Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How about certified "green" farms?

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
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:

isolating silos on a farm
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.

Poem

By Maureen N. McLane 

As a man may go to Costco,
Buy the jumbo pak of diapers, double liters of
Coke and Diet Coke and a sixpack and stock up on
Doritos and Cheetos and
Eveready batteries, so I perhaps
Formless in the vast republic
Grasp the metaphysical thing, commodity, crucially desired
Hologram of national intent. Caught
In the managed aisle the
Jargon of experts washes o'er the perfectly stacked Special
K, Cheerios, Wheaties, Apple Jacks, and Count Chocula
Low on the shelves that toddlers might harry their
Mothers for sweet breakfast treats. In
Niger the children and livestock go hungry
Once more but a fortified peanut butter paste
Plumpy'nut promises to revive those babies
Quickly who are not yet too far gone.
Research has given us hope that all
Shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well
Till the moment it's not. It's not.
Unto the lord Julian of Norwich poured forth her
Voice. Into the desert the Tuareg
Wander, their herds and children starved. Between ocean
Expanses a people of plenty' chatter brawl and sometimes
Yawn. Days so short it seems the earth is
Zooming unto its longsought anonymous abyss. 


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