News

April 9, 2012

(RE)LEARNING TO GROW
By Matthew Moghaddam

(As Appeared in the April 2012 Issue of TechNews)

  We, as a society, stand on a precipice, a tipping point, of either failure or success.  To consume or sustain? To perish or survive? 

   Our current industrial agriculture complex is standing on feeble legs while bearing a substantial load from consumer demand.  At the same time farmers have lost control of their ability to determine the price for their own produce.  They are forced to compete in an international market where sales are awarded to the lowest cost offering.  At present only 2% of the American population identifies as farmers. The result? Farmers choose to grow varieties that sacrifice taste for yield; produce is picked before peak ripeness forgoing nutritional content in the name of shelf life all while, vibrant and dynamic farms have gone the way of monoculture to maintain profitability.

  The monoculture practice is extremely energy intensive and requires chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to perpetuate harvests year after year.  Mono cropping degrades the soil and destroys the surrounding natural ecosystems.  How did all of this happen? Technology! Out of innovation had come new industry and automation had eliminated the need for everyone to farm. And with that shift came the need for our educational system to change to prepare young minds for employment in new and exciting fields.

   As technology continued to improve and industry continued to evolve agriculture and life based learning took a back seat to broader subject matter to support new businesses.  I, being a product of the late 80’s and 90’s, raised in a small suburban Connecticut town, don’t have any recollection of being taught how to maintain a garden, to feed myself, to sustain myself.  I have clear memories from school of reading, writing, calculating, sewing, cooking, rocket launching, audio mixing, computer programming and theorizing but never learning to plant. We often take for granted the food on our plate.  It is basically a given when you go to grocery that you will have access to almost any edible product you desire. At that, we take for granted that the grocery is there at all.  What we have failed to acknowledge is how those products have gotten there.  The average head of lettuce travels 1500 miles before it is consumed. And the average tomato? 2000 miles.

   One thing I’m sure you’ve noticed is the rising cost of food. What we often don’t hear about is where that additional money is going. Studies from the USDA, Farm Aid and Independent Farm Advocate cite anywhere from $.70-.80 from every $1 that the average consumer spends on food goes to costs other then production.  So, how do we fix it? The same way we broke it, with technology! We have reached a point where if we continue with our current system more arable land will be lost, the cost of food will continue to rise, and communities will continue to degrade.  It is Imperative that we continue to innovate in the name of agricultural sustainability.

  The concept of urban farming is not a new one but it has gained tremendous momentum over the last several years.  The idea being that we grow where we consume.  With proper implementation, urban farming can eliminate many of the additional costs that come with factory-farmed food such as refrigeration, packaging, and transportation.

   Further, the concept of vertical farming suggests rather than growing out we grow up, as in stacked one farm on top of another, inside some sort of structure.  There are many firms locally and abroad that are exploring the viability of these concepts.  At present, shortcomings in alternative energy, lighting technology, controlled environment agriculture systems and building design have prevented these concepts from being implemented on a mass scale.   With technological innovation as our driving force we can foster a brand new industry, provide hundreds of thousands of meaningful employment opportunities and secure healthy and fresh food for generations to come.

 

 

 

January 15, 2012

 

Current Events 

What’s currently happening around the world and in our own home front (Star Ledger Newspaper, August 8, 2011 “Broken Food Chain”) is alarming because of our impending and inevitable food shortage here in the U. S. and around the world we are now seeing many more foods that are Genetically Manipulated Organisms (GMO) entering our stores and markets.

 

Genetically Manipulated Organisms and what it means to us. 

What does GMO mean? 

If you’ve shopped in a natural foods store in recent months, you’ve no doubt seen products bearing the label “GMO-free” or “contains only non-GMO ingredients.” The acronym GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, which refers to any food product that has been altered at the gene level. Genetically modified foods are also frequently described as “genetically engineered”, “genetically altered” or “genetically manipulated.”

It can be said that modification of plants is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, gardeners and farmers have been crossbreeding different species of plants to create plants that produce heartier, better tasting, or more beautiful crops. However, the type of genetic engineering of foods that has caused a groundswell of concern around the world is vastly different from these traditional plant breeding practices. With modern genetic engineering, genes from an animal, plant, bacterium, or virus are inserted into a different organism (most often a plant), thereby irreversibly altering the genetic code, the “blueprint” that determines all of an organism’s physical characteristics, of the organism that received the gene. Through this technology, scientists have created tomatoes with a longer shelf life by adding flounder genes, soybeans that are resistant to weed killers, potatoes that produce their own pesticides, and potatoes with jellyfish genes that glow in the dark when they need water. Genetic engineers are also working to develop fruits, vegetables, and grains with higher levels of vitamins and foods that contain vaccines against diseases like malaria, cholera and hepatitis.

While proponents of genetic engineering believe that this technology will make it possible to produce enough food to ensure that everyone in the world has enough to eat, farmers, scientists, environmentalists, health professionals and consumers throughout the world are outraged by the growing number of genetically altered foods in our food supply and are very skeptical about the purported benefits of this technology. Since 1996, when the first large-scale commercial harvest of genetically engineered crops occurred in the United States, the percentage of genetically engineered crops grown in the United States has increased to 25%, including 35% of all corn, 55% of all soybeans, and nearly half of all the cotton. In addition, much of the canola oil produced in Canada comes from genetically manipulated rape seed. It has been estimated that as many as two-thirds of all food products in grocery stores contain genetically engineered ingredients. In fact, unless you buy exclusively organic, you will likely bring home foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, especially if you purchase foods that contain soybeans, corn, or their derivatives (soy oil, soy flour, soy protein isolates, corn oil, corn starch, corn flour, and high fructose corn syrup).

At this point in time, the health risks of consuming genetically altered foods have not been clearly identified, since few studies have been conducted to evaluate impact of these foods on human health. However, many scientists have speculated that it is likely that these foods will trigger allergic reactions in some people, create new toxins that produce disease, and lead to antibiotic resistance and a subsequent resurgence of infectious disease. The impact on the environment may be even more devastating. Many farmers are concerned that it will be impossible to prevent genetically engineered crops from “polluting” organic farms, as the wind and bees will naturally carry pollen from the genetically engineered crops to nearby organic farms. In addition, farmers and environmentalists fear that foods that are genetically engineered to be resistant to herbicides, such as Roundup Ready soybeans, will result in heavier herbicide use, further polluting the groundwater, lakes and rivers. Heavy use of herbicides may also encourage the development of “superweeds” that are resistant to herbicides, which could threaten crops throughout the country. The results of a 1999 study conducted by researchers at Cornell University suggest that genetically engineered crops also endanger wildlife, specifically the Monarch butterfly. These researchers found that nearly half of the Monarch caterpillars that ate milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from genetically engineered corn died within four days. A study conducted one year later at Iowa State University found that plants that neighbor farms of genetically engineered corn are dusted with enough corn pollen to kill Monarch caterpillars.

As more is learned about the environmental and health risks of genetically engineered foods, people around the world are demanding that food producers eliminate these so-called “Frankenfoods” from their products. While the law in the United States does not mandate that foods containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled, many proactive food producers have stopped using these ingredients and are now labeling their products as “GMO-free.” For more information about genetically modified foods, please visit the official website of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods at www.thecampaign.org and Earthsave’s webpage at www.earthsave.org.

 

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