FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When We Finally Take the Off Ramp

by JIM SCHARPLAZ

When I was small, my family lived in a little community not far from where I live now. Often I drive the two-lane blacktop through the remains of that town. Past the cemetery where my parents lie, past the school where I began first grade (now a private home), past the site of the township hall where we schoolchildren recited poems and performed skits for the Community Club, then over the abandoned railroad and across the creek.

My journey is peopled with memories. But only memories, for now I don’t meet anyone on the road, nor do I see anyone in the fields or farmyards I pass.

When I reach the small farm where my aunt and uncle lived, all that changes. An interstate highway cuts across what was once their land. And on it the traffic is ceaseless. One side is a torrent of cars and trucks rushing west, the other an equal torrent rushing east. The contrast with the deserted road on which I travel is jarring.

When the freeway was built, residents of our village and others believed that it would bring commerce. Gas stations and restaurants sprang up at every interchange.

They soon failed. People got on the freeway, but none left it. Those interchanges could have been built with no off ramps.

But perhaps they will be used someday. As world population and demand outstrip fossil fuel supply, our present industrial farming practices will no longer be possible. No alternative fuel has the qualities — portability and energy returned for energy invested in production — that make fossil fuel the lynchpin of industrial agriculture.

Thanks to cheap fossil fuels, farmers today can treat every acre pretty much the same. Diesel powered machinery can till any soil type. Fertilizer produced using natural gas compensates for variations in natural fertility. Pesticides manufactured from petroleum kill weeds and insects for the whole growing season.

Very few farmers are needed to manage this industrial process. And consumers can live far from the field, as trucks transport the average bite of food 1,600 miles from farm gate to dinner plate.

Good crop yields can be achieved without fossil fuel, but much more care is required. Every farm, every field, every acre requires individual attention, with careful consideration given to just the right crop for the land, and the best cultural practices for the crop. Operations must be carefully timed to control weeds and pests, and years-long crop rotations must be planned to assure fertility. It will take many more farmers on the land to supply the necessary knowledge, care and craftsmanship.

If you are in one of the cars rushing by on the freeway, your efforts are just as important as mine as a farmer to develop post-fossil fuel agriculture. Part of the solution is political. To a large extent, the present rural landscape in much of America is the result of federal policy that subsidizes massive production of just a few, easily industrialized crops — corn, soybeans, wheat. This policy has caused the loss of soil, biodiversity, localized food markets and farmers, resulting in a fragile system dependent on increasingly tight and insecure supplies of petroleum.

Agricultural subsidies must be unhooked from production and tied to good farming practices. This will preserve the soil we all depend on to eat, and make our food supply less dependent on oil. Even if you live in a city, your legislator votes on farm legislation just as mine does, and your taxes pay the subsidies. Let your legislator know what you want.

On a personal level, you can seek out craftsman farmers and support them by buying and eating what they grow. These farmers have the know-how we will need more of. Live too far from the farm? Try farmers’ markets and food co-ops. Yes, it’s more work. Post-fossil fuel consuming will require more care and effort, just as post-fossil fuel farming will.

Better still, use that off ramp. Wherever you are going, remember that someone in the oncoming lanes is rushing away from there. It’s probably not that great a place. Exit now.

JIM SCHARPLAZ raises cattle in Ottawa County, Kan., and is on the board of the Kansas Rural Center. He wrote this essay for the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
W. T. Whitney
The Fate of Prisoner Simón Trinidad, as Seen by His U. S. Lawyer
Brian Platt
Don’t Just Oppose ICE Raids, Tear Down the Whole Racist Immigration Enforcement Regime
Paul Cantor
Refugee: the Compassionate Mind of Egon Schwartz
Norman Richmond
The Black Radical Tradition in Canada
Barton Kunstler
Rallying Against the Totalitarian Specter
Judith Deutsch
Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir Evoked a Lot More International Attention in the 1950s Than It Does Now
Adam Phillips
There Isn’t Any There There
Louis Proyect
Steinbeck’s Red Devils
Randy Shields
Left Coast Date: the Dating Site for the ORWACA Tribe
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City”
David Yearsley
White Supremacy and Music Theory
February 16, 2017
Peter Gaffney
The Rage of Caliban: Identity Politics, the Travel Ban, and the Shifting Ideological Framework of the Resistance
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Doublespeak: Israel’s Terrifying Vision for the Future
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail