"Old MacDonald had a farm…" a familiar childhood song to see how many animals farmer McDonald had. Considering the current industry of food production, an updated version of the same song would only have one verse that would have to incorporate corn somehow. According to a recent two-year study by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
"Not long ago, the bulk of fruit, grain, vegetables, meat and dairy products consumed by the American people were produced on small family farms. These farms once defined both the physical and the social character of the US countryside. However, the steady urbanization of the US population has resulted in an American populace that is increasingly disassociated from the production system that supplies its food.
So what changed? Technology. Farmers saw technology as a way to make their farms more efficient. However, there was a problem: technology can be expensive. In the past, one farmer might have a plow, another an oxen and another would have a storage facility and they would all work together on the harvest. Advances in technology enabled farmers to be a bit more independent. As a result, farmers had to produce at maximum output to make up for the costs. This was fine when demand was high, but when the demand for their goods decreased, they still had to produce at the same high level. Ultimately, farmers decided to consolidate their resources to become more efficient. This unintentionally led to dominant firms controlling smaller ones, even to putting some of them out of business.
But technology isn't all bad, is it? Technological advances in agriculture have afforded us many advantages such as cheaper foods, exotic foods, genetically altered foods, strawberries in December and foods that even pests won't eat. However, these advances have also exposed us to illnesses and diseases and environmental damage that did not exist in farmer MacDonald's time.
"While increasing the speed of production, the intensive confinement production system creates a number of problems. These include contributing to the increase in the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of rivers, streams, and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste; animal welfare problems, mainly as a result of the extremely close quarters in which the animals are housed; and significant shifts in the social structure and economy of many farming regions throughout the country."
The government takes a census of the farming industry every 5 years with the next census scheduled for 2012. This gives us the opportunity to make many more calculations with regard to changes in farming since 2007. Therefore, the data that is used in this exercise is dated but still relevant.
The amount of energy that is involved in the production of food is incredible. For example, in agriculture, the following are some of the contributing factors, or energy inputs in kcal/ha, to the production of fruits and vegetables:
· Transportation (Organic Center p. 11-12)
For example, using the energy inputs listed above, to produce 46,000 kg of oranges requires a total of 22,921,000 kcal/ha which makes the ratio of kcal output/kcal input 1.02:1. To produce 55,000 kg of apples requires 30,660,000 kcal/ha with a ratio of 0.61:1. From this, we can conclude that the amount of energy needed to produce apples is less than that needed to produce oranges. (Pimentel and Pimentel 2008)
In some cases, the ratio of the amount of food produced to the energy input is less than 1. Using various resources and websites, the students can investigate the specific energy input for a variety of fruits and vegetables and calculate the ratios of energy input to product yield (output).
According to the Organic Center report,
Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture
, the US food system uses 19% of the total fossil energy burned: 7% of that for agricultural production; 7% for packaging; and 5% by the consumer.
Since smaller organic farms are less reliant on pesticides and large petroleum-consuming machinery, the benefits to the environment and the community are difficult to quantify, but significantly greater than the alternative.
Another major contributing factor to the production of food is water. One of the exercises involves the different amounts of water, in gallons, that are used to produce a serving size of certain foods. Students will be asked to build a sandwich using the given ingredients and then calculate the amount of water used to produce that one sandwich.
The results are eye-opening!
Industrial Farm Animal Production has also affected how meat, poultry and dairy are produced in this country. "Over the past 50 years, the production of farm animals for food has shifted from the traditional, extensive, decentralized family farm system to a more concentrated system with fewer producers, in which large numbers of animals are confined in enormous operations."
For example, although the number of swine raised in this country today is about the same as in the 1950's, the number of farms and farm workers has declined to very few, larger farms where hundreds of animals are kept indoors and in cages that restrict their movement. As a result of the inhumane conditions under which these animals are contained, they are injected with antibiotics to prevent disease and accelerate their growth. This practice began in the 1940's and has contributed to the "growing pool of antimicrobial resistance in the environment."
As a result, there has been an increase in infectious diseases that are multi-drug resistant.
But what about Connecticut? It is the third smallest state in the US. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are approximately 3.18 million acres of land in Connecticut. A little over 405,500 acres is dedicated farmland accounting for 13% of the total area of Connecticut. The average size of the small and medium family farm in Connecticut is 82 acres compared to the national average of 418 acres. Connecticut's agriculture is very diverse. As one might expect, milk and dairy products and poultry and eggs comprise a good portion, 21%, of agricultural sales. However, nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod make up nearly 50% and tobacco 10% of sales of agricultural products in Connecticut.
What are the benefits of consuming agricultural products produced in Connecticut? According to the University of Connecticut's
Economic Impacts of Connecticut's Agricultural Industry
, "the agricultural industry has a critical, significant impact on the economy of Connecticut in output, jobs, and the quality of life: $3.5 billion in output, 20,000 jobs, and significant social benefits and ecosystem services."
All residents of Connecticut benefit from the local farming industry, including those that do not purchase locally grown products. Some benefits would be environmental. Hypothetically, if people purchased produce grown locally, it would decrease the amount of tractor-trailer traffic on I-95 and I-84. People would purchase from farmers' markets, vegetable stands and food cooperatives. The purchase of these items would increase the dollars that are spent within the state and not go to mass producers out of state.