Jo Stanko: Where will your food come from?
January 29, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Food used to be such a simple topic: "Can I get enough at a price I can afford to sustain my family?"
As Americans have become more sophisticated, the topic of food has become more complicated. Food and its production has been cussed and discussed in the international relations, political, social, environmental, financial and emotional arenas. Combined with the ever-changing arena of food trends and fads, this has caused a wide diversity in the wants and needs of consumers. In the meantime, as the number of people across the country needing food has grown, the number of people across the country producing food has declined. And yet, the less than 2 percent of the American population that actually produces food manages to provide food that meets the wide range of needs and wants of the American consumer at a wide range of price points.
American producers of food throughout the years have taken up the challenge to meet the rising demand of a growing world. In the 1980s, each American farmer and rancher produced enough food for 129 people. Currently, that number has grown to approximately 147 people. American farmers and ranchers have been working hard to provide an adequate food supply using more efficient methods. At the same time, the ranchers and farmers know they must use the best and most environmentally safe practices to protect their two greatest resources — their land and their consumers. Like the rest of the population, farmers and ranchers watch and learn and change as science introduces more efficient and environmentally friendly methods.
As the United States has become more urban and affluent, most Americans have become removed from the production methods of the basic necessities of life. They expect that what they need and want will be there without much thought about how it came to be there. It is in this complacency and lack of understanding that puts this expectation at risk. It is imperative that the general public understand the impact of policies put forth by vocal sectors of society. On Jan. 19, Forbes magazine published the article "America's Agricultural Angst," which addressed the impact of policies on agriculture. According to the article, while it seems these policies would impact less than 2 percent of the population, it would actually impact all of us and the ability for the United States to remain a world economic power in the area of agriculture.
Even as policies are being put forward, some people are changing their minds about what is right for the planet. On Jan. 25, Time magazine published an article explaining that two of the most highly regarded organic vegetable farmers in the country, Elliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, were adding cows and sheep to their farm. When asked why, Coleman replied, "Because I care about the fate of the planet." They had discovered that grazing cattle on grass, a practice that is widely used here in Routt County and throughout the West, is not only carbon-neutral, but carbon-negative. Allen Savoy, a former wildlife conservationist in Zimbabwe, at one time blamed cattle for the desertification of his country. He now touts the practice of rotational grazing of large herds of cattle and sheep to reverse land degradation, turning dead soil into thriving grassland. It is easier to be certain to understand the impact of policies when putting them in place than to have poor policies removed. Poor policies could drive agriculture to other countries and/or increase the cost of our food.
It is scary to think that we in the United States could become dependent on other countries for the very food we eat. This doesn't seem to have worked out well for us in the energy production arena. In the next 40 years, the world population will grow by some 3 billion people. Where will your food come from, and will you be able to afford it?
Routt County rancher Jo Stanko is a past president of Colorado CattleWomen.