Real Farmer Rips Michael Pollan and the Me-Too Gaggle of Food Elitists A New One

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farm

I grew up and worked on a dairy farm until I was age 18. This gives me a very different perspective on farming than most Americans get from popular ag fables like Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, novelist Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the movie, Food Inc. As a reality check, I highly recommend reading a superb essay in The American by Missouri farmer Blake Hurst.  In "The Omnivore's Delusion: Against Agri-Intellectuals," Blake explains a few things in plain simple language. He begins: 

I'm dozing, as I often do on airplanes, but the guy behind me has been broadcasting nonstop for nearly three hours. I finally admit defeat and start some serious eavesdropping. He's talking about food, damning farming, particularly livestock farming, compensating for his lack of knowledge with volume.

I'm so tired of people who wouldn't visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food. Farming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is.

But now we have to listen to self-appointed experts on airplanes frightening their seatmates about the profession I have practiced for more than 30 years. I'd had enough. I turned around and politely told the lecturer that he ought not believe everything he reads. He quieted and asked me what kind of farming I do. I told him, and when he asked if I used organic farming, I said no, and left it at that. I didn't answer with the first thought that came to mind, which is simply this: I deal in the real world, not superstitions, and unless the consumer absolutely forces my hand, I am about as likely to adopt organic methods as the Wall Street Journal is to publish their next edition by setting the type by hand.

Hurst strongly argues that the "sustainable agriculture" championed by East and Left Coast armchair agriculturalists like Pollan and the directors of Food Inc. is in fact harmful to the natural environment. As he explains:

Critics of "industrial farming" spend most of their time concerned with the processes by which food is raised. This is because the results of organic production are so, well, troublesome. With the subtraction of every "unnatural" additive, molds, fungus, and bugs increase. Since it is difficult to sell a religion with so many readily quantifiable bad results, the trusty family farmer has to be thrown into the breach, saving the whole organic movement by his saintly presence, chewing on his straw, plodding along, at one with his environment, his community, his neighborhood. Except that some of the largest farms in the country are organic—and are giant organizations dependent upon lots of hired stoop labor doing the most backbreaking of tasks in order to save the sensitive conscience of my fellow passenger the merest whiff of pesticide contamination. They do not spend much time talking about that at the Whole Foods store.

The most delicious irony is this: the parts of farming that are the most "industrial" are the most likely to be owned by the kind of family farmers that elicit such a positive response from the consumer. Corn farms are almost all owned and managed by small family farmers. But corn farmers salivate at the thought of one more biotech breakthrough, use vast amounts of energy to increase production, and raise large quantities of an indistinguishable commodity to sell to huge corporations that turn that corn into thousands of industrial products….

To the farmer on the ground, though, a farmer blessed with free choice and hard won experience, the moral choices aren't quite so easy. Biotech crops actually cut the use of chemicals, and increase food safety. Are people who refuse to use them my moral superiors? Herbicides cut the need for tillage, which decreases soil erosion by millions of tons. The biggest environmental harm I have done as a farmer is the topsoil (and nutrients) I used to send down the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico before we began to practice no-till farming, made possible only by the use of herbicides. The combination of herbicides and genetically modified seed has made my farm more sustainable, not less, and actually reduces the pollution I send down the river.  

I particularly enjoyed Hurst's take down of Pollan's proposal to forcing all Americans to compost their leftovers and then deliver them free of charge to farmers:

His other grand idea is mandatory household composting, with the compost delivered to farmers free of charge. Why not? Compost is a valuable soil amendment, and if somebody else is paying to deliver it to my farm, then bring it on. But it will not do much to solve the nitrogen problem. Household compost has somewhere between 1 and 5 percent nitrogen, and not all that nitrogen is available to crops the first year. Presently, we are applying about 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre to corn, and crediting about 40 pounds per acre from the preceding years soybean crop. Let's assume a 5 percent nitrogen rate, or about 100 pounds of nitrogen per ton of compost. That would require 3,000 pounds of compost per acre. Or about 150,000 tons for the corn raised in our county. The average truck carries about 20 tons. Picture 7,500 trucks traveling from New York City to our small county here in the Midwest, delivering compost. Five million truckloads to fertilize the country's corn crop. Now, that would be a carbon footprint!

Please read the whole essay and learn about how turkeys drown themselves in rain storms, chickens peck each other to death, sows squash their piglets, and much, much more information on the fun and frolic of farming. 

See also my columns, "Organic Alchemy,' "I Don't Care Where My Food Comes From And Neither Should You," and my review of novelist Barbara Kingsolver's latest fiction on farming, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

NEXT: Recently at Reason.tv: Matt Ridley on Evolution, Economics, & "Ideas Having Sex"—The best-selling author discusses whether human progress has a future.

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  1. Oh Joy, another food fight.

  2. Cue the Bailey bashing in 3…2…

  3. Paging ChiTom . . . .

  4. brotherben & kilroy: I am hoping that commenters will at least read the essay before they “bash” me.

  5. Great post and great article Ron. Anyone who thinks organic farming is in anyway good or sustainable is a dumb hillbilly. Yes, hillbilly. What is a hillbilly? Someone who lives in the hills and is too backward and stupid to embrace modern ways. People like Pollan may not live in the hills, but they fit the other criteria and that is close enough.

  6. Yeah, I never understood why liberals want food to be more expensive. Why, again, do they hate poor people so much?

  7. Iowa has some of the dirtiest water in the country, and it is because of farming and corporate livestock.

    Corporate farmers get subsidies for their operations. If they competed honestly the price differential with good producers would be lower.

  8. “Yeah, I never understood why liberals want food to be more expensive. Why, again, do they hate poor people so much?”

    They also completely ignore the environmental damage done by low tech sustinance farming does in the third world. Africa and would avoid huge ecological problems and be able to feed itself if Africans adopted modern farming techniques.

  9. “Corporate farmers get subsidies for their operations. If they competed honestly the price differential with good producers would be lower.”

    No question we should get rid of farm subsidies. But, that doesn’t mean that organic farming is anything but a croc.

  10. The biggest problem with the “organic” movement, is, of course, the mandates that the high priests of the movement wish to force on everyone else. My orchard and gardens are organic, but my crops are mostly for my own use. “Organic” is merely a personal foible which I’m prosperous enough to indulge in. You can’t feed the world “organically.” You just can’t.
    And as Hurst points out, high-tech farming actually reduces the overall environmental impact (usually).
    Here in Ohio, forests have recovered to 19th-century total acreages, primarily because much of that land is no longer economically viable to farm. Yet the farmland that remains is much more productive, with a total yield far more today than when much more of the state was under the plow.

  11. The whole essay is a nice illustration of the Third Iron Law:

    3. The less you know about something, the easier it is.

    Corporate farmers get subsidies for their operations. If they competed honestly the price differential with good producers would be lower.

    While I am all for eliminating subsidies of all kinds, as well as regulatory burdens favoring any sector of farming over any other, I wasn’t aware that using organic farming processes made you ineligible for subsidies. Please expand.

  12. A couple of my big city friends once claimed that there are no family farms any longer. “All farming are these, like, giant corporations.” My wife and sister-in-law, who both rent inherited farm land to unincorporated family-level farms, tore into them.

    Just because you hear it on NPR doesn’t make it true, people.

  13. Interesting to learn that the Missouri River flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

  14. That is an excellant essay. One thing I didn’t see mentioned is the price per bushel of corn. Until the recent spike in grain prices, wheat has stayed between 3 and 5 dollars a bushel for many decades. The costs of farming that wheat, have risen just a bit.

  15. The Missouri flows into the Mississippi which does in fact flow into the gulf of Mexico.

  16. This post is rendered inoffensive by the inclusion of the bit opposing mandatory composting.

    I oppose mandatory composting as well.

    A lot of the post is just quoting a farmer saying, “Wah wah wah you damn consumers should prefer my product and don’t” and I have as much patience for that as I do when GM complains that I don’t buy an “American” car. But the post is not without redeeming value because of the political element to the mandatory composting scheme.

  17. “All farming are these, like, giant corporations.”

    I’m too lazy to validate whether it is still true, but as late as the 80’s corporations were prohibited by state law from owning farm land in Iowa.

  18. “A lot of the post is just quoting a farmer saying, “Wah wah wah you damn consumers should prefer my product and don’t” and I have as much patience for that as I do when GM complains that I don’t buy an “American” car. But the post is not without redeeming value because of the political element to the mandatory composting scheme.”

    It said a lot more than that. It said that organic farming is both damaging to food production and ecologically destructive. You are not helping the environment when you buy organic foods. You are hurting it. That is not “buy American”. That message is “stop being stupid”.

  19. Outstanding piece Ron. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  20. @ Eric S.
    The Missouri does, eventually. It just flows into the Mississippi River first. Whatever is dumped in to the Missouri by proxy flows into the Gulf. Hence the farmer’s statement “I used to send down the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico.” Does he really need to include every step for you? Or were you just being a smart ass for no reason?

  21. A lot of the post is just quoting a farmer saying, “Wah wah wah you damn consumers should prefer my product and don’t”

    I think its a bit more than that, Fluffy. Its more like “You organic advocates don’t know a goddam thing about farming, and it shows. Just about everything you think you know about farming is wrong. The practices that you want to put in place will actually result in environmental destruction and lower quality food.”

  22. Fluffy, in the essay, a real farmer gave real life examples of why organic farming is not viable on his farm. He also used good examples to illustrate the difficulties faced by livestock and poultry growers. I love organic farming and so called humane animal husbandry. I also understand the problems he outlines in this article.

  23. Sounds like you read a different post than I did, Fluffy.

  24. With the complicated mess of subsidies and price supports, it is hard to say exactly where food prices would wind up if they were eliminated. However, when you factor in the taxes that have to be paid, there is no question that consumers as a whole would come out ahead.

    The reasons for herbicides and pesticides have been discussed above. No one particularly wants inorganic residues in their food, but they are definitely preferable to ergot or any number of natural toxins.

    As for corporate vs family farms, I don’t care whether farmer Brown or Archer-Daniels-Midland produces my food, so long as it’s healthy and cheap. My view of “The Husbandman” is closer to Mencken’s than that of the food expert at 35,000 feet.

  25. Michael Pollan is an organic-banana-eating jungle monkey.

  26. This is an interesting piece but it makes me wonder if Ron actually read Pollan’s book.

    1). Pollan is very clear the book is much much more about what we eat than how it is produced. The fact remains processed TV dinners and fast food is absolute shit. And even Pollan admits he eats it occassionally. The problem is that the avg American has 3-4 meals at shit fast food places a week. No one can say America isn’t getting fatter than fuck!

    2). Subsidies aren’t free market and are Cooperate Welfare. Period!

  27. I dunno about the rest of you, but I’m wondering what investments Ron has in Big Ag.

  28. I know it was somewhat outside the scope of his article but I would have welcomed a paragraph or two regarding his perspective on agricultural subsidies.

    Overall it was a great read which I’ve emailed to a number of folks already. Thanks for posting it.

  29. Michael Pollan is one thing, Joel Salatin another. Id like to see this author and Salatin go a couple rounds.

    Fast food sucks. Many Americans eat too much of it. Ergo, Many Americans are fat and sucky.

    Eat food. Mainly vegetables. Not too much. Organic or not, still rings true.

  30. “1). Pollan is very clear the book is much much more about what we eat than how it is produced. The fact remains processed TV dinners and fast food is absolute shit. And even Pollan admits he eats it occassionally. The problem is that the avg American has 3-4 meals at shit fast food places a week. No one can say America isn’t getting fatter than fuck!”

    Then Pollan should write a cooking and diet book and shut the fuck up about farming. Even if his book makes other points, I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who is so mind numbingly stupid as to think mandatory composting is substitute for commercial fertilizer.

  31. Good stuff. As a real farmer walking the fine line between ‘industrial’ and ‘sustainable’ ag, the argument for me is less about organic vs chemical than it is liberty vs corporate fascism.

    Case in point, conventional commodity ag promotes monoculture through subsidies and the ease of new technology like no till. I can have six figures of revenue from wheat, but I spend most of it putting the next crop back in.

    Yet the profit is in unconventional, organic, direct marketing. Cut out the middleman and the full price of a steak goes to me, not the feeldots and packers. Raise organic livestock right, and you don’t need tractors, chemicals and the myriad other inputs that conventional farmers buy.

    The corporate interests know this, so they lobby for all sorts of regulations that hinder entrepreneurship, and keep farmers shackled to the commodity train. Look at the recently passed in the House, HR 2749, a so-called “food safety” act.

    This bill will cause serious problems for small direct marketers. Among other things —

    + It includes a new $500/site fee for any kind of food processing faciltity or business.
    + It gives the FDA new authority to regulate the growing, harvesting and selling of fresh produce.

    Protectionist, rent seeking crap like this is pushed by big conventional ag. Pollan poster child Joel Salatin brought in 1.4 million in revenues this year, and his biggest expense is healthcare for his 20 employees. Or so he said in Bloomberg last week.

  32. I think far, far too much attention is paid to the effects of fast and processed food on the American waistline. You can eat fried everything and still be in relatively good shape (nutrition is another issue, of course), provided that you remain active. It’s our increasingly sedentary lives that are the problem, not fast food. Frankly, I think the plaintiffs’ bar has a whole lot more to do with this focus on fast food and soda’s contributions to our tendency to greater girth than anything else. Nobody to sue over people not getting enough exercise, you see.

    Ag reform should be, first and foremost, about eliminating subsidies and unnecessary barriers to entry. Just like every other market, agriculture will do better and produce cheaper (and likely better) products with increased competition.

  33. Michael | July 31, 2009, 11:20am | #

    Subsidies aren’t free market and are Cooperate Welfare.

    What if we choose not to cooperate?

  34. No one particularly wants inorganic residues in their food, but they are definitely preferable to ergot

    Hell they are.

  35. God Damn! It feels good to be so much smarter and cleverer than those east coast / west coast liberal elites who think they’re so much smarter and cleverer than me.

    That said, increased crop yields = less farm land required = more wild lands.

    ADM Get your hand out of my purse!

  36. Yes, those damned corporations sure do want to destroy the world, don’t they? Sucking the life out of everything until the Earth dies a horrific death. They must all have secret lairs on Mars or something.

    The Dust Bowl, by the way, predates most of the consolidation of farming. So what you’re objecting to, in actuality, is farming.

  37. Born/raised on a 640 acre grain and livestock farm in NW Iowa, in my family since 1876.

    Nowhere have I heard more intense, undiluted stupidity than from urbanites opining on the agriculture industry. My grandfather was an “organic” farmer in those wonderful halcyon days before inorganic fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. A bumper crop of corn then would be 60-70 bushels per acre, if rain cooperated it wasn’t wiped out by corn borers, ergot or corn smut. It required yearly plowing, wreaking havoc on the topsoil.

    By the time my dad began farming in the early 60s, hybrid seeds and herbicides like Aatrazine had emerged, and with low-erosion, minimum-till methods and better mechanization Dad was able to operate a 640 acre farm with after school help from 2 boys (Grandpa had two full time hired men), and 100-120 b/acre was a good crop.

    By the time my dad retired a few years ago, GM seed hybrids were common, zero-till was the rule (harrow planters replaced with seed drills), and better herbicides/insecticides were the rule. 180-220 b/acre yields were commonplace. At 70 years old my dad was running a square-mile farm by himself.

    Multiplied over millions of farms with similar stories, those increased yields and decreased food prices for everybody. And the methods today are far, far more environmentally friendly and “sustainable” than the ones used by good old organic Grandpa.

    By the way, dad’s family farm is a “corporate” farm; it’s an “Inc.” with a single employee.

  38. all together now…” the farmer in the dell, the frmerin the dell, hi ho the dairio(sp?) the farmer in the dell..” come on people sing with me…

  39. By the way, dad’s family farm is a “corporate” farm; it’s an “Inc.” with a single employee.

    But, but….FASCIST GREEDY CORPORATE EVIL REPUBLICAN HICK AAAAHHHHHGGHHHGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

  40. iowahawk,

    Exactly. All of this technology has been a huge boon for mankind–feeding more with less. And at a cheaper cost to consumers. Are there negatives associated with this progress? Absolutely. But they pale in comparison to where we’d be if we dispensed with the technology. Not to mention that we seem to be getting better and better at food production, which means that we could easily see more environmentally friendly processes and improvements in food quality in the future as well.

    This doesn’t mean that organics and non-GM foods shouldn’t be in the marketplace, of course.

  41. Yep, Salatin’s profitable Polyface Farm is an “inc” as well.

    Of course he pulls in millions through direct marketing, rotates a dozen different crops, and doesn’t take subsidies.

  42. Interesting to learn that the Missouri River flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

    SNARK FAIL

    Eat food. Mainly vegetables. Not too much.

    Eat food? I’m supposed to eat food? Thank you very fucking much for the valuable fucking advice, Michael Pollan. Hey, while you’re giving me advice, could you tell me just what I’m supposed to do with this stuff that comes out my ass every day?

  43. I’ll take some time to read the full essay later, but I think there is a legitimate beef (sorry, not intended) with the way a lot of our meat is raised. I’ll grant that organic farming involves a lot more hoodoo than anything else, but one can understand that and still enjoy Pollan’s books. He’s pretty clear in Omnivore’s Dilemma that organic farming is not a panacea and points out a lot of problems with the way it’s currently practiced.

  44. it was an interesting article but being european i just think of the massive subsidies they get and the whole BSE situation.

    This is just annecdotal but I have never met a poor farmer. though i have met plenty of very, very poor farm labourers.

  45. You seem to know. 🙂

  46. “This doesn’t mean that organics and non-GM foods shouldn’t be in the marketplace, of course.”

    Absolutely agree. In fact “organic” has been a boon for agricultural marketing. Historically food has been a “pure” good with millions of producers making the same undifferentiated commodity product. The rise of the consumer organic market allows farmers to differentiate product and charge higher prices. That said, to force organic practices would be an utter disaster.

    And yes, I agree that ag subsidies and price supports should be abolished. The biggest obstacle to doing so is that the practice is global (see for example French wheat subsidies).

  47. A lot of the post is just quoting a farmer saying, “Wah wah wah you damn consumers should prefer my product and don’t” and I have as much patience for that as I do when GM complains that I don’t buy an “American” car. But the post is not without redeeming value because of the political element to the mandatory composting scheme.

    Did you see this?

    Arizona and Florida have outlawed pig gestation crates, and California recently passed, overwhelmingly, a ballot initiative doing the same.

    I don’t see any consumer choice there. And he mentioned the methods of raising chickens and turkeys which may also soon be outlawed.

  48. “This is just annecdotal but I have never met a poor farmer.”

    You know, this is just anecdotal, but I’ve never met any one from the Upper West Side or Santa Monica who wasn’t a complete insufferable fuckwit.

  49. but the way we need to address it is to work with people in the communities.

    Yeah, we need to address it by being proactive and using synergy.

  50. The article does a good job describing the nitrogen balance problem, is painfully obvious to anyone who has ever done a mass balance, and why it ultimately comes down to a choice between greatly increasing land and water usage to accomodate rotating in crops for nitrogen fixing or using nitrogen fixed by the Haber process.

    One thing that was overlooked in the article is that the Haber process doesn’t require natural gas, it just requires hydrogen. The reason fossil fuels are uses is the cheapest way to make hydrogen is to make syngas and extract it from that, and the most convienient hydrocarbon input (syngas processes aren’t particularly picky – you can use biomass if you want to, although getting the sulfur out after is a bit of a pain) for syngas production is natural gas.

  51. Genetically modified plants have plenty of traction in the Obama administration as a solution to feed the world. Do you agree?

    Yes. You can quit copying and pasting your Luddite nonsense now.

  52. I do wish Hurst had talked about subsidies. It seems to me pretty obvious that government interference in agriculture distorts everything.

  53. This is just annecdotal but I have never met a poor farmer.

    Then you haven’t met many farmers. Growing in rural Texas, I know plenty, and it is a truism that you can’t make a living farming; at least one family member needs a job “in town”.

  54. My prediction is that subsidies will be used by the gubmint, for the treetards, to force organic practices on large grain producers.

  55. A well written article by a farmer out standing in his field.

  56. Jordan,

    I’m talking about Bailey’s post. I didn’t read the linked article.

  57. It seems to me pretty obvious that government interference in agriculture distorts everything.

    Yeah, but you’re just one of those free market fundamentalists who’s ruining the world, X, so what do you know?

  58. As i said i am from europe.
    I have met quite a few farmers in britain and despite their constant moaning they were all wealthy. They benefit hugely from the common agricultural policy. The land they own if they can get planning permission is also worth a lot of money.
    Farm labourers on the other hand are extremely low paid.

    Iowahawk – learn to read.

  59. threeofclubs, the gentleman farmer never went away, right?

  60. You know, this is just anecdotal, but I’ve never met any one from the Upper West Side or Santa Monica who wasn’t a complete insufferable fuckwit.

    ROFL

  61. To hell with all of the ‘costers’ – I buy glyphosphate, Grazon, and 2-4-D by the gallon…

    Why don’t they come out to NE MO and spend a day with me wearing a pair of bibs when the temp and the humidity is 98% and see if they really want organic food, cap and trade and NAIS…

  62. The problem is that the avg American has 3-4 meals at shit fast food places a week. No one can say America isn’t getting fatter than fuck!

    Fast food today = short order restaurants of 80 years ago. And those short order restaurants rarely had salads year-round and only put pickles and onions on a sausage sandwich because lettuce and tomatoes were too expensive. America is fatter because America doesn’t do physical labor anymore.

  63. Please read the whole essay and learn about how turkeys drown themselves in rain storms

    Maybe enough already with the drowning turkey meme???

    http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/turkey.asp

  64. No shit Allan, NAIS, COOL, upcoming food safety legislation. These are the things that threaten agriculture, not arguments over organic vs chemical.

  65. threeofclubs, the gentleman farmer never went away, right?

    i think you are pretty much correct. The very samll scale farmers have gone so its generally big firms or large landowners.
    They get massive subsidies and land is very expensive in the UK.

  66. America is fatter because America doesn’t do physical labor anymore.

    People who don’t use their bodies deserve to die. It all works out.

  67. I didn’t read the linked article.

    Thanks, but it was obvious.

  68. You wanna see fat, walk into a farm store or grain elevator. Technology may make things easier, but it has not been kind to a lot of farmer’s pear shape physique.

  69. That snopes link really didn’t dispute the drowning turkeys meme at all, just the reasoning for the drowning.

  70. Maybe enough already with the drowning turkey meme???

    http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/turkey.asp

    In addition to reading the linked article, maybe read the whole fucking page you link to to refute it.

    From your link:

    Nonetheless, this legend does have a couple of marginally-related
    aspects of truth to it:

    * Domesticated turkeys are not necessarily “stupid,” but because
    they have been bred in captivity for so many generations, they
    lack the survival skills of their wild cousins: They’re weak,
    they’re fat, they’re not agile, they can’t run very fast, and they
    can’t fly. All of this makes it more difficult for them to survive
    on their own in an unprotected environment, so when something
    unusual occurs (such as a storm), they tend to panic. Frightened
    domestic turkeys will usually run as best they can until they
    reach a corner or fence or some other barrier to progress, but
    even then they may continue their efforts to escape, piling onto
    each other and possibly suffocating those at the bottom of the heap.

    * Most domesticated turkeys are raised in confinement for the first
    several weeks of their lives, so it takes some time for them to
    become adjusted to living in an outdoor environment. If young
    turkeys encounter rain during their first few days outdoors,
    before they’ve “figured out” how to live in that environment, they
    can be much more vulnerable to accidents precipitated by panic or
    inexperience.

    Dimwit.

  71. If said farmer is up to his eyeballs in government subsidies, then his missive against organic farming is moot.

    What is it that Ron Paul said “You subsidize something you get more of it?” How do you think industrial ag got started hmmm? Somebody else (the taxpayer) was writing the check. And I wonder, who was it that said “Plant fence row to fence row”? Hmmm? It was Secretary of Agriculture himself!

    Now to be fair, the farmer in this peice is right in that organic farming alone is not going to feed the world and that an ag-industrial model you will always have with you to meet total food needs. But there is no reason why one cannot have organic market to compete with it, even if a niche market, so a farmer who wish not to be caught up in the rat race can farm the way they choose instead “get big or get out.”

    Anyone around here got a problem with the free market?

  72. Why, again, do they hate poor people so much?

    They don’t hate them any more than screw worms hate sheep and cattle. The poor provide them with the warm bodies on which they can inflict their pestilence.

    -jcr

  73. Sean,

    “But there is no reason why one cannot have organic market to compete with it”

    Could you please cite from the article where you found this assertion.

  74. Nowhere have I heard more intense, undiluted stupidity than from urbanites opining on the agriculture industry

    I take it you don’t read Krugman’s columns, then?

    -jcr

  75. I’ve long been a firm believer that everyone should spend at least some time killing, growing, raising, and processing what they eat. A lot of the bullshit would stop.

    I don’t care what snopes says. Trukeys are stupid. Chickens are right behind them with sheep and cows following up. The look up part is correct, but guess what, the nostrils of most birds are? On the side of their beak near. How do birds, turkeys and chickens, look up? They turn their head sideways. You do the math from there. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We never had any die, but I have seen them look sideways at rain and snow as full grown birds. God we had some big ass turkeys. (pigs and goats are some smart, evil animals)

    People don’t believe me when I tell them baby rabbits will kill each other and how chickens will eat chicken guts as you kill their former pen mates. I’ve also seen a chicken frozen to a post after an ice storm and watched one fly into the coup wall until it knocked itself out. I had a budding career as a rooster punter, I could send that mean fucker at least 20 feet every time he tried to spur me.(another evil animal, but not too bright)

  76. *…beak near their eyes.*

  77. Well it seems to me Mr. Randolph just from reading the article and some of these comments that some people would rather the whole organic market just go away.

  78. Well it seems to me Mr. Randolph just from reading the article and some of these comments that some people would rather the whole organic market just go away.

    So? Do you see anyone advocating that the government make it go away? I mean, I wish Paris Hilton would go away too, but I don’t want her killed.

  79. some people would rather the whole organic market just go away.

    Who said anything of the kind?

    I’m all for people buying and selling whatever they agree upon. I won’t be buying “organic” apples, because the worms in them gross me out, but if you like them, Bon Appetit!.

    -jcr

  80. Monsanto and the Campaign to Undermine Organics

    Bailey is a pimp for Monsanto. Does the Reason foundation get any money from Monsanto?

    Just google “H.R. 2749”

    Then google “H.R. 2749 Monsanto”

    Then you’ll get better picture of the real fight!!

  81. John C. Randolph | July 31, 2009, 1:27pm | #

    I’ve been buying organic apples for 10+ years and have never found a worm in them.

  82. That snopes link really didn’t dispute the drowning turkeys meme at all, just the reasoning for the drowning.

    Actually it does. Neither I nor Snopes dispute that it is conceivable that turkeys die in a rainstorm. The Snopes article disputes that they would drown. But in the Hurst article he states: “One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.” He does not say that they suffocated or died by panic-induced accident.

    Kilroy, who is the dimwit?

  83. I’ve been buying organic apples for 10+ years and have never found a worm in them.

    The ones with the worms don’t make it to market. Not as apples…

  84. In re: drowning turkeys. I don’t know about Snopes, but at least on one occasion our free range turkey chicks did definitely stand with their bills turned up and wide open in a rain storm. As far as I remember none drowned, but that’s possibly because my father made me and my sisters round them up and up them in a shed for the duration.

  85. From the snopes that I even pasted in here for you dimwitted perusal:

    * Most domesticated turkeys are raised in confinement for the first
    several weeks of their lives, so it takes some time for them to
    become adjusted to living in an outdoor environment. If young
    turkeys encounter rain during their first few days outdoors,
    before they’ve “figured out” how to live in that environment, they
    can be much more vulnerable to accidents precipitated by panic or
    inexperience.

    What, in that disclaimer, eliminates the possibility that they might drown?

    I reassert you’re the dimwit. Normally you’re pretty cogent. Maybe you’re being spoofed today.

  86. I think the organic farm defenders on here confuse the issue. No one is saying that it should be illegal for someone to go out and start an organic farm and charge inflated prices to dumb yuppies. What is at issue is the idea of forcing all farms to be organic. That would be a tragic farce that would do untold ecological damage and probably result in a few of us dying of starvation.

  87. oops … put them in a shed …

  88. Turkeys and chickens both are dumb nasty animals. If you have ever been around them, you wouldn’t want to eat them, although they do admittedly taste awfully good.

  89. I’ve seen turkeys do that too. We didn’t have too many, usually enough for holidays and a few to give to the local food bank during the holidays.

    The ones with the worms don’t make it to market. Not as apples…

    Those are called cider apples.

  90. The compost idea has it’s issues as well. Compost piles produce run off that is higher in nitrogen. Nitrogen rich water running into rain sewers causes some water algae and plants to grow at extremely rapid rates. There’s an issue with this locally due to municipalities storing leaf piles near run off streams and the streams ending up in the largest park here. The growth of algae was and still is clogging pumps and pipes.

  91. You haven’t truely gone organic until you’re back lighting your laptop screen with a whale oil lamp.

  92. As far as I remember none drowned, but that’s possibly because my father made me and my sisters round them up and up them in a shed for the duration.

    I am calling bullshit on Hurst’s assertion that 4,000 turkeys drowned at Lynn Niemann’s ranch in a rainstorm around 1956. I am not claiming turkeys are intelligent. I am not claiming they don’t die. I just don’t buy his anecdote and could find nothing to support it. If I am wrong about turkeys not inhaling water until the point of death bring it on; show me the citation. But an article that uses apocrypha to make a bigger point loses in my estimation.

  93. having worked in orchards its the earwigs you want to watch out for.

  94. Sean Scallon

    If said farmer is up to his eyeballs in government subsidies, then his missive against organic farming is moot.

    As R C Dean observed at 10:54am (it’s what I would have said but he did it better):

    While I am all for eliminating subsidies of all kinds, as well as regulatory burdens favoring any sector of farming over any other, I wasn’t aware that using organic farming processes made you ineligible for subsidies. Please expand.[emphasis mine]

    You also ignored this:

    Except that some of the largest farms in the country are organic-and are giant organizations dependent upon lots of hired stoop labor doing the most backbreaking of tasks in order to save the sensitive conscience of my fellow passenger the merest whiff of pesticide contamination.

    You didn’t even have to RTFA, it’s right in the post above.

    Yes like many stone throwers this one has his own windows to worry about. But taking subsidies is not one of the things that separates him from the orgos.

    It’s a marketing label, nothing more. And I believe everyone here is fine with that until they start misrepresenting things.

  95. As a classical liberal, I advocate freedom of religion. If one worships with the cult of Gaia, he should be free to seek organic, non-GMO, vegan-worthy (or free-range or whatever) food while reducing his carbon footprint. The Jew should be free to seek Kosher; the Mohammadan should be free to seek halal.

    If an adequate number of people embrace an opinion or superstition about diet, the free market should be allowed to supply their dietary preferences.

    Government should have no role in these matters of religion or superstition other than to adjudicate in cases of fraud.

  96. In re: bovine growth hormone. I’ve been reporting on the campaign against it for more than 20 years and one thing you can say is that certain fanatics never give up no matter what decades of scientific research show. From the Michigan State review article just cited:

    In addition to the FDA, the safety of bST has been endorsed by a variety of other scientific and medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Endocrine Society Clinical Review, the American Council on Science and Health, a joint expert committee of the World Health Organization, regulatory agencies in more than 30 countries, the American Dietetic Association, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.

    From my Forbes magazine article 20 years ago:

    Spooked again;
    June 27, 1988;
    Jeremy Rifkin

    BYLINE: Ronald Bailey

    Jeremy Rifkin, nemesis of biotechnology, is now hassling supermarkets. When FORBES last reported on him, he was battling to prevent Monsanto from planting genetically engineered corn. He appears to have won.
    Rifkin’s latest target is bovine somatotropin (BST), a biotech hormone that increases cows’ milk production by as much as 25 percent. He claims BST is harmful to humans, and he wants it banned. This, despite the fact that in 1986 the Food & Drug Administration approved milk from BST-treated cows for sale. “It’s 100 percent safe,” insists the FDA’s Dr. John Augsburg.

    But Rifkin is a fanatic, and cagey. To make sure supermarkets don’t stock milk from BST-treated cows, he is effectively blackmailing them. He has gotten five major supermarket chains, including Kroger and Safeway, to respond to a “survey” confirming that they do not sell milk or meat “tainted” with BST. Rifkin has put them on notice: Stock BST milk, and he will whip up negative stories in the press. Remembering the Chilean grape scare of earlier this year, many supermarkets are likely to give in. Says Monsanto’s Gerard Ingenthron, “It is unfortunate if an antiscience zealot can become the regulatory process for this country.”

  97. Eric S. is the sort of fuckin’ asshole upon whom the universe should loose its hemorrhoid steamroller.

    Hate.

  98. Hey Bailey, how about Reason look into HR 2749 over the $500/site fee for any kind of food processing faciltity or business?

    As someone looking into direct marketing of meat and wine, I’m not looking forward to more crap like that. It’s exactly the sort of capitalism killing measure that Reason usually goes nuts over.

  99. Vines & Cattle and William R. too: I am looking at the bill. My first reaction is “What the f…!” That being said, I will be going through it and then report on it.

  100. Gracias. That’s all I can ask.

  101. William R, STFU. Adults are talking.

  102. “Iowa has some of the dirtiest water in the country, and it is because of farming and corporate livestock.”

    I live in Dubuque in Iowa and we win the prize for having the best municipal water in the country, every couple of years and are always highly ranked.

  103. I must say, I find it amusing that nearly everyone on this thread with any real life exposure to agriculture pretty much lines up with Mr. Hurst, while those who disagree with him have apparently somehow neglected to mention their time on the farm.

  104. I’ve baled hay and slopped pigs. But that was on my uncle’s farm, so I’m a hybrid.

  105. Ron Bailey | July 31, 2009, 1:51pm | #

    … my father made me and my sisters round them up and up them in a shed for the duration.

    Ron Bailey | July 31, 2009, 1:54pm | #

    oops … put them in a shed …

    It’s funnier the first way.

  106. On the vexed turkey drowning question: I just did a Nexis search which goes back to 1981 and found a total of 8 stories that dealt with the controversy. No research reports are cited, but for your amusement and edification I supply some excerpts below:

    Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 21, 1994

    “Turkeys Run A-Fowl With Reputation As Real Birdbrains”

    But turkeys also do stupid things, veteran turkey observers
    allege.

    “We’ve heard they are the stupidest animal that ever was,” Ola
    Merriott says. She and her husband, Ray, raise about 60,000 turkeys
    a year on their Adair County farm.

    One behavior that leaves many turkeys out of contention as
    National Merit scholars is the practice of piling on, or rather
    piling up. Turkeys tend to form themselves into heaps – nowhere
    near any stuffing or potatoes – and smother.

    This has been observed when live turkeys get cold. Even when
    they get hot. It can happen if turkeys are scared by, say, a loud
    noise. One woman recalls when planes flew over her family’s farm or
    thunder rumbled, “us kids were sent out” regularly to unpile the
    turkeys.

    Ross Gore has observed this phenomenon with turkeys on his farm
    east of Stilwell.

    “They just keep piling up and piling up, and the bottom ones
    can’t get no air,” Gore says.
    Even pleasant sounds can cause young turkeys (technically
    “poults”) to act like a floor crowd at a heavy metal concert.

    Gore takes care not to allow people to gather and talk within
    earshot of the poults, Gore says. “They’ll come over to you and
    they’ll pile up. ”

    Turkeys are said to be so dumb they have to be taught to drink.
    Some people say turkeys may become hypnotized by movements of their
    own heads and drink until they drown.

    Most poultry-aware people have heard this bit of turkey trivia:
    They’re so dumb, they crane their crinkly heads skyward when it
    rains, open their beaks in the avian equivalent of “duh” and drown.

    But even detractors of turkeys’ mental prowess confess they’ve
    never seen a turkey drown in such a demeaning manner.

    Business First-Louisville, Nov. 25, 1985

    “Hoosier Farmer Gobbling Up Turkey Market”

    Jim Schwenk makes his turkeys talk. ? Schwenk has been raising turkeys since 1946. Born and bred just outside of Jasper in Ireland, Ind., the Dubois County farmer said he “grew up with turkeys.” ?.

    Turkeys aren’t known for their unlimited intelligence — it’s been said a turkey would drown in a rain storm because it would stand there with its mouth open. Schwenk conceded there is some truth to the notion, but added that “turkeys are either real dumb or real smart.”

    Demonstrating their “very inquisitive” nature, Schwenk lowered his diamond-ringed finger to the floor of the brooder house. At once dozens of the little birds crowded around the bejeweled hand, pecking, poking and peeping. A turkey’s eyesight is eight times greater than a human’s, he said.

    “Now I’ll make ’em talk for you,” he said. A gobble and a clap drew an enthusiastic response from the tiny toms.

    “This is a nice little tom,” he said proudly, pointing to one of the brood. “See, he’s starting to strut.”

    United Press International, Nov. 26, 1981

    “Turkeys Are, Well, Turkeys”

    Turkeys, you see, are so curious they’re dangerous. To themselves. They are, well, turkeys.

    But a poultry specialist with the Texas agricultural extension service at Texas A&M University says turkeys have gotten a bum rap in the past for being stupid. Turkeys don’t do stuff like stare up into the sky and drown when it rains because they’re stupid, said Dr. Bill Cawley of A&M — they do it because they’re in love with the world around them.

    ”If you take them in the wild they are really a pretty tricky bird to hunt. It’s difficult to fool em,” said Cawley. ”It’s not that domestic turkeys are dumb, but they just want to find out what’s going on. They say curiosity killed a cat, but a cat doesn’t have much on them. They’re just curious about everything.”

    Cawley said stories that turkeys drown from looking up into the sky when it’s raining are actually true. Turkey farmers have to take special precautions with young turkeys, Cawley said, to prevent the silly little things, who enjoy life so much, from doing a macabre impersonation of Gene Kelly in ”Singing in the Rain.”

    ”It just happens to turkeys who are about 8-weeks-old,” he said. ”They’ve been inside brooder houses all their lives and, well, they’ve never seen rain before. They just want to look up there and see what’s going on. So when they’re young farmers just don’t put them out that early in the spring.”

    Smithsonian Magazine, Jan. 1997

    “Illumination in the Flat Woods”

    To Joe Hutto, a wildlife artist from Florida, is at pains to defend turkeys against those who would slander their intelligence or character. Crows, for example, are forever being trotted out as the Mensa members of avian society, but Hutto gives thenod for smarts to wild turkeys-more complex socially, more curious, possessing a more complicated vocabulary. He also rejects the traditional libel that turkeys drown because they’re too lunk-headed to lower their heads and come out of the rain. They in fact have a “rain posture,” he explains-head up and body down, to minimize the exposed surface.

  107. I want to get paid to research turkey drowning all day.

  108. disclaimer for R C Dean: I have picked cherries, bucked tater sacks, and moved sprinkler pipes as a teenager. I worked for a couple seasons on a farm in the early 90s that planted 1600 acres of winter wheat and helped them with their cattle in the winter. I worked for a while at a small butcher that killed on mondays and cut and wrapped the meat the rest of the week. I’ve spent a couple years delivering fuel to farms and ranches and dairies in a 50 mile radius of Boise Id. I hauled produce back to florida and Georgia from out west for a few years as an OTR truck driver. I have close friends here that have chicken houses. They send 92,000 fryers to the plant every couple months.

    I feel like I have enough first hand knowledge to comment intelligently.

  109. This is a powerful argument, but any broadside against organics falls short for me for the following reason: Non-organic produce hurts me. Physically. A lot. 2-3 hours after eating a non-organic apple I am confined to the bathroom for a painful evening. I have done blind tests of this. Now my system is particularly sensitive, but that only means I am keenly aware of the damage that pesticides are doing to everyone’s bodies.

    Obviously this isn’t an argument against GMOs, factory farms, etc, but angry farmers cannot argue with the experience of my pain. I buy organics because I have no choice.

  110. Research all you want-the anecdote about the turkeys came from an interview with Mr. Niemann. I’m sure he didn’t know exactly why all the turkeys died, he just had to pick them up the next morning. Don’t have anything against those who grow or buy organic produce. In fact, it makes me money, because land devoted to organic production cuts the food supply, thereby raising prices. I’m just very tired of being criticized for making decisions on my farm that make sense, not only economic sense, but also ethical sense. And a criticism of subsidies was edited out of the article, but I’m no fan.

  111. Vines and Cattle, shove it boy. You wimp

  112. R C Dean | July 31, 2009, 3:42pm | #
    I must say, I find it amusing that nearly everyone on this thread with any real life exposure to agriculture pretty much lines up with Mr. Hurst, while those who disagree with him have apparently somehow neglected to mention their time on the farm.

    He’s not on this thread, but I posted an article from Wendell Berry and he’s in the opposite direction of Bailey and Hurst.

  113. I must say, I find it amusing that nearly everyone on this thread with any real life exposure to agriculture pretty much lines up with Mr. Hurst, while those who disagree with him have apparently somehow neglected to mention their time on the farm.

    ORLY?

    Fourth generation full time farmer, degree in Ag Economics, 500 acres of wheat, 1000 acres of pasture, couple hundred head of cattle, hay, assorted goats and chickens, plus my wife is starting a vineyard.

    Was Mr. Hurst’s piece a good one? Yep.

    Did I line up with a lot of it? Yep.

    Do I take issue with some major points? Yep.

  114. I read Omnivore’s Dilemma and enjoyed it. I don’t recall it suggesting that Polyface Farm would scale to feed the whole country, nor did it address the absurdity of people driving 100 miles to buy “local” chicken.

    and I lub me some GMO corn.

  115. And a criticism of subsidies was edited out of the article, but I’m no fan.

    In that case I take back anything that might have been construed as being critical of you on that point.

    One of my sore points with subsidies is due to the fact that I have friends who are farmers in Australia and their sore point is that they have to compete in intertnational markets with Euros and Yanks.

    And they’re not demanding subsidies (for the most part they tend to be proud of their independence in this) but they sure as hell want to see them gone from everywhere else. The Kiwis feel the same way.

  116. I highly recommend Mr. Hurst’s essay, very lucid and and very well written. I wonder how Hurst got so good with the written word?

    I have a (very) little experience with farming. I worked one summer as a laborer, raising tobacco. It was back breaking work. The only bright spot was my employer’s daughter; yes a “farmer’s daughter”. She was lovely, and gracious and strong.

  117. To Joe Hutto, a wildlife artist from Florida, is at pains to defend turkeys against those who would slander their intelligence or character.

    Ron, didn’t Ben Franklin advocate the adoption of the turkey as the national bird? If I remember rightly he dismissed the eagle as a stupid cowardly carrion eating bird that was no match for the “noble turkey”.

    Or something like that.

  118. This is just annecdotal but I have never met a poor farmer. though i have met plenty of very, very poor farm labourers.

    I knew many poor ones during the 80’s. One member of our church killed himself because he was so deeply in debt.

    In general though, you can make a decent living by farming. As someone else mentioned previously, most of the farm families in eastern Illinois that I know have at least one member working ‘in town’.

    From what I observed while growing up, my relatives would have a really good year when other parts of the country were experiencing a drought or other natural disasters. Those were the years when I got the best Christmas gifts from Grandma and Grandpa.

    Finally, my cousins and my grandfather have no fear of being put out of business by organic farmers.

  119. Isaac,

    You are right about Franklin’s preference for the turkey as our “national bird”. He was recommending the wild turkey, though, not the severely retarded domestic turkey that almost all of us eat for Thanksgiving holiday. Wild turkeys are cunning; if you doubt that, try hunting them.

  120. Wild Turkey makes me less cunning.

  121. Wild Turkey makes me less cunning.

    Ha ha. Late thread winner.

  122. PL,

    True. Enough of it will make you slur your speech, and not such a cunning linguist as you were.

  123. Right, forgot to mention the wild bit. You’re right of course, the story doesn’t go right without it.

    Interestingly the turkey was originally domesticated in Mexico, taken to
    Europe and brough to N America from there.

  124. Believe it or not, my grandfather made a living selling Naragansett turkeys by mail order from the family farm in Kentucky. The business was quite prosperous for a time, but folded long before I was born. I doubt you could find a Naragansett turkey anywhere now days.

  125. wayne: Actually the Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation raises Naragansett turkeys. See my column on the foundation here.

  126. the turkey was originally domesticated in Mexico, taken to Europe and brough to N America from there.

    Well, if that isn’t sufficient bait for our friend, nothing will do.

  127. Ron, it truly is a wide and wonderful world.

    My grand parents had a pamphlet of several pages that extolled the virtues of the Narragansett. It was a sales brochure, of course, but it was interesting. I think my cousin still has several hundred copies of it. If I can stay motivated, I will send the Kelmscott folks a copy; I am sure they will get a kick out of it.

  128. The reason I keep bringing up Monsanto is because Michael Fumento a long time Reason contributor was secretly on the Monsanto payroll. Monsanto of course is at war with organic agriculture. Ron Bailey along with Alex Avery have a gig with Penn & Teller . But what they don’t tell you is that Alex Avery and his father Dennis Avery along with the neocon Hudson Institute get big money from Monsanto. After Doug Feith got run out the American Enterpirse Institute the only place he could land a job was at Hudson.

  129. The reason I keep bringing up Monsanto is because Michael Fumento a long time Reason contributor was secretly on the Monsanto payroll. Monsanto of course is at war with organic agriculture. Ron Bailey along with Alex Avery have a gig with Penn & Teller . But what they don’t tell you is that Alex Avery and his father Dennis Avery along with the neocon Hudson Institute get big money from Monsanto. After Doug Feith got run out the American Enterpirse Institute the only place he could land a job was at Hudson.

    Are any of them Jews?

  130. yes, William, it’s all a big conspiracy. Those evil corporate hacks are out to brainwash you and poison you with pesticides. Now go play with your toys.

  131. Mr. Sour puss was rather good in that episode of Bullshit.

  132. “I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who is so mind numbingly stupid as to think mandatory composting is substitute for commercial fertilizer.”

    And even if it were, the notion that it would be mandatory makes any valid argument concerning its financial benefits irrelevant in my opinion. Saving money on fertilizer certainly would not justify making it compulsory by law.

  133. No Hazel Dopkins, it’s not a conspiracy. Just big agribusiness getting themselves some hired guns to go after the organic industry which just happens to be growing by double digits year in and year out. The fundamental dishonesty of Penn & Teller etc etc.

  134. Are you saying P&T are shilling for agribusiness or someone in particular? If so I would love to see something to substantiate the claim.

  135. Most farmers are dependent on the corporate giants for their living so it
    not surprising they are opposed to anything presented by Pollan. Large corporate farms are surely making food more available, but the quality of the food is not conducive to health.

  136. Great article Ron. I know the fertilizers are more expensive. Mostly farmers are dependent on it.

  137. Very interesting blog. thank for post

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