BRINGING HOME THE FOOD ECONOMY (3) - 3 Ecology o f Food...

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3 Ecology of Food Production enduring agriculture must never cease to consider and respect and pre- wildness. The farm can exist only within the wilderness ofmystery and force. And ifthe farm is to last and remain in health, the wilderness survive within the farm. -Wendell Berry, The Unsettling ofAmerica HIGH ECOLOGICAL COSTS of global food are not only products of its distribution and marketing: producing for the global market is also highly damaging to the environment. And once again, local food is relatively be- nign by comparison. One reason for this stems from the numerous levels of diversity inherent in local food systems. Local foods tend to differ from place to place, in direct relation to differences in climate, geography, and natural resources. Similarly, local food production involves a wide range of cultivation meth- ods, as each locale's unique ecological and cultural conditions are allowed to determine appropriate farming practices. Wherever people's needs are largely supplied by a local food system, the farms in that region are themselves more diverse. A region with nothing but monocultures-like the several-thousand acre wheat fields of Kansas--can produce huge amounts of a single crop for global markets, but people need more than just one or two foods. Farmers who supply local markets there- fore have strong incentives to diversify their production. Local food systems also support more diversity within individual crop species. For millennia, seed-saving farmers have selected plants for certain traits, including their success in local microclimates and soil types. Agricul- tural biodiversity has steadily multiplied as a result. The more than 17,000 distinct varieties of wheat that exist today are a product of many centuries of careful seed selection in varied ecosystems. 1 When farms are small in scale-and particularly when they are farmed organically-they also enable a wide range of non-food species to coexist
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36 37 The Ecology of Food Production Bringing the Food Economy Home within the farm system. Hedgerows, woodlots, pastures, and fallow land become nurturing habitats for numerous wild plant and animal species, thereby helping to maintain a region's overall biodiversity. In some cases, the farm itself mimics the wilderness, as in the traditional forest gardens of the Tamil Nadu highlands in southern India. These gardens produced a fan- tastic array of fruits, nuts, berries, roots, and edible leaves while relying on the forest's indigenous species-including microorganisms, insects, wild ani- mals and "non-productive" plants-to maintain the garden's balance and health. Destroying Diversity Production for the global market, on the other hand, effectively pre- cludes diversity. What a farm produces is not determined by local condi- tions but by the requirements of a global marketing system that prizes standardized products, extended shelf life, and the capacity to withstand long-distance transport. This has led to an agriculture that is highly spe-
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BRINGING HOME THE FOOD ECONOMY (3) - 3 Ecology o f Food...

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