I was an ag major in college; sustainable ag, specifically, or at least I was neive enough at age 20 to believe that a small, conservative north Texas university, whose agriculture department bragged of their environmental science emphasis, might actually cover the basics of relocalizing food systems or rebuilding eroded soil or mimicking the nutrient cycles essential to healthy ecosystems.
Too deeply invested already by the time I realized the error in my thinking, I decided to stick it out and take what I could from the experience (a diploma and good GPA at the very least).
When it came time for me to present the undergraduate equivalent of my thesis, I was fully prepared to wow them with a concise and well-rounded argument for biointensive farming methods, permaculture practices and the need to deregulate local food production and distribution. Only as soon as I’d finished, every good ol’ boy in the room looked at me as if to say, “What on God’s green earth is this hippie chick smoking?” while my professor let out a condescending chuckle, commended my enthusiasm, then confessed that while he’d never heard of such “farming practices,” he could see the argument for a backyard compost pile.
By the time I graduated, I could tell you how to properly balance nutrient ratios for fattening cattle in feedlots, how to draw the molecular structure of at least half a dozen agrochemicals and the necessary components for maximizing soybean yields, but apparently I’d have to learn composting and natural pest control outside the forty grand I was now to begin repaying for the privilege of having been educated (stay tuned for “Why I’m Cool With My 18-Year-Old Taking a Gap Year or Three”).
My college experience taught me several valuable lessons:
Factory farming resembles car manufacturing more than it does my mama’s backyard garden (which planted this seed in me to begin with).
Those in favor of Monsanto et al. don’t necessarily know the components of compost from concrete, God love ’em.
If radical change were possible, it would not happen from the top down, but from the ground up.
I would BE the change, dadgummit, never mind the chaw-in-cheek sarcasm of a bunch of po dunk, Roundup slingin’ boot scooters.
Diploma in hand and freshly married to a fellow visionary, we set out for Austin, the only oasis in sight within the vast food (and apparently conscientiousness) desert of Texas.
Combing the farmer’s markets and meeting all the food growers we could, we hit it off with a man who owned a cattle operation in Fredericksburg — the first certified organic ranch in Texas. He was eager to introduce chickens to his family farm, could pay a paltry salary and offered to throw in an old farm house if we didn’t mind roughing it. Did we mind? Hell, we were practically determined to rough it. On his offer like hens on a broken yolk, we became chicken farmers, of the educated variety.
That year, we survived on youthful determination, idealism and more eggs than I care to recall. We learned the backbreaking realities of farm work, the trouble with chicken tractors in a midnight rainstorm, and just how many other mammals enjoy a chicken dinner.
Fast forward through many years of fighting the system, trying our darndest to live outside the system (as if) and eventually leaving the system altogether (though not really), we wound up in Mexico, where I write from today.
Here, things look a little different. There are still family farms, and plenty of them. Local food is still accessible and unregulated making it not only possible but affordable to buy straight from local growers. But while I’d like to say we’re living beyond Monsanto’s reach, the truth is, we taste its encroachment on a daily basis. Monsanto has Mexico by the throat. Her pulse is still strong, mind you, but the grip is tightening and those squeezing are clearly anticipating a corn roast.
But I’m not here to explain how devastating it would be to Mexico — to her thousands of indigenous farmers, to her 50+ native strains of corn, to the ancient wisdom she’s managed to preserve for hundreds of years, to her very cultural identity — if Monsanto is given a foothold here. I’m here to explain why, though nearly everything in me wants to rage against these monsters, I am choosing to nurture another seed planted in me from a young age: a seed of compassion.
Compassion as a tool for radical change.
Compassion as a stronger sword.
Compassion as sturdier stock.
Compassion as safer seed.
Here’s my logic:
Through the years, I’ve reacted to such injustice with all the emotions you might expect from a passionate young idealist hellbent on making a difference in the world: anger, frustration, resistance, resentment, disgust and disbelief.
And not just toward Monsanto, mind you, but toward all the big dogs in the brotherhood: the Nestles, the Coca-Colas, the Walmarts of the World. Those who knowingly, blatantly and cleverly profit thanks to and at the expense of the young, the innocent, the uneducated and the impoverished. Those reeking havoc on the planet on an unprecedented scale. Those whose strongest army are the complacent, whose greatest weapon is deception and whose presence in every corner of the earth is now more probable than clean water.
How could any thinking person NOT rage against such injustice?
But the harder I fought against the system, the more obvious it became that the one I was really battling was myself, that the more energy I put into judging them, hating them and resisting reality, the weaker I became as an individual, and that the more disempowered I felt, the less change I was actually capable of creating.
Only since I’ve learned to accept the state of the world the way it is; since I’ve changed my story, have I felt truly empowered to make a difference rather than simply swapping one negative reaction for another.
If we are to stand a chance against such superpowers as Monsanto, wouldn’t it be wise to first root ourselves in richer soil than that which is currently cultivating monocrops of madness and misunderstanding?
I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers for disempowering multinational conglomerates, but I can tell you what makes me feel hopeful, and thus empowered:
- I feel hopeful when I stop calling them monsters and start seeing them as confused individuals.
- I feel hopeful when I quit judging this as a huge problem and instead think of it as a challenge worthy of my investment.
- I feel hopeful when I see that Monsanto is now too big to sweep under a rug — so big, in fact, that the whole world is watching.
- I feel hopeful when I imagine not a bunch of jack ass corporate executives snatching up one fertile swath of land after another, but mothers and fathers putting in a long day at the office working for what they believe in, however different from my own set of values.
So now, every time I come across evidence of the big dogs (gosh, they’re everywhere, aren’t they?), I have a little game I play to keep my reactions intentional. I identify the characteristics that boil my blood and then commit to manifesting their opposite:
Is it greed I dislike? Then I’ll vow to be more giving.
Is it deception I loath? Then let me speak truth in everything I do.
Is it power I fear? Then let me be humble in my daily walk.
Am I afraid they will win? Then I clearly have work to do replacing fear with love within myself.
I can also choose to tell a new story about the big dogs themselves:
Maybe they aren’t actually big at all. Maybe they are simply men and women with confused priorities who’ve been given disproportionate power by an equally confused culture.
Perhaps they don’t care what they do for a living as long as they get to tuck their children into bed at night, because no one ever did that for them.
They may believe in the pretty promises of a paycheck because they grew up impoverished and swore they’d end that family story.
It could be that they associate money-before-ethics with survival because their own formative years were void of ethical people.
Or maybe they simply see factory farming as logical because they never had the privilege of snapping beans in the summer sunshine while their mama pulled weeds from her strawberry patch.
I realize that there’s more to it — that the solutions have everything to do with educating the masses and voting with our forks and unearthing the true motivations behind those who don’t want us to know what we’re eating — but as the pressure mounts against Monsanto on a global scale and they scramble to improve their public image (go ahead, google “monsanto” and see how they have the audacity to describe themselves) — I encourage you not only to define yourself as “pro” or “anti” GMOs, but to determine where your reactions are best rooted if a better tomorrow is our collective goal.