Agricultural farming has made a name for itself as the food-basket of modern society. Starting off as the simple presumption that easily accessible food ‘here’ was better than food half a valley away, early clusters of hunter-gatherers quickly learned the art of fencing livestock and creating microclimates to suit a range of growing conditions. The amount of food ‘here’ soon became too much for one farmer, who realised that they could sell the excess to others - for a price. Before long, town squares were formed, and whether they were mud-brick or quarried stone the premise was the same: more food for less effort was valuable.
Like a lot of people who have never had to fix a tractor hitch in forty-degree heat or help birth a sheep at 2am, I used to quite like the idea of farming. Woolworths adverts always paint a rosy picture of rolling hillsides full of lettuce and tomatoes; rows of which miraculously appear on supermarket shelves in the next frame without so much as a brown mark on them. Living in a country full of well-stocked shelves, it’s easy to think that Australia, like most other countries, seem to be on to a winning formula with its food. What the advert doesn’t show you is probably something that not even the farmer has thought too much about - the lettuce and tomato field immediately after harvest, as well as their cash-crops of wheat, barely and rapeseed. I remember driving through the wheat-belt of regional Victoria after the machinery had been through - where only brown barren soil with the dead stalks from the recent harvest were visible. There had been decent rainfall over the previous few days, but not even a few blades of grass seemed to be able to bring themselves to grow. Dig into the rust-colored soil up to a few inches and chances are you’d be struggling to find a single worm or beetle that would usually make healthy soil their home. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides - as well as chemical fixing agents, fertilisers and tilling methods are allowing our well stocked shelves to come at a morbid cost. While they work extremely well in the short term for growing money crops most seasons, they’re steadily making the crop more dependent on these chemical agents as the soil itself loses crucial nutrients and fungal networks. The world’s arable topsoil, the soil that supplies us with the nutrients necessary to grow food is currently under siege, and we’ve only just begun to realise it. According to the United Nations,we have maybe twenty years before our only layer of topsoil is completely nutrient deficient.
The following scenario is bleak. This would mean that the world’s current food supply would be in crisis, and the lack of moisture retained in the soil would kick-start a process called desertification on much of the previously fertile land. In short: much of the world’s farmland could become dust within a couple of generations.
Incidents like this have happened a few times in recent history. The famous ‘Dust Bowl of the 1930’s in America blanketed entire cities like New York in ‘black blizzards.’ This was actually dust from Oklahoma that had been kicked up by harsh winds, after years of farming killed off the grasslands crucial for retaining moisture in the soil. We might think that modern industrial farming is to blame for these mishaps, but evidence going back as far as ancient Syria and Egypt points to evidence of desertification via agriculture. The instability of many parts of the Middle East and Africa due to resource scarcity is a grim reminder of what can happen if topsoil degradation continues long-term. Suddenly, human farming seems a lot less of a sure bet.
As always though, there are solutions. We’re one of many coffee companies that only buy organically grown beans, and our mushrooms are also organically produced. Organic farming - especially when certified by an agency likeAustralian Certified Organic (ACO) will mean that no chemical methods are used to grow produce that can harm the soil, or its inhabitants.
The health benefits of buying organic produce are also plain to see, if you know where to look. For example, crops grown in organic conditions have significantly more nutrient density - almost 90% more by some estimates. Despite looking round and plump in many grocery stores, modern farming has meant that your standard apples have only around 10% of the beneficial nutrients that the similar apples had at the beginning of the 20th Century. The reasoning behind this is often left to guesswork - but the lack of fungal networks around the roots of many crops may mean that plants can't absorb nearly as many useful compounds from the soil. For more information on this, check out the wonderful Merlin Sheldrake. The sprays used as soil supplements, pesticides and fungicides all play a role why your food may be less healthy - but most famous is Glysophate.
Glyphosate is one of the main ingredients in popular pesticide Roundup. While useful for quickly harvesting crops, it actually harms the human immune system long-term by disrupting your useful gut bacteria. In fact, it’s so brutal on your gut lining that the term‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’ was used to describe it by Dr Zac Bush, which has since gone on to be a common phrase when describing gut health. This disruption can often lead to chronic inflammation - the precursor to many diseases in Western society such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Given that modern farming sprays 4.5 billion tons of Roundup on the world’s food supply, it’s safe to say that Glyphosate is already part of your diet if you’re eating non-organic produce. To be completely fair, some great small-scale farms will have ‘Spray-Free’ listed on their products. This will mean that while they haven’t gained ACO certification (which is often expensive and quite time-consuming) they are making efforts to grow food in organic conditions. A next step forward is regenerative farming methods. This is a way to make sure that the soil regains any nutrients lost in the farming process, and if done correctly means that sprays and harsh chemicals aren’t required. Many organic farms might already consider this part of their existing workflow, and it’s been famously represented by popular shows likeThe Biggest Little Farm andKiss the Ground. Unsurprisingly, there’s evidence to show that Indigenous groups in America and Australia have both used regenerative farming tactics with success - which might explain why both groups seemed to live so effectively within their environment for so long.
Back to coffee however. With so many coffee roasters competing for your tastebuds, it can seem difficult to pick a favourite. Our advice? Go with your gut, and start organic.