Full Spectrum Sustainability

Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA

When we put on SPIN glasses we see food growing everywhere – backyards, front lawns, community gardens, rooftops, public spaces. But we aren’t looking through rose-colored lenses. We know SPIN farmers alone can’t supply all their communities’ food needs. That’s why we cheer the investments and advances in Big Ag tech. Many find this surprising, but some of us at SPIN are techies, and we never saw the rise of SPIN-Farming being a struggle against Big Ag.

In spite of what many are advocating, Big Ag is not just going to slink off into Monsanto monocropped cornfields. Thousands of big farm owners account for a third of U.S. farmland, and they are increasingly buying up land from smaller farming operations. Sure, it can be argued that Big Ag is less sustainable than a local organic CSA – but with the help of new tech it’s becoming more so.

New software and computing power are starting to help industrialized farmers manage their farms more efficiently and make them less dependent on information from their suppliers. By enabling them to tap into detailed data about how their farms operate in real time, tech helps them to use less water and fertilizer, save money and reduce their negative environmental impacts. As extreme weather becomes the norm, tech will
help these large scale farmers exert even more control over their operations and become as nimble as SPIN-scale farmers are.

Rather than looking at the world in black and white, we see it as a spectrum of ‘good’ that everybody’s on. Some may not be as far toward the positive end of that spectrum as others would like. And that could include SPIN farmers. If they were using draft horses for all their mechanical cultivation and feeding them with hay they grew themselves, they’d be extolled as pillars of sustainability. They’d also go out of business.

Then, rather than growing healthy food for a community using some gas or diesel fuel, they’d be trying to figure out how to avoid buying conventional processed food on sometimes limited budgets. As it is, they are doing more good than harm, leaving their immediate environment better off than they found it, and producing and selling good products.

While the organic/local/regional/sustainable food movement is strong and growing, it is still very, very small in the bigger picture. To keep moving forward it needs to bring in the vast majority who still don’t know where their food comes from, or don’t care, or don’t think to ask. This is the big change SPIN strives for, and it does not require squaring off against Big Ag. Change comes incrementally to a large system. So we welcome progress wherever it comes from, and do not make perfect the enemy of the good food movement.

SPIN photo green and red We like red and green…  

SPIN photo Big Ag yellow field

and yellow’s looking better and better all the time.

For related thought please see this post on why we don’t care whether organic can feed the world here.