I've been involved with environmental planning and regulation for much of my adult life. I've been actively participating in green building and sustainable development for at least the past decade. In both of those sectors, I've noticed that there are many honest folks who are focused on doing what's needed while others try to game the system. I've come to believe that our approach to resource management is entirely too fragmented and that we'll never be willing and able to pay for enough enforcement staffing to be successful with an entirely legalistic set of solutions. What we need is something more like the income tax compliance system, based on voluntary compliance and penalties severe enough to dissuade those who would derive unfair advantage by cheating. I hope we could achieve such a system without the contortions our tax code currently encompasses but recognize we're dealing with people and their endless and creative flaws as they try to achieve unfair advantage.
sandhill crane in corn stubble
Photo by J. Harrington
What I think might work for agriculture is something like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system combined with and integrated into our farm policy legislation, environmental requirements tied to crop subsidies. There are several green building certification systems which could be considered to cover various market segments. (I believe much more work needs to be done on that aspect of green building.) There could be comparable segmentation of the agricultural production economies, from commodities to specialty crops and whatever other jargon we need to deal with. To be clear, we're thinking holistically here about both product and process.
Fortunately, there seem to be a number of already available building blocks that can serve as foundation elements for such a system. To start there's the:
- Lexicon of Sustainability
- Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN)
- Foodshed planning in Minnesota and elsewhere, and;
- Renewing America's Food Traditions
isolating silos on a farm
Photo by J. Harrington
Just as LEED and other green building certification programs are transforming the building sector, we (as in all of us) need a more efficient, effective, healthier, resilient and sustainable system for producing our foods. Most of the pieces of the puzzle to do that are there already, we just need to be sure we have the correct top of the box with the picture we want to fit the pieces together. As with the key to successful green building, we'll need an integrative design process to create that picture and fit the pieces together. We can do it. We just need to break down the silos we've placed our food systems in. The alternatives are unacceptable. We'll slowly but surely run out of food to eat and water to drink and places worth living in.
As a man may go to Costco,Buy the jumbo pak of diapers, double liters ofCoke and Diet Coke and a sixpack and stock up onDoritos and Cheetos andEveready batteries, so I perhapsFormless in the vast republicGrasp the metaphysical thing, commodity, crucially desiredHologram of national intent. CaughtIn the managed aisle theJargon of experts washes o'er the perfectly stacked SpecialK, Cheerios, Wheaties, Apple Jacks, and Count ChoculaLow on the shelves that toddlers might harry theirMothers for sweet breakfast treats. InNiger the children and livestock go hungryOnce more but a fortified peanut butter pastePlumpy'nut promises to revive those babiesQuickly who are not yet too far gone.Research has given us hope that allShall be well and all manner of thing shall be wellTill the moment it's not. It's not.Unto the lord Julian of Norwich poured forth herVoice. Into the desert the TuaregWander, their herds and children starved. Between oceanExpanses a people of plenty' chatter brawl and sometimesYawn. Days so short it seems the earth isZooming unto its longsought anonymous abyss.
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