A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store…

Wednesday Aug. 4th, 2010

Rachel Weaver

I discovered that my food wasnʼt up to the standards I thought it was. Much of it was treated with pesticides. Most of it was treated with herbicides. Some of it even came from China,
where use of chemicals is not overly restricted. Not very much of it came from local farms.
Even less was GMO-free, if it was labeled at all. Unless I went to the local Co-Op, of course.
And while the Co-Op serves a vital function in today’s commercial food environment, it
conveys a small percentage of all the food sold in Bozeman.

I recently watched a PBS program about bees. All around the world, scientists (and
governments, most notably France) are trying to figure out what is causing the Colony
Collapse Disorder (CCD). Scientists were shown dissecting bees, pulling out their guts like
pieces of spaghetti, even grinding them up en masse, to isolate bee DNA from pathogen DNA. Lots of “startling” results were found. Like the fact that most bees have numerous pathogens. And that most bees had nutrient deficiency. In the end, I did not find out what is killing the bees we depend on to pollinate our food crops. I had to go make dinner. But I did learn that a province in China which grows Asian pears has long ago lost their bees to the gratuitous use of pesticides. The farmers contacted the government in Beijing, asking what they should do. They were told that they would have to pollinate the blossoms themselves. What bees used to do gratis is now done laboriously by human hands. Although the farmers do tie together chicken feathers which they dip in a jar of specially-prepared pollen, imitating a beeʼs body. A light touch is all it takes. A bee colony can pollinate up to 3 million blossoms a day. The human worker can pollinate only about 30 trees a day.

So. Where does this leave us humans when it comes to food? We are hugely dependent on pollinators, all species of which are in decline. Two-thirds of our food only matures when pollinated. Apples, berries, squash, tomatoes, beans, peas, etc. Then there is all the forage on which our livestock is dependent. Things like wheat and corn and other grains used to feed cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. What happens when those crops decline?

Since the middle of the 20th century, there has been a steady push towards more calories (not necessarily nutrition) per acre of food production. In an attempt to achieve this, the use of herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, machinery and genetically-engineered crops has also steadily increased, and expanded to include more of the globe. Throughout the world, the feeling that something is not quite right pervades. It is masked by more immediate economic concerns, or the need to “feed the masses.” Natural systems in place since before homosapiens sapiens are protesting. Loudly. Huge multi-national agribusiness firms try to drown out the voices of dissent, the voices of humanity and those giving voice to our connection to the natural world.

What can be grown locally, then? Honey, certainly is produced nearby. Onions, garlic, greens, squash, potatoes, carrots, peas (we used to even have a cannery for them), beans, pumpkins, herbs, and berries. An abbreviated list, but items that come immediately to mind. Then there are all the livestock varieties, which are already coming into their own on a local scale. Indreland Ranch sells grass-fed beef (delicious, I can tell you from experience). Almathea produces not only awesome goat cheese, but natural pork now, too. The Hutterites raise local chickens. Numerous ranches and farms produce eggs for sale at outlets around town. Heck, if you are so inclined, Bozeman now allows you to get a few chickens of your own and enjoy their eggs the same day they are “produced” instead of up to 45 like “fresh”-labeled commercial eggs. But youʼre out of luck if you live in Belgrade. For now.
Eating is such an intimate act, yet we trust our ingredients to total strangers in far-off lands. Why? Economics. And that is the topic for another day.