Industrial agriculture has become the most polluting industry in the United States from farmers infusing America’s plowed soil with manufactured pesticides and fertilizers. They are the point persons in a continuing “Green Revolution” using genetically modified, more delicate, annual seeds and massive oil inputs for fertilizer and insect control. The revolution has ripped up almost all American prairies, leaving only isolated patches which have never-plowed soil and native plants. In the raw, prairies have many interdependent species which together support the soil’s continuing health and the prairie’s many different native and interdependent plants.
It’s fact that our food supplies now depend on monoculture crops, planted by machine in plowed ground, and with potential plant competitors obliterated with toxic chemicals. As a boy I spent summers on a farm with acres of straight rows of planted cotton, and I walked the fields with my grandfather chopping out the “weeds” defined as all plants except cotton. Pesticides applied with tractors killed boll weevils and other small insects to increase cotton production further; that was the common way to farm then and now. Little thought went to the effects on the soil, even by farmers like my grandfather who had owned the same land for decades. That is the food and fiber economy most of us rely on.
There are exceptions. “Biomimicry” consists of creative attempts to produce food crops without tearing up the soil or poisoning it. No plowing, no monoculture, no poisons. The basic idea is a sustainable agriculture which takes seed-producing perennial plants which grew in an area before industrial agriculture, and breed them. It aims to domesticate wild, potentially food producing perennials which thrive without plowing or poisons, and then breed to improve their usefulness as food crops. It’s a nice idea, but implementation would require large adjustments in how much and what we eat: no one has demonstrated that biomimicry agriculture will produce food in quantities and varieties that grocery stores now routinely distribute.
Meanwhile, it may be useful to consider the groundwater pollution, the higher likelihood of flash flooding from denuded cash-crop land, and the poisons and dust industrial agriculture frequently produces in your location decisions. Each afflict neighborhoods near conventional agriculture, and may be relevant to your family’s health.