Think you’ve got all those food labels figured out? Decided whether you love or hate GMOs? Sure that your grocery purchasing habits will help save the world from the next great ecological disaster? Farmer Harry Stoddart is ready to bust your preconceived notions with his new book aptly called “Real Dirt.”
Stoddart’s book is easy to read, but this self-described ex-industrial farmer won’t try to tell you what to think. The author who’s studied agriculture economics is surprisingly candid about the failures he’s encountered in family farming, having once taken over his family’s confinement hog operation and eventually converting it into part of an organic farm system. In telling his story, Stoddart digs up as much criticism for the organic movement as he does for conventional ag’s shortcomings. He describes himself as, “a certified organic farmer who believes organic principles should be considered only as the starting point for lessening agriculture’s impact on people and the planet.”
Stoddart argues that both farm systems somewhat miss the point of what’s needed for long-term sustainability. He writes, “The truth is, neither system is sustainable.” Stoddart notes how inputs to conventional farming pollute global waterways, yet the author also boldly points out that organic farmers should be more cautious to preserve topsoil, reminding everyone that no-till is an ecological achievement of conventional farming. He also takes a middle-of-the-road stance on genetically modified organisms, not something you hear very often.
This book is a useful read for farmers considering best management practices, with its authenticity coming from Stoddart’s real-life farming experience. It’s also insightful for consumers who want to pull back the curtain and understand more about the origins of their food. What it won’t do is follow all of the standard talking points you might have heard from folks deeply invested in either conventional or organic ag. Stoddart focuses on how food choices affect what he identifies as three major societal concerns: “antiobiotic resistance, erosion, and climate disruption.” He weaves concerns and solutions together in a way that neither condemns conventional farming neighbors nor praises organic farmers for getting everything right.