Intended for The Sounding Board on the Metro Omaha Food Policy Council newsletter
Embrace the Good Life
“The Good Life” afforded in Nebraska rides on the shoulders of a very proud tradition of farming. Nebraskan farmers produce high yields on some of the world’s most fertile soil that resides over the world’s largest and most reliable aquifer. Drilling has allowed semi-arid and dryland farmers to tap into the million year old aquifer for center pivot irrigation. As the rural to urban migration has occurred over the last fifty years, less people are farming disproportionately more land. Consequently but not solely, large farmer landowners have become commodity farmers. In Nebraska, the traditional diversified farm with chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, orchards and wheat has become a diminishing breed. As soon as a farmer consciously makes the decision to gamble and buy into commodity agriculture as a means to earn an income as opposed to food agriculture, that farmer loses connection with the soil. The conservation practices of previous generations are forgotten or simply not seen as “practical” for large expanses of land in the “pearly gate” shadow of mechanized farming. Thanks to the prevalence of tiling on Nebraskan farm fields, the petroleum-based fertilizers that are used as quick-fix drugs join a dead soil medium that erodes into our riparian watershed. Of Nebraska’s 1.8 million residents, nearly two-thirds of our populations live in metro counties. All of these metro counties lie at the bottom of the Nebraskan erosion shed. The unwitting populations of Kearney, Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans have to endure the environment created from the world’s most aggressive agriculture machine ever created. Needless to say, without implying hysteria, this is not normal.
Modern farming does not have to imitate large nineteenth and twentieth century industries by expelling its waste to hapless populations downstream. This is not what farming is about. This is not what Nebraska is about.
A wise man once said that “the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” I like to think that J. Sterling Morton saw Nebraska for its true potential one hundred years ago. Instead of annual crop production, he envisioned a resilient ecosystem that could naturally provide an abundant bounty of assorted fruits and nuts in orchards, without any mechanization, petroleum, pesticides or center pivots. In the early twentieth century, the Missouri Valley down to Brownville was known for orchards and the hundreds of canneries that were supported by its bounty. THIS vision is STILL within reach. Nebraska and Omaha should not be one of those societies you read about halfway around the world reliant on processed foodstuffs. While we can only empathize as we watch California farmers struggle through a potentially prolonged drought, the Omaha and Nebraska region has a moment to reflect on our privileged predicament. Should we use the best and most reliable soil, climate and riparian landscape to grow cheap commodities? If we want to leave a better world for our grandchildren, we need people to take action. So, if YOU live in the Omaha, Nebraska region, I challenge you to go out and START a FARM or a RESTAURANT or an ORCHARD or a FOOD TRUCK or a CANNERY today! Before California farmers realize where the best North American growing region in the world resides, let’s dig some holes and plant something OTHER THAN CORN!