Sea Sick by Alanna Mitchell

Since taking up farming full time last May I have tried to take Sundays off.   That was new to me – previously I went to my job or to the farm, but very seldom took a day off.   However last Sunday I headed to the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton to see “Sea Sick”.   Sea Sick is a one-woman play performed by Allana Mitchell and based on her book of the same name.

How Allana Mitchell, who is neither an actor nor a scientist, came to write about the health of the oceans and then turn that into a play are things that I have no desire to tell now in detail.    Suffice it to say it is done and done powerfully.   If you ever get a chance to see it, you will not be disappointed.

The environment has long been a concern to me, but most of the things I worry about concern the land, not the sea.    It turns out that a lot of our practices on land are also killing the sea.    Mitchell talks for example about visiting a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.    This dead zone is caused by chemicals spread on farms which are eventually washed into the Mississippi River and carried to the Gulf.    I always knew that chemical fertilizers were getting into our drinking water and killing rivers, but Mitchell brought home to me the effect it is also having on the oceans.

I really didn’t need more incentive to promote organic agriculture, but I hope that each time she performs the play she persuades more people to seek out food produced without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

I know a young man of really brilliant parts who has just completed a Masters Degree in Food Science.   I have enjoyed talking to him and he agrees that modern industrial agriculture is harming the environment – but he points out that we need an agricultural system that can feed 8 billion people!    This is of course true and for many years we have been  shifting to mass food production – how can we produce more food with fewer inputs?   The answer has come from chemicals that work with GMO’s to produce acres and acres of corn, which is fed to animals which in turn is eaten by humans.

Yet studies have shown over and over again that an acre of land farmed organically can produce just as much food as can an acre of land farmed with chemicals.    There is however an important difference and I suspect that this is what my young friend is really getting at, organic farming requires a much much greater input of labour.    A single organic farmer is hard pressed to work more than two acres of land – a farmer working with all manner of chemicals can work several hundred, even thousands of acres.      So it is really a question of economics.

This then is my thesis:   We can produce enough food to feed the 8 billion people who inhabit the earth without the use of harmful pesticides, but we would have to start paying a lot more for our food to cover the cost of the additional labour.    Would that be so bad?  In 1960 we spent on average 17.5% of our income on food, today we spend less than 10%.   What if we stopped the GMO’S, stopped the use of chemical fertilizers and put people to work growing food instead of making the junk we buy with the savings.   We may have fewer goods, but we would have a healthier planet, better food and a lot more people engaged in meaningful work.

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