Sitting in the JRC 126 auditorium this past Friday afternoon, I was amazed at the number of attendees that continued to pass through the door, right up until showtime. Having been an active member of UST’s ‘green community’ for going on three years now, I willingly admit my surprise and excitement at seeing so many faces complementing the ‘usual suspects’ of sustainability-promoting events. It may have been the fullest I have every seen JRC 126 during my time as a student here at St. Thomas.
That said, I was very impressed by the amount of information covered in the film – which lasted only 90 minutes – and how clearly everything was mapped out. The problems pertaining to the American food system tend to be anything but clear. Rather, it is a convoluted mess of farms, producers, distribution centers, and supermarkets based on economic efficiency and rooted in No. 2 field corn. My introduction to the American food system came in the summer of 2010 when I participated in the HECUA course Environment & Agriculture: Sustainable Food Systems. It was a two week crash course of full of frightening, surprising, and discouraging information about our food and farms; it was an introduction to something of a counter-culture network of people here in the Twin Cities seeking good food and to better the environment, including farm field trips across the state to farms, processing plants, feedlots, and farmer’s markets. This was my first introduction to Joel Salatin, and was also when I found my passion for sustainable agriculture and good food.
Salatin’s efforts to demonstrate that agricultural profitability and environmental stewardship can be reconciled are well documented in the film. At his Polyface Farm, they utilize rotational grazing and other holistic management techniques, mimicking nature and allowing the animals to embrace their instincts in ways that benefit both the family business and the land. Taking a lesson from Allan Savory, an ecologist from Zimbabwe credited as the originator of holistic management, Salatin’s rotational grazing techniques also serve as a soil elixir and are being employed in many regions of the world to combat desertification. Healthier soils are able to sequester more carbon and help break down methane, a greenhouse gas several times more potent than CO2, which is produced in mass by herd animals. For more information on the background and benefits of holistic management and rotational grazing, check out Savory’s recent TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html
Salatin is every bit the educator that he is farmer and businessman, and his vigor and charisma have certainly earned him the title ‘Lunatic Farmer.’ Salatin, Savory, and others like them, provide beacons of hope for young farmers and people pursuing healthier and more environmentally sustainable lives. The movie served as an outcry to young and new farmers – and perhaps also to conventional farmers who find themselves trapped in government subsidies and debt, but who still dedicate their lives to providing food for our country and much of the world (I’ve attached two links at the bottom of this post showing the amount of grain that we export, and other staggering information about U.S. corn production).
With Salatin’s help, American Meat makes a strong case for more naturally raised meat without polarizing the issue and blaming conventional farmers. The film provides a great history of the U.S. agricultural system, showing clearly how things got to the place that they are now, and then points us in the direction of a more sustainable and healthy future. One in which many people will come to know there famers, or at least know where the farm is located and how the animals were raised and processed.
Quinn Wrenholt (Environmental Science – Geology), working and enjoying abundant produce and
sunshine during the HECUA course, Environment & Agriculture: Sustainable Food Systems