Rumbling Along the Wall

Even if nothing else were to happen this year to convince me that my current course of study is the right path for me, our History of Organic Farming lecture with Dr. Carlo Leifert would have been sufficient. It was one of those moments–well, a few hours really–in which the words I was hearing resonated so soundly with what my head and my heart have been telling me all along that I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. I took pages and pages of notes, with countless scribbles in the margin along the lines of, “YESSSS!!! I KNEW it!” and “Learn more about this because it is so cool.

We talked about how subsidies always result in an increase in intensive production, and I immediately thought of corn in the United States. I mean, don’t get me wrong–I love corn on the cob. It’s like eating pure happiness. I’m even theoretically okay with the idea of finding sustainable ways to power vehicles with corn products. But corn subsidies are a monster that locks farmers into a zero-profit cycle that they can’t get out of, and now we have a surplus of corn that has to go somewhere. So where do we put it? In our cows, our fish (fish!!), our “chicken” nuggets, and our high-fructose corn syrup. Goodbye free market, hello diabetes.

Carlo also said, “We have this idea that we can continue to increase yields, but since 2000, none of the staple crops have shown major yield increases.” That means that now, instead of focusing on yield alone, we need to focus on yield robustness.

Also, this little tidbit made my anti-Monsanto heart give quite the fist pump: there is no evidence that GM crops have significant yield increases over non-GM crops. In fact, in most cases, there is a yield decrease. So much for “feeding the world” with GM crops, eh?

But perhaps my favorite part of the day (besides the post-lecture “rumble” through the countryside) was learning about Rudolf Steiner and the anthrosophic movement. While I don’t agree 100% with all of Steiner’s ideas, I do appreciate the link he saw between sustainable practices and spirituality–not just in farming, but in all areas of life. The concept of “holism” (natural processes function as an interconnected whole, rather than individual and independent parts) led to the creation of biodynamic farming, which I am very interested in learning more about.

After our lecture, we took a walk through the hills to a lovely little tea house. We saw lots of agriculture in action, and even made a stop at part of Hadrian’s Wall, which was built by the Romans to protect Britain from the “Scottish barbarians”. Even though there’s only a little bit of it left where we were hiking, Carlo told us that we probably saw more of it than we realized: as the wall decayed over time, people would reuse the stones in their own rock walls and gardens. Imagine having bits of your fence made out of rocks hewn from the earth 2,000 years ago!

With two soggy field trips in as many weeks, it was really nice to have such beautiful weather for our adventure. England is an incredibly scenic country, and every time I see more of it, I fall deeper in love.

I may never leave.

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