Denise O'Brien

We need to put peoples’ interests first and decentralize the food system. Dispersing production and relying on regional economies in which we are thoughtful about where and how food is grown, can better feed people and fight climate change by reducing fossil fuel and resource use.

The other day on the radio I was reminded once again of the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating toll on small businesses. These include small farms like my own, Rolling Acres Farm. My family has been farming in the Missouri River Watershed for 7 or 8 generations now, and we have been an organic operation since 1976. We are proud to call our 17 acres a sanctuary--a place where all animals can find refuge. Sustainable agriculture is a way to preserve the planet as a sanctuary for all living beings, especially as we face this pandemic and global climate change.

 

I’ve believed in the importance of sustainable agriculture nearly as long as I’ve been a farmer. In 1997, I spoke on behalf of the world’s farmers at a UN conference called the Earth Summit. I talked about shifting our dependency to organic agriculture and small to medium-size farms, and proposed increasing regional dependency in food production. These strategies would fight against multinational corporations, feed our growing communities and protect our livelihoods, all in a sustainable way for the environment.

 

All of this could not be more relevant today. The ongoing pandemic has revealed just how vulnerable our food system is, evidenced by the tragic numbers of euthanized pigs from factory farms thanks to meatpacking plant closures and our reliance on a single system of production. What if we had regional meat lockers and processing plants and dispersed animals across the land instead of in factory farms? What if we utilized technology such as unheated greenhouses to increase crop yields, decreased resource-intensive crops and focused on soil conservation practices to reverse desertification? These practices would allow us to grow enough food for our growing communities while caring for the land. Our food system needs more flexibility and resilience in order to adjust to crises like this pandemic and climate change. 

 

Fighting climate change is feasible through antitrust policies that will also dismantle our unsustainable food system. In the Amazon Rainforest as well as here in Iowa, farmers are clearing away trees to be able to produce more, low-profit crops. Corporations are benefitting off the damages consolidation has done to rural communities, the soil and the climate. We need to put peoples’ interests first and decentralize the food system. Dispersing production and relying on regional economies in which we are thoughtful about where and how food is grown, can better feed people and fight climate change by reducing fossil fuel and resource use.

 

Additionally, antitrust policies will benefit the climate by reducing overproduction, which wastes resources and promotes high levels of dangerous air pollutants. Overproduction drives trade agreements that dump corn, soy and wheat on developing countries, making it easier for them to import it than to raise their own--once again requiring enormous amounts of fossil fuels. If we grew only what we needed and set up a worldwide reserve for emergencies and catastrophes, we would prevent overproduction, keep farmers in business all around the world and mitigate climate change. At a time when small farms are especially vulnerable, we must look out for our community members and enact antitrust laws that will ensure our planet remains a sanctuary for all.

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