Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Queue and A Again

The following is part of a series where Rob writes answers to questions provided in reflection pieces by members of Dr. Wen's Capstone class at UNI.  Part one is in the prior post on this blog.

Pesticide Free:
I learned how easily accidental spray seems to occur on farms and how much of an issue it seems to be causing throughout other organic farms. How much research have you put into these types of chemical pesticides/fungicides and so forth and how beneficial do you think it is to be pesticide free?

I was not surprised to get at least one question on the topic of agricultural chemicals.  And, as I read and find questions, I expect to see it again.  It is fair to say that I have done some significant research on the topic.  However, I will also readily admit that I am not the foremost expert on the topic.  There is still so much for me (and everyone else) to learn.  That said, here are some thoughts.

First, you need to know that there are chemicals and then there are chemicals.  All agricultural and horticultural chemicals have a "use label" that outlines the procedures for safe application.  I have written a short blog that explains what you can find on one of these labels.  It's really not that bad of a read, so I encourage you to view it.  Most chemicals used on corn and soybeans in Iowa are NOT rated for use on the kinds of crops we grow.  So, either they will damage our crops directly OR they will not be safe for human consumption.  In other words, we can't have those chemicals on our crops or in our poultry's drinking water, etc.  It's not about benefit here, it's about food safety and about plants and animals that continue to live and produce versus dead/unhealthy plants and animals.

Then, there are chemicals.  In this case, these are the chemicals that are rated for use on food crops.  These too, have use labels that need to be followed for food safety reasons.  So, if a person is a responsible grower, they will adhere to both the letter and the intent of the label for the best effects.  Chemicals are simply ONE TOOL in a broad toolbox that farmers might use.  My biggest argument is that we have misplaced the rest of our toolbox and reach for the sprayer for every situation without thinking about a better options.  The temptation to ignore labels is greater when it's the only solution you believe might exist for a given problem.  The result we are beginning to see is that this tool is becoming less effective with increasing herbicide resistant weeds and pesticide resistant insects and our skill for the other tools is fading.
Planting bushes in the buffer zone of the farm.

It's actually the over-use and over-reliance on these chemicals that has me concerned.  On our farm, we made the decision to try to illustrate that a farm COULD succeed without them entirely as a counterpoint to the normal approaches.  Since that time, we have done more reading and paid attention to research that is beginning to show additional risks with our overuse/misuse of chemicals in farming and in our cities/towns.

So, how beneficial is it that we are pesticide/herbicide/fungicide free in our operation?  It isn't so much beneficial as I think it is critical.  We need to keep alive and try to advocate for some of the other tools that are being neglected - and that's part of our purpose at our farm.

An American Way of Eating:
As a quick bonus, one reflection mentioned the UNI production of An American Way of Eating in 2013.  This was a project where students involved in this project came out to the farm and worked for part of a day to get a feel for what it was like to do the kinds of things we do.  They were encouraged to talk with both Tammy and myself as they worked.  While we can never be sure what someone else takes away from a farm experience, the feedback seemed to be positive.  All I can say is that the people were open-minded and willing to help.  That makes for a good experience from our points of view.

Optimism and the Future:

So, I ask you, are you optimistic about the future? My generation and generations that follow all speak about how we want to be progressive and how we want to keep our earth alive, but I constantly wonder if anyone is actually doing anything. We talk a big talk but I’m not sure we walk the walk. I have always been pessimistic when it comes to the environment and those who are in charge, and so I don’t see a bright light at the end of this tunnel. If you are optimistic about the future, what exactly is the change that you’re seeing that makes you optimistic?

I understand where this is coming from.  It can be horribly frustrating when it is so easy to tear something down and freakishly hard to build something up.  I will not lie, I have good days and bad days, probably just like the person who wrote this section in their reflection.  Here is where I land on this:

This is all a matter of choice.  Your choice.  If you want to read another post called A Choice of Litany, you will get a sense of some of the personal process I go through JUST for how I feel about our own farm and my own life as it interacts with the farm.  I am not being the eternal blind optimist who can't see when things are heading the wrong way - I question where things are going and I wonder if anything will make a difference.  In the end, I choose to emphasize those parts of the whole that show a path towards making a difference.
We have more monarchs on our farm than we did when me moved to it

Am I optimistic about the future?  I choose to be optimistic about the future, and I hope you will as well.  Because if both of us make that choice, then that's two of us who will be working to make things better.  Twice my effort.  I'm all for that!

How can we make things better?  We make things better by exercising the better parts of us every single day.  Every meal, ask yourself if you are making choices that promote better food systems.  If the answer is "no," start finding small changes that make that a "maybe."  Then, find more changes that make it a "yes."  Every day, ask yourself if something you are doing or have done could have been done better.  Then - do it better the next time or take steps to remedy a shortcoming in what you have already done.  Put yourself in someone else's shoes every day, especially when you hear yourself criticizing that person.  Find ways to give feedback without tearing down.  See something that isn't right?  Speak out, but do it with integrity.  Check and double check facts, find out if sources are reliable.  Then, when you speak, do it in a way that shows knowledge without belittling others who might not agree or know what you know.

Is it hard?  You bet it is.  Do I always succeed?  Of course I don't.  But, that's part of what makes it worth the effort.  It's a challenge that is worthy of all of us.

The writings I was privileged to read tell me that you are all capable of these things.  And that makes me optimistic as well.

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