Trade Fossil Fuel for Human Fuel

First appeared in Huffington Post

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer in beautiful, historic, depressed Sullivan County, New York, an area about 2 hours outside of New York City that’s better known as The Catskills. Except for the iconic 1969 cultural event that was Woodstock (actually held in Bethel, NY) the last heyday of this region was during it’s borschtbelt resort era: the 50’s and early 60’s (immortalized in the movie “Dirty Dancing”), when middle class New York families flocked there to the large hotels—The Concord, Grossingers, The Pines—for their summer vacations. Golfing for Dad, camp for the kids, cards for Mom. The towns of Sullivan County were thriving then. The big hotels and restaurants provided lots of jobs, and other local businesses did well too: dry cleaners, delis, bookstores.
The deregulation of the airline business in the 70’s ushered in the global economy we have today, and slowly killed the resort industry in Sullivan County. Suddenly it was affordable to travel to Europe, and in a jumbo jet it didn’t take all that much longer than driving north. The Main Streets of the towns all over Sullivan County slowly emptied and deteriorated.
We’re living with the effects of the global economy in more ways than one today. Look at the food on our tables. Here in New York, like everywhere else in America, our fruits and vegetables are flown in from all over: Florida, Texas, Mexico, California. They’re the products of globalized, corporate farming conglomerates that are accountable to Wall Street and their shareholders. These farming corporations are constantly finding new ways to produce abundant harvests faster and cheaper for better profits. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with profit. But corporate farms make their profits at a steep price.
For one thing, the growing methods of most corporate farms are not sustainable. Traditional, sustainable farming requires that crops be rotated from year to year, which enriches the soil but changes your yield (and hence your profits). Wall Street doesn’t like that kind of uncertainty, and so corporate farms use mono-cultural growing methods, which deplete the soil on a massive scale. In addition, the produce needs to be transported around the world, consuming large quantities of fossil fuels at a time when it’s clearly in our best interest to use less. So the cost of food has skyrocketed and food banks are running dangerously low. If that weren’t enough, throw in the salmonella that randomly contaminates our produce and is hard to trace because our food travels a path that leads all over the world. The fruit of NAFTA and globalization is, literally, poisoning us.
I look out the window at the rolling fields of Sullivan County and I see a solution. How about growing fruits and vegetables here in Sullivan County to supply the supermarkets, restaurants and schools of New York City? The price of gas is giving us the opportunity to begin a shift back to a local economy. Doing so would give us control of our own food supply, help us use less oil, and revitalize regions, like Sullivan County, which have lost local industries to a global marketplace.
A Wall Street day trader in the 90’s told me an axiom I’ll never forget: the market always gives you a second chance. Well, gas prices are giving us a second chance to evaluate our economy, our values, the very way we live. I say one solution is to grow our own crops, locally. Trade using fossil fuel for growing human fuel and in the process revitalize Main Street America


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