I’m a permaculture farmer. My goal is to develop natural ecosystems that produce food. My dream is a world with ready access to a diet that nourishes the body of the consumer, provides a living for the producer, and leaves the Earth joyfully habitable.
I share that dream with a lot of people who call themselves permaculturalists, natural farmers, plantsmen, or foodies. I fear, however, that this doughty lot of green thumbs and stock-folk and food advocates is succumbing to tribalism; forgetting that saving the world means saving all of the people in it; even the ones that love cheap burgers and Coke. We’re digging foxholes and making monsters out of people who don’t agree with us, or who don’t understand, or who do understand but are powerless to act.
American farming, on any meaningful scale, is driven by one thing and one thing only: the almighty dollar. We’d all like to think that producing the food and fiber that nourishes us physically, mentally, and emotionally is about more than economics — but at the end of the day, farmers have to eat too.
That’s why Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods is such a huge deal. When I spend time with farmers, many of them big commodity farmers in the Midwest, they (generally) aren’t ideologically opposed to growing organic or otherwise changing their management practices. The biggest reason they don’t do it is because it’s expensive, and there usually isn’t a market for it. And when they say market, they mean in the most literal sense — there is not a physical place where they can easily, and with certainty, go and sell thousands or millions of bushels of whatever they’ve grown for a good price (or any price, these days). Few local elevators separate organic produce, and otherwise finding specialty buyers and storage takes a whole lot of time that farmers don’t have.
Many farmers don’t grow organic because they don’t know where to sell it. But Amazon could change that.