My father is a farmer, his father was farmer, his father was a farmer, and his father was a farmer. So, my family has been in the agriculture industry for five generations, specifically Florida citrus. In 1988, my parents went into the production sector of orange juice. As my father has told me from the beginning, “Other businessmen told me, no one’s ever made money from selling fresh-squeezed juice. For your Mother and I, it was a labor of love.” Our farming blood makes our soul’s yearn for a orange grove at dawn and the sting of citrus nectar in the cracks of our lips. Farming defines us, just as much as a last name does. Despite our love for agriculture, we also have experienced the struggles of a fading industry and the loss of a farming culture. Generational farming cultures are disappearing due to the effects unregulated competition, emerging food fads, crop disease, and the cutthroat nature of business today. For these reasons, when my parents went into the juice business 25 years ago, they committed to value responsibility over monetary gain. Therefore, we have held ourselves responsible to Florida farmers, buying 100% Florida oranges. However, business has industrialized farming, as mass production and profit maximization bewitch industries and farmers. As juice producers, it has become more difficult to resist the cheap competition. On the other hand, as a grower, it has become impossible to compete.
In today’s corporate economy, the word “business” seems to rationalize an absence of morality. A businessman’s personal life and professional life warrant two different value systems. Within some businesses simply interested in remaining competitive, conduct that would be considered unethical in one’s personal life, is permissible in the corporate world because it’s “just business.” Yvon Chouinard, the founder and CEO of Patagonia asserts that “it’s businesses that have to take the majority of the blame for being the enemy of nature, for destroying native cultures, [and] for taking from the poor and giving to the rich.” Companies like Patagonia are on the rise, and these companies that do not wish to fall “victim [to their] own ignorance, greed, and inaction.” However, the legend of Patagonia is simply that- a legend. By the principle of business, cheap greed will almost always overpower expensive morality.
Farming by nature is risky business. In 1983, there were close to 300 citrus packinghouses in the state of Florida; 30 exist today. The ruthless nature of business will continue to weigh heavily upon cultures of farmers, like my family.
Globalization and cutthroat businessmen are not the only things hurting the US’s agriculture industry. Traditional farmers have been chastised for their agriculture practices that pollute canals and rip the soil of its nutrients. A new kind of farming trend has emerged in its place. A kind of “cheeky,” organic farming is the new fad, leaving behind an entire culture that has been farming for generations. Although both the organic fad and traditional farming are expensive in comparison to cheap, industrialized agriculture, this new farming fad is more marketable. The next generation of farmers are reluctantly surrendering their livelihoods and ways of life. I do not intent to criminalize the new organic farming fad. Nor do I contest that tradition farmers have caused environmental degradation. I only mean to point out that trendy organic farming is “the new farmer,” and generational farming cultures are losing value, even amongst ethical consumers’. How do we protect this disappearing culture, while also protecting our planet? As an advocate for the environment, I understand the urgency and need for change, specifically sustainable farming practices. Yet to ask a culture to change their practices, while it’s already struggling to survive, appears to me as an insensitive request.
I have personally experienced the aftermath of globalization and industrialization in the food industry. I have seen the global market destroy a culture’s livelihood. I have been torn between my personal morals that anchor me to environmental activism and the farming blood that runs within me. I want to see a future where the planets’ health and generational farmers can coexist.
China is experiencing a trend towards an organic and sustainable food market, similar to the US. This trend has surfaced in response to consumer dissatisfaction with food safety and access to safe, healthy food. To meet these demands, individual consumers, corporations, and farmers have developed small-scale, sustainable farming practices. Additionally, in urban China, consumers look towards innovative urban agriculture options. As my research has progressed here in China, I am interested in understanding the divergence between generational farmers and natural eco farmers. How do we bridge the gap and create dialogue to unite the preservation of generational farming and implementation of natural farming?