This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:
- It warms the soil for earlier crops.
- It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
- It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
- It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)
The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.
Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …
…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.
Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …
Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …
… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…
… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.
By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:
Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.