Search the Journey to Forever website – click HERE

Please support
Journey to Forever:
Make a donation


What people are saying about us
About Handmade Projects
Sitemap (text only)

Community development
Why we're doing this
Rural development
Fixing what's broken
City farms
Edible cities
Organic gardening
Everyone can grow their own food
The Wheel of Life
Small farms
The way forward
Small farms library
Classics on organic growing, soil and health (full text online)
Fuel for the future
Biofuels library
Manuals, how-to's, research reports (full text online)
Solar box cookers
Sun power saves lives and trees
Trees, soil and water
Healthcare for mountains
Seeds of the world
No seeds, no food
Appropriate technology
What works and fits
Project vehicles
The workhorses

Why it really matters
Internet interaction
Finding your way

Schools projects
Solar box cookers
Backpack stove
Low-tech radio
What to do with a cardboard carton
Sisters of silk
Silkworms in a shoebox
School gardens
School composting
Trees and forests
The Beach House fish pond
School and youth programs on the Web
Education resources on the Web

Contact us

To Keith Addison

Handmade Projects
Journey to Forever

The myth of efficiency

Industrial agriculture claims "efficiency" and cheaper food. But it’s a false promise. In farming, bigger is not more efficient. And if you count social and environmental costs, it’s not cheap either.

Nearly half of the world’s population are small farmers. They still occupy most of the agricultural land, and grow a majority of the world’s food. They feed their families, communities and local and regional markets.

Such farmers have intimate knowledge of local crops and how to breed for local soils and climate. They use generations of knowledge, and techniques like mixed cropping, covercropping, and seasonal rotations to keep soil alive and productive, and to minimize insect blights. They save seeds to preserve genetic diversity, to cross-breed, and to lower costs. They integrate forest, woody shrubs and wild plant and animal species.

Hundreds of millions of these farmers are the backbone of the world’s communities, local economies, livelihoods, and food supplies.

This is more or less how things have been for millennia, but now, it’s all changing.

Family farmers are being rapidly driven off their lands by the new industrial agriculture system. Often run by global transnational corporations, they operate on entirely different principles, and with far different goals. (In the US, only 2% of the population still farms the land.)

Corporate agriculture buys up small farms and merges them into huge ones. They eliminate diverse cropping and substitute single crop monocultures for the export market. They use machines to do work that people did. And since monocultures are vulnerable to insect attack, they have to use great volumes of pesticides to help the monocultures survive.

Since these are "absentee owners," they are indifferent to local ecological conditions; they grow crops by one-size-fits-all industrial formulas, applicable, they believe, anywhere.

But when it comes to feeding the world cheaply, safely, and efficiently, they do not even try. Consider these factors:

1) Large scale industrial agriculture companies do not produce food for local people to eat. They prefer export-oriented monocultures—luxury items, that bring higher profits: flowers and ornamental plants, cotton, beef for fast-food chains, exotic coffees, exotic fruits, berries and vegetables. Meanwhile, land that once grew staple foods for local people, contributes nothing. Hunger increases.

2) They claim "efficiency," but industrial farms don’t count the external costs that society has to pay from this kind of production. For example, intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers seriously increases pollution of air, soil, and water. Pesticide residues on foods contribute to major public health problems, like growing cancer rates. Foodborne diseases like salmonella and ecoli have dramatically increased from the factory farming of hogs, beef, and chickens. Use of massive amounts of antibiotics as a growth stimulant for chickens, pigs and cattle may be causing antibiotic resistant "superbugs" in animals and could be reaching humans through the food chain. With that comes fears of a global pandemic. Use of machinery to replace hands-on farmers means a major increase in oil consumption, with associated pollution. The overuse of chemicals and machines combine to produce a massive loss of topsoil. The U.S. has lost half of its topsoil in the last four decades; fertile farmlands are turning to dust.

3) The emphasis on export trade, rather than local use, means tremendous public investment in transport infrastructure: new ports, airports, roads; subsidized by taxpayers. Meanwhile, shipping foods across oceans, rather than growing for local consumption, increases greenhouse gases and ocean pollution from the cargo ships and oil tankers.

Can we really call it "efficient" that the average plate of food on American tables is transported thousands of miles by ship and plane, when it could be grown a few miles away?

4) Then there are the external costs of the exodus of small farmers from their lands and communities. One such cost is welfare and other government payments to ex-farmers and farm workers, driven into poverty. Even worse is what happens to the communities they leave.

The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment studied 200 communities and learned that as farm size increases so does poverty, and the faster that farm size increases, the faster poverty increases. And, a University of California at Davis study concluded that as farm size and absentee ownership increase, social conditions in the local community deteriorate. Empty storefronts. Poverty. Crime. Social breakdown. So please, let’s not speak of efficiency where such costs are not included.

5) But ignore these external costs for the moment. Are large industrial farms efficient even in their own terms? Do they produce a greater output per unit of input? They don’t. The most efficient farms are not big farms, but "small to medium-sized," just large enough for a family to work fully, while using small scale technology. A recent study also shows that small farms (27 acres or less) are more than ten times as productive (in terms of dollar output per acre) than large farms (6,000+acres), and extremely small farms (4 acres or less) can be over one hundred times as productive.

When farms do get larger, the costs of production per unit often go up. Larger acreage may require more expensive machinery and more chemicals to protect crops. So, why do many farms choose to get larger? For absentee owners, the goal is not efficiency, it’s profit. Even if per unit costs go up, as long as prices are above cost, each unit sold adds to profit.

New policy

An efficient farming system would be immensely beneficial for society and for the environment. It would use the fewest resources for the maximum sustainable production, i.e., food for people who need it, while causing the least damage to nature. Industrial farming is not the answer.

The situation is clear: Our conversion to industrial agriculture means subsidizing the richest corporations on earth to run a system that eliminates livelihoods, harms communities, poisons the earth, and doesn’t feed the people, either. Maybe you pay a few pennies less for your industrial potato, but the next generation will pay billions more in taxes, to clean up the mess this system creates. This is not "efficiency."

We must change directions. It must become public policy to reverse the increasing corporate control of our food supply. We need a farm and food policy that works for family farmers and consumers. To find out how you can encourage this, please call.

    International Forum on Food and Agriculture
    Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy
    Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
    Organic Farming Research Foundation
    Corporate Agribusiness Research Project
    Center for Food Safety
    Pesticide Action Network, North America
    Organic Consumers Association
    Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens
    David Suzuki Foundation
    Earth Island Institute
    National Family Farm Coalition
    EarthSave International
    Food & Water
    Grace Factory Farming Project
    Humane Farming Association
    International Forum on Globalization
    Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet
    Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
    The Humane Society of the United States

Signers are all part of a coalition of more than 60 non-profit organizations that favor democratic, localized, ecologically sound alternatives to current practices and policies. This advertisement is #2 in the Industrial Agriculture series. Other ad series discuss the extinction crisis, genetic engineering, economic globalization and megatechnology. For more information, please contact:

Turning Point Project, 310 D St. NE, Washington, DC 20002

1-800-249-8712, or email:

City farms

Organic gardening
Why organic?
Building a square foot garden
Plant spacing guides
No ground? Use containers
When to sow what
Garden pond
Gardening resources

Making compost
Composting resources
Composting indoors
Composting for small farms

Small farms
Small farm resources
Community-supported farms
Farming with trees
Farming with animals
Pigs for small farms
Poultry for small farms
Aquaculture for small farms
Composting for small farms
Controlling weeds and pests

Small farms library

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations | Contact us

© Copyright of all original material on this website is the property of Keith Addison, unless otherwise stated. It may not be copied or distributed without the explicit permission of the copyright holder. All material is provided "as is" without guarantees or warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied.