Something about Mark Bittman, the New York Times’ most elitist ag writer, just annoys the hell out of me. It might be his pollyannaish approach to farming. His grotesque misuse of words like ‘sustainable’ and ‘organic’ set my teeth on edge. He will occasionally throw the term ‘ethical’ into the mix, too, inferring that if you’re not operating according to his definition of sustainable and organic, you must also be unethical. I grind my teeth to near TMJ levels.
His recent ‘slant to the left’ sweep through Iowa to look at how the folks in flyover country live and farm and the pre-programmed prejudice he brought with him left the sourest of tastes in my mouth. He asked for direction from my friends in the pork business about where he should go and what he should see. They helped assemble a fair cross-section of the Hawkeye state, kind of a department store clothing department tour that hit small, medium and large farms.
Of course he had some time constraints, so, at the last minute, he deleted a few of the places where tours had been arranged, leaving his farm hosts standing at their front door with a fresh-brewed pot of coffee in one hand and their hat in the other. No need to see those operations, he already knew they were unsustainable, non-organic and probably unethical as well, so why bother?
Then, he compounded his sin by blogging this for NYT on August 16: “When Brenna Chase was farming in Connecticut a few years back, new farmers weren’t always welcome by oldsters. The pie, she says, just wasn’t big enough. “But now,” she said to me here, where she now farms, ‘the feeling is that the pie is getting bigger and that the more people that get into this the better it will be for everyone.’
By ‘this,’ she means sustainable farming (here I use the term interchangeably with “organic” because many ethical farmers can’t afford organic certification), and the poised 33-year-old, who began farming in high school, is representative of young people I’ve met all over the country. These are people whose concern for the environment led to a desire to grow — and eat — better food. And although chefs still get more attention, the new farmers deserve recognition for their bold and often creative directions.
It would be a challenge to find a farm or ranch that is not sustainable or organic. As in any business, wasting your most important asset is an absolute guarantee of failure. I can drive across most of the great Midwest and a good chunk of the non-urbanized Northeast and pass through hundreds of miles of farmland that should be labeled sustainable and organic using his definition because it has been farmed by generation after generation. If a fourth or fifth generation is still wresting a living from the same piece of dirt, we’re describing the very essence of sustainable/organic. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, I interviewed Jane Clifford, a woman who works with her husband on a dairy farm in Vermont that’s been in the same family for eight generations.