Below is our presentation from the Food and Faith panel at this year’s Wild Goose Festival. We deviated pretty significantly from this script to address the criticisms the prior presenter had made of the food movement, so the following ended up being merely an outline and not a verbatim record of what we said. It was meant to be a basic introduction to the food movement, and we tried to tie it into the festival’s theme, which was “Living Liberation.” Cherie and I divided this up, usually alternating paragraphs, but not always. The images below the paragraphs were displayed on a video screen during the presentation, coinciding with the text.
Good evening. I’m Cherie Guerrant and this is my husband Bill. We are the owners of White Flint Farm in Keeling, Virginia, where we farm full time, raising goats, chickens, pigs, and vegetables. We farm sustainably, using no herbicides, pesticides or harmful chemicals. Our journey began when we purchased the home place that had been in Bill’s family since the 1870s. At the time we lived in Tampa, Florida, where Bill was an attorney and I was a law librarian. We spent the next few years restoring and healing the land, converting to all-natural, chemical free practices. In the beginning, I lived full-time on the farm, while Bill split his time between the farm and his law practice. Since 2011, we have both worked full time on the farm. In addition to being farmers, Bill has his Masters in Theological Studies, with an emphasis on food and spirituality, and I have my Masters in Human Services, with a concentration in health and wellness. Our presentation discusses the current industrial agricultural model that permeates our food system and introduces healthy alternatives to this destructive system.
What comes to mind when you think about where our food comes from? Pastures and gardens? Peaceful country scenes? Happy contented animals? Apple pie cooling on the window sill? Farmers in straw hats and bib overalls?
Sadly, the reality is much different. Almost all the food we eat in our culture comes from the industrial agricultural system. For the next few minutes we’re going to talk about some of the problems with industrial agriculture, and how they can be avoided.
There are many ways the industrial food system harms our bodies, our communities and our planet. We’re going to touch on a few of them. The industrial system relies on huge unsustainable monocultures, which destroy biodiversity and require massive amounts of chemicals and poisons.
The system is a major contributor to environmental degradation and climate change. It consumes 20% of the fossil fuels and a third of the water consumed in the U.S. The system is destructive of local food economies and relies on an exploitative labor system. It is like a cancer destroying small family farms.
The industrial system engages in systematic cruelty to animals, imprisoning and torturing them in confined spaces in an effort to maximize corporate profits. In America, billions of God’s creatures live lives in which they never see sunlight or a blade of grass. Often, they aren’t even able to turn around.
These industrial practices strip food of nutrients and taste. Much of it is processed into chemical-laced food-like substances that are responsible in large part for our obesity epidemic and national health crisis.
As recently as 1996 no state in America had an obesity rate of more than 20 percent, but by 2010, a mere 14 years later, every state in America did, and in 12 states the rate now exceeds 30 percent. More than 35% of all American adults and over 17% of all children are now obese.
One of the effects of the obesity epidemic is the shocking increase in type 2 diabetes. As startling as this graph is, the occurrence of type 2 diabetes increased almost 800% between 1935 and 1996. Studies have shown that this increase is directly related to the increase in processed food, especially high fructose corn syrup.
This is all a far cry of course from the images the industry presents with its multimillion dollar advertising budgets, creating enticing packaging while passing laws to prohibit taking photos such as this one. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The rest of the images you’ll see are from our farm. Fortunately, there are thousands of farms like ours these days, tended by farmers dedicated to preserving the land, raising delicious healthy food and being good stewards to the animals and plants entrusted to their care.
Natural sustainable agricultural practices like ours promote and preserve the things that the industrial food system is destroying. We promote biological diversity, rather than monocultures. We use natural practices, rather than chemicals and poisons.
The local food movement promotes and supports local economies, rather than exploiting seasonal labor. Natural farmers treat animals with compassion and respect. We don’t use growth hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics. Our animals are happier and healthier, resulting in meat that is better tasting and more nutritious.
Instead of destroying the natural world around it, sustainable farming occurs in harmony with nature. And when we live in harmony with nature, rather than in conflict with it, the earth rewards us with abundance.
Food raised naturally, on diversified, chemical-free sustainable farms, is nutrient-dense. Whole natural foods–unprocessed and free from poisons, growth hormones and antibiotics–promote rather than destroy our health.
And food raised this way simply tastes much better than industrial food. The taste of naturally-grown vegetables, eggs from free-range hens, pastured pork and grass-fed beef is incomparably better than that of the industrial food found in supermarkets.
So how can we opt of the industrial system? How can we refuse to contribute to the profits of the corporations that are destroying our bodies, our communities and our world? How can we be a part of a natural alternative instead? How can we be a part of changing, and maybe even saving, the world?
The best way to start is by growing as much of your own food as possible, using whatever space you have. Use a window sill, containers, a flower bed or even your entire yard. Raise some chickens in your back yard. Connect with the source of your food.
Find and support your local farmers markets. Get to know the farmers who grow your food. Visit their farms. See for yourself how they raise their vegetables and how they treat their animals. Shake the hands that feed you.
Growing your own food, and supporting local sustainably and ethically operated farms, are acts of rebellion against and means of liberation from the industrial food complex. The damage being done by the industrial system is reversible, and the change begins with us.
A good way to find responsible sustainable farms in your area is by going to localharvest.org. Just type in your zip code and you’ll get a list of farms in your area with descriptions of what they grow, how they grow it and how to find them. Call them up; visit them, read their websites. Become informed about their practices.
Unlike our industrial counterparts, in the food movement we are not locked into a paradigm and we are not enslaved to the profit motive. While there are valid criticisms of agriculture, even if practiced sustainably, our goal is a food system that is resilient, regenerative and restorative–good for us, our fellow creatures and our planet.
Properly practiced, we believe agriculture and farming are gifts of God, and we cherish the vision of a future in which instruments of violence and war will be turned into farm tools. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”
A food movement is sweeping our country and our world. The folks joining it are refusing to be complicit in the damage caused by the industrial system. They’re choosing to eat better food and by doing so, to help save the world. If you’re not already part of the movement, get on board! Be the change you want to see.