Nudging the food system

Last time I was home, my dad and I sat down on opposite sides of his cavernous living room and traded ideas about the food system, he the life-long farmer and I, the big city employee of a nonprofit. The nice thing about these conversations is the way we nudge.

I’m been working on agriculture issues from the other side of the table for the better part of a decade now, mingling my farmer’s daughter instincts with Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver and wisdom gained from earnest conversations with good friends and fellow “revolutionaries.” But I never forget that I left the farm; I don’t have the whole picture. Screen shot 2013-03-21 at 2.21.20 PM

I think one of the truest truths in life is that none of us ever have the whole picture. So we nudge.

This time my dad said, “I’ve been thinking about what you told me last time, and I think you are right about the water.” He was referring to the issue of pesticides and why they matter. We talked for a while about run-off, the water table, irrigation and a woman I know whose children were poisoned by the groundwater on her Midwestern farm. We talked about solutions: grass-fed beef and zero-input farming.

“But I’ve been thinking about it,” my dad said, “and I’ve been wondering what farmers with a closed nutrient system do when their animals and produce leave the farm. That’s energy that never comes back.”

I had no answer. It had never occurred to me before. Nudge, nudge.

It just so happens, in the far-away world of New York City, chef and writer George Weld was contemplating the very same problem, and he wrote about it in the most recent issue of Edible Brooklyn. And it just so happens that a story I wrote for Edible Brooklyn  is on the cover of that same issue.

After touring New York City’s waste water treatment plant, George is able to end on a hopeful note, but I’m still concerned that the only real solution is to move home, raise my own food and instal a composting toilet. I’m sure my dad would be happy to have me.

After deciding our food system is probably doomed, Dad showed me his new John Deere, gave me an extended lesson in chemistry and taught me how to ride a bike … again.


PS: As a further coincidence, my story in Edible Brooklyn is also about a father bonding with his children over agriculture.

PPS: And speaking of waste water, I also wrote this little thing on page 13 for Edible Manhattan.


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