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(DV) Velazquez: The Other Crisis







The Other Crisis
by Sheila Velazquez
August 14, 2006

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If the door to our Southern border slams shut, an unpleasant smell will fill the air, the smell of rotting produce, much of which is now harvested by hand. But those hands will have been forbidden to cross and do their jobs. Americans will have no one but themselves to blame. Instead of addressing the real looming crisis, the uninformed, including much of the public and the media, fixate on a group of people who are, in fact, providing the consumers of this huge nation with an almost sinful array of food choices. Many in the government probably do know, but they have their own agendas. We hear that Mexican workers are taking jobs that would otherwise be available to us, but most Americans know nothing about growing food, because if they did, they'd be preparing for the apocalypse that is about to come -- hunger caused by drought, growing and transportation costs, and, oh yeah, lack of pickers.

If there is one truth, it is this: No one is looking out for you. Another is that the less you rely on other people, including your government, (who, remember, do not give a crap about you) and more on your own skills, the more secure you will be when TSHTF. And since you probably won't have a job, growing your family's food will be a good use of your time.

Half of the world's children go to bed hungry, and approximately fifteen million children die of hunger each year, most in African and Asian regions that have no social programs to deal with the problem. If there is less food for all, you can be sure there will be no food for them. Even in the land of milk, honey, and obesity, where soup kitchens, food stamps and free meals are often available to those who need them, the incidence of malnourished and hungry children is rising. We don't acknowledge hungry Americans, let alone the majority of the starving and dying in the rest of the world. Something has to change. We must turn our focus outward globally and locally learn to depend not on the system but ourselves.

I was a back-to-the-lander and organic farmer in the late 1970s. After the first oil crisis, I made the decision to simplify my life and become independent and self-sufficient to the extent that it was possible. My organic garden grew each year and soon became a source of income, along with the livestock and dressed poultry and rabbits that I raised. I learned to butcher, castrate, shear, spin, make soap and perform many of the other activities that extend the benefits of raising animals and generate additional income, often through the barter system. I was a founder of a regional farmers' marketing group that assisted and trained small farmers and held three events each week where they sold the fruits of their labor. Those days of manure-caked boots and dirty fingernails were the happiest of my life.

But I'm not recalling these memories merely out of nostalgia. Current events and circumstances dictate that we revisit the years when the people who returned to this lifestyle were often the brunt of jokes. Yes, some were hippies, but hard-working ones for the most part. And supportive ones. The commune down the road gave me my milk cow when she was the only heifer (female) born that spring to their dozen beautiful Guernseys. It didn't make sense for them to have a setup for one calf (the males were grown out to veal or beef). I bought books that were written for people like me, who wanted to learn homesteading practices. You often hear that "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade." The homesteader's version would be that "when life hands you cabbages, make sauerkraut." Growing your own food means eating what's available and canning and storing the rest. I also learned from others who had never left the old ways behind. They were the real deal, not city-dwellers collected by public television to create a manufactured embarrassment. Alice, an elderly hermit, lived alone in the woods and raised goats. She worked on her truck, built her little house, chopped wood and taught me the true meaning of animal husbandry. I learned from other patient old-timers about the raising of animals and growing of crops. I was young, but my mentors were not. I wonder if any of them are left.

There is no lack of other worrisome issues to divert our attention from increasing global fuel-related food scarcities, but it isn't difficult to imagine how bleak the future could become, which should inspire us to think about learning some old-timey skills, including the growing of our own food, that reduce our reliance on sources that are truly beyond our control. Early farmers knew how to raise and care for their work animals, and later their machines, dig a well, build a house or barn, clear a field, and grow and preserve its bounty. Self-sufficiency is not an archaic term. It is the future.

Oil is an issue today -- how much is available and what it costs. I hear a lot of moaning and gnashing of teeth because we might have to actually cut back on our vehicle use or trade in the Hummer for a fuel-efficient vehicle, but no one is talking about the impact further price hikes and scarcity will have on food. Too scary, I guess. In countries south of the border, like Brazil, sugar cane is being utilized to produce ethanol. One of the consequences is the rise in the price of sugar. It's not hard to imagine that if we consume more of our own acres for ethanol production, fewer will be available to grow food crops. If corporate farms can earn a higher profit raising crops for fuel, will they switch? And the fact is that ethanol production is subsidized by the government, because otherwise it would be too expensive.

Approximately half of our food is imported. We have little control over how these crops are grown and under what conditions. What happens to our food security if imports increase? And they are. Domestically grown crops produced by huge corporations depend upon oil and gas used to make fertilizers and pesticides. As the cost of fuel rises, expect food to rise at the retail level as well, especially as the transportation to bring it to us also becomes more costly, and perhaps at some point, unavailable. And, oh yeah, there won't be anyone to pick it.

What is coming down the pike isn't pretty. In the West, global warming is causing early melt-offs of snowpack that now occurs too early to benefit crops. Cattlemen are selling off their animals because drought has diminished their rangeland, and grain is becoming prohibitively expensive. Sprawl consumes huge portions of the American landscape, and the unregulated use of our most precious natural resource draws down our rivers and streams in order that McMansions and golf courses remain emerald green.

We do have our priorities, don't we?

Food production, by necessity, must become more local. The organic way will eventually become the best way. Landfills can be reduced as coffee grounds, eggshells and vegetable matter are added to compost piles that are returned to the soil. The organic producer will be able to compete with retailers because he/she will be less dependent on the energy industry and able to thrive through his/her own hard work and stewardship of the land. Small family operations that can feed several dozen other families will become the hubs of their communities as they were when we were an agrarian society. In many parts of the world, every family has a garden, often a small plot of land next to their home that utilizes raised beds and carefully controlled irrigation. They plant their seeds, work the soil and pull the weeds by hand, following "green" practices without knowing what the term means. We could learn so much from them, as I did from my own mentors. Growing food is a skill, one that increases with practice and time. We don't know how much time we have before the effects of the energy crisis affect our ability to procure food. In order to go forward, we must look backward.

Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Bozeman, Montana. She can be contacted at: velazque@ix.netcom.com.

Other Articles by Sheila Velazquez

* Up and Down
* Victims Without Faces
I Blight
* No Immigrants Need Apply
* “Please, Sir, I Want Some More”
* Drug Wars
* A Tale of Two Cities
* More BS From the BLS
* Bonds Are Us