Economic Imperative

November 4-10, 2019

Since a thirst for knowledge seems to be part of what makes us human, let’s look at where we are at the moment. Since Cyrus McCormick started strapping industrial equipment onto steel wheels in the 1830s, the advances in industrialization of our nation’s food supply have become something Cyrus could never have dreamed. Scientific research, seemingly incremental with collective great leaps, is charting the course for industries to adapt and succeed. It is an economic imperative to do so, stay in the game or get out. When negative externalities are an unintended consequence of an industry, it is seen as a necessary evil, the cost of modernization. This has not worked out so well in the food industry and human health.

The agricultural industrialization revolution in America began in earnest after WWII as bomb ingredients were converted to fertilizer, and nerve agents were branded as pesticides, and tanks switched into tractors. The goal was to keep people working to rebuild our country free of tyranny. By overlaying a feed the world mentality (creating our own markets, which was necessary as the war’s impacts were worldwide) we have steadily learned how to process raw agricultural crops into user friendly forms with un-imaginal efficiency.

Nowadays, computerized combine tractors collect huge swaths of grains for remote feeding of livestock who are confined into feedlots and then later fabricated into all manner of preserved and processed products that may or may not meet the definition of food. This is the norm today? The negative externalities of this situation are tangible. Yet, such externalities are not being considered in the collective “cheap food is good for national security policy.”

But through that same science, we can actually now quantify the negative impacts of mining our soils to feed the world. From the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to the hospitals bursting at the seams with people with diet related illnesses to insidious cancers, our society is paying the price. What can we do about it?

In the early 1920s, Arthur Pigou, a renowned and brawny British economist at Cambridge University, was fed up with the coal burning smog in his community, affectionately called London Fog. He calculated the costs to the residents to clean and replace goods, provide better health care, and improve the impacts on plants and animals- all ruined from the suet of burning so much carbon in the form of coal in a small space. Pigou proposed a tax that energy users would pay to account for the cleanup. It acted as an incentive to pollute less, and equally important, consumer spending would gravitate to cleaner technologies. This is known today as a Pigouvian tax scheme. Canada has implemented a carbon tax system based on this principle with the tax money flowing to consumers to drive cleaner technologies.

Moving forward with this thought, what would Pigou say about our industrialized food system of the 2020s? He would immediately calculate the health care savings if people stopped having chronic diet related diseases. Junk food would be more expensive and taxes on it would pay for the health care claims such junk contributes. Most everyone knows there is a correlation, but it is difficult to quantify.

What else could Pigou affect? Farm chemical companies would be taxed the billions of dollars needed to research and develop technologies to reduce runoff, replenish riparian zones, and even re-vegetate the Mississippi River Delta. Farmers would look for alternatives to expensive chemicals and adopt regenerative agricultural practices.

Products known to carry toxic substances would be taxed to incentivize research alternatives and cure cancer. The more risk, the greater the tax. Consumers are getting pretty savvy to information like this and would make safer food choices.

Taxes are considered four letter words in political circles so Pigou’s ideas are probably not going to happen in my lifetime. But, how can we incentivize healthy eating and save ourselves from slow suicide in today’s industrialized food system? At Elmwood Stock Farm, the food we grow has a net positive impact on the ecosystem. The minimal negative external costs associated with our production and distribution system are dramatically offset by all the carbon we sequester for the greater good of the planet. We would not have to pay any of Pigou’s taxes.

As CSA shareholders in partnership with an organic, regenerative farm you are doing your part. You are leading the charge to make this world a healthier place! Elmwood Stock Farm together with you, our CSA members, has all the incentive we need to invest in the long term future of our personal health and a cleaner environment. Let’s keep at it together! -Mac Stone

In Your Share

  • Arugula
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Chard, Rainbow
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kale, Russian
  • Microgreens/Shoots
  • Onions, Green
  • Pepper, Bell
  • Salad Mix
  • Squash, Acorn
  • Squash, Honeynut
  • Squash, Spaghetti
  • Surprise Me!
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips, Purple Top


Check out our Pinterest board for this week’s recipes!

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