Maroney: Vermont should follow Bhutan’s lead to all-organic farms

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James H. Maroney Jr., who has a master’s degree in Environmental Law & Policy from Vermont Law School and is a former farmer.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a truly progressive state with failing farms and persistent water pollution, has announced that it will convert all its farmers — all of them — to organic, making Bhutan the first nation in the world to defend its environment against the scourge that is conventional agriculture.

“Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet,” Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho told Adam Plowright of L’Agence France-Presse in an interview by telephone from the capital Thimphu. “Intensive agriculture requires the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism. We must live in harmony with nature.”

“We have developed a strategy that is step by step. We cannot go organic overnight,” Gyamtsho said, describing the new policy that was formally adopted by the government last year. “We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example.”

Bhutan has a population of just over 700,000, about the same size as Vermont. Both Bhutan and Vermont are in the position of being too small to compete with mainstream agribusiness and both have had a similar experience with conventional, chemical intensive agriculture, which has polluted the water and further impoverished farmers instead of helping them.

The reader is invited to wonder why Vermont, a state producing just 1.2 percent of the U.S. milk supply, not remotely competitive on price or quantity with the “factory farms” out west, shedding farmers steadily since World War II, the majority losing $100 million in bad years while the minority just break even in good, should not convert to 100 percent organic and attempt, like Bhutan to become competitive on quality.

Bhutan appears to understand that farming and water quality are intricately linked: When you fix the first, you fix the second. The short-term benefit of becoming 100 percent organic is that the label is sufficiently assuring to consumers that they are willing to pay double. The long-term benefit is a prosperous farm sector and a clean environment. If, by putting the full faith and credit of Bhutan behind their conversion to organic, the government can provide this assurance to consumers, then health-conscious consumers will spend their food dollars to provide farmers in Bhutan a standard of living unattainable to their underpaid, perennially suffering conventional cousins.

The reader is invited to wonder why Vermont, a state producing just 1.2 percent of the U.S. milk supply, not remotely competitive on price or quantity with the “factory farms” out west, shedding farmers steadily since World War II, the majority losing $100 million in bad years while the minority just break even in good, should not convert to 100 percent organic and attempt, like Bhutan to become competitive on quality. The reader might also ponder why Vermont should venture to mandate that GMO food be labeled when organic food does not permit GMOs and is clearly labeled. Moreover, Monsanto cannot file a lawsuit against Vermont for converting to organic as the National Organic Program has behind it the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Vermont’s 700 or so remaining conventional dairy farmers are receiving $17 per hundredweight (cwt) for milk that costs them $18-22/cwt to make. This spring, in full compliance with the state’s Accepted Agricultural Practices rules, they will apply 80 million pounds of synthetic fertilizer to corn ground in the floodplain, half of which will flow reliably into the lake, in order to make more milk that they will sell below cost to bottlers out of state.

Some will say Vermont leads the nation in the local food movement and that we have programs like Farm to Plate (F2P) and Save the Working Landscape Enterprise Fund (SWLWF) driving a Renaissance in Vermont agriculture. These programs are, at best, 2 percent solutions and, at worst, canards: F2P, SWLEF, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Vermont Land Trust and Current Use dispense $5 million to $75 million a year to landowners the majority of whom farm conventionally. If that is not enough, Vermont has spent $140 million of the taxpayers’ money over the last 10 years to clean up the lake and yet the problem persists. This means the government of Vermont with taxpayers’ money is supporting low prices, farm attrition, rural economic decay and lake pollution.

These are not just side effects of the paradigm to be managed and ignored; they are the its fundamental precepts. The paradigm cannot be practiced without inviting them; I have yet to hear anyone articulate a plan that will make conventional Vermont farming profitable that does not also pollute the lake. So, if “local” farming is conventional farming, it too invites low prices, farm attrition, rural economic decay and lake pollution. What about scraping this ruinous paradigm and following Bhutan to salvation?

Comments

  1. bill robertson :

    places like bhutan and vermont give me hope in the
    ever rising power of monsanto and the likes of them.
    keep it going vermont, you are the beacon for the
    future of out value in the future.

    • ALEX BARNHAM :

      The pollution we face is not always outside the body. Soldiers autopsied in WWII in their 20s who were considered healthy were found to have a surprisingly large amount of fatty blockage in their hearts and circulatory system. This gave rise to the China Study which unequivocally advocates a meatless vegan diet. Circulatory system blockage can be quickly cleaned up without surgery.

  2. Patrick Cashman :

    “Agriculture minister denies reports of Bhutan becoming a 100% organic country by 2020″ From The Bhutanese, 20 Feb 2013, available at http://www.TheBhutanese.bt.

    • ALEX BARNHAM :

      How dare they become a 100% organic country…they have to wait for US.

    • Jason Farrell :

      “Media, whether it is local or international always fail to publish accurate information. It is our goal but it’s not about becoming an organic nation overnight or by 2020 or by 2030,” the minister said.”

      That cleared that right up, thanks Patrick. From the article it’s clear that Bhutan’s “goal” is to be an organic nation, but some have chastised them for declaring a timeline and disseminating inaccurate information. Got it. This reminds me of the many who claimed to support the goal of troop removal from war zones while simultaneously chastising those who set timelines for doing so

  3. ALEX BARNHAM :

    MONSANTO
    mon (my)
    santo (craven image of a saint)
    Headquarters located in Saint Louis, MO

    Exodus 20:4 ESV
    “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

    So we can say, “be healed, rise, pick up your bed and go home”

  4. Stan Swaim :

    When compared to Bhutan a real difficulty for Vermont ever becoming an organic agricultural economy is that it is overwhelmed by a corporatocracy while Bhutan is ruled by a benign educated monarchy. Years ago a plywood company enterred Bhutan and started stripping the forests, the company was quickly and permanently closed. Vermont cannot even protect shorelines from development! One of the first casulties of corporatocracy is a community conscience.

    • Patrick Cashman :

      Bhutan became a democratic constitutional monarchy in 2008 (see http://www.undp.org.bt/goodgov.htm).
      But let’s ignore that for a second.
      Are you extolling the benefits of rule by an educated elite, over our current system of government?

    • What makes a “benign educated monarchy,” exactly? Is it just a matter of putting that on your business cards?

    • Patrick Cashman :

      Stan,
      Nothing? Perhaps you tipped your hand a bit much and would like this to go away?

  5. stephen twitchell :

    Let’s hope that smart people get involved to find ways to improve agricultural practices rather than a kneejerk conversion to a purely inadequate method of farming called organic. If the world grew its food today with the most advanced organic methods, the population would starve. It takes more land to grow the same amount of organic wheat for instance than these evil factory farms use. That would in turn use up more water, destroy more trees and and cause more wildlife to suffer from lack of their own domain. The falacy of organic farming is in the same category as global warming ( climate change for those of you who acknowledge that the earth hasn’t been warming for nearly a generation.) Its dogma is cast from a zealous few who wouldn’t believe in capitalism even if Obama declared it the only way. Efforts to clean up the agribuisness graft and coruption is where the focus should be. Our department of interior, Bureau of land management ( what a joke . They can’t manage to pass gas at a bean eating contest.) EPA and other agencies are infiltrated with a bunch of ideological hacks rather than professionals with real knowledge of the environment and agricultural practices.

    For Vermont to become an engine for producing adequate supplies of food, Organic is the least productive way. I don’t think the focus should even be production for export. It would be nice however to have a supply of affordable produce grown locally by farmers with a thorough knowledge of safe and efficient and environmentally clean practices. The birdseed eaters can grow their own organic food.

    • ALEX BARNHAM :

      The problems of being carnivorous are legion and to prove that, read “China Study”. Take it from a vegan who eats well and is amazingly healthy and happy, terms like “birdseed eaters” and “rabbit food eaters” smacks of the same stupidity as “useless eaters”. How about some facts to back up your insane comments that organic farming takes more land to feed the same amount of people. That is simply fallacious. What is true is that milk and dairy products are not good for humans and eating meat is downright dangerous. Horses, elephants, oxen, gorillas, pandas, and most very powerful forms of life DO NOT EAT MEAT. The largest animal to ever live on earth eats microscopic plants. Do some research.

  6. Mark Moore :

    Yeah, and blue whales are carnivores too!
    http://www.blue-whale.info/Blue_Whale_Diet.html

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