Post WWII, the population was exploding and the world faced a growing dilemma of how to feed everyone. The answer lay in the new agricultural technologies of the Green Revolution. Farmers were sold the first synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and fungicides, and just like that, their crops had never looked so healthy. What a miracle of science! However, over time, these gains came at a huge cost to our soil, our food and our health.
Similarly to how the gut microbiome directly affects our health, the soil microbiome affects the health of the food we eat. Soil microbiologists have illustrated how the different chemical inputs and practices of the Green Revolution decimated the soil microbiome and fundamentally changed the way our plants take up nutrients. The result was grocery store shelves filled with food that possessed far less nutrients and essential trace elements than in the past. Over just a handful of decades, we lost our ability to create food that could nourish us and keep our bodies functioning properly. Toxic materials have made their way into nearly all the foods we eat. Lab tests have found that not only are the nutritional values highly varied and insufficient, nearly all of them contain pesticide and herbicide residues – even the products labeled organic.
Mike Etchandy, Owner of Etchandy Farms, and A.G. Kawamura, the former Secretary of Food and Agriculture under Arnold Schwarzenegger, point out a fact that will surprise most: organic crops in many cases are sprayed even more than conventional crops. Health professionals have looked at the use of heavy metals that are essential for industrial organic operations and have seen how they adversely affect our health. To make matters worse, the amount of arable land needed to feed the world’s growing population with organic food doesn’t exist.
With so much bad news, it’s only natural to want to point the finger – but are farmers the ones to blame? In our story, they’re the protagonists and also the victims. The system in which they operate is the villain. They have illustrated how decades of pesticide and herbicide use made their crops chemically dependent, and how their margins have shrunk – in part due to how expensive this ever-growing need for chemicals has become. They’ve had no choice but to chase higher and higher yields at the expense of our soil and health. They’ve explained how slim the margin for error in their business model is, and how risky it is to step out on a limb and try anything new.
In Southern California, Etchandy and Kawamura recalled the heartache of losing field after field by giving up the conventional tools they had at their disposal. With millions of investment dollars and the legacy of multiple generations on the line, how could they convince their operations to ditch what has made them profitable for the last few decades? These are the odds stacked against our protagonists.
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Mike Dobbins is developing bio inputs to replace pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. His mission is to give farmers the tools they need to produce 100% chemical free food at the scale needed to feed the 9.8 billion people that will soon inhabit the earth. “If you want to look after biodiversity, and you want to improve our soil health, and you want to improve our chronic illness growth, we have to have NO chemicals. And in all fairness there has not been, on a worldwide basis, a solution to the problem.
Mike Etchandy is a fourth generation organic and conventional Orange County strawberry farmer. Jaded by the ambiguous organic certification system and the heavy metals it relies on, he has been testing new bio inputs on his strawberry fields to reduce his dependence on harmful chemicals.