To the Farmer-In-Chief

bls points us to this article in the NY Times magazine–a letter from Michael Pollan to the next president. The whole thing is worth a read and here are some juicy excerpts to whet your appetite…:

There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler:we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.

. . .

We emptied America’s rural counties in order to supply workers to urban factories. To put it bluntly, we now need to reverse course. We need more highly skilled small farmers in more places all across America — not as a matter of nostalgia for the agrarian past but as a matter of national security. For nations that lose the ability to substantially feed themselves will find themselves as gravely compromised in their international dealings as nations that depend on foreign sources of oil presently do. But while there are alternatives to oil, there are no alternatives to food.

. . .

Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy announced a national initiative to improve the physical fitness of American children. He did it by elevating the importance of physical education, pressing states to make it a requirement in public schools. We need to bring the same commitment to “edible education” — in Alice Waters’s phrase — by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary-school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals.

To change our children’s food culture, we’ll need to plant gardens in every primary school, build fully equipped kitchens, train a new generation of lunchroom ladies (and gentlemen) who can once again cook and teach cooking to children. We should introduce a School Lunch Corps program that forgives federal student loans to culinary-school graduates in exchange for two years of service in the public-school lunch program. And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.  

These last points are vital. We need to teach our children about gardening, cooking, and food in general. We’re trying at home, but school reinforcement is always good. I’ve been looking quite seriously at these resources recently at the National Gardening Association’s site and have been wondering what it would take to get an organic gardening/composting project started at Lil’ G’s school.

2 thoughts on “To the Farmer-In-Chief

  1. Annie

    I remember Ike’s first garden space. He must have been four or five. We gave him his own little space, tilled the soil and let him choose the seed. He poured all his carrot seed into a two inch space. When it was supposedly planted, we put the sprinkler on it. The next time I looked, Ike was taking a mud bath. His legs sunk into the soft soil up to his knees. I replanted it with tomatoes and he never looked at the space again for the rest of the summer. Surprisingly, we did get a few carrots.

    I dunno what age kids need to be for a school to make this into a serious project, but I think they generally need to be older. I have always thought that these are basics that all children should know in case they ever need to be self-sufficient for whatever reason. I remember the victory gardens of WWII.

    In one of my gardening magazines, I read an article about city dwellers having gardening cooperatives of some sort not too many years ago. A large lot would be subdivided into many small plots for raised beds, very intensive gardening.

    If it isn’t raining this afternoon, I hope to string my cayenne peppers to air dry. I only had three plants, but I have enough cayenne peppers that I couldn’t use them in a year if I used one a day!


  2. Marshall Scott

    Derek, thanks for putting this up.

    Another benefit that Pollan didn’t reference would be a significant change in how we support development in the rest of the world. Our current laws require humanitarian food aid to be grown by American farmers and shipped overseas. We all know some of the results: bulk commodities sit on wharves, spoiling while waiting to be distributed by local, and sometimes untrustworthy, governments and agencies. In addition, local agriculture programs suffer because what foreign aid does get through is cheaper than the results of local agriculture. Too often America’s food aid programs are just the opposite of “teaching a man to fish” – indeed, they amount to “taking away a man’s fishing net.” And, of course, our agribusinesses see some benefit as they see new markets for their fertilizers and pesticides.

    And we haven’t even started to talk again about patenting hybrid varieties or gene sequences….

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