The surge in small-scale

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There is no doubt that the seasons have changed. The last few days have seen frost on the ground in my garden. The tomatoes, squash, beans and cucumbers are all gone, my 15-foot high sunflowers have pooped out, and the chili peppers hang on in the hot house, soon to succumb to cooler days with limited sunshine. The last basil was picked this week, and what is left is the chard which will produce outside until a hard frost gets it, and inside all winter long. If the autumn is not too cold and dark a new crop of snow peas will come up inside, a welcome addition to winter meals.

An article published by the Associated Press this week told about how small agricultural operations are spreading throughout the United States, almost 300,000 new ones since the 2002 census, many of them under ten acres. I would be happy to have only one half acre here. Even in this northern climate it would produce more food than two of us could eat for much of the year.

The article did not explore why this surge in new small-scale operations, but given the state of our food supply there are at least two good reasons. One is food security as our ridiculously complex food system begins to fail as petroleum resources become scarcer. Once where we relied on ecologically sound growing practices, on farms nearby, we now depend on industrial practices in places as far away as China, India, Australia and other points around the globe.

Industrial farming and farming thousands of miles from the point of consumption both require intensive amounts of petroleum, the base of artificial fertilizers and chemical pest controls, and the fuel that runs the transportation system. As the supplies of oil and gas are depleted the cost of industrial food will rise, consuming more and more of a family's budget.

Another reason to take more control over one's food supply is food safety. The industrial system is not primarily concerned with providing either safe or nutritious food. Its major concern is making a profit, often at the expense of both safety and quality. Industrial practices reduce the natural taste and nutrition of food, some foods more than others, and contaminate food with chemical residues and other matter. Small-scale operations that avoid industrial practices avoid these problems, and produce healthier, tastier food.

One example of the dangers of industrial food is the case of ground beef. A recent article in the New York Times told the story of a woman who got a severe case of E. coli from hamburger. It almost killed her, and left her paralyzed. In developing the story the author discovered that hamburger coming from the major processing facilities is made of a mix of meat from a number of different slaughterhouses from around the world, bits and parts from here and there, which makes it hard to spot and control contamination, not to mention quality.

The occasional E. coli or listeria outbreak is not the worst part of industrial food. Studies now seem to indicate that the western diet based on this food is full of additives and enhancers that are not normal for human consumption, and that this diet is responsible for the rise in cancer and other diseases that are now plaguing us.

The western diet and industrial food production are not natural, at least not in the way that our traditional food and methods are natural, and they are a factor in a number of the health problems in the developed world. It is no wonder that these foods are commonly referred to in some circles concerned with wholesome diets as Frankenfoods, as in food created by Dr. Frankenstein.

For those who care about what they eat and how it affects them, there is a good book by Michael Pollan titled In Defense of Food. It gives a history of the development of our modern food supply, how it is organized, the effects that it has on us, and ways to deal with it for a healthier life.

Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.

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