I’ve been reading Best Food Writing 2009, a collection of essays ranging from O! The Oprah Magazine to Gourmet and (so far) the deliciousness of cheese to the ethics of eating. One particular piece, Medium-Size Me from Gastronomica, explores organic eating and buying local – but it’ s not another horror story about chemical-induced death by pesticides.

It profiles farmers.

“Conventional farming, he found, was like a treadmill. Every year, prices offered by commercial processors lowered, even as costs for spray, fertilizer, and equipment rose…the pressures facing most American family farmers threatened to drive him from his calling.”

Another farmer tends ten thousand acres that cost nearly $2 million each year to plant.

“[Before] with six hundred acres we could make a living. Now, to be feasible, we need six thousand acres…He works one-hundred-hour weeks, up to eighteen hours a day. It’s a lonely life.”

But when the first farmer switched over to organic, “the result was a revolution.” He went back to using soil sciences to keep away pests and grow vibrant food and was able to more carefully care for, and revel in caring for, a smaller plot of land. Selling his crop wasn’t cutthroat, but a co-op experience.

Sure, the essay did touch upon “reforming the American diet” but with regard to the effect the new American diet is having on farmers. It dispelled the romanticized notion that farmers smile as they ride around on tractors all day and commune with the land in a low-paying but fulfilling profession. It pointed out the ethical concerns we all should have with buying the cheap food mass produced by industrial agriculture and shipped to us from far, far away.

I’m not one of those who will only eat organic, and if the regular apples are $1/lb cheaper, bring ’em on. But I’m becoming a convert. In part for health reasons (see: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food) but more for sustainability reasons. And to hopefully encourage those “crazy about farming” again to keep doing what they’re doing.

If you won’t do it for yourself, maybe do it for the farmers.

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