Michael Pollan: Not enough farmers
Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Organics Conference March 21, 2009. The event was held at Agnes Scott College. He addressed the audience after they enjoyed a farmers feast (made from local food) about his thoughts on the "state of the movement." The address is available for viewing in its entirety or in separate parts.
Michael: You also need, to make this work, to move agriculture closer to this polyculture ideal, I think the really hard part is not that we don't know how to do it or we can't get the yields that we need, because we can get the yields that we need. No, the hard part is we don't have enough farmers. We -- the problem -- [applause]
This is what fossil fuel also did to American agriculture: it replaced farmers. It was a way to make one farmer produce so much food and that is how we depopulated the farm belt. And that is why one farmer today in America can feed 140 other American. It’s an amazing achievement, but it is also -- comes with such a high price.
So, I think the hard part is getting more Americans back on the land. And that will take a concerted cultural change in our regard for farming as an occupation and the prestige of farming; and I think that’s beginning to happen, in the same way that the prestige of being a chef has been revolutionized in just a couple decades in America. We are seeing the same thing happening with farmers. And you’ll know we’ve gotten there when there’s a show on the Bravo Network called “Top Farmer.” [applause]
But, you know, the last agricultural census, we saw for the first time an uptick in small farms, significant, and we saw the average age of farmers go down, just a little bit.
So, that’s all very encouraging, but a lot of work needs to be done on that front. And it involves the land grant colleges, and it involves figuring out ways to put farmers on the land by leasing unused land. I mean, there’s so much that can be done in that area. And incorporating farming into our regional planning, to insist that farmland is preserved, and that when -- if you want to have a new development, you have to leave not just a golf course or a wilderness or a park, but you have to leave farmland -- [applause] -- And you've gotta lease it to farmers. And I do look forward to a day where all those bankrupt housing developments that were organized around golf courses, where people paid so much to overlook the 9th hole, now have diversified farms at their core.