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The non-organic future

A ladybug crawls on an organic bean plant growing in the land between tarmacs at the former El Toro Marine base in Orange County, Calif.

Tess Vigeland: The United Nations says a billion people go hungry on this planet each day. And the overall population is growing. Experts expect we'll top 9 billion by 2045. The looming question: How to feed everyone with limited resources? This week, several major foundations -- including Ford and Gates -- launched a $3 million a year initiative aimed at figuring out how to come up with the food we need.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill looks at what the answer might involve -- and what it might not.


Adriene Hill: The farmers markets in Los Angeles these days are piled high with organic strawberries and kale. To the contented shoppers, this is what the future should be -- fruits and veggies grown on small farms, nearby the city. But, get over it. This isn't the future -- not if we want to feed everyone.

Pedro Sanchez: If you ask me point blank whether organic-based farming is better than conventional, my answer is no.

That's Columbia University's Pedro Sanchez.

Sanchez: There are just too many of us, we just need too many nutrients.

And those nutrients come from plants that need nutrients that organic fertilizers can't always provide.

Sanchez: It's like a bank account, you've got to have a positive balance.

And if you deposit only organics he says...

Sanchez: You're going to go broke.

One reason experts say organic farming isn't the big-scale answer...

Mark Rosegrant: Organic production tends to have somewhat lower yields compared to non-organics.

Mark Rosegrant is with the International Food Policy Research Institute, an organization focused on sustainable ways to end hunger. He says going all organic would require a whole lot more land. Organic farming is, Rosegrant says, a niche market. It's not bad, per se, but...

Rosegrant: It's not an important part of the overall process to feed 9 billion people.

The Economist recently had a special issue on global food supplies. One piece ended with the thought that the reaction against commercial farming -- with it's dependence on chemicals -- is "a luxury of the rich."

So what does the future of farming look like? Rosegrant thinks that genetically-modified crops have to play a part -- especially as pollution causes the planet warms up.

Rosegrant: I think we do think it's part of the toolbox going forward, that for example to get some of the drought tolerance or other kinds of heat tolerance.

The future may also involve more creative farming.


Organic squash grows in the land between tarmacs at the former El Toro Marine base in Orange County, Calif.

AG Kawamura: We're in the middle of what used to be the El Toro Marine base. We're on an airport actually, and we're farming in the open areas between the tarmac.

AG Kawamura is a third-generation farmer. He also is the former California secretary of Agriculture. The afternoon sun bounces off concrete runways and rows of small organic yellow squash. Kawamura and his brother grow organic and conventional crops.

Kawamura: Globally, the idea, it's going to be a big tent. There's big agriculture, small agriculture, there's room for all.

When you grow lots of food, in lots of ways, in lots of places, Kawamura says, droughts and floods and bugs that chomp down on crops become less of a problem. The future may also involve eating differently.

Mark Bittman: We need to address what diet looks like in the developed world and what diet looks like in the developing world, and how to sort of balance things out.

Mark Bittman is a food columnist for the New York Times and the author of "The Food Matters Cookbook." His mantra -- more veggies, less meat. Animals takes a lot more water and food to grow than plants.

Bittman: We hear a lot about how the Chinese are eating more like us, but the reality is we need to be eating more like the Chinese.

For the billion of underfed people in the world today, there are a billion-and-a-half that are overweight. That too needs to change, Bittman says, as we all start thinking more about what we eat.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

Vigeland: When do you buy organic? Adriene asked each of her experts that question. For their answers, and to share yours -- take a look at her blog post.


Read: A note from the editor

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
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And those nutrients come from plants that need nutrients that organic fertilizers can't always provide.

That's Columbia University's Pedro Sanchez.

So, Marketplace folks and Prof. Sanchez, I invite you to investigate that statement in the light of the work documented in the book, The Humanure Handbook by John Jenkins. The author posits that humans use precious water to dispose of organic fertilizer every day. He cites research on how it can be safely used to raise food.

You and the professor might also look into the work done by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia and Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee when you address the issue of organic fertilizer.

This "lack" statement is often offered by those, who have an interest in selling artificial fertilizer. It is bogus and deserves refutation at every turn.

Your "expert" named Sanchez says ,"And those nutrients come from plants that need nutrients that organic fertilizers can't always provide."

I encourage the gentleman to look into a simple little book, The Humanure Handbook by John Jenkins. The author posits that we waste enormous amounts of organic fertilizer (look at the title for a clue) and use enormous amounts of precious water to dispose of it.

He might also research the work of Joel Salatin (a self-described "Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic") at Polyface Farm in Virginia and Will Allen at Growing Power in Milwaukee to address the issue of organic fertilizer.

This alleged lack of fertilizer is a bogus issue often raised and seldom refuted.

The comments were much more educational than the article, which had absolutely no substantive content except for pretentious ramblings.

Twenty years ago, I bought 1600 acres so I could run away when I retired, which I did about 11 years past. I grow all organics as my neighbors do and we have a Farmer's Market gathering twice a week. Yes, this takes much more work than going to a grocery store and buying processed food but it is a lifestyle that one chooses or doesn't.
I can't help people who do not understand that the world's population is grossly overstated and must be reduced, so we are creating our own space where we can not be bothered by this neglect. Neglect of our society, air, water, and food. Since so many people do not see "solutions" to these problems, what are you going to do? Wait until there is nothing that you can do.

Tess and Adriene; I am very disappointed that you did not do your homework before going to air with these guests. This is a huge issue with many levels of deceit, big scientific funding and a huge trillion dollar profit industry. We cannot expect a healthy population by feeding them food designed in the laboratory, while the soil and environment goes to hell...that is not nature's way and we are killing Her in the process. At the risk of overburdening you, I offer the following to help you understand why you have been barraged with comments. It is not "organic" vs "Big Agriculture" (they call it "conventional" :-))..It is the survival of the planet and humanity. If you own the seed and food and water, you own the planet.
So many of these universities, bioscientists, USDA, foreign governments, mega-ngo (Gates) are very self-serving; Many financed by the gigantic biotech industry that pushes gmo's and their ever increasing allied corporations of pesticides, chemicals, big farm equipment all required to grow them, destroying biodiversity, soils, waterways and beneficial insects (bees) in the process. Even BigPharma has a role in this to address the illnesses being caused by gmos.
It is a trillion dollar business with a goal to take over and own the world's food supply (I have proof of this if you want). This is not a conspiracy theory but well documented. It is much deeper and sinister than just food (see below). The human body is not designed to assimilate the genetically engineered, pesticide genes and thus we have massive diabetes, cancers and overweight problems around the world. The whole debate is not about providing as much food as possible for the 7 billions, but the quality of the food; the impact on our environment; and bringing production of our food down to smaller parcels, closer to home where we have control and connection to the food we are putting in our bodies.
For your edification, I offer the following. I invite you to put up your feet, sit back and enjoy these very informative videos:
The World According to Monsanto (FULL LENGTH) - YouTube http://ow.ly/7I29K
Vandana Shiva: The Future of Food-Part 1 - YouTube http://ow.ly/7I2bR
Vandana Shiva - The Future of Food and Seed - YouTube http://ow.ly/7I2ku
My Potato Project; The Importance of "Organic" - YouTube http://ow.ly/7I2db
Jeffrey M. Smith - The GMO Threat HQ Full Length version 1_4! - YouTube http://ow.ly/7I2eC
Other sources:
@GMWatch
@GMOJournal
@nongmoreport
http://http://farmwars.info/
Pesticide Industry on Trial http://ow.ly/7I2m6 @PesticideAction
I trust you will redeem yourself by digging deeper into this massive, troublesome global issue and I look forward to your next program of investigative journalism on the world's food crisis.
Thank You Tess/Adriene, so much

It continues to be very disappointing that public radio (WAMU, Marketplace)is allowing Monsanto exposure. It is insulting that their tagline is "We�re working with farmers and partners worldwide to make agriculture truly sustainable" while they've been suing farmers who refuse to use their GM seeds for the last decade (AND WINNING) due to the quirks of patent law, and driving them out of business. It's a travesty that this could have and continues to happen in this country, and all the more ridiculous that Monsanto would advertise in this way. Please see the documentary, "Food Inc." PLEASE rethink your strategy as to who you accept money from for advertising time. It's a blemish on public radio's reputation that unsavory corporate donors can have this influence. Thank you.

A lot of liberals need their blinders off. Liberals are unwitting corporatists. Their leaders pretend to tax the rich and support small producers. But the ultra-rich have their money offshore. The so called rich actually paying taxes are only our "small business"elite. Corporatists use do-gooder liberal mush-heads to put mom and pop stores out of business. Which makes the evil corporate republicans actually appear honest in comparison.Liberalism is a ploy to use government to put small competitors out of business through pseudo huminarian causes. Republicans are generally unabashedly pro-big business monopoly. The only true American candidate that wants a mertitocracy based on free enterprise is Ron Paul. He is for GMO labelling (the death sentence for gmo's), right to drink raw milk, small agriculture etc. Our liberal NPR establishment people are posers. Just like government healthcare will mandate huge payments to pharmaceuticals while but not allow the freedom to choose naturopaths. The liberal governemnt is doing its best to require supplement doctor prescriptions which are now readily available at WHOLE FOODS. But the customers at whole food see the democrats as on their side.They are NOT on your side. Nor is NPR.

It is a shame that my contributions to NPR helped fund this misleading, damaging article which could well have been funded instead (and perhaps was) by the Monsantos of the world. Where you found writers and commentators with such a dearth of real science and real information beggars the mind. If you cannot at least have the decency to print and broadcast the other side of the issue, where scientists have stated that organic agriculture may be the only way to feed the world in the future, stop broadcasting the nonsense propagated by commercial agriculture. If NPR has become a nonthinking advocate of nonsensical notions, you have seen the last of my donations.

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