Food & Farming #4

I worked for my dad until about 1960 when his health began to fail and he had to stop farming and rented it out, eventually selling it around 1963 or 1964. Meantime I began working in construction. 

As years moved on, I was removed from the farm scene and lost track of what was happening. I do recall, however, the farming boom in the seventies when farmers were buying newer and bigger machinery, more land when they could get it, and even airplanes. High grain prices apparently spurred the boom, which came to bust in the early eighties when prices suddenly dropped. Many farmers were leveraged to the hilt from borrowing for machinery and land as well as extravagances such as airplanes. Land prices fell, foreclosures were abundant, there were farm sales every Saturday where you could buy a $50,000 piece of machinery for pennies on the dollar. 

It wasn’t until the mid-nineteen eighties when I began teaching design at Iowa State University, a Land Grant University specializing in arts and sciences including agriculture, that I began to see what was happening.

The few farmers that had made it through the early eighties downturn had bought more land at cheap prices. Corporations and millionaires were buying land for tax shelters. Bigger, larger farms made small farms a thing of the past. Enter Monsanto, Cargill, DeKalb, and other seed and fertilizer giants who convinced the farm community about mono-culture farming, aka corn and soybeans, through the use of their seed, fertilizers, and pesticides which caused the once fertile soil to become lifeless by itself and could only produce crop yields by using the now ‘patented’ seeds and the accompanying fertilizers and pesticides. It became a racket that sucked farmers into the game and once in, it was difficult if not impossible to get out. Local landowners again had large loans for the land and giant machinery to farm 1000 acres, which was now considered a small farm. Distant investors wanted a return on the land they had bought and were renting out for more acreage for the locals. Sort of like the song, Hotel California. Once you were there you could never return. Sustainable was a thing of the past.

One final thought for this part, in the 1990s, someone donated a considerable amount of money to the Iowa State College of Agriculture with the stipulation that it be used to create the Aldo Leopold School of Sustainable Agriculture. (From Wikpedia: Aldo Leopold January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948) was an American author, philosopher, naturalist, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), which has sold more than two million copies.) 

As the story goes, the president of Monsanto called the ISU president letting him know that if this sustainable agriculture school moved forward, all Monsanto research funds would be immediately pulled. With the amount of research funding from Big Ag Corporations, the school of sustainable agriculture never happened. It goes to show the control large corporations exercise over research facilities such as Iowa State and how they skew research to meet their needs. Sustainable farming was not one of them.

Next, Our food today . . .

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