302 - Woody Tasch on Slow Money

Woody Tasch is the founder of Slow Money, which is both an environmental movement and an investment fund for organic farming projects. He is quoted as saying that agriculture faces its own “Ground Zero” situation. When he met with Speak Up, we asked him to explain this concept:

Woody Tasch (Standard American accent):
Well, the last essay in… in my book is called “Ground Zero,” and I wrote it a month after 9/11… and, with all the… all the fear that was stirred up about militarism and patriotism and terrorism and all of that, the idea struck me that, to my way of thinking, a farmer’s field is really the only Ground Zero I care about, meaning, in a farmer’s field, every day a battle is kind of being fought for our approach to the planet: you have economics coming from one direction and ecology coming from the other, and that’s what makes being a farmer so challenging. I mean, they’re trying to, let’s say, work with the natural systems, but also produce enough food so they can make a living. And that’s way harder than most people realise; anybody who’s ever had a garden, you know, think about how much you’d have to grow to sell, let’s say, $100,000 worth of produce, I mean, it’s a… it’s a monumental undertaking and to do it year in, year out, and work with all the different forces of nature that are involved in that, is quite an amazing process. So it’s not… and that’s a… that’s a battle for civilization, because agriculture started 10,000 years ago, it emerged into industrial agriculture, let’s say, around… starting around World War Two, approximately. I mean, there were some before but, for all intents and purposes, starting around World War Two, it kind of took hold as industrial agricuture and then went through the same growth spurt that we’ve gone through in every other facet of our lives over the last 50 to 75 years, and we’ve never resolved the question: Can we actually grow food sustainably? Can we actually grow food in a way which does not destroy the soil, and deplete water, or leave toxics behind? I mean, we never actually had to figure that out before, on a planetary basis. We had lots of little episodes of either success or failure, mostly failures, historically, but we never had the whole thing play out on a global scale like it is right now, so, to me, that’s Ground Zero. That’s… that’s… that’s the battle we should be focused on.

And he had more to say on the subject:

Woody Tasch:
I saw a presentation by the Rodale Institute, which is one of the leading kind of research institutes in organics in the United States, possibly the world, I don’t know that, and they did a study… of organic versus conventional farming and one of the conventional farmers that was in their… in their control groups had not seen an earthworm on his farm for 30 years. I’m not making that up. I… when I heard that fact I… I… like I was breathless. So that’s the kind of agriculture we have: the soil just becomes a holding vehicle for chemicals to grow plants and the chemicals are really effective, they grow lots of plants, but they gradually kill the soil fertility and… and… and rob organic matter from the soil and we end up with erosion and toxics in the water and all kinds of other problems, so those… long-term, that’s violence to me.

We then asked him whether, in purely economic terms, organic farming could compete with industrial agriculture:

Woody Tasch:
I kind of think that’s a side question, in a way ‘cause here the big question is: Is there enough land on the planet to feed everybody, if everybody grew organically? And the answer is: Yes! And it’s not because we know exactly, we have to know the answer of, on a given acre, can you produce as much, from one system or another, it’s because of crazy things like 60 or 70 per cent of the grain is being fed to livestock and a bunch else is going to cars, so we’re using massive amounts of the world’s resources, also get into the whole question of how much meat are people eating and all the resources that go into industrial cattle feed lots and industrial hog confinement units, that’s what we’re doing with our land. We’re not optimizing the use of the land to feed everybody equitably, we’re streaming resources towards industrial systems that basically create meat and high fructose corn syrup for certain populations, you know, so… it’s… I think it’s bad to get trapped in the question of Can an acre of land produce as much organically? It’s really: Can we use the globe’s resources to feed everyone? And the answer is: There’s more than enough land and water to feed everybody, we would just have to have a very different kind of food and farming system.

(Woody Tasch was talking to Mark Worden)

For more on Woody Tasch and Slow Money, visit: www.slowmoney.org