• Mike Marburg

Food: Do We Have to "Kill-to-Grow"? Part 1

A critical part of our resort's wellness equation is food. How we fuel ourselves matters, and I have spent time touring farms in the Valley to understand local practices. Along with deep research in the area, I have an appreciation for the the broad challenges we face.

Globally, over the next 50 years, we need to produce 60% more calories to feed 40% more people using no more land. Additionally, over the next 25 years, we also need to reduce emissions from food production and distribution by 10-17.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.

While daunting, by studying the past hundred years and believing in the power of human ingenuity, it is possible to imagine success. For example, during the 1900s, the agricultural community increased production yields by 4-8x, depending on the crop. Automation and a “kill-to-grow” culture (relying on pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified seeds, etc.) have driven most of the gains, with the latter playing a more dominant role over the most recent 25 years.

Unfortunately, the consequences have been environmentally devastating. The conventional food system is beset by well-documented problems: soil degradation, pesticide toxicity, high greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of biodiversity (such as pollinators), water pollution, low quality (nutrition-wise) crops, and the over-use of antibiotics in animals.

In turns out that 52% of global agricultural lands are moderately or severely degraded. Recent research indicates that, if conventional practices continue, the current soils in agricultural production will yield about 30% less than they would otherwise by 2050 – and will become virtually dormant by 2080.

Beyond this, I recently saw the $10B+ class action lawsuit award for roughly 100,000 cases due to Bayer’s Roundup, and noticed it is still in my local Home Depot --- plus more cases are coming! Apparently, occupational exposure to pesticides in the USA poisons as many as 20,000 farmworkers every year.

Rural and agricultural communities like those in the Shenandoah Valley have been found to experience higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate. Farmworkers also bring home toxic chemicals on their clothes and body. As a result, pesticide exposure is attributed to higher rates of birth defects, developmental delays, leukemia, and brain cancer among farmworker children. This is really sad.

Now, some 220 weed species have evolved herbicide resistance, and 600 cases of insecticide resistance have been recorded globally. A loss of ecosystem functionality and species diversity creates risks for farmers. But instead of focusing on these issues and the "no-win" path when you play this out over time, farmers are being told to use more powerful pesticides or to buy more expensive new genetically modified seeds.

For our nature and wellness resort, we will serve over 175,000 meals each year to guests who care about what they eat. Do we have to support a dangerous and ecologically destructive food production system, or is there a better path?