As regular readers know, I have done my share of kvetching about GMO media coverage. It’s easy to poke a stick at the stuff you take issue with, especially if you’re on the lookout for it. This is a form of selection bias that I need to be mindful of.
It’s not that I haven’t paused to admire examples of sterling journalism on GMO-related issues. I’ve praised Amy Harmon and Nathanael Johnson for their excellent work in the New York Times and Grist, respectively. But overall, the repeat offenders and flawed coverage (such as this latest from Reuters) seize my attention.
So I need to do a better job of spotlighting the standout work of those who are raising the bar on a consistent basis. That brings me to Tamar Haspel, whose monthly column on food and agriculture for the Washington Post is a must-read. Her most recent piece is on the comparative merits of small and large scale (industrial sized) farms. Like all of Haspel’s columns, this one is engaging, well reported, thoughtful, and nuanced. That’s no small feat.
Here’s how it starts:
There’s a kind of farm that has caught the imagination of the food-conscious among us. It’s relatively small, and you know the farmer who runs it. It’s diverse, growing different kinds of crops and often incorporating livestock. It may or may not be organic, but it incorporates practices — crop rotation, minimal pesticide use, composting — that are planet-friendly. Customers are local restaurants, local markets and us: shoppers who buy into a farm share or visit the farmers market.
There’s a lot to like about that kind of farm, and advocates believe it’s the pattern for what our agriculture ought to look like. The vision of small, diversified farms feeding the world, one community at a time, is a popular one. But is it a viable one?
To find out, go read the rest of the article. You’ll probably walk away a little surprised and lot more informed about agriculture, which is how I feel after digesting Haspel’s monthly column.