Fuel for the Fire - Is monoculture farming the answer?


Before I started this journey to learn more about my food and its impact on both the environment's and my own health I was completely unaware what monoculture farming was. Monoculture farming is, unfortunately, what you think of when you picture a modern day farm, large fields spreading as far as the eye can see, all filled with the same crop. The majority of the food you buy from the supermarket is produced this way. It never occurred to me that nature doesn't organise things this way. I saw fresh food growing and assumed it was a good thing. But when you look at forests, prairies, or any areas where nature is the lead designer, there is always diversity, never monoculture. So how do we manage to convince nature to decorate against her wishes?

This short video from Permaculture teacher Geoff Lawton explains some of the ways we have manipulated nature to fit this monoculture system of "farming" and the issues caused.


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Generation Why?


There comes a time in everyone's life when they learn the word "Why?" It happened to all of us.  Soon enough this magical word appears in our vocabulary and we decide to use it as much as possible. "Eat up all your vegetables"


"Because it's important to eat them to stay healthy"


"Because they have lots of nutrients in them which are good for us"



As an adult it is a chance to educate any inquisitive youngster on the ways of the world but after about the 4th round you've usually thrown in the towel. It's amazing that at a young age we wanted to question everything. Anything we were told had to have a logical answer. If it didn't we couldn't comprehend why we had to do to it. Makes perfect sense.

Recently I realised that I had stopped using "Why" as much as I used to....Why?

I stopped questioning things as much, I stopped asking why at the things society expected of me. When people responded with "that's what people do" I shrugged and got on with it.  No self respecting five year old would let you get away with that as an answer so why did I, what happened to that curious young child?

Recently however that why has come back with a vengeance.

Since learning about Permaculture my mindset has changed and why is now everywhere I go trying to muscle its way onto the scene. Why do I eat food that is sprayed with chemicals? Why do I spend my money on large, faceless corporations over local, independent organisations? Why do I buy things that are wrapped in plastic?

It's a powerful word. When you start to ask why at every small task you complete, no matter how mundane, you see things in a different light. In fact, why, is responsible for the majority of the world's greatest inventions or breakthroughs. Isaac Newton, asked why does an apple fall from a tree towards the ground? Charles Darwin, asked why do species on one island differ to those on another nearby island?  Why also highlights where society's expectations of you are guiding your decisions rather than things that you really believe in.

Thing about why is it's a sneaky little bastard. It's very easy to ask the question but it can be much harder to answer it truthfully. Excuses can disguise themselves as honesty. "I'm working five days a week because I need the money" or "I buy things in plastic because there's no other option". I've used these many a time. The truth for me was that I actually could survive working 4 days a week and reducing my plastic consumption has been far easier than I thought it would be.

I haven't got it all figured out, I'm at the beginning of this journey not the end. If you never step foot out the door you'll never reach the top of the mountain. You don't need to act on the answers but just simply start asking why a little more often and see where it leads you.


Why I eat organic food


2 years ago a friend asked me if I ate organic food and I remember my response was something like "It's too expensive, we can't feed the world on organic food and the research doesn't prove pesticides do us any harm". Today the same question would result in a very different answer from me. The reason for this change is not because I suddenly came into lots of money and could now easily afford organic food, it's not that I read a report that says organic food can feed the world, and it's not that I have seen studies that conclude that certain pesticides "probably" do cause cancer.  No, I had heard all of that before and despite deep down believing them to be true I still continued to buy non organic. Besides for each of the hundreds of articles you can read spinning it this way you can find just as many going the other way. Pesticides are safe. GMO's are the best bet for feeding the world....etc, etc.

The alarming reports did little to change my habit.  We're an odd bunch us humans. We have an amazing ability to disconnect from realities that aren't convenient for us. Take smoking for example. As someone who grew up in the early 80's I was fully aware that smoking was bad for me. It was conclusive. No questioning the facts. Yet still I wanted to try it. Thankfully for me it didn't go much further, turns out attempting to smoke an entire packet of Marlboro Reds is enough to put a 13 year old off for life, but lots of people I knew continued to smoke and some still do. Even though we all know 100% that it can cause cancer, cigarette companies still make millions each year from new customers. It's madness. I'm sure a psychologist would be able to explain what it is in our psyche that causes this and if anyone knows please do let me know in the comments. Anyway, I digress...

So despite the reports I had read about pesticides,  I was still taking the smoking attitude to my food consumption. I was choosing convenience and price over my health. But this has changed. I am not any richer but I now make sacrifices elsewhere in my life to ensure I can afford to buy good food. I heard a quote the other day which sums up my new attitude towards this perfectly

Don't ask why organic food is so expensive ask why junk food is so cheap

It wasn't that one day I woke up and had an epiphany that non organic might be bad for my health. The shift in my mindset actually came from gaining more of an appreciation for nature and realising that if I believe in evolution then maybe I should trust that the planet wasn't simply sat around for 3.8 billion years waiting for us humans to come and save it. 

3.8 billion years. That's quite a long time. Us humans have been around for, give or take, 200,000 years. Which is 0.0052% of the time that the planet has been going. Us clever humans only discovered modern, synthetic pesticides in the 1930's which is roughly 85 years ago. 85 years is 0.0000022% of the time the planet has been evolving. If you are lucky enough to live to 100 years old that would be less than a second of your entire life.

So despite all the reports, studies and food documentaries telling me organic food was bad for me it was actually the realisation that it's a little bit arrogant of us to assume that we know better than 3.8 billion years of evolution. We are only just starting to understand how amazingly nature has evolved, and when we look at nature versus man made creations nature wins every time. Spider silk, bee hives, dragon fly wings, we haven't come close. So for us to rock up 3.8 billion years into the job and tell mother earth she hasn't a clue is a pretty dickish move on our part.

Sure organic food production comes with it's own set of problems. It still has a considerable level of tinkering in it from us humans.  When it comes to food perhaps large scale mono-culture farms in any format conventional or organic aren't what we need and maybe smaller scale intensive farms or permaculture is what we need to strive for. I don't have all the answers. It's just what works for me.