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Revival of Small Subsistence Farming & Fight Against ‘Big Ag’ (part 2 of 4)

During the post-colonial era, economists have observed the dominance of Big Ag and the current state of dependence by billions of people globally to fulfill dietary and nutritional needs.  Such evolving economic agendas such as globalization put policies that better suited the advancement of corporate farming to meet more considerable demand beyond the range of direct commerce.  Even though humankind worked the arable lands across the globe hard for centuries, Nature flourished unimpeded by human activity. Combined with natural events of climate change, the earth rebalances itself.  It is understandable that with plant life occupying 80-percent Earth surface by mass justified the notion of the ever-bountiful “GAIA” (Mother Earth). An individual works the land and shall reap the rewards, and humans in their pursuit of prosperity and wealth believed Nature to be endless.  However, industrial farming’s growth has led to dramatic ecological impacts on habitats and trickled up to whole biomes. 

The clearing of lands to grow a monoculture of produce or limited livestock isolates the greater whole ecosystem’s grounds.  Thus, every species (microbes, fungi, flora to fauna) removed further sterilizes the immediate supporting habitat, including the soil.  The one or a limited variety of produce (or livestock) chosen to commercially farm disrupts a whole biologically diverse ecosystem. The impact of removing each species by themselves from these habitats are not all too well known. Scientists can only speculate at this late hour what the potential loss may have been from the mere byproduct of the lifecycle of individual species and the biological interconnectedness. 

Polluting of waterways is also of concern.  Like industrial manufacturing, commercial agriculture, there are hazardous pollution levels into adjacent channels through direct discharge or seepage of contaminants from soil runoff.  However, unlike industrial manufacturing factories, commercial farms have not been scrutinized at the same level, by which being forced to develop an environmental mitigation plan.  Usually, an bacterial or viral outbreak in food supply provokes an investigation beyond the produce or herd.  Soil and water source may be investigating to trace the origin.

Subsistence-based farming such as community gardens or family farms, agricultural activity is at a much smaller level.  The carbon emissions decrease due to the reduction of heavy machinery and transport.  Supply routes are localized, and fewer vehicles are necessary for the distribution.  Large-scale warehousing or distribution hubs impose a significant demand on public resources (electrical, fuel, and water) to sustain low-level ripening produce. However, in contrast to the latter, direct agroeconomic relations of subsistence farming offers, packaging, refrigeration, and produce can be mainly facilitated by grocers and local markets instead.  Subsistence farming is more sensible to the supply of water.  Rainfall and irrigation from tapping into the water table in the subsoil may be a sustainable water source while siphoning extra from adjacent lakes or rivers. The latter makes a case for not warranting the private licensing to water access rights and keeps it indeed shared or a public resource.  With the privatization of the waterways, the local farms witness the degradation of their lands in underdeveloped (and developing) regions worldwide. Corporations, with cooperation from local governments, have purchased exclusive access or monopolized water.

Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Environmental Impacts of Food Production.” Our World in Data, 15 Jan. 2020, ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food.

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2 Responses

  1. Switching from “Big Ag” to Small Sustainable Farming will be a big challenge given the current consumer trends and influence of big companies in the agriculture industry. In the US only, the percentage of food waste ranges between 30-40% of the overall food supply, about 133 billion pounds of food (Food and Drug Administration). Even though food is “the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills” (Food and Drug Administration), additional, unseen resources are wasted as well such as water and energy required to produce that food. If all that waste may be utilized instead of wasted, the food production demand would decrease, representing loss for many big companies that receive pressure from shareholders to generate revenue.

    I used to work as an Operations Assistant at a produce wholesaler, and got to witness how entire shipments of food were discarded because they did not comply with certain USDA standards or just the quality tolerance from the company. Examples were shipments of cilantro that had to go to waste due to the reefer trailer not providing the right storage temperature or cases of bananas discarded only because they had dark spots on them. If the USDA and produce companies work to reassess the effectiveness of those standards, it may help reduce the national food waste.

    Another important thing to consider is the sudden, rising demands of certain foods. The consumption of avocados has risen dramatically in the last couple of years, making the US the biggest importer of avocados in the world, with 2288.6 million pounds (Ochoa Ayala). It may be impossible for small scale farms to fulfill this demand. Consumer trends define the overall direction society takes when producing its food supply. In high-paced cities like New York, self farming may not be a viable option for the majority of its citizens. However, the way of living in this city is replicated in many other parts of the world.


    [1] Ochoa Ayala, Manuel. Avocado: the ‘Green Gold’ Causing Environment Havoc. 4 Feb. 2020, http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/avocado-environment-cost-food-mexico/.

    [2] Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Food Loss and Waste.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 26 Oct. 2020, http://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/food-loss-and-waste/.

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