Organic Debate

A blogger at Fair Food Fight calls Heather Rogers' July/August cover story ("Slowed Food Revolution") "a re-sounding warning shot" for its exposure of the administration's hostility toward the organic-food movement:

"I've been wondering, too, how long small independent organic farmers can carry on against such obstacles. ... But what's needed is meaningful financial support, proportional to what Big Ag receives, to encourage environmentally sane farming production, exemplified by certified organic farmers. ... With farm bill discussions ramping up, and watershed dilemmas before the [Department of Agriculture], the Rogers article is an excellent challenge. ... Time to get serious about regional food systems and land stewardship."

On Twitter, food journalist Michael Pollan deemed Rogers' piece a "must read," calling it "a tough, important article challenging Obama's commitment to sustainable agriculture."

But reader Simon Waxman is skeptical of the value of organic farming: "What [Rogers] fails to mention is that so-called sustainable agriculture, while better for the environment, may not be sustainable at all when it comes to feeding human beings. Can we all eat relying on only organic-farming methods? There is much back-and-forth on this topic, but if we look to regions where conventional agriculture is not practiced -- principally Africa -- it's pretty clear that conventional farming has the upper hand when it comes to preventing famine."

Reader Edward Witten takes this logic a step further, wondering if the efficiency of the agricultural industry gives it the potential to improve public health: "I suspect that the main justification for the government to promote small farms and organic agriculture is not that they are a practical solution to any big problems but that people living in urban areas enjoy having farms nearby. For public health, any gains from promoting small farms might be dwarfed by the potential benefits of changing the incentives of agribusiness and intensive agriculture to favor fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods rather than corn syrup and the rest. To increase agricultural yields in the future -- so as to eliminate hunger and feed a world population that is still growing -- while reducing the environmental costs of agriculture, genetic engineering may be a key."

Family Matters

Reader Cathy P. Miller agrees with the argument in Lisa Guernsey's "A Place for Play" that the sterile classroom stifles learning. Miller adds, "This is also an extremely important issue in family engagement. The 'science' of reading when addressed in an isolated fashion without the correlation to everyday life and a family's literacy is unlikely to make much of an impression or a connection for our children. And this narrow approach does nothing to draw families into the literacy development of their children. If we are to change those figures that tell us that across the country many of our children are failing to gain even the most basic of reading skills, authentic partnerships have to take center stage, and we must address 21st-century literacy in collaboration and partnership."


Correction: In Heather Rogers' cover story, Roger Beachy did not remain president of Danforth, rather he joined its board as vice chairman.


From the Executive Editor

It doesn't seem like it's been so long, but it's been 20 years since Robert Kuttner, Paul Starr, and Robert Reich launched the Prospect as a thick, thoughtful, and passionate quarterly. In that time, the Prospect has put out 205 print issues, become a daily online presence, and published articles by almost 1,800 different writers! In honor of the anniversary, we've asked Prospect editors and frequent contributors from over the years to offer thoughts on the state of progressive politics and ideas, looking particularly at the fault lines and conflicts that mobilized us, both then and now.

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