Do I seem overly dramatic with this talk of surviving at the mercy of strangers? Why does it matter that I depend on anonymous farmers elsewhere to produce food for me? After all, isn’t that type of interdependence the foundation of complex societies, the economic diversification that allows people to pursue meaningful cultural activities beyond constantly seeking out sustenance?
That has certainly been the general trend over human history, but never has our food system been as complex and far-flung as it is today. And consider this: while American farms churn out more food than the population even needs at a seemingly endless pace, the system is not invulnerable.
According to Joe Hall, one of my classmates at Native Seeds/SEARCH this past weekend, who runs his own farm in Grayhorse, Oklahoma, virtually all large-scale commercial agriculture in the U.S.—corn, soy, wheat, etc.—relies on genetically modified seeds that are imported from China. Seed-saving is not practiced on industrial farms; entire harvests are shipped for sale without conserving any portion of the seeds to replant, not just because it’s easier and less time-consuming for farmers simply to purchase new seeds, but because large-scale seed suppliers often stipulate this practice as a requirement in their contracts. In other words, for each round of crops planted, farmers must start from scratch, and as far as whether they’ll be able to obtain the next batch of seeds, it’s China or bust.
Meanwhile, Joe told our class that the entire American agricultural industry has, at any given moment, about seven days’ worth of food crop in the “pipeline,” that is, approaching harvest, stored in silos, or in distribution. If something were to disrupt the country’s commercial food production—wide-scale droughts or monoculture-killing blights, an attack on our infrastructure, or maybe an economic breakdown due to, say, trade wars with China… the American public could potentially be hit with food shortages in a matter of weeks.