No to Agriculture!

SUBHEAD: GMO products are bathed with pesticides in open field tests adjacent to our schools and homes. The dangers are real and present. 

By Juan Wilson on 15 July 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: Photograph of some of the effects of the explosion at the BASF chemical plant on 21 September 1921 that produced synthetic fertilizer and nitrogen based munitions. More severe damage occurred at the epicenter where a crater 400ft across and 60ft deep was created. From (

Big Island NO GMO Bill. (

...In what will end up being one of the longest public hearings in recent memory, hundreds signed up to testify at the Hawaii County Council committee hearing on bill 79 – which would prohibit genetically modified organisms on the Big Island. The debate has reached a fever pitch over the last few months...
In a comment on the post "TheOldTechnician" wrote:
Bill 79's supposed exemptions for GM papayas really amounts to defacto ban on them, to wit, from Bill 79's text:

"(c) Any person using transgenic organisms in the production of agricultural produce or the raising livestock of any kind prior to the effective date of this article under the exemption allowed in subsections (b) and (c) is exempt from the prohibition set forth above in section 14- (a), provided documentation of the usage, the defined location and the extent thereof, is submitted to the department of environmental management, along with proof that all transgenic organisms are physically contained, as defined herein."

"Physically contained” means following USDA protocols and guidelines at the BSL-3-Ag Containment Level or greater as outlined in USDA Departmental Manual No. 9610-001: “USDA Security Policies and Procedures for Biosafety Level-3 Facilities.” -

Just what is BSL-3-Ag containment? See this slide show.

There's no way that real farmers can operate under such draconian and totally unnecessary restrictions
I commented back:
Aloha Old Technician,

That appears to be what you are. When you say "real farmers" you really mean techno-indusatrial farmers.

What you don't get is that "real farmers" of the Green Revolution are the cause of the problem - not the solution.

There dependence on petrochemical fertilizers/pesticides, petroleum fueled machinery, and intercontinental supply lines is suicidal.

Time for backyard gardens and 100 acre family farms - not "real farmers".

The Old Technician replied:
 A farmer that decides to grow GM papayas doesn't suddenly stop being a real farmer because of that decision. Without GM papayas, there would be little papayas at all, including the organic ones. GM papayas are providing herd immunity to the rest.

It should also be noted that one doesn't need petroleum to produce fertilizers. Google the Haber process to see why.

And as far as small farms being the way to go, consider this thought experiment:

Suppose there were 4 rectangular shaped farms, just small enough to be considered, "small". Suppose these 4 farms all shared at least one common side with each other, as is often the case with farms. Suppose that the only thing separating these farms from each other are barbed wire fences.
One day, the 4 farmers meet each other at their common corner and they find out they are all growing the same crops, use the same techniques, using the same equipment. One gets an idea! "Let's cut down those barbed wire fences!". They all agree.
Now they notice they, as a group, no longer need 4 tractors, only 1 or 2 and likewise for their other major equipment. They are notice they can combine their purchase orders and get price breaks.
Question: Did cutting those barbed wire fences,thus making the 4, just small enough to be small, farms into 1 not small farm suddenly decrease their efficiency? If so, how?

And, what is your definition of a, "family", as it pertains to farming?

- Mitch

Image above: Photograph of damage in the town of Oppau near the BASF plant. About 80 percent of all buildings ithere were destroyed, leaving 6,500 homeless. Over 600 people died as result of chemical explosion. From (

My response is this post:

Aloha Mitch,

To begin with I would say that agriculture as practiced over the last several thousand years has been one of the most destructive forces on Earth. It has desertified the "Cradle of Civilization" started in "The Garden of Eden" - namely the Middle East and a good portion of Eurasia.

In in the May 2006 "Permaculture Activist", by Toby Hemenway, titled "Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?" His answer to the question is "Yes". The article begins...

"Jared Diamond (author of "Collapse") calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race". Bill Mollison (author of "Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual ") says that it can “destroy whole landscapes". Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture."

In recent centuries agriculture has deforested Europe and North America and is now flattening the Amazon to grow GMO soybeans for the Chinese. The human record on habitat destruction and megafauna extinction is a tragedy. Unless we give up conventional agriculture that extinction could enter our own backyards and include our children.

I wrote of this in 2007 in an article titled The Garden of Eden (
After World War Two, as a result of research programs by organizations like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation, petrochemical based fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides were widely incorporated into US agriculture on a monumental scale: specifically in the growth of wheat and corn. 
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) exported this agribusiness technology throughout the world. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, the USAID coined the term "Green Revolution" to describe this worldwide intensification of agriculture in even the poorest countries. The USAID was to farming, what the CIA has been to diplomacy. 
This Green Revolution has allowed the human population of two billion to triple in just three generations. 
The Green Revolution is dependent on the continuation of a US reinforced Global Economy based on cheap oil. US agriculture is now largely the conversion of crude oil into corn byproducts. The Green Revolution is not green in an environmental sense. It is quite the opposite.

We on Kauai are at the center of corn technology research by Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and others. These corporations need a protected and isolated place to develop their mutations. We are that place. Field by field, our Agland is being converted into GMO laboratories.
When the cheap crude oil is gone, the Green Revolution will be over. America won't be exporting corn syrup then... we'll be trying to burn it. Even on Kauai the agricultural multinationals are lining up the subsidies and doing the PR work to replace food crops with fuel crops. Ethanol subsidies are a scam that won't have legs to carry us to fuel self-reliance. We'll starve first. 
The tug of war between those wanting cheap fuel, and those wanting something to eat, won't be pretty. And, unfortunately, neither side holds a winning hand. There won't be enough land to grow the fuel for our present life style, and once oil is gone there won't be enough of the fertilizer and other petroleum based products to keep growing the food we will need. 
So, besides lowering our population, what is the answer to this dilemma. In a word: Permaculture.

Anthropologist Yehudi Cohen, and other scholars, break human cultures into five categories based on the method they use to get food. Sometimes people combine two or more of these categories into new roles.The role people play getting food is reflected in their economy, political organization, art and even religion. These five categories are:

• FORAGERS - hunter-gatherers
• PASTORALISTS - ranchers, herders
• INDUSTRIALISTS - chemists, manufacturers
Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is a term coined in 1971 by Bill Mollison to describe "the maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems." The Permiculturist uses simple methods to nurture useful plants and animals. Permaculture is self reliant and sustainable. 
Permaculture blends a bit of Foraging, with little Agriculture and a lot of Horticulture. Permaculturists gather some wild food, like Foragers; and farm some domesticated plants, like Agriculturists; but mostly they garden, like the Horticulturists. How fitting for us, living on "The Garden Island"
Unlike Agriculture, Horticulture can be best done at a small and intimate scale. Typically, the social organization needed is small - at a tribal or village level. Also, unlike modern large scale Agriculture, Horticulture does not require synthetic fertilizer, heavy mechanization, or chemical treatment. It can best be done organically.
Horticulture is the most efficient method known for obtaining food, measured by return on energy invested. Permaculture is therefore relatively easy and productive. It would seem that in the past the Hawaiians practiced Permaculture using their Ahupua'a system of land management...
So specifically, in response to your comment I would begin by saying:

Point 1: GMO Papayas
We have grown a variety papayas from our own seeds for the last ten years without any debilitating diseases. We have had are papayas checked and they have not been contaminated by GMO. We hope to continue doing so. And no, we don't consider ourselves papaya farmers.

Point 2: Fossil Fuel Free Fertilizer 
I did google Haber Process and got ( It is not exactly fossil fuel free. The entry begins;
"The Haber process, also called the Haber–Bosch process, is the industrial implementation of the reaction of nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas [to produce synthetic ammonia] ... Haber and Bosch were awarded Nobel prizes, in 1918 and 1931 respectively, for their work in overcoming the chemical and engineering problems posed by the use of large-scale, continuous-flow, high-pressure technology. During World War I, the synthetic ammonia was utilized for the production of nitric acid, a precursor to munitions. As Germany lacked access to such readily available natural resources, the Haber process proved important to the German war effort."
I am not interested in fertilizer that requires early 20th century industrial processing of methane at high pressure and high temperature(1,000ºf that probably then required a coal furnace).

Point 3: Barbed Wire Surrounded Farms
I hope we don't need a grid of rectangular plots surrounded by barbed wire to produce low input food crops using permaculture techniques to produce food forest. What we are really looking for is "sufficiency" in the environment, and not "efficiency". As concerning the sharing of equipment and effort that is too expensive for a single family to afford - I am certainly on board. That was certainly the motivation of the single family farms that joined the Grange Society in the 19th century and the Amish families "Barn Bees" to this day.

Point 4: Definition of Family Farms
We'll be growing our own food soon. That does not mean it will be on a "far" in the 20th century sense. But an attempt to define family farm might go something like this: "A related group of people who are self sufficient from the land they live on. " I know that's very fuzzy, but I'm sure that will come into better focus as we practice our gardening.

Finally, I think it no coincidence that it was BASF that industrialized the "non-petroleum"process to produce fertilizers (that required natural gas and coal) and endangered the very community it was supposed to be supporting.

BASF is still a chemical company. They operate here on Kauai in arrangement with Syngenta to produce GMO products that are bathed in cocktails on pesticides in open field tests adjacent to our schools and homes. The dangers are real and present.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Yes to Horticulture! 7/17/13



TheOldTechnician said...

Hello again,

If you notice, the Haber-Bosch process requires hydrogen, not methane. Methane, or natural gas, is currently used as a hydrogen source and as an energy source for compresson and heating. But any hydrogen source and energy source would do, solar, for instance for cracking water for its hydrogen and the for the energy for heating and compression. In fact, Haber initially used electrolysis for hydrogen production.

So, indeed, nitrogen fertilizers can be made without geologic hydrocarbons.

Question: If you do forsake any synthetic nitrogen fixing, where will your permaculture systems get their nitrogen from? With each harvest you'll remove nitrogen from your system where it will then become part of people and part waste (there is always food waste).

TheOldTechnician said...

Hello yet again;

Points 3 and 4) The barbed wire was only used as a literary device to show that the 4 farms acted independently before joining forces. It could have been stone walls (and very many times they are) or simply landmarkers in real life. But, nonetheless, you eschew efficiency for self sufficiency.

First, you do need a certain bare bottom efficiency just to be self sufficient, which, i take, means feeding themselves. But, then, the farms must feed others. So your efficiency must be great enough so that you feed X + yourselves, and animals, given the land area and the people used to grow that food.

In the criticism of the Green Revolution, it was admitted that said revolution did allow the population to triple. The corollary of that is hungry people got enough food to live their lives and procreate. So, what happens to those extra 4-5 billion people if we undo the Green Agriculture? A, closely related to the former question, implication of that admission in the context of, "The Not So Green Revolution", is that we shouldn't produce more food for hungry people lest they have children. And, that, is simply inhumane.

- Mitch

Juan Wilson said...

In response to "Hello Again"...

Aloha Mitch,

Glad we can have a thoughtful dialog without retreating into our own dogma.

One thing seems to be continually overlooked by techno=optimists, and that is we should not be burning so much stuff just to make life easier for ourselves.

In many ways we as human are one-trick-ponies. We burn stuff to get things done. Most animals have the good sense to be afraid of fire. We don't.

From a lighting bundle sticks, through burning a gallon of gas, to setting of a nuclear chain reaction - that's our solution to the problem at hand.

The idea of solving our problems by cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen so we can burn water to make fertilizer is about as bad an idea as desalinating the ocean to get water in order to grow wheat in Saudi Arabia.

It's inappropriate and unnecessary.

As far as where to get nitrogen from - how about the nitrogen fixing plants. Here in hanapepe Valley, on Kauai there are two trees in particular that are impossible to exterminate and are fast growing nitrogen fixers - haole koa (Leucaena leucocephala)and opiuma (Pithecellobium dulce).

We push back the opiuma (too weak with too many thorns) but encourage the older haole koa. We use them for climbing vegetables like chayote and yams.

We also use the haole koa as a 50% shade tree for understory plants that need protection from our bright sun, e.g cacao.

When we first moved here to our half acre in paradise our soil had few if any worms. It consisted of a lot of red clay and chunks of lava rock. I put about a ton of organic fertilizer over much of the yard and let whatever could get through occasional mowing survive.

Twelve years later I have soil and worms where ever I dig. I do not replenish the fertilizer.

When we grow from seed we do buy potting soil. Otherwise to supplement the soil we have dried chicken poop from our flock of 14 free range chickens that we apply to plant starts with kitchen scrap compost. We also started a small worm farm and have a healthy bee box going as well.

We are trying to mix permaculture and food forest techniques that require little attention. We realize this is low on input as well as output.

So our fruit trees, and plants like cassava, ginger, taro, have no outside inputs but sun and water (in summer mostly from solar pump in shallow well).

For high output we have a 16' x 30' raised bed (16" deep) garden. The soil comes from a local nursery that calls the soil "50-50" and its $50 a cubic yard. They mix their own compost with equal amounts of shredded organic material from our local transfer station "slash pile".

The slash pile is made up of yard cuttings that are put through a chopper grinder (fueled by gas). We bring all our cuttings that are too fibrous to quickly decompose into compost to the slash pile.

Our raised bed is quite productive. With our eggs (an occasional chicken), vegetable garden, food forest and fruit trees we hope to achieve 50% self sufficiency. That's the magic number in permaculture.

With gardening to reach 50% self sufficiency means that you either have too many avocados or none; too many mangos or none. As a result we are participating in a gift economy with some things that are very plentiful like papaya or bartering with things of greater wealth, like eggs.

Yes, there is always food waste. with too much fruit can either be turned to compost or gifted away or given to the chickens.

We hope to reach a point of balance of inputs and outputs within our little Eden.

IB Publisher

Juan Wilson said...

In response to "Hello Yet Again"...

Aloha Mitch,

As to barbed wire or stone walls… The boundaries of private property was a powerful invention of western industrialism. Draw a map of a place - then draw a boundary on the map that relates to stakes in the ground - then write a title to the land - then kick off the indigenous people, claiming they are trespassing.

It's worked pretty much everywhere it's been tried. But this disregards the life of the land itself and the commons of human interest. How the man, the family, the tribe, the community live on the land is the real issue. What and how we keep and/or share what we harvest will have to be defined in a new economy.

Unfortunately, either by design or accident, we are facing an upcoming bottleneck through which I feel the majority of humans will not pass through.

By that I mean our numbers will go down. What is sustainable? Many think it is less than two billion. A world more like 19th century America than 20th century.

We have known of the problem of overpopulation for decades and have done little or nothing to ease the situation. Needless to say, the longer we delay the more people will suffer through ever more calamitous times.

Our delay is largely due to the "growth is good" model of economics that pervades industrial societies. The Chinese made a serious stab at the issue of population control but only in conjunction with moving people out of rural living arrangements to new big cities to work on assembly lines. As consumerism has pervaded the country they have eased back on the contols.

In short, growth without end is not good… it is cancerous. Humanity either retreats in numbers or continues on its way with the pedal to the metal. The best we can hope for is that we take our foot odd the accelerator and coast to a stop.

Our fuel on the journey has been reduced to Soylent Yellow (the GMO corn/soybean diet based on a fossil fuel empire). Virtually are the commercial meat we eat is made of GMO cornmeal (pork, beef, poultry). Even our pet dogs and cats are made out of GMO cornmeal (just check ingredients on the kibble bag for yourself).

A large percentage of the average take-out meal comes from gmo high-fructose-corn-syrup. There is HFCS in the hotdog, the bun as well as the ketchup and soda.

The future of Soylent Yellow is loss of topsoil, immunity to pesticides, crop failure and increased global warming. A recipe for population collapse as soon as it is no longer profitable to big ag.

I don't want to decide who lives and who dies, but I want to live in a place that is alive itself. That does not need industrial input to survive. I realize that will be a place where I will have to work directly to feed myself; a place It will be hard and I will have to protect and defend land.

I encourage all to join that effort.

Juan Wilson
IB Publisher

TheOldTechnician said...

"local transfer section", table scraps, chicken manure, yard clippings, nitrogen fixing plants.

That's the rub about eschewing synthetic means. The nitrogen necessary to keep your yields resonably high on the actual crop areas requires inputs from other land areas, such as wehere those table scraps came from, the chickens' area of eating (and any additional feed you buy for them also needed land to grow on), the land for the nitrogen fixing plants, etc. Either through permament assignment of land areas, or via crop rotation, the organic method will require much more land for the same crop yield as conventional. Yes, fertilizer plants and their supporting structures also take up land but their nitrogen fixing yield is far, far higher per unit of land than natural means.

As far as, "burning", water to make that fixed nitrogen, that's exactly what natural processes do ! Their isn't free hydrogen gas in the atmosphere nor in the soil. Water is the ultimate source for hydrogen in both nitrogen fixing and for most of the other organic molecules that plants make. Eventually, the water is recreated when biological matter is broken down by bacteria. Water won't be permanently consumed by synthetic fertilizer production.

This also bring into question the use of any other chemical reaction, including fire itself. Can permaculture survive the exclusion of any intentional chemical process, including iron production? Are you really advocating going back to stone and wood?

I, also, must take to exception to terms like, "Soylent Yellow", an obvious attempt to appeal to emotions rather than facts and science. Especially since, in spite of whatever faults you may find, that GM corn and soybeans are helping to allow the 6+ billion people that are alive today to not starve to death.

Yes, growth without end is impossible, particularly population growth But to deny hungry people food (intentionally or simply by producing less) lest they have more children is inhumane. You say that it would be better know to cut loose the 4 plus billion, "unsustainable", part of the population now to avoid an even greater number to forsake later. But, that makes a big assumption that we would not be able to find another solution to population control. And it bets 4 plus billion lives on it. Indeed, we already see much reduced birth rates in developed nations, to the extend that some, like Japan, actually worry about population decline. And all without having to force a return to simpler times.

TheOldTechnician said...

Hello yet, yet again;

I don't think i got a real answer as to how the 4 small farms becoming one suddenly become less efficient.

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha OldTechnician,

By sharing tools and pooling labor (as the Amish do) they increase potential and efficiency. So if the four farms become one and in doing so all the families stay on the land - that is a good thing.

If this scheme means that the increase of efficiency means some farmers will be forced to leave their land - that is a bad thing.

I believe in the efficacy of a gift and barter economy based on sufficiency and not merely measured on yield per acre with unlimited external inputs.

By the way have you studied System Rice Intensification (

Very interesting.

IB Publisher

TheOldTechnician said...

Well, forced or not, the 4 farms farmstead may find that the work of only 2 or 3 farmers is all that is necessary. The other 1 or 2, still being owners may or may not choose to leave. IT may turn out that 1 of those farmers is tired of farming and want's to try some other line of work. He now can where, before, he couldn't.

But, the argument that we must keep to the current ways or older just to keep people employed really keeps people employed in busy work, busy work as defined as not really needed as there is a better way available. If this attitude towards manufacturing advancements was adopted 500 years ago, we'd still be hand spinning thread for clothing which then would have to be hand-loomed, etc. A shirt would cost the equivalent of a major appliance. Would people really want to be thread spinners for employment if it would then take a month's worth of their wages to buy a shirt? I don't think so.

Back to the 4 farms. Now that they are one, they are approached by 4 other 4 farms farmsteads that border them. They notice that that with a merger of their lands, they can make use of some larger equipment, in place of their original smaller tractors, that will give them some economies of scale. They notice too that they can get further price breaks on their supplies and consolidate the storage and selling of their harvests.

Question: Will the merger of the 4, 4 farm homesteads be less efficient together than separately? If so, how ?

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Old Technician,

Back to the four farms? The merging and efficiency you are grasping at requires industrialization - steel mills, coal mines, pollution.

he agriculture that results from such implementation requires destroying forests, diverting rivers and ultimately the loss of topsoil.

Anywhere this has been tried for a long time is likely to become a dessert. Large scale pastoral operations are equally destructive.

Once again I suggest you look at the Golden Crescent where agriculture got its start to see the end result.

The Book of Genesis describes our plight after leaving the Garden of Eden (where we were hunter gatherers). We were cursed with being farmers or herders and scratching at the dirt.

Civilization always seems great for those who don't have to do real work for a living or are hypnotized by its glitter.

As for me, I'm going back to the Garden.

Sufficiency not Efficiency!

IB Publisher

TheOldTechnician said...

Hello again;

You are relying on the Bible for your technical and science arguments?

Yes modern farming requires modern tools. A technological society willl always require materials, but so did ancient societies. But the point is technology can and will be sustainable. Nor does technology require coal mines or never ending pollution (which ancient societies also produced, everytime they lit a fire). If you don't think camp and cooking fires don't cause significant amounts of pollution, then you ought to visit Nairobi, Kenya and other densely populated areas that still rely on charcoal cooking. The smog can get quite thick at times.

We use coal/oil/gas mostly for energy. That can be filled in with solar, wind, nuclear, fusion (yes fusion! it's coming!) and a smattering of other technologies. We can make our own hydrocarbons straight from water and CO2. Google "Joule Unlimited" to see how. With 5% and 8% of the Earth's crust comprised of iron and alluminum respectively, we'll never, ever run out of those.

But we're not making much more land. That is why Efficiency is paramount and a necessary condition for sufficiency.

You want to talk about sustaining life for all time? Then we need technology to spread Earth life to the stars because, sooner or later, there is an asteroid coming with our names on it. And if that doesn't wipe out life, the sun's evolution of the next few hundred million years will. Geologically speaking, Earth life only has so much time to get moving.

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Mitch,

Fusion? You gotta be kidding. That was the stuff of dreams for adolescents in the 60's. back in 2005 when we were getting our heads wrapped around the consequences of peak oil a friend assured us our computers would be running on desktop cold fusion in a couple of years, but it had to be kept secret.

God forbid a species as dull witted and self destructive as our current set of techno-optimists don't have unlimited access to "free" energy. Things are bad enough at $100 a barrel for crude oil.

Worse yet would be spreading ourselves to the stars. We are still incapable of not shitting in our own nest. Who on what star would welcome us with our track record - or would we just kill whoever we might find on an Earth-like planet.

The hubris is truly tragic.

Let's see first if we can save this planet and the other megafauna on the journey with us.

IB publisher

P.S. as a techno-optimist perhaps you have a plan for solving the tritium problem emerging a Fukushima Daiichi.

It appears the melted cores are getting further out of control. Perhaps it could be the site of a fusion power station?

Seems a shame to let all that good energy go to waste.

TheOldTechnician said...

Hello Juan;

Yes, fusion Juan. It's interesting to see that on one hand, you imply how easy it is to get a large tritium deuterium reaction in the obsurdly low temperatures and pressures (for fusion reactions that is) in the Fukashima. And then, you so handedly dismiss it as a practical possibility.

Yes we've been working on it for a relatively long time. (not nearly as long as human flight and look at where we are today. We have literally reached the moon!). That doesn't mean it is impractical in principle. It just means that the supporting technology isn't quite here yet. Like human flight, tried and researched for thousands of years, didn't take off until a supporting technology developed: motors and engines. We know fusion is possible and prodigious in energy production and we know what is necessary to achieve it. Every year, new materials are developed, new theories are explored and new techniques come to the fore. One or a combination of those will be the key. It really is only a matter of time and effort.

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