Each year, more than one billion people across the globe celebrate Earth Day by turning their attention to the environment and various ways to protect it. Festivals, rallies and outdoor events are held in hundreds of countries with the support of community and political leaders, environmental organizations and even Hollywood personalities. But what does it really mean?
Earth Day was established and first celebrated in the United States in 1970 following an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. A staggering 20 million people held rallies across the US after the catastrophic event. Today, it is widely credited as being one of the sparks of the modern environmental movement.
But it’s a funny world we live in. With all of this “movement”, we only remind people one day a year about what is likely the most important topic of our time—giving thought and care to the natural resources that surround us. Then, we spend the majority of the rest of the year either taking advantage of those resources, or marginalizing those who are already vested in its care every single day of their lives.
Day in and day out, farmers around the world think about the earth. It is the go-to source and resource of their very existence. They make considerations for soil types and needs, they think about the –what, –where, –how and –when of crop planting, all according to what the earth tells them. They have to consider water availability, quality and distribution. Those who work the land must consider how to protect the earth, not just one day a year, but every day of the year. Oh yes, and please remember that they deserve to make an economic living from all of this.
That’s where the current food system enters the scene; right in the middle of these “earthly” struggles, faltering on the edge of collapse. Many consider the system long-since high jacked by industry and the lobbyists who do their political bidding. By some accounts, it is a system that is close to bankruptcy. According to the Agra Press in Italy, pricing and profit margins for food depict the agricultural sector as being bankrupt. In other words, if farmers were considered permanent employees at a company, last year they would have had to file for bankruptcy, because it would not be possible to pay them any wages. This reaches into almost all sectors of agriculture, including grain, dairy and beef. They all have costs, including the wages of farmers, higher than the revenues derived from sales. In other words, the revenues are too weak to cover the costs.
To get out of it, farmers may be forced to decrease their prices, with the serious risk of compromising the earning potential of their business. It would make an interesting study to find out just how many farms are currently relying on second and third income (spouse’s salary, multiple jobs, diversifying) in order to keep their business afloat. These custodians of the earth seem unable to reap any rewards for their service.
Food policy change is desperately needed world-wide. There are other kinds of change that would help too. Namely, embracing the complexity of change. This means listening to the earth more than just once a year. It means drawing new connections—building solidarity among animals, plants and people. Protecting biodiversity on all these levels will be key.
Everyone can participate. We can gather and move toward rethinking what our food system could and should look like. There are smaller activities we can act upon everyday: become a political or community leader in your area, vote for leaders who support sensible food policy and challenge those who don’t, join a like-minded food organization, advocate for a farmers market, shop at a farmers market, plant a garden at a local school or grow something in your yard, nominate food products for special protection, cook more often, and espouse the values of good, clean and fair.
Taking back the food system can mean something different for everyone, but surely it means we have to celebrate the earth more than once a year.
by Kirt J. Dennis
Sources: Agrapost, Huffpost