Monday, June 22, 2009

Food System or Farm System

Thank you to all who have already posted here. I would like to propose one simple tool for evaluating the work we are all now reading. My suggestion is not novel and extends across disciplines so widely that perhaps it does not need to be repeated. However, I fear a discussion as broad as the one that is likely to happen here might become worthless without a framework for engaging the work. What I suggest is that we engage this text in part by identifying the questions being asked and identifying those that are not being asked. Answering questions is, of course, important, but a simple outline of the questions is quite telling. What questions did Pollan have on his mind as this work moved forward? What questions does the narrative address and which questions does it leave out. Suggesting, that some questions have been left out is not meant to be a critique at all. Telling a story or conducting an experiment requires us to bound our questions and inquiry. I do feel, however, that failure to recognize the limits of a story or of research can be dangerous. I think we will more richly understand the important contributions of the work we are now reading by engaging in this exercise. I titled this entry, Food System or Farm System as this represents a question for me (perhaps not for you). I have farmed most of my life and now work closely with farmers. I often wonder whether the questions we ask are questions about food systems or farm systems. Now, I recognize that many might not create the distinction I just created, but it is has utility for me. For example, what questions might a farmer who depends on production to provide for his or her family be asking that are not represented in our reading? Likewise, what questions are being asked here that are not being considered by your favorite farmer? Why might they differ? What can the questions tell us about the complexity of the system and how it might operate?

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