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March 4, 2015

A Blast from the Past: Anything But Conventional (From July 1998)

By A.G. Kawamura

(This column was written by Western Growers board member A.G. Kawamura for the July 1998 issue of WG&S.  This was before he was WG Chairman of the Board or the Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture.  Then and now, he is largely a strawberry grower in the firm his family runs, Orange County Produce.)

If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.  Seems like good advice unless you are a farmer.  Somehow, the genetic coding of farmers makes them tinker with things against all logic and good judgment.  Never satisfied with good enough, there is forever the quest for better quality, less cost, more efficiency, safer, bigger, stronger, new and improved something…and that’s just talking about tractors.

How about tastier, bigger, prettier, earlier, higher yield, easier to grow, pick and pack.  A farmer’s work is never done.  A farmer’s work will never be done because someone has to work if we plan to eat.  Whether it is a farmer from Orange County, elsewhere in California or the United States, or some other nation, someone will have to work to get the job done.

And so now I hear there are two kinds of farmers: Conventional and Sustainable.  How nice. Two kinds of farmers to feed two kinds of people, or two kinds of farmers to feed one kind of world?  Are there two kinds of doctors—quacks and professional?  Are there two kinds of lawyers?  Don’t get me started.

I attended an Organic Growers Conference in Monterey, Calif., hoping to learn a few things about composting and pest control.  It was very informative to find so many sources for my tinkering mind.  It was also very interesting to find so many different points of view regarding everything from agriculture to Zen.

I was dismayed, however, to recognize the alarming trend to try and divide agriculture into two camps: Conventional and Sustainable.  Perhaps it is easier to get a funding grant or take some political advantage by trying to create a division between farmers who are involved in the risky business of food production.

If you are in the business of growing food and not completing some funded study or practicing a serious hobby, then I believe that you are just a farmer.  Period.

Farmers of all persuasions ask the same questions, share the same concerns, experience the same weather, fight for market access and market share, worry about liability and lawyers.  They work to feed one world.  Non-farmers would have you believe that the world is black and white.  They would rather work against agricultural unity because that’s how they earn their living.  They refuse to acknowledge the dynamic nature of agriculture, and the men and women who make it their livelihood.

Agriculture by definition is sustainable.  It is evolving daily.  When people outside of agriculture try to define and confine it, they hurt those of us on the inside who are trying our best to keep up with new advances and ideas.  The complexity of feeding this world with today’s technology is challenging enough without the political parasites who would earn their living by biting the hands that feed.  I am getting so very tired of reading article after article by well-intentioned individuals who just don’t know what they are talking about.  How different their agendas would be if they were forced to feed themselves.  How different their agendas would be if farmers would only stop working long enough to ask: Who sustains who?

We are anything but conventional!