselves sick and spew greenhouse gases into the air at the rate we do now.

But one thing is for sure. When you go to a country in the Global South and you meet with peasant farmers who have maybe an acre, maybe two, where they grow crops and raise a few chickens and maybe a pig or two, if that farmer could increase their yields, THAT would be significant. There's a difference between an increase in global food production coming from large farms in Iowa or Brazil, or from an increase coming from small peasant farms. And it's the latter that's going to end hunger, and it's the latter that will truly benefit from agroecology. The former just means more factory farms and ethanol.

Why Not Fertilizer, High Yielding Seeds, Etc?
I've been closely following U.S. efforts to "Feed the Future" over the past few years. Our efforts focus around fertilizer and high yielding seeds, many of which are genetically modified. And in this context, it's not the fact that they are GMOs that counts. I mean, that's significant, but even the non-GM seeds are typically hybrids. And, thus far, the high-yielding stuff is usually better characterized as "high response." As in, it responds very well to fertilizer and irrigation.

What does that all mean? Both hybrids and GMOs would need to be purchased (or donated) each year. So do fertilizer and pesticides. Irrigation often takes electricity, and it obviously takes water. This means that people who often live far away from the nearest road, who often don't even have running water, would need all of these things in order to make use of high yielding seeds. And they would need them every year.

For those who can't afford them - and let's face it - the ones who CAN afford the inputs are not the poorest or the hungriest who we want to help - they either need to obtain these things for free somehow (donations?) or they might need credit to buy them. And credit might come from a local moneylender. One failed harvest will put them into a nasty cycle of debt.

Even if they have the money for the inputs, let's say, which would you prefer: double your yield for a price (to buy the seeds and fertilizer) or double the yield for free (via agroecology)? You'd prefer to save your money and to use it for a medical emergency, or for a grain mill, or school for your kid, or whatever.

This is a trap that was a problem for many during the Green Revolution. When the inputs were first introduced, often they were for free or for a subsidized price. And chemical inputs are a bit like drugs. Your land gets hooked. Once you've killed your soil and you no longer have the local varieties of seeds you used to use, you NEED those seeds and fertilizer every year. When the inputs are no longer free or subsidized, you're screwed. And often, over time, you'll need MORE fertilizer and pesticides just to get the same yields, once your soil is depleted and the bugs begin to evolve resistance to the pesticides.

There's a lot more to say here. A lot. There's a lot to say about trade, about agroecology, about U.S. policy, and more. For now, please check out the report by Olivier de Schutter at http://www.srfood.org and if you'd like, you can also see my piece on this on Alternet (I interviewed de Schutter so there's a few nuggets of extra stuff in my Alternet piece that you won't get here or from the report itself... as of 5am it wasn't up yet but it will be). For continued coverage of this, you can check out my blog http://www.lavidalocavore.org where I frequently cover this topic whenever any news comes up.

UPDATE:
The Ecologist has a piece up on this.

Originally posted to Sustainable Food and Agriculture on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Environmental Foodies.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Does this have any impact on (11+ / 0-)

    monoculturing and/or Monstano-esque geneticism?

    I'm not afraid of guns! I'm afraid of the people that obsess over owning them.

    by Detroit Mark on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:20:30 AM PST

  •  an orgasm or an organicism ? (12+ / 0-)

    just asking

    We're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression.

    by Lepanto on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:25:43 AM PST

  •  OH! OH! nt (10+ / 0-)

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:33:24 AM PST

  •  Oooooh fantastic! (5+ / 0-)

    Now I need to go clean up.

    Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative. - William S. Burroughs

    by sricki on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:50:07 AM PST

  •  Now that's a way to get noticed! (13+ / 0-)

    lol, nice title!

    And of course, great news within the diary itself.

    I've never been as wary of GMOs as some people here, but I am definitely not the expert on agriculture or food policy here, so I will gladly defer to the experts here at Daily Kos that we do have (while trying to learn more myself).

    You're exactly right about the hunger trends, it's going to affect the people already impoverished.  Wealthy G20 nations will be able to afford any sharp increases in food prices over the next decades, it's going to be the poor countries who will be hurt worst.

    And if agroecology can ward off this impending disaster, then I'm all for it.

    "Give me a lever long enough... and I shall move the world." - Archimedes

    by mconvente on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:56:09 AM PST

    •  re: GMOs (8+ / 0-)

      there are some things that people say against them that are utter and complete bullcrap. But there are also concerns about them expressed by scientists (and farmers for that matter) that are totally valid. A really great summary of critique of GMOs can be found in the book Hope Not Hype by Jack Heinemann and I think the first 3 chapters are downloadable for free off the web. I'm pretty sure the GMO stuff is within those first chapters. http://sites.google.com/...

      •  GMO's need to be researched (8+ / 0-)

        But I stand by my assertion that we as a species have a limited knowledge of the world system and therefore need to become better acquainted with what is already out there before changing the genetic codes of organisms.

        This is reality: the agricultural "culture" that has arisen since industrialization of our fields is reductionist in its very nature and is geared towards market oriented solutions. Commercial GMOs are, currently, a useless market oriented solution. Right now we need to be teaching and learning about the ecology of our planet and adjusting our agricultural practices accordingly without adding anything new to the equation. It is our practices, not our lack of genetic potential in existing species, that is contributing to ecological and humanitarian disaster.

        GMOs should be researched, but we really don't know what we are doing yet. I say that with all honesty. Anyone who thinks we have a clue should look at the dead zones created by our run off, the failure of GMO crops, and the vast potential for genetic contamination and think again.

        •  This says it all (11+ / 0-)
          It is our practices, not our lack of genetic potential in existing species, that is contributing to ecological and humanitarian disaster.

          Big Farm has convinced a lot of people (and honestly, myself included, at least until reading some of the eKos diaries and Jill's diaries) that we have maxed out our food capacity with currently used land, and that we need to start using GMOs to meet the growing demand for food.

          But while GMOs could help with increasing capacity, a lot more natural remedies could boost capacity the same, if not more.  One of these methods is the theme of this diary.

          I think a lot of the reasons GMOs get attacked here at Daily Kos (and rightfully so) is due to their association with the evil Monsanto corporation.  Also, disease-resistant GMO hybrids could contaminate other ecosystems, similar to adding an animal with no predators into a new ecosystem.  This, too, is a major problem.

          Hopefully we'll start to see a shift in agriculture policy to be more aligned with natural remedies for increasing food production.  Education is the first step, so thanks to Jill and other experts keeping people like me informed!  =)

          "Give me a lever long enough... and I shall move the world." - Archimedes

          by mconvente on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:10:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, Jill is doing a wonderful job. (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mrkvica, shaharazade, mconvente, DawnN, Joieau

            Education, education, education. I'm so glad we are part of a community that is willing to change their opinions rather than batten down the hatches and damn the torpedeos.

            The number one irrigated crop in the United States are our American Lawns. Over 40 million acres. We have in no way shape or form "run out of land." We've just decided that this will be residential, this will be commercial, this will be industrial, and that will be agricultural.

            I'll say it again, if when you look out of your windows in the morning and see grass, are capable of growing something else, and are not, then you are contributing to the destruction of this planet. It is that simple. People do need to take personal responsibility for their actions and that begins with their homes.

            •  Lawns?! (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FinchJ, Jill Richardson, DawnN

              Naturalize. Grow some veggies and pretty flowers. That whole endless expanse of non-crabgrass is SO English aristocracy. And even they used sheep for mowing...

              Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

              by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:37:14 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm converting large parts of my backyard (0+ / 0-)

                into gardens for growing low-effort crops like heirloom tomatoes, hard greens, and eggplant (and maybe some other stuff like zucchini and squash). Many of these have extended harvest seasons and greatly cut my food bill last fall, as well as being more convenient to someone who rarely drives like me. Also, ecological restoration may be an option in some areas. If you live in a dry area, you might want to look into dryland plants and rock gardens (yuccas don't need irrigation).

          •  that's their goal (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ksingh, mconvente, DawnN, Joieau

            truly. They did market research and found that the 2 ways to increase GMO acceptance is if GMOs can feed the hungry or if GMOs can decrease pesticide use. So that is how they market them. Plus there's an idea out there that the next big place to grow your market is in the developing world.

  •  Even though I knew this was about food, (5+ / 0-)

    I still had to read it. I thought maybe you had some kind of Costanza food/sex  obsession.

    "Education is dangerous - Every educated person is a future enemy" Hermann Goering (NRSC?)

    by irate on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:04:27 AM PST

  •  With warming and spikes in food prices (6+ / 0-)

    clever ag practices are welcome.

    If you want a link, I'll look for a link. If you really want it. Just ask.

    by Inland on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:05:16 AM PST

  •  Great news. (5+ / 0-)

    Although I think GM could have a seat at the table, though obviously not in the way that Monsanto wants it to, as you note.  But in the sense of GM devoted to giving plants sturdier stalks to withstand more extreme weather, or a better ability to withstand drought, sure.  But those sorts of advances need to come out of publicly paid labs, in which patents are not used for profit and to get a stranglehold on farmers.

  •  This Is On Par (13+ / 0-)

    But may really not be of help to what the report you have lays out.

    Study: Climate change affects those least responsible

    Climate change will have the greatest impact on people least responsible for causing it, new research shows.

    In an eye-catching map, researchers at McGill University show the irony long suspected by scientists -- that countries producing the least greenhouse gases per-capita are often the most vulnerable to climate change. {continued}

    As the many places where direct food production is needed are those most affected by the damage many others have caused.

    Thing is you can only view the abstract of this report, link to is with the above writeup, and not the full pdf or word doc..

    "I wrote, 'Dear Western governments. You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don't get involved now. We don't need you.' " - Wael Ghonim 13 Feb. 2011

    by jimstaro on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:15:43 AM PST

  •  LOL, my 4th grader wants to pitch for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jill Richardson, Joieau

    the Mariners.  Saving the planet comes a dim second ;-)

    Thanks Jill for all you do.  Your dedication shines through every diary you write.

    Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by k8dd8d on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:24:48 AM PST

  •  What you don't seem to understand (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ksingh, OHdog, Joieau, radical simplicity

    is that if your ambition is to make humans work for you and you yourself have nothing of value to exchange -- i.e. nothing to offer as a bribe--the only alternative open to you is threats.  Threatening someone's life directly generates resistance; threatening his ability to sustain himself by making access to food and water difficult works better, if only because it is indirect.  Monetizing all trade and exchange makes it even easier because who's restricting access to money is almost impossible to identify.
    As it stands now, there's enough food to feed 2 billion more people.  It's going to waste because of bad management, which may or may not be intentional.

    If "security" is defined as keep people in place, tied down, stable, then "food security" is clearly a strategy that relies on using food to keep people compliant and obedient.  See?

    How does it happen that some people have no talents to produce something other people would value?  Perhaps these inabilities persist in the genome because producers don't really mind sharing their surplus with the freeloaders.  We put up with them.  They're really not a problem, if we keep them like pets.  Problems arise when we let incompetents make decisions about how we ought to manage.

    Conservatives are incompetents.  It may be because they suffer from Awareness Deficit Disorder.

    http://www.youtube.com/cyprespond

    by hannah on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:25:45 AM PST

    •  You need to do some research (5+ / 0-)

      Genetics is a very minor contributor to ability and inability (science is moving very rapidly in this area, particularly neuro-science) and, indeed, health as well. Abilities thrive when infants, toddlers and children are nurtured well and suffer when their not. One of the chief causes of inability is stress which is usually linked to social/economic inequality rather than genes.

      We don't allow incopentents to manage--we have an oligarchy that profits from what appears to be incopetence but is acutally quite rational. For example, many on the left blame Bush/Rumsfeld from being incompetent at running the wars they started. Not so, they very compently managed to enrich many friends and allies and kept the conflicst going for strategic reasons insuring money would stay in the defense sector thereby making it more powerful therefore that sector could contribute more money and get more money in return and use lots of fuel in an utterly wasteful manner generating further political contributions from the energy industry and so on and so on. The American medical system is grossly mismanaged at every level--not because incompetence run it but because there's money to be made and ho's to be bedded and substances to be snorted and living large is what it's all about.

  •  You have just added a new meaning (7+ / 0-)

    to the phrase "food porn." From Anthony Bourdain:

    Food porn, the glorification of food as a substitute for sex, is not an entirely new phenomenon. Nor, perhaps, is the "objectification" of food: displays or descriptions of food -- and its preparation -- for an audience that has no intention of actually cooking or eating any of it
    .

    You are turning the concept on its head by fantasizing about others having full stomachs. I like your objectification of food much better than the traditional fashion photography version.

    Be radical in your compassion.

    by DWG on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:30:53 AM PST

  •  Natural gas for fertilizer use (0+ / 0-)

    There's really no danger of running out of natural gas for fertilizer, all feedstock uses combined are but a small percentage of natural gas use.

    You'd run out of fuel for your tractors in an energy crisis long before you ran out of fertilizer.

    •  But those farmers in the most autere (7+ / 0-)

      environments are unable to afford the cost of such fertilizers, so it's unwise to create or support a dependence on them, rather than helping develop methods to build living, resilient soil that doesn't need those inputs.

      •  That's an economic decision. (0+ / 0-)

        If teaching them non-fertilizer based methods is cheaper, all things considered, than building a fertilizer plant and handing it out, then yes, it's the correct decision.

        Also, techniques can be passed on largely without cost, should funding collapse.

    •  Maybe. But as natural gas use increases, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DawnN

      so does price. And as we've seen, the market is dictating a rise in natural gas prices.

      It's ammonia that we should be looking at when we're talking about chemical fertilizers (specifically nitrogen). 83% of ammonia goes into making fertilizer. And making ammonia requires A LOT of energy.

      See where this is going?

      Every election either the democrats lose or the republicans lose. But in every election there is always the same winner. And he drives a Mercedes.

      by Methinks They Lie on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:19:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The seed issue (18+ / 0-)

    is so important. Not being able to keep seeds is downright criminal. Except it's Big Ag that turns farmers into criminals for trying to do it. Totally backwards.

    Very exciting news, Jill. I'm thrilled there are real studies being done to show the efficacy of agroecology and also to show it's potential. Great diary.

    •  A simple law making GMOs whose pollen can (6+ / 0-)

      transmit the patented genetic traits an illegal  and invasive weed would go a long way in stopping Monsanto style Agro-terrorism. (This is a BFD).

      I don't dislike all conservatives... mainly just the ones that vote Republican.

      by OHdog on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:29:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The real solution (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Houston Gardener, Joieau

        ...is sensible reform of patent law.  Patent law never envisioned the era of genetic engineering.  And while there certainly do need to be certain protections for the developers of new technology, the current intersection of genetics and law is not serving the purpose the law was intended to serve.

        I have similar feelings about "business process" patents, for that matter.

        "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

        by Serpents Choice on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:57:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The current stand off between allowing patents (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Houston Gardener, Joieau

          on genetically modified living things (plant, animal, microbial) and some other form of protection may yield a one or the other result. Either way there will be losses to one or more good ideas.

          I don't dislike all conservatives... mainly just the ones that vote Republican.

          by OHdog on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:16:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Very interesting! (4+ / 0-)

    Learning something new is a great way to start the day. Thanks for the informative diary.

    I'm gay and I'm pissed. I'm not giving up, I'm not giving in, I'm not backing down, and I'm not going away. I'm one of the Angry Gays. Deal with it.

    by psychodrew on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:36:44 AM PST

  •  Something's fishy (5+ / 0-)
    While rare in the U.S., agroecology is practiced by peasants worldwide.

    So it leads to increased yields and is used by peasants worldwide?  I think Norman Borlaug would question that.

    If it were so, how would modern farming methods have gained a foothold?  There are plenty of modern contraptions and chemicals that fell by the wayside in pursuit of higher yields.

    Modern non-ecologically sensitive methods of farming do one thing well - they produce scads of food per unit or area.  It may not be sustainable, but it works short term.

    I guess what I'm saying is -if these claims are true, why aren't the peasants the rich ones and the ADM's and other giant insensitive agrobusinesses hurting?

    All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

    by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:37:09 AM PST

    •  wow (12+ / 0-)

      where do I begin. The peasants I've met with are typically too poor to afford hybrid seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. I've met some who can afford to rent a tractor and buy the seeds and chemicals but among the poorest it's impossible. Many just have enough money for a little bit of urea for fertilizer and nothing more. And they are on very bad land. Often they are living in situations of horrible inequality. The indigenous I met in Chiapas were more or less slaves until recently. They told me that they were only allowed to farm on land that was too poor for rich people to graze their cattle on. Often people have land on steep slopes where you couldn't get a tractor onto anyway and where erosion is a huge problem and the soil is just crap. It's a struggle just to eat each day, let alone educate your kids, afford clothing, medical care, etc.

      I found a contemporary critique of the Green Revolution from Foreign Affairs in 1970 and it spoke of inequalities being exacerbated by the Green Revolution in India then. Those who could afford the inputs did grow more food - MUCH more food - and those who couldn't didn't. But it also motivated many landowners to push the tenant farmers off their land because they now preferred to pay cheap labor and profit from it themselves.

      I'll add that in Bolivia, a village I visited adopted and subsequently gave up Green Revolution technologies. They found that the high producing livestock breeds were too costly because they required purchased feed and couldn't just survive on local resources, so they stopped raising them. They found that they needed more and more fertilizer over time just to get the same yields. Now they are using algae and manure for fertilizer and growing a 4 year crop rotation that puts nitrogen into the soil when they grow fava beans and then uses it in the next 3 years as they grow barley, oats, and potatoes.

      •  OK, forget third world (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        docstymie, erush1345

        Talk about the United States.  Presumably, we were farming in a low-tech way similar to this before Cyrus McCormick and all the gadgets and chemicals came out?

        How did they get a foothold if they didn't increase yields?  Even 18th and 19th century farmers weren't dumb.  If it made them money, they did it.  If it didn't, they didn't.

        Unless there's some new knowledge here, I want to know how an inferior yielding technology displaced a superior one.

        All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

        by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:08:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  no, seriously (8+ / 0-)

          this is NOT about the United States. The agricultural economics work very differently here. BUT since you mention it, I have a hunch that our success is due to: 1. the fact that the white majority here was the colonizing power and not the ones being colonized and exploited, and 2. we had trade barriers to protect our farmers and industries, among other things.

          I'm reading a book about what causes poverty and I can't think of the title but there are a few books on the subject I've been reading - The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is a must read, and Late Victorian Holocausts is also important.

          The big farms in the U.S. have their equivalents in big farms in other countries. It's the small farmers that are of concern though. Here, we followed policies that resulted in most of our farmers losing their farms and getting jobs in cities over the last century. And we had jobs to give them. We also had labor protections for them so they could earn a decent wage. The poor farmers in other countries don't have those options typically.

          •  Trade barriers don't raise crops (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            docstymie, erush1345

            I'm not talking about our success with exporting food.  I'm just talking about the success of raising crops.

            If I'm a farmer in the US is 1776 or 1850 or 1950, my goal is to produce as much as I can with the least land.  I will do whatever it takes to increase my yields.

            If all the eco-sensitive methods produce 20 more bushels per acre than pumping nitrogen and using reapers and combines, I'll do that. It doesn't matter where that crop is destined.

            I'm not arguing that eco-methods aren't better long term.  I'm just questioning how more expensive and less productive methods would have taken hold if the lower tech alternative is easier and more productive.  It rings my "Whaaat?" bell.

            All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

            by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:46:28 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  the low tech version (8+ / 0-)

              is more labor intensive. Here farming is capital intensive. You can grow a ton of food here and do it on some 2000 acres with top of the line farm machinery and little or no paid help. In the developing world people have large families that can do the work by hand but no money for equipment. And you won't be farming an enormous farm with just family labor. One of the larger ones I came across was a family that had 20 hectares (45 acres?) and 14 kids who could help work on it. Of course they also had 14 kids to feed, clothe, and educate. Hard to get rich with so little land.

            •  Thats one way to look at it. (7+ / 0-)

              But another way to view farming is stewardship of the land, keeping it healthy and abundant for multiple generations. You can find quotes from George Washington about intercropping and soil farming. Farmers, then and now, never have all had the same goals and aspirations for their land or their "business."

              Why do people continue to buy and drive combustion engines?  Why do people pay $100 a month to be entertained by a television when they could pick up a book at the library or go for a walk in the park? Why do people who live less than 10 miles from work drive a car when they could ride their bicycles? Why do people work more than 40 hours a week for minimum wage instead of demonstrating in the streets for better pay?

              Why do people do all sorts of crazy shit that doesn't make any sense?

            •  The farmers in the US midwest certainly applied (7+ / 0-)

              your rule.

              I will do whatever it takes to increase my yields.
              What they did was to create the dust bowl when climate changed to a drier condition. If they had been using today's inter-crop, low tillage etc. (even without agro-ecology) the dust bowl would not have happened. The big inputs to food production in the USA are messing the soil ecology such that the oncoming world wide climate changes will not leave us sustainable  productivity.

              I don't dislike all conservatives... mainly just the ones that vote Republican.

              by OHdog on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:37:17 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Right. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                docstymie

                And if the yields short term were higher doing long-term soil stewardship, they would have done that.

                I'm not defending them. I'm just asking how the report's conclusion could be true given the choices made historically by farmers who know their business.

                All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

                by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:12:08 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Particularly in the third world the art of (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  ksingh, Cassandra Waites, Joieau

                  farming is a traditional family occupation whose practices are learned and passed from generation to generation. Non-obvious changes in the way some of practices can be altered for the better do result in higher yields.  Previous examinations of so-called organic farming practices have shown the same trend of increased productivity as compared to more traditional farming in the third world but a less dramatic difference in developed countries like the USA.

                  I don't dislike all conservatives... mainly just the ones that vote Republican.

                  by OHdog on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:08:45 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Which brings me back to 18th and 19th C. USA (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    docstymie

                    How did it get this way if the more expensive high tech methods were lower yield?  It doesn't compute.

                    I fully accept that I may be missing somethign here, but no one's pointed it out to me yet.

                    All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

                    by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:59:41 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Oh, and to be clear (0+ / 0-)

                      I sincerely HOPE I'm missing something here.  I'd very much like the conclusions to be true, but something doesn't ring true.

                      All kidding aside - it's the f'ing oligarchy, stupid.

                      by nightsweat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 12:00:44 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  High tech isn't lower (3+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      ksingh, OHdog, DawnN

                      yield. It started as a little less per acre (and with much more waste) but greater acreage ability. The trade off was putting another hundred acres in production, upping the yield per hour worked. Tractors are much better than mules for big fields.

                      Eventually the machinery became specialized enough - and the farmers adept enough at using it - to bring per-acre production in line with the old labor intensive methods. But with more waste, so they were getting a bit more per acre. With chemical inputs and weed/insect control methods it improved again. We have probably passed the peak on per-acre yield years ago. Now we're just trying to prop up dead soils and the return is increasingly backwards.

                      Meanwhile, the old way still returned what it always returned, with less waste. That soil is still alive, just needs some regular amendments to keep going strong. It LIKES to grow things. That is what living soil does. The human job is to manage what it grows and ensure it's got the stuff it needs to grow what we want, that's all.

                      You can only get so much produce off a given plot of land. Yes, you can clear and plant more land with machinery.

                      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                      by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 01:32:13 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Different issue from the tech-level (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        sarac, docstymie

                        Low tech farming can be as destructive to long term soil quality as high tech farming can.  High tech farming is likewise capable of preserving soil nutrient capacity.  The two are not directly related issues.

                        In fact, some of the greatest failures of ecologically sustainable agriculture have been well before the area of modern crop science, much less even the idea of GMOs.  The Dust Bowl -- whose proximal cause, it should be remembered, was drought -- was made into the disaster it was because of a lack of cover crops and a failure to perform proper crop rotation and field fallow seasons.  Rapa Nui and Haiti have both had soil performance devastated by unsustainable deforestation; neither occurred in a technologically-enhanced environment.

                        Prolonged drought combined with inadequate soil management is among the leading models for the Classic Maya collapse, as well.

                        Appeals to ancient wisdom are fallacious.  It is certainly true that agricultural reforms are important, especially in the face of climate change, both in the United States and in the developing world.  But those reforms need to include all the available tools, not just the oldest ones.

                        "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

                        by Serpents Choice on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:45:54 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  We are absolutely (4+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          ksingh, OHdog, Jill Richardson, DawnN

                          learning things as we go along. And thinking much bigger these days (century or so). The windbreak planted from Minnesota through Texas helped a lot. So did damming all those creeks for reservoirs. Some of them produce local electricity to this day.

                          We're just now coming to consideration terms with global warming. Policies are brewing, but like alternatives to coal and petroleum, will only be forwarded when there's no other choice. That's how you can make fortunes with it, whatever "it" is...

                          We know more now. We should be putting it together and running with it.

                          Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                          by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:58:27 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                        •  By the way, when you say (3+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          ksingh, OHdog, DawnN
                          Low tech farming can be as destructive to long term soil quality as high tech farming can.  High tech farming is likewise capable of preserving soil nutrient capacity.  The two are not directly related issues.

                          ...you're forwarding a non-sequitur. I've said nothing about how poor farming practices in general harm the environment. Agribiz didn't invent poor farming practices. It's just turned them into an art form.

                          As for "preserving soil nutrient capacity," do some reading up on glyphosate - a.k.a. RoundUp. Pay particular attention to explanation of how it works.

                          Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                          by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 03:07:24 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Soil management (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Fall line

                            However, your discussion of technology agriculture ended with "prop[ping] up dead soils", while you argued that the "old way" allows for soil that is "still alive".  If that wasn't intended to imply that technological agriculture was an inherently poorer practice, then I apologize, although I hope that you can appreciate how your comment could be read as such.

                            On the other hand, I am in fact quite familiar with the chemical interactions of glyphosate, and the potential for micronutrient depletion.  Manganese is the primary element of concern in the growing conditions of soybeans, where the topic has has the most thorough study, compounded by the fact that the GMO glyphosate resistant Glycine max cv. Valiosa appears to have a slightly higher preferred manganese uptake than its parent cv. Conquista.  It doesn't really help that some of the US soybean growing regions have natively Mn-limited soil chemistry.  Zinc immobilization is also reported, although primarily from less agriculturally-typical environments as well, and there have been mixed results on studies regarding the capacity of glyphosate to chelate magnesium salts.  Some of these effects are highly sensitive to soil conditions and pH and so are not matters of equally universal concern.

                            These problems are not intractable.  Several adjuvants are employed in the commercially available glyphosate preparations which minimize the impact of metal-salt antagonism (which is universally undesirable, since it also reduces herbicide effectiveness).  The chelation of metal salts by glyphosate in soil does not appear to interfere with internal biological transport of the micronutrients post-uptake (including in cv. Valiosa), so foliar application of bioavailable nutrients is a per-season solution.  Interseasonal refortifiction of soils is plausible as well, but in most environments is unlikely to be necessary because the chelate complexes are neither substantially persistent nor mobile.

                            In the long run, though, this is an admitted cost to the use of glyphosate, and is a secondary reason in support of a system of herbicide rotation involving three or four different mechanisms; the primary purpose of such an "herbicide polyculture" is, of course, minimization of evolved resistance.

                            "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

                            by Serpents Choice on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 04:30:59 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Don't want or need no (3+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            ksingh, OHdog, Jill Richardson

                            glyphosate around here. Not to worry, you've millions and millions of acres to call your own in this and other countries. You don't need mine. Which is good, because you'll never get it.

                            Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                            by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:52:37 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  youch (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Joieau

                            that had to hurt.

                            anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

                            by chopper on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:43:20 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                •  And you consider (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  mrkvica, Methinks They Lie

                  draining the aquifer "sustainable?"

                  Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                  by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:42:32 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

            •  you're absolutely right. (5+ / 0-)

              there is evidence that certain manners of raising crops sustainably, such as permaculture techniques, can have higher yields per acre but not of individual cultures - you're never going to raise more corn in an acre than the modern, industrial system.

              where sustainable methods shine is in the robustness of the system (due to polyculture) and overall production of multiple types of food.

              however, it tends to be more labor intensive. planting and especially harvesting requires a human touch. fine for farms with lots of hands, not so much otherwise. wonderful in a post-oil system, at least as wonderful as you're going to get. given that the industrial system falls apart completely in a post-oil system, i'd take that as a win.

              anyone born after the McDLT has no business stomping around acting punk rock

              by chopper on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:37:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Check out what's happening in India (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DrFood, ksingh, Jill Richardson, DawnN, Joieau

              where farmers have been committing suicide by the thousands. These farmers were convinced (by the IMF, World Bank, Monsanto, etc..) to take up chemical farming and replace their "outdated" methods.

              7 years down the road their soils were depleted, they couldn't afford the ever-increasing amount of inputs required, and they were bankrupt. It's a really sad story actually. This is what caused the UN to change its recommendations that developing countries adopt agribusiness techniques to feed their populations and instead now recommends going back to small farms using local, organic methods that have shown to increase soil fertility, crop yields, and don't pollute ground water and local aquifers (like chemical farming does).

              So this is exactly what you've been asking to see an example of: The so-called "new and better" techniques being replaced by the so-called "outdated" techniques. Your question of how the more expensive, less productive techniques replaced the cheaper, more productive techniques has been answered above by the diarist. It has to do with the life cycle of chemical farming. At first, they are more productive. But over time they require more and more inputs (because soil fertility decreases, pests evolve, etc). Factor in rising oil prices and Viola! stranded farmers stuck in the "chemical rut."

              Agricultural studies coming out of Washington State University, Rutgers, and others show that organic farms produce higher yields of the same crop as chemical farms. But here's the bonus: Organic farms show greater soil fertility, crop resilience, and lower water use. The studies show (as anticipated) that at first, the chemical farms out-produced the organic, but after 5 years the organic farms out-produced or produced the same yields as the chemical farms. The researchers concluded that soil fertility was the key reason for this cycle (the chemical farms had depleted their soils of fertility--i.e. they were "dead" soils).

              We haven't even started talking about the "soil crisis" that is driven by corporate agribusiness techniques. The amount of arable soil that is being lost yearly because of heavy tilling, soil erosion, and wind erosion is matching that of the dust bowl era. While organic methods revolve around "building" soils and increasing fertility, chemical farming depletes soils and literally washes it away (on the wind and in the water).

              We are a wasteful culture indeed. But wasting a resource as precious as the soil we grow our food in is just plain ignorant.

              Every election either the democrats lose or the republicans lose. But in every election there is always the same winner. And he drives a Mercedes.

              by Methinks They Lie on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:58:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Those are good points (6+ / 0-)

          But "peasants worldwide" doesn't meant "all peasants."  It means that we can find examples in places all over the world where small-holding farmers are successfully employing stage 3 agroecology methods, including some in the US.  (Most farmers in the US are small-holding hobbyists, and many of those are engaged in experimental, agroecology farming for values and lifestyle reasons.  They make almost none of the food that is consumed in the US, however, and this is probably true in the rest of the world as well.)

          The difficulty with higher stage agroecology so far is not that it is an inferior technology for producing surplus food.  Norman Borlaug could easily have focused on agroecological technologies at the time instead of seed genetics and fertilizer inputs and likely also proven that scientific methods applied to agroecology can produce significant yield gains.  The difficulty is that higher stage agroecology has not proven as amenable to market-based or urbanization-driven societies as has input-based agriculture.  I think this goes a longer way toward explaining why input-based technologies have a tendency to dominate agricultural methods worldwide while something like stage 3 agroecology remains a small, niche alternative. Even in the third world, more people live in cities now and depend on market-based food production and distribution systems for daily nourishment in ways that were never needed before.

          •  I once lived in (8+ / 0-)

            Amish country. They managed quite large farms, produce quite a lot of grain for animal feed and human consumption, and some of the best veggies around. They always seemed to have 'enough' for themselves and plenty to sell, along with their Mennonite brethren at stands along country roads. They carefully manage their holdings (spring poop-spreading time was a bit ripe) - no chemicals, animal-powered, practice proper rotations and get the most from what they plant.

            Their fields are certainly as abundant as any chemical crop fields, greener and healthier in many cases. But they aren't feeding the world and have no desire to feed the world. They do fine at feeding themselves.

            Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

            by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:15:24 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Amish are a really fascinating case (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              DawnN, Joieau

              What the Amish are really about is non-urbanization and preserving rural, family centered societies that accounted for 95% of all economic activity in the world as recently as 200 years ago.  They forgo a lot of urban technology in order to keep their self-sufficient, household-level technology.  There's a  price for that though, and it is that they don't get the energy, communications, health care, and other technological benefits that everyone else who is connected to our urbanized world has.  

              They are able to live, and in some cases even thrive, on the results of their low-input agricultural methods and some craft manufacturing because they don't need to pay electricity, heat, cell phone, internet, health care, and other bills that keep going up in cost as we need ever more of such things in urban life.  They only need to trade a small amount of their produce for a few things that they can't make themselves instead of trading almost all of their produce for just about everything else they use, like most farmers do.  

              This is really instructive because it shows that the reason the Amish are able to do this isn't because of their agro-ecology methods but because they reject urbanized society almost completely.  What we don't know yet is if agroecology can actually be compatible with urbanization, even though this is what the UN report suggests.  What I suspect is that if we look at the data, the peasant farmers throughout the world who are successfully doing higher stage agroecology are also ones who, like the Amish, have largely decided to live self-sufficiently without much need to trade with city folk for urban technology and conveniences.

              •  Yes, it's a rural self-sustaining (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mrkvica, eastsidedemocrat, ksingh, DawnN

                economy. With a lot of pooled effort in the bigger projects. But if you were to check some records in counties where the Amish live, you'd see that there's quite a lot of amassed wealth there - even the Amish have to pay taxes.

                And the communities aren't THAT isolated or far-flung. The farms are usually ~140 to 300 acres, passed along to children who stay and will manage the land as they've learned to do so. The livestock produces the fertilizer, the fertilizer enriches the land, the land produces the food for the livestock and the people... plus enough to sell to neighbors and tourists. It's a perfectly honorable way of life and unless they suffer plagues that reach them via their neighbors they do okay and don't need the modern complications.

                I live much farther out in the wilderness than any Amish/Mennonite family I ever encountered. Regular frontier life here, not quite subsistence. That takes the kind of cooperative effort I don't have. But I still produce a few value-addeds each year for spare cash. Not much, but some.

                I'm not trying to feed the world. Neither are the Amish.

                Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 12:13:48 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Guess my point is (0+ / 0-)

                ultimately that we must individually take responsibility for ourselves at some point. Some of us have a head start, some of us are still trying to make the change. The modern world wasn't designed to let us 'remember' that we could grow our own veggies, it was just grain that was communalized...

                When we begin to understand that we can toss a couple of seeds into a slit-open bag of dirt on the patio and grow great tomatoes, we begin to understand that we've more real power than 'they' want us to know we have. If we can feed ourselves, they can't use the famine horse to try and keep us in line.

                We should all be doing it. Victory Gardens! I've seen 'em grown in the plots between sidewalks and roads in the city. The 'burbs all have plenty of room...

                Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:59:50 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  That's a good point (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Joieau

                  but it also illustrates the problem.  The reason people move to cities (in the general sense, even if they stay where they are in rural areas) is to avoid doing work they don't like in order to focus on the work they do like and trade that work with others still willing to do gatherer-farmer stuff.  Urbanization is a process of specialization, and if you de-specialize that, it necessarily degrades the benefits of urbanization, showing up in economic data as recession or even famine in extreme cases.

                  Many people, perhaps most, don't want to raise grain and animals, even if some will have a small vegetable garden. And in modern urban life where they can pay the MacMillan-Cargill family (the owners of global food monopolist Cargill) a small amount to arrange it for them, they don't have to and likely never will unless forced to.

                  •  Not a problem until (0+ / 0-)

                    people can no longer obtain food. I don't care how snooty one's job was back when s/he had a job, people will beg, steal and kill before they'll quietly starve to death or watch their children starve to death. And when there's no food to steal people will move out en masse seeking it.

                    At which point petty class distinctions will mean less than nothing. I hope not to live long enough to see that. But I have taught my kids and grandkids what they need to know just in case.

                    Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                    by Joieau on Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 08:18:31 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  But that's already the case (0+ / 0-)

                      and likely has been since the beginnings of urbanization with the agrarian and industrial revolutions.

                      Consider the fact that almost a billion people live (or not) on less than one dollar a day according to the UN.  The few of those who have ownership privileges os some kind to productive land can get by alright, but the vast majority of those people -- almost 1/6 of the world's population -- are barely surviving in marginal famine conditions, most in perimetral slums.  And that's has probably been the margin of survival for the last 200 years -- since urbanization began.  

                      It is likely that somewhere around 1/6 of the urbanizing world has been living in beggar-like starvation conditions since the industrial revolution, so there is little reason to think that anything different is going to be in our future -- either good or bad -- as long as urbanization is the way we organize socities.  We've long become accustomed to having a poor, marginal population living in vast slums on the periphery of our urban, and now globalized, world.  More food would simply increase both the fed and the unfed parts of the population.  Less food, which would be the result of more people "going Amish," would simply result a smaller population, likely with the same proportions of poor to non-poor.  At least there is appears to be no real reason to believe differently.

                      •  I am talking about (0+ / 0-)

                        the US of A. We are not supposed to be in a race to the bottom with Guana or any other 'Third World' country. They have to do their own revolutionizing. We get to do ours, too.

                        Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                        by Joieau on Thu Mar 10, 2011 at 08:28:11 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  We're not really in the race to the bottom, (0+ / 0-)

                          and that's part of the problem.  Globalization, which can be thought of as a subset of the larger "great force" of urbanization, allows "core" countries like the US to push famine out to less developed parts of the world, indefinitely, because of the the greater power of the US polity to obtain food and other resources through legal, democratic, institutional means. World trade, one of those democratic institutions, creates a single market for commodities that allows a wealthy trader in NYC to out-compete 1 billion of the poorest people in the world for a bowl of rice.

                          The Amish, and yourself, have protected themselves by opting out of world trade and urbanization, accepting the consequences for doing so.  But a billion people living in the perimetral slums of Shanghai, Cairo, Baghdad, Mumbai, Doha, Caracus, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, etc. haven't been able to do that, and possibly cannot ever do it.

        •  You are naive (10+ / 0-)

          It's not a matter of technology but manipulated markets and politics. Inferior technology often takes over even when better technologies are available because they are able to grab political force and manipulate prices and regulations and subsidies. American farming is heavily subsidized because low-population farm states have two Seantors. The techniques used as efficient as claimed to be particularly if you take into account all the externalities, i.e., costs that are not figured that the public pays for one way or the other--and they are much steeper than you think.

        •  You're asking how big agricultural producers (8+ / 0-)

          pushed out the little guy?

          Off the top of my head I'm thinking chemical fertilizers and pesticides did create higher yields, but at a greater cost often subsidized by the government. A government that saw, or was persuaded to think, it would be better for export.

          Add to that the explosion in corn syrup based products making corn (and the same goes for soy production and products) extremely profitable per acre for those willing to go the industrial route. Those who didn't found they couldn't compete with Big Ag backed (and hence subsidized) farmers.

          Imagine you are the CEO of a Big Ag corporation. How does a landscape of 10,000 acres you're trying to profit from being farmed by 1000 independent farmers compare to a landscape of 10,000 acres being farmed by 10? Consolidation = control = profit.

          There are a lot of sources detailing how Big Ag took over the farms of this country and the harm it is doing. Food Inc. might be a good start.

          •  I should add that those 10 famers (8+ / 0-)

            farming the 10,000 acres in my example are also heavily invested and dependent on the chemicals and seeds being sold to them. Often involving very strict contracts.

            Exactly the model Big Ag had been gunning for.

            Overall the food system in this country is an example of allowing the science driven quest for profit of food production trump the wisdom (science based or otherwise) of food production.

            Perhaps the idealism of wanting to "feed the world" drove government into the hands of big business. Which can be a fine relationship provided government remember its role in it as the dominant partner dedicated to the premise outlined in the Constitution - A more perfect union for...the welfare of the people, not the profit of big businesses.

        •  Perhaps you aren't (7+ / 0-)

          considering the realities of crop dynamics. In the old days producers were limited to however much acreage they could clear and work with a mule. There were no horizon-to-horizon fields of endless monocrops. Staples like wheat, corn and other grains were grown in a communal manner because it took many axe-swingers and mules to create a place for the grain to grow (in the southern tidewater it was slaves and mules).

          To this day there are many crops that aren't grown across huge swaths of the countryside as grains are. Avocados, tomatoes, peppers, carrots - a few acres at most, truck crops are labor intensive even with mechanization and chemicals. For those in the old days there were kitchen gardens and farmer's markets where the high-value vegetables were grown on a couple of acres or less and brought into town on a cart pulled by the same mule. Fruit trees were planted in small orchards. Wild offerings (mushrooms, berries, etc.) gathered by the kids...

          With a bit of local cooperation enough food can be grown to feed the people and animals in a sparsely populated area with villages and towns. You can't plow, till, plant, tend and harvest a ten square mile expanse of wheat with a mule. Economies of scale entered with the technology and cheap labor that allowed economies of scale.

          BTW, you do know that Rudolph Diesel created his engine to run on peanut oil, don't you? Technology to allow economies of scale that was meant to run on fuel the farm itself produced. Too bad we didn't go with that instead of petroleum, though at the time petro-fuel was cheaper than peanuts...

          Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

          by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:07:38 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Did not know that about Diesel. (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mrkvica, Cassandra Waites, DawnN, Joieau

            Shilling for Asinus Asinum Fricat!

            by Patric Juillet on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:02:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Discovered that when doing (5+ / 0-)

              a piece on biodiesel fuels for ag and shipping, how much of our petroleum dependence we could cut almost immediately just by minor changes in ag policy (more money for oil crops, less for wasteful corn ethanol), short term supports for farmer's co-ops to be able to process and blend fuels for equipment already cooperatively owned, and requiring 80/20 for our truck and shipping fleets - all that takes is a switch in injector hoses! 20-30% cut in petroleum use aafter just a few years' worth of changing the infrastructure over.

              Why we didn't do that 40 years ago is a mystery. Why we're not doing it now is a crime against humanity.

              Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

              by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:31:49 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  increased yield per acre? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, ksingh, Joieau

          No, increased yield per labor hour.

        •  It did happen here (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DrFood, ksingh

          In the 1880s, WI was a big wheat growing state, even though the soils there are not suitable for growing wheat long term (without lots of inputs that weren't available then). A guy named Hoard, who was a small-town newspaper publisher recognized that upstate NY had similar soils, and was a successful dairy area, and began a crusade to convert WI farmers to dairy, which also landed him the governorship.

          Dairy provided WI farmers with a salable product (milk), manure for maintaining/improving soil, the ability to grow nitrogen-fixing crops, like alfalfa for feed, combined with technological research at the University of Wisconsin (simple butter-fat testing, improved cheesemaking processes, the first nutrition studies for cows - or anything - and later a simple method for increasing the Vitamin D content of milk). And Progressive government (Hoard's successor was LaFollette).

          The typical WI farm until the middle of the last century was a small dairy operation, grew most of its own feed, required few inputs like fertilizer, herbicides or even tractors - my wife's step-father grew up farming with horses well into the 1940s - and included a few pigs, chickens and/or geese, and a family garden. The migration to the cities and agribusiness killed off most of that.

          I should add that WI has never been entirely a dairy state - it produces tobacco (for cigar wrappers) and in the SE prairie areas - where topsoil is as much as 30 feet deep -  was a large vegetable producer, as well as producing tree fruit, cranberries, and even wild rice - all suited to different ecosystems/terrains around the state.

          Simlarly, N WI was logged over and the manifest destiny-like idea was to convert what had been northern pine forests into farmland. Which failed miserably, and by the 1930s WI and the Federal government recognized that restoring the forests - this time more for pulpwood, to feed the growing WI paper industry - was a more ecologically sound practice agriculturally.

          As another example, large parts of the interior west, which were (and remain) totally unsuited for crop production, were developed as cattle and sheep producing areas.

          We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

          by badger on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:35:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Certainly, but... (0+ / 0-)

        That underscores the fact that income inequality and accessibility to modern resources are pernicious problems for the poor worldwide.  I'll be the first to agree that Monsanto's process of pricing farmers out of their own production is reprehensible.

        But especially as we look forward to an era of increase climate instability, we cannot assume that traditional agriculture will continue to perform as it has historically, or continue to remain an economically viable alternative.  Development and distribution of robust cultivars will be essential if warming temperatures push epiphytic pathogens poelward.  In some cases, (largley cisgenic) GMO strains engineered for resistance may be the ideal solution when resistance-breeding is put on a too-short clock.  Agricultural chemistry, properly applied, can improve production in spite of bad soils or subpar geography.  To be sure, there's not one solution for every circumstance, but that goes for nontechnological claims as well.

        None of that makes modern technology the enemy of the poor farmer.  Business practices that are the enemy of the poor farmer are the enemy of the poor farmer.

        "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

        by Serpents Choice on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:55:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I think, worldwide but spotty (6+ / 0-)

      There are peasants worldwide also who have been convinced to do it "the American way"

      fact does not require fiction for balance (proudly a DFH)

      by mollyd on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:48:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You said it yourself - short term success rather (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ksingh

      than sustainable over time. And the money part? Same reason Mom and Pop stores are dying while Walmart expands.

      After WW II, the Industrial Complex needed something to do with its chemical factories and chose to focus on what we now think of as farming - it is not a sustainable way to feed a population. It actually has very little to do with food. Commodity speculation, a cycle of chemical sales, subsidies and tax breaks, lots of lovely profit. Disaster for the environment and health.

      "Solidarity via hilarity. It's all we got."-- JanL

      by DawnN on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:23:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow, that was good for me. (9+ / 0-)

    The diary, that is.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" - MLK

    by edwardssl on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:42:08 AM PST

  •  It's out of the ballpark on this one, Jill. (5+ / 0-)

    I can see I have lots of reading to do to get up to speed on agroeconomy.

    This brings hope back into the global food situation, and into our country's ability to save its soils. It appears that GMOs, once ingested, change gut bacteria, and the type of agriculture used to produce them is, as you portray, a lose/lose proposition.

    Agroeconomy is a far better use of soils and resources.

    Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. - Abraham Lincoln

    by 4Freedom on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:44:54 AM PST

  •  it's not just growing food... (6+ / 0-)

    your farmers in the Global South need their own food security, to be sure, but it's about growing a surplus, then being able to get that surplus to a market.

    Anyways, I've never heard about agroecology before today, but I'm glad for some good news. Thanks for sharing.

    "The cure for bullshit is fieldwork."
    Robert H. Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, Harvard University.

    by papicek on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:49:11 AM PST

    •  thanks and you are totally right (6+ / 0-)

      much of the report talked about helping people get products to market. Something as simple as building roads would go a long way to that even. But there's also a lot to do with trade policy that needs to be discussed. I got a wonderful, long answer from De Schutter about trade and quoted part of it in my Alternet piece. Basically, he's calling for fair markets and an end to commodity dumping by rich nations that subsidize their farmers. The US will refer to what he's advocating as "protectionism" of course. But he's right that cheap imports undercut markets for local agricultural products and they make it even harder for farmers to get out of poverty. I think that whatever someone thinks about free trade for products other than food, ag should be removed from the WTO and other free trade schemes.

  •  Nice of you to share it (4+ / 0-)

    wonderful news!

    Wonder what ADM and the likes have to say about it.

  •  I found a writer of dystopian science fiction (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, DrFood, DawnN, Joieau

    that you might find interesting.  I have read two of his books, one full length and one a compilation of short stories.  To cut to the chase the name is Paolo Bacigalupi and the book is "The Windup Girl."  

    For people who are interested in GMO and peak oil, this book is an imaginative and interesting look at a possible future.

    If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much stupid costs

    by Sychotic1 on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:10:40 AM PST

  •  Bwahahahaha! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jill Richardson, DawnN, Joieau

    tipped and recc'd

    "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." - Thomas Pynchon, "Gravity's Rainbow"

    by Uwaine on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:19:34 AM PST

  •  Reminds me of... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jill Richardson

  •  I've been intrigued with the idea of (7+ / 0-)

    Forest Gardening.
    It would perhaps be a subset of agroecology, and seeks to set up a fairly sustainable, low-maintenance group of plants that mimics the variety and levels of a forest and forest-edge environment.

    Any experience with this? It is a rather new concept to me, but as I said, sounds worthwhile.

    Great diary, and gives me hope for the future! Monsanto is the Goldman Sachs of the agricultural world, seeking to skim off everything it can, until there's nothing left to destroy. MHO.

    Life is a school, Love is the lesson.

    by means are the ends on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:27:14 AM PST

    •  talking about agroforestry? (5+ / 0-)

      I love it. I wrote about a few agroforestry places I visited - some more successful than others.

      not very successful: http://www.lavidalocavore.org/...
      Very successful: http://www.lavidalocavore.org/...

      My favorite farm in Cuba: http://www.lavidalocavore.org/...

    •  We are moving towards such a system (5+ / 0-)

      with my parents property. Forest gardening, using permaculture principles, has been gaining steam here in the US while in its "parent" country, Australia, it is huge.

      See the link in my sig for our project. I've been double digging our beds recently so not too much new stuff to put up.

      •  I manage forest grown (5+ / 0-)

        medicinals - the kind that grow here normally, with particular emphasis on the endangered ones that bring a hefty price on the market. Ginseng, black cohosh, goldenseal... All I do is space 'em out for best growing space and let them do what they normally do. Though I admit my main problem is getting up the gumption to harvest anything I'm not using right here for family and friends, just love that it's out there growing. Even though 'sang is literally worth its weight in gold...

        Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

        by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:23:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thats great! (5+ / 0-)

          Do you have any pictures you could share? I love seeing other people's projects :) Ours is so bare right now, just gearing up for our massive vegetable "stress test" before letting it go to cover crops for ~ 3 years to break up the soil even more before planting the understory.

          •  I'm photo-challenged (5+ / 0-)

            as much as I'm cell phone challenged. Meh. Did you know that a cell phone (even if it's off) within 15 feet of a tomato plant sends it into immediate high stress response? I figure it can't be good for 'em, have a cell check-in station at the garden gate.

            Besides, all you'd see is thick southern Appalachian forest - looks just like it already is! One entire mountainside of cohosh is sure pretty when it's blooming, interspersed with female fern (and morels... Morels are almost here!). Don't show off the 'sang patches to anybody not entitled by birthright to know where they are - poaching is a Big Problem around here and since we border the National Forest (where poaching is endemic) I keep my secrets...

            Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

            by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:39:45 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Ah, so your only a few short hours away (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mrkvica, DawnN, Joieau

              up into the mountains. Now to trace your IP and locate those morels and ginseng patches... ;)

              I didn't know that about cell phones. I always leave my phone inside anyway, I really don't like people being able to get a hold of me whenever they want. But I'll be sure to let people know that our garden is a cell-phone free zone. Not like you'd be able to hear anything on one anyway- an interstate runs right behind our house.

              •  Hehehe... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mrkvica, DawnN

                Oops. Let that morel thing slip, didn't I? Man, those things are just the very, very best thing God ever invented! They too are nearly worth their weight in gold, but we're greedy around here. They're one of the early spring goodies we look SO forward to every year, start peeping through the leaf-fall even before there's any asparagus poking up in the perennial bed.

                Spring's way early this year, I'm just hoping we don't get an Easter deep freeze again because it'll wipe out the pears, apples and cherries. Which are budding or blooming right now, nothing to do but hope. The grapes will be fine, they don't bloom until mid-April. Unless it freezes hard at Easter and fools even the dogwoods...

                Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:05:31 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Most of our natives have yet to be fooled (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  ksingh, Joieau

                  by the warm weather. Only our willows and the neighborhood ornamental pears are really falling for it. That said, I really hope we don't get another Easter freeze. Thats the game we all play though, isn't it? Getting plants out early and hoping for the best!

                  Your garden sounds delightful, Joieau!

                  •  My mother always told me (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    FinchJ, Jill Richardson

                    "you can't fool a dogwood." From her childhood during The Depression on great-grandparent's peach farm in GA. And I've never seen a dogwood get fooled - jonquils and anemones are cheap, they'll keep on trying through the frost. But dogwoods, she told me and I forever observed as true, never bloomed until frosts were over.

                    Until the Easter freeze a couple of years ago. Lost the whole fruit crop. Then it maxed out last year as if it thought it were in serious existential danger. Who knows? If global warming settles out to something different than what I've got, I'll just have to plant figs and citrus. Meh... §;o)

                    Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

                    by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:48:46 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  This was an old concern of mine (6+ / 0-)
    There's a lot more to say here. A lot.

    Amen to that.

    I once wanted to do that kind of farming--the concept felt right (this was in the early seventies and I visited the New Alchemy Instute). Other things intervened.

    This issue is one of the great critical issues. Whenever one talks of environmentalism with intelligent opponents they bring up the fact that modern agriculture is dependent on fossil fuels and people would just starve if we went organic and restricted greenhouse emmissions in a serious way.

    BTW, I think this issue could really take off if you can combine it with the slow food movemet which has some of the same concerns.

    •  I recommend (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, ksingh, JayinPortland, DawnN, Joieau

      checking out the work of Joan Gussow. When she started talking about local, organic food in the late 60's people told her she'd starve. So she called their bluff and did it. And did it well. I have an interview with her on my blog (the latest installment was posted yesterday so it's easy to find) and I'll post the whole thing here soon.

      As for saying more on this topic, I'm writing a book on it. I don't think I said that in the diary bc it felt wrong to pimp it. Especially because i'm currently writing, like, chapter 2. The book won't be out for a while.

      •  Cool (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mrkvica, Jill Richardson, DawnN, Joieau

        I'm writing a book that is trying to string the whole thing together--meaning the current crisis of what I call modernism (1648 onwards). I've got some great material--so much great stuff has been coming out lately. I'm very hopeful that we will see a dramatically revived intellectual culture in this country and the world both in and outside of the academy. I'm almost orgasmic, literally. In fact, I believe orgasm as a metaphor as well as fact is very, very important so I find it interesting that you use it in your title--good for you!

  •  There's just something ... (6+ / 0-)

    ... brilliantly and seductively parallel about orgasms and farming.

    Earthy.

  •  A little poem for you (4+ / 0-)

    She's orgasmic for organic
    She wants nothing but the best
    She wants to use all natural
    When dealing with a pest

    She's orgasmic for organic
    It makes her rock a roll
    When she sees a farmer spreading dung
    It helps her reach her goal

    When she's having issues when in bed
    Her loved one doesn't panic
    He talks in terms of agro farming
    Cause she's orgasmic for oganic

  •  "Tilth?" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jill Richardson, Joieau

    I had to look it up - 'cause it sounded like it might have been a dirty word.

    The biggest difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 07:57:21 AM PST

  •  No love for permaculture? :( (5+ / 0-)

    Permaculture, conceptualized and developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in Australia back in the 1970s, offers the whole package plus ethical and moral considerations.

    Permaculture can be done on any scale you have to work with. If you are considering agroecology, it would be wise to look into permaculture!

    That said, I just read about this UN report on Common Dreams. Makes me happy that I'm going to be studying agroecology and sustainable landscape architecture beginning this fall. Agroecology just makes sense, it is the opposite of reductionist science and can be done by anyone anywhere.

    We just have to stop, look, listen, and most importantly- think- before we act.

    If anyone is interested in what the beginning stages of this concept looks like, you can click on my signature link. Turn off the TV, turn off all this crap, and enjoy yourself out doors. You'll meet neighbors, human and not, and really discover that this world is worth saving and you can do something about it.

  •  Sound like socialism to me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, FinchJ, Joieau

    all this talk about public spending vs. private inputs. Ecoagriculture is aimed at undermining the great Free Market machine of private enterprise. Government is bad, business is good. Small farmers are bad, agribusiness is good.

    Get it right.

    As a small time ecoagricultural (we call it permaculture in these parts) experimenter I'm trying, but I'm coming to realize that I'm an incompetent peasant. Mainly because I have other things I like to do. These sorts of things, to be successful, are very labor intensive and much of it is tough labor. 24/7. For life.

    However, if we humans are to have a future, this is what it's going to have to look like.

    As far as mimicking nature. Large mammals of approximately human size, almost without exception, have a population size that doesn't exceed 10 - 12 million individuals...  Just sayin.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 08:13:04 AM PST

    •  Aw, it's not that hard. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, FinchJ, veritas curat, DawnN

      24-7 is a bit much, though thinking about it takes up some time. Nothing better for getting through January and February than the influx of current seed catalogues! But I find that once the beds are prepped and the crops in, I can do garden chores early morning or late afternoon (just two or three hours a day per my half-acre of truck) without risking skin cancer. People with freckles shouldn't hang out in the sun much...

      Sure, weeds often get the upper hand, but I've found that many of them are delicious. Volunteer escapees from previous crops sometimes get left to do their own thing. The fruit trees and grapes generally do fine with just an ap of mulch early in the season. Then I get to figure out what I'm going to do with it all this year. Since I discovered dehydration I only can pickles these days. Still have dried produce from two seasons ago in the cupboard!

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:32:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Getting those beds established... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mrkvica, DawnN, Joieau

        is hard work. After that, the "fun" begins. Double digging hundreds of square feet is an investment, but isn't glamorous after a month of digging.

        Everything is about filling niches. If a weed is popping up, then that means it was able to fill an empty niche or out compete your chosen plant for said niche. Of course, there will almost always be unwanted plants, but as you said, most are edible. Can't wait to try dandelions this year.

        Joieau, do you plant hyssop with your grapes? I've seen the herb mentioned a few times when Googling companion planting.

        •  Biggest weed issues here (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FinchJ, Jill Richardson, DawnN

          are purslane, chickweed, sour grass and cleavers. All of which are good for eating and shallow-rooted enough not to be killers if I harvest 'em regularly for salad or (cleavers) bath herb. Each of these weeds in a salad pack more nutrition than any domestic cultivar! Pigweed is a struggle, those danged taproots are hell to get out. Leave the dandelions in the walkways because trying to control them is a forever losing proposition... make wine out of the blooms. The few that managed to get established in the perennial beds are fat and delicious, the roots easy to harvest in fall and make an excellent coffee-extender. Plus extremely good for you!

          Haven't planted hyssop. The grape arbor borders the top side of the garden, vines 75 years old at least. Concords, muscadines and zinfandels. I make wine vinegars (and balsamic every 5 years or so) because my attempts at wine always turned to vinegar, and it's worth more than the wine anyway. And jam, of course, and now that I've a solar dehydrator, grape leather for snacks. Beneath them daughter grows herbs - 5 kinds of mint, Japanese honeysuckle, Joe Pye (and there's a couple of big pokes in there that won't go away). All useful, including the poke which has gigantic roots to harvest in the fall, dry and grind. Use it in an herbal preparation for treating skin cancers. There's a reason it's called "Cancerroot!"

          Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

          by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:53:59 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sounds like a blast- (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joieau

            your site must be relatively undisturbed? Sounds like the opposite of suburbia that I live in. Since I'm so new to "all this," one of my biggest obstacles is identification of plants. I have to be very cautious right now since I've only identified the major tree species (and not even all of them) and some of the small perennial ground covers that have survived mowing for over a decade.

            Enjoy your gardening!

            •  Well, the garden itself (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FinchJ, Jill Richardson, DawnN

              is terraced down the mountainside (held in place with rye grass), has been 'organically' tended at least since the 1930s (because there was nothing else)... with a mule. Those owners planted pears and apples and corn. For moonshine, which I hear was primo! Chestnut cabin is 100+ years old with some modern additions we and the previous owners put in - like electricity and indoor plumbing. It's humble, but homey. A Homestead is always a 'work in progress', and the house always gets put off until last.

              Red clay soil needs lots of organic matter additions to make it hold water and not compact roots. Luckily, it's several feet deep in that now and my additions are minimal other than green compost and every other year composted manure. Don't till it anymore, you'll sink halfway to your knees if you walk on the beds. Just scrape off the shallow weeds and dig a hole, put in the seedlings.

              I've been fascinated with plants since childhood, learned as much as I could. Year older sister has a Ph.D. in plant physiology, we're still planning to write The Book someday now that we're both retired. One of the most fun things I've been able to do since moving to the mountain 18 years ago is identify a great many plants and observe them throughout the seasons. These mountains are the most amazingly abundant earth on Earth, try as 'they' might to destroy them over the last century and a half. They'll never be "Mine," but I do feel like I'm their protector and keeper.

              Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

              by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:19:40 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Well, I guess that depends if you're (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jill Richardson, Joieau

        talking about a "lifestyle" or a life. With no running water or electricity and wood or dung for fuel, peasant life can be hard.

        My grandparents, in a small town in the Depression in N. WA used around 24 cords of wood per year for cooking and heating. Every year. Cut by hand. No chainsaws. And I didn't get the impression that gramma had fun cooking on a wood stove in August.

        I'm lucky that I have electricity, running water, chainsaw and power tools. It does make it fun to dry and can the produce of our orchard, raise chickens and eat out of the garden. Part of the fun is appreciating all the labor that went into it.

        muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

        by veritas curat on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:17:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, I'm a big believer (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, veritas curat

          in electricity and running water. Have lived without - it can be done, but it's not that much fun. Only time we have to cook with wood is when the electricity's out (ice storms or blizzards), but that's our heat. We do have a chainsaw and an entire collection of mauls and axes. Go through about 5 cords a year. But one thing we have plenty of is wood!

          I'd sure love solar panels and turbines on the creeks. Make Duke Energy have to buy 'green' energy from me, run my meter backwards. Someday... someday...

          And though I'd love nothing better than chickens, maybe a watch-goose and a milk goat or two (plus domestic bees), I have a serious bear problem. And foxes. Occasional bobcats and coyotes. The dog keeps them off the porches, but they're always around. One made rubble of my garden fencing and compost bins two springs ago while we were temporarily dogless. Now I'm investigating Bear-Proof fencing...

          Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

          by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:30:35 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Ocam's Razor (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, Inspector Javert

    which states: between competing solutions the easier should be the choice.

    Seems to me that the easier and less damaging solution would be to reduce the global population. A thought experiment:

    Increase all the negative effects from overpopulation: urban sprawl; overfishing; resource allocation; energy production; resource depletion...... and on and on.

    Now suppose you can increased food production by 70%.  With 9 billion people what have you gained?  When will too much be too much?

    The crash will only hit harder.

    •  The earth will support (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, FinchJ

      as many people as it can support until it can't anymore, and the population will diminish. If we don't do it (and it's not people in the 'First World' doing the overpopulating) nature will do it for us. Not something I spend much time fretting about.

      Then again, I don't grow food to feed my larger community either. I grow it to feed my family (and guests and friends). Quite enjoy it, too. Everybody who's got some sun in the yard or on the porch can grow some food, at least make a dent in their cash consumption and enjoy the better taste and nutrition of real vine-ripe tomatoes, juicy bell peppers, fresh red strawberries, a window box of baby lettuce and spinach...

      Disconnecting people in the modern world from the source of their food is "good for [agri]business" but unsustainable long term. Perhaps we need to DE-specialize a bit and start taking some responsibility for ourselves.

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:40:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I finished reading the post (4+ / 0-)

    But I broke the rules and rec'd it as soon as I read the title!

    Great work, Jill, and great news for a change.

    (But I must say, masturbating to agroecology reports isn't quite normal)

    Working people of America unite.

    by Sarge in Seattle on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 08:33:59 AM PST

  •  Oh, yes! (0+ / 0-)

    More people will have to do more hard labor--but we're going to give them trees!

    According to peasant organizations, agroecology is also more attractive to farmers, because it procures pleasant features for those working the land for long hours, such as shade from trees or the absence of smell and toxicity from chemicals.

    That's cute. And charming.

    Personally, I'd prefer that women and children had less work to do in the fields. But who needs school anyway.

    Their Malawi example is funny though: yeah, the stuff they did worked great. Now we'll change it.

    Unlike you, though, I think farmers have the right to choose their strategies. I wouldn't withhold anything they want to use.

    Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

    by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 08:49:35 AM PST

    •  choose? (10+ / 0-)

      the world's poor farmers do not choose to have tiny plots of land, often on poor soils and in regions that are already experiencing climate change. they don't choose to have no access to birth control or no market to sell any agricultural surplus even if they have one, or no ability to get off-farm jobs to bring in income. They don't choose to have countries plagued with foreign debt and IMF-imposed harsh economic policies that work against their own people. There's an awful lot that they don't choose. And they often can't choose to buy agricultural inputs because they can't afford them. Agroecology is something they CAN choose to do. They don't have to do it, but when something works, why wouldn't you do it?

      •  Quite (0+ / 0-)
        but when something works, why wouldn't you do it?

        None of those other problems are solved by trees on your plot. There are many other social and economic development issues, and as usual no single strategy will work for everyone.

        So farmers should be able to choose what works for them. I'm glad you see it that way.

        Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

        by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 09:20:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think they have the right to choose as well. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, Karl Rover, DawnN, Joieau

          But some choices should be supported and others should be left to fend for themselves.

          You want to choose to pour fossil fuel derived products over your land? Fine, just don't pollute your neighbor who doesn't want your run off. You want to plant monocultures, till and kill the soil food web? Fine, but don't expect any subsidies from our government.

          •  I'm sorry to hear you say that (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            docstymie

            because the report actually does say that can be useful. Although they don't source any of this data, so I'm not sure the numbers are correct, they say this about Malawi:

            Research shows that this results in increased yields from 1 t/ha to 2–3 t/ha, even if farmers cannot afford commercial nitrogen fertilizers. With an application of a quarter-dose of mineral fertilizer, maize yields may surpass 4 t/ha. However, this shows that, while investment in organic fertilizing techniques should be a priority, this should not exclude the use of other fertilizers. An optimal solution that could be an exit strategy from fertilizer subsidy schemes would be to link fertilizer subsidies directly to agroforestry investments on the farm in order to provide for long-term sustainability in nutrient supply, and to build up soil health as the basis for sustained yields and improved efficiency of fertilizer response.

            Emphasis mine. But if you think 1 ton is enough, who needs 4. You aren't hungry, right?

            Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

            by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 12:49:02 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  and read what De Schutter said (4+ / 0-)

              when I asked him for details about fertilizers and GMOs:

              When asked to provide more detail about crop breeding, De Schutter responded that "most [agroecologists] are very careful with some of these [crop breeding] technologies, particularly genetic engineering." He noted that genetically engineered crops not only carry environmental risks, but are also "associated with unsustainable farming practices and with a worrying concentration of the seed industry." In contrast, he sees promise in marker-assisted selection and participatory plant breeding, which "uses the strength of modern science, while at the same time putting farmers in the driver's seat."

              De Schutter also highlights the risks of using nitrogen fertilizer, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, saying that, "the use of fertilizers [in Africa] could increase a bit without major environmental damages." He sees many reasons why agroecology is a better choice than nitrogen fertilizer, pointing out that, "many agroecological methods simply outperform mineral fertilizers: they result in similar levels of return on investments if you measure only productivity, but they create systems that are more resilient to climate change, some of them produce additional fodder for animals (nitrogen-fixing trees for instance), or fruit (thus vitamins)."

              •  I'll go read it (0+ / 0-)

                but from what you've quoted he seems to suffer from the same confusion as you are about biotechnology and the various GMO projects that are academic, non-profit, or government sponsored. The ones for nutrition, and for disease resistance like the banana ones.

                Or he's been only partially quoted. Hard to know.

                Pro-tip: MAS is biotechnology.

                Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

                by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 03:52:34 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  MAS is biotech (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  JayinPortland, DawnN, Joieau

                  but it isn't transgenic.

                  Full quote, including my question:
                  Q: The report notes that agroecology can be complementary to plant breeding. Does this refer to all types of plant breeding, including open-pollinated seeds, hybrids, and genetic engineering, or are any of these options unsuitable for the needs of smallholder farmers?

                  Some agroecologists advocate a full complementarity between all types of breeding and agroecology. Most are very careful with some of these technologies, particularly genetic engineering, not only because of the environmental risks and side-effects, such as the expansion of ‘superweeds’ in the U.S, but because transgenic crops are associated with unsustainable farming practices and with a worrying concentration of the seed industry. I share these concerns. My point of view is that there are many forms of breeding which are suitable and have great potential: smart breeding (marker-assisted selection) apparently outperforms genetic engineering, and participatory plant breeding has a genuine potential, as it uses the strength of modern science, while at the same time putting farmers in the driver’s seat.

                  And do you think it's possible that an independent investigator for the UN isn't confused, he's just actually done a lot of research and formed an opinion different from yours?

                  •  Can you ask him then? (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    docstymie

                    Ask him if he's as opposed to the non-corporate plant science projects? Specifically ask if he's opposed to the ones that improve nutrition and disease resistance that are completely unrelated to chemical inputs?

                    And thanks for providing the full quote. I see you left off the part about some agroecologists who don't agree with you.

                    But based on this quote I still think he's confused--or omitting any knowledge he does have on these other projects.

                    I do note that he didn't diss hybrids. I've also seen elsewhere that he's said not to demonize fertilizers. He didn't mention that to you?

                    Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

                    by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 06:41:43 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  fertilizer full quote (0+ / 0-)

                      2. The report also notes that organic methods of adding fertility to the soil such as manure and cover crops should not replace the use of other fertilizers. Do you have any concerns about the environmental impacts of nitrogen fertilizer, and do you believe that programs to distribute or subsidize fertilizer for smallholder farmers are useful in combating hunger?

                      Yes, I share the concerns over the environmental impacts of nitrogen fertilizers. The most acute problems are visible where they have been used in the greatest quantities: fertilizers contribute to the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico, and to pollution by green algae on the coasts of Brittany in France.

                      However, most farmers in Africa are very far from these situations. The use of fertilizers could increase a bit without major environmental damages. The question of fertilizers in Africa is firstly one of policy : are we making the best choices in the short run between several options? Making the best choices is necessary because we are in an urgency and because resources to improve food security are scarce. Are we making the best choices to avoid getting on a pathway that is destructive in the long term? These are the two important questions. Let me clarify this: many agroecological methods simply outperform mineral fertilizers: they result in similar levels of return on investments if you measure only productivity, but they create systems that are more resilient to climate change, some of them produce additional fodder for animals (nitrogen-fixing trees for instance), or fruit (thus vitamins). Moreover, a country which provides tree seeds and training to farmers in order to encourage them to practice agroforestry can do that with local resources, while fertilizers need to be imported. This is not a minor issue for the balance of payment of countries! A country could thus use its foreign exchange to build modern industries and create jobs rather than buying fertilizers. In other words, I am encouraging countries to find inspiration in the best practices that have proven successful to raise productivity, incomes and employment, and are preparing their farmers for increased climate extremes.

                      This being said, research by the World Agroforestry Center in Eastern and Southern Africa demonstrates that the application of a quarter-dose of mineral fertilizer, along with the practice of agroforestry with nitrogen-fixing trees, is a very good solution. Some soils need some help to have quick results on the first year, which fertilizers can provide, but at the end, you need an exit strategy for fertilizers subsidies, this is the conclusion of many studies on Green revolution approach.

                      I hope you give me credit on asking unbiased questions. I have to say that my viewpoint has softened some on fertilizers after the travel I've done. There was a Mexican agronomist who found great results from mixing small amts of fertilizer w/ a lot of compost and applying it to the soil. I support that - but it's a matter of money. Can people afford it. There, in Mexico, most people used fertilizer even if they couldn't afford seeds or pesticides. And I think a major problem in that area was acidic soil which would require lime to raise the pH. I've heard of some US efforts to give lime to African farmers, and that sounds like a good idea. But also remember that Mexico is not nearly as poor as most African countries. And it has many more roads, much more infrastructure.

              •  Where you replaced the words (0+ / 0-)

                what was there originally?

                most [agroecologists] are very careful with some of these [crop breeding]

                Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

                by mem from somerville on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 03:59:50 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  I'm sorry.... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Joieau

              a 1/4 dose of mineral fertilizer more than likely wouldn't be causing as much, if any, pollution like overapplication would.

              You don't have an axe to grind, do you?

              •  Also note the rest of your quoted material. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DrFood, docstymie

                Where it specifically states that an exit strategy using fertilizers is quite possible, with fertilizer subsidies linked

                "directly to agroforestry investments on the farm in order to provide for long-term sustainability in nutrient supply, and to build up soil health as the basis for sustained yields and improved efficiency of fertilizer response"

                So in other words, judicious use of mineral fertilizers would be used to establish agroecological systems that rely upon self renewing fertility and would eventually be phased out.

                Next time don't work so hard to make me out to be against helping struggling third world farmers. Especially when you don't know anything about me or my world views.

      •  Choice is a funny thing. (7+ / 0-)

        Some folks believe we should free up people from all those pesky regulations that prevent environmental damage, and cause giant companies to have to spend more money in testing things before they release them on the planet without a care, then say 'but who could have foreseen....' about 30-50 years down the road, once the damage and unsustainability have become apparent to even the dimmest of bulbs.

        Others think that maybe some of those overly destructive choices should be taken off the table before they do great harm.

      •  Your reply doesn't make sense. (3+ / 0-)
        And they often can't choose to buy agricultural inputs because they can't afford them.

        They can't choose to buy what they can't afford? Huh? If agrofarming is teh greatest and cheaper to boot, what's to stop a farmer from taking that direction. It may have to with labor, which it takes more of. The only really cheap labor is a large family, which is the wrong direction I imagine for resource depletion. One child policies or two will not fit the labor bill. It may have more to do with lack of educational resources. Increasing farmer knowledge is a plus all around. Most of the abuses of chemicals on small farms is due to a lack of education.

        I'm all in favor of agroecology. Anything to lessen dependence on expensive inputs is great. Anything to reduce pollution while keeping yields intact is perfect. By the way, we will need animals, lots of animals to produce the manure needed to to keep this cycle intact. I love it, but sorry vegans, we'll need the poop along with the meat. And we will need hybrids. I'm not sure how hybrids got such a bad rap, they've only helped decrease famines to situations of war. Oh, we'll need GMOs, maybe just the free ones, the ones that don't need to be purchased every year. They're out there. If there is any technology that can be readily married to agroecology, it GMOs.  And we will need pesticides, hopefully far less than what's used and less toxic alternatives.

        Bottom line, let farmers decide what methods they want to use.

        “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”, Theodore Roosevelt

        by the fan man on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 02:03:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  more orgasmecology please (5+ / 0-)

    trying to get grant money for doing some agroforestry research in Brasil.  I loves me some peoples who likes to think about how to care for the soil to care for the people....

  •  Great News!! So I'll soon be seeing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau

    lower prices for organic food that for the non-organic crap.  

    •  I live in a region (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, DawnN, lurkyloo

      with a huge organics market, thousands of small organic producers, and a thriving network of farmer's markets and even on-line U-pick-it-up organics through the winter. Our chain groceries were convinced to offer (and label) local and organics years ago, they did such a good business they expanded into every aisle. Now I can get organic canned goods for just a penny or two more than the regular, often by the same brands!

      For perishable goods a premium is always required because if it's not all purchased and consumed there's a lot of waste - won't keep long on the stand. But if your community would rather buy organic than not, the dealers will stock it in plenty and the price goes down accordingly.

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:51:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is great news. And thanks for posting (6+ / 0-)

    this. I just have one comment in response to this:

    I stop using herbicides but I till a lot to kill the weeds, which ruins the tilth of the soil.

    You probably already know this but I have to comment because others may not. You're right, tilling does ruin the tilth and in fact makes your soil LESS fertile by destroying the organisms and the mycorhizal connections in the soil that provide nutrients to your plants and aerate the soil (which provides air and water to your plants' roots).

    By tilling you actually encourage weed growth. I know, crazy. Counterintuitive right? Some weed seeds lay dormant in soil and REQUIRE the soil to be disturbed. Others, when moved from the underlayer and brought to the top of the soil, actually propagate easier than they would have if left lower down.  

    So what to do? Plant with enough density that your crops shade out the weeds when mature. Some weeds won't harm your crops. In fact, some of the most productive organic farms and gardens I've seen are riddled with weeds. Weeds, like dandelions, are used by pollinators and the leafy greens are edible (and quite good if picked BEFORE flowering).

    Weeds are fairly innocuous. They compete for water, nutrients and sun. But in the case of water and nutrients, most weeds are VERY hardy and require little of both to thrive, therefore they are "robbing" little from your soil (that's why they're weeds, they're survivors). In the case of sun, competition is most important at the "start" stage (when your crops are young). This is when your crops will need a little help. Once they mature and outgrow the weeds, planting density should out-compete the weeds and drown them out of sun. At the start phase weeding may be required but again, try to disturb the soil as little as possible. And adding a compost layer once your starts are thriving adds another layer of defense against weeds and adds nutrients to your soil.

    Our unhealthy relationship with weeds is mostly a result of decades of the chemical industry's relentless propaganda war that sells more of their product. They create the problem, and magically, they've got the solution. Many so-called weeds were, prior to the chemical revolution of the '50's, actually prized by Americans (and Europeans) and readily grazed (dandelion and mustard are just 2 examples). Most of us never questioned why we hated these plants so much. It's amazing how our views can be shaped because an industry has some chemicals they want to sell (most of which were left over from WWII nerve agents).

    We will never get rid of weeds (chemical manufacturers know this). We have to learn to live with them (they'll be here long after we're gone). We just have to look at them differently (have you ever noticed the actual beauty of a dandelion flower?) and know how much of our lives we want to dedicate to creating enemies in our gardens and how much time we want to spend worrying about aesthetics.

    So thanks again for posting this. I hope we're beginning to see a different way of looking at food production and getting back to traditional and truly "conventional" methods (The use of the term "conventional" by the chemical farming lobby must be stopped. Chemical farming is NOT conventional. It's chemical. Period.).

    Here's to spring!

    Every election either the democrats lose or the republicans lose. But in every election there is always the same winner. And he drives a Mercedes.

    by Methinks They Lie on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:11:50 AM PST

    •  We weed selectively (4+ / 0-)

      We over-plant our garden plants, then spend the mornings for many weeks munching on our thinnings as plants mature. There's nothing like fresh baby carrots and peas eaten seconds after pulling. :-)

      We thin and weed simultaneously, leaving the weeds with shallow roots or weeds that support what we're trying to grow and removing others (for example, leaving clover will fix nitrogen into the soil between plants, shade the soil to retain moisture, and reduce other weeds).

      •  That's why I usually leave the (4+ / 0-)

        shallow-rooted weeds in my beds, until they are ready for harvest and consumption. Have you ever had sourgrass salad? Flowers and all! Chickweed and purple mint? Purslane in anything green?

        I've tried planting white clover as a cover crop, shallow rooted enough to out-compete sourgrass between the bean tents. Plants will compete for what they need, win or lose and we get to manage that to a certain extent. Do you know about those purple yard-long heirlooms? Man! Those are beautiful growing, and tasty as heck in real life...

        Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

        by Joieau on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:23:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  peak oil will force drastic changes (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sarac, DawnN, Joieau, radical simplicity

    The current levels of non-renewable resources used in factory farming won't be economic any longer. Sustainable agriculture will ultimately be forced on society, so we may as well plan for the change now.

    Thanks for the fine diary and the comments. I'll have more to say on these topics in the future.

  •  a scientific prediction (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jill Richardson, Joieau

    People will start using titles that are variants of yours. After a while, resistance will evolve.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 05:54:06 PM PST

  •  Can we tone down the "Veggie Love"? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau

    someone might mistake us for PETA. :)

    "Raise your hand if you think Social Security and Medicare are Socialism."-Lawerence O'Donnell

    by AZphilosopher on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 08:51:08 PM PST

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