Several thought streams have diverged in my mind today to have me thinking even more intently than usual on the importance and value of locally raised and processed food.
The first thought is connected with the ongoing horror story that continues to emerge from Haiti, a country in which, among a multitude of other problems, its system of local agriculture has been completely destroyed in the past couple of decades, so that even people living in the countryside have been dependent on food and water being trucked in on a weekly basis. With the roads now destroyed, these people’s already precarious existence becomes even more precarious.
The second thought has to do with a University of Iowa study that reports a new strain of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacterium (sometimes called the “superbug”) was found in nearly three quarters of hogs and nearly two-thirds of the workers on several farms in Iowa and Western Illinois. All of these farms used antibiotics frequently and routinely.
On antibiotic-free farms, no MRSA was found. I don’t know any other word for that comparison but “stark.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, antibiotic resistance is now one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread throughout communities – including schools, hospitals and the workplace.
Microbes are becoming resistant to antibiotics for a variety of reasons – our insistence on using them at the first sign of a cold or flu for one thing – but certainly confined animal feeding operations and other conditions collectively known as “factory farms” are increasingly recognized as a source of these very, very bad bugs. I lost a friend a few years back to MRSA. It isn’t anything any of us ever want to see in our lifetimes, and yet 70 percent of the hogs studied in the University of Iowa study carried this bacterium.
The third thought contributing to this stream today is a much happier one. I’ve been editing stories about starting farmer’s markets and about how to make the products from your garden or your home craft projects attractive for sale at local farmer’s markets and craft sales. And that has me thinking about the deep satisfaction and pleasure to be had whenever I visit the farmer’s market my friends in Kansas City created, or when I talk with the small food growers I know here in our pretty, fertile area of Kansas.
My farmer friends in Kansas City are about to have their sweet little urban farm shut down because their neighbor wants to sell his house and he thinks those huge, wild gardens next door and the chickens clucking (no roosters!) and the visitors coming to learn about gardening all somehow diminish the value of his property.
I wish I were in the market for a house in Kansas City. I’d love to have a farm right next door with just about everything I’d need to sustain a pretty healthy life. That would be a huge selling point in my book. Clean food within 30 yards, no MRSA, no E. coli? Sweet! And if the poop hits the propeller from some social disruption or natural disaster, there could be much worse ways to get through it than hunkering down with the farmers next door.