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
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail