The number of farms in the United States has been falling since 2007, while farm sizes over these years have been increasing. Most US farms are small family farms; these occupy about half of the country’s farmland. However, they generate only 21% of the food production, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2016, 45% of America’s food was sold by four corporate food retailers compared to 1993 when the top four corporations sold only 17%. The consolidation of food production and distribution in the US, termed industrialized farming, has put food-management decisions in the hands of a few and has increased chiefly the distance between food sources and consumers.
The shift to industrial farming outcomes includes many failed or less productive family farms, environmental damage, broken communities, poorer animal treatment, upended local economies, and more. According to the United Nations Environment Program, industrialized farming relies heavily on fertilizers and pesticides, produces greenhouse gas emissions, creates air and water pollution, and costs society about $3 trillion every year. Industrial farming focuses on commodity crops, those used in a wide variety of inexpensive, calorie-dense, and highly marketed foods, with less nutrition. More food is now highly processed and packaged.
Sustainable agriculture involves raising food in a healthy environment with economic profitability and social and economic equity. In 2016, more than 14,000 organic farms were certified in the United States. While these farms are increasing, they represent less than 1% of the 911 million acres of total farmland nationwide. Diversified farming is another type of sustainable farming considered more economically and ecologically resilient.
New, critical efforts by the USDA are “committed to transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices.” It makes lots of sense to support these efforts.
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.