By Sister Karen Donahue
Where does our food come from? We sometimes hear terms like “farm fresh” or “straight from farm to table” in food advertisements. However, the iconic family farm as it existed for decades in the U.S. has all but disappeared. Today, only 1.3 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in farming and ranching, and the number of farms has decreased from about seven million in 1935 to about two million in 2019.
Globally, about 26 percent of the world’s population is engaged in agriculture. Most food today is produced on large factory farms. This industrial agriculture has fundamentally changed our relationship to food and the natural world from which it comes.
- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can house more than a thousand animals in a relatively small area. These operations often feature cruel treatment of animals and over-use of antibiotics, which can contribute to the development of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. CAFOs also have serious environmental impacts, with massive volumes of animal waste that is often stored in open lagoons. During storms, these lagoons can overflow onto croplands where the runoff pollutes streams and rivers.
- Large factory farms where one crop (monoculture) is planted on thousands of acres also presents new challenges. To assure uniformity, seeds are genetically modified by altering their DNA or introducing genetic material from another species to produce desired characteristics such as resistance to a specific herbicide. Nevertheless, some weeds develop a resistance to a cancer-causing chemical called glyphosate, so that even greater concentrations have to be sprayed on crops. This poses a threat to human health and to other species like Monarch butterflies.
Visit a local farmers market and talk with some of the farmers about how they grow their produce and raise their livestock, or read about their practices on their websites. Identify how you might adjust your food budget to purchase some of your food from smaller-scale operations that use practices that align with your values.