We watched two documentaries this week that illustrate the same problem by telling two different stories. Vanishing of the Bees explores Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) while Broken Limbs looks for answers to solve the continuing failure of small orchards, another version of colony collapse. The culprit in both cases in monoculture, the practice of big farming, huge acreages of single crops like corn, soybeans or apples.
In Broken Limbs the film maker tries to understand the decline of his father’s once successful apple orchard in Wenatchee where trees in small orchards are being torn out of the ground and burned. The apple business is still successful but it’s controlled by large companies, vertically integrated, with orchards, giant fruit warehouses, automated packing lines, marketing organizations and even delivery. The small orchards are monoculture on a small scale and can’t compete playing the same game as the big boys.
Most of the beekeepers in Vanishing of the Bees serve monoculture (almonds, blueberries, apples) with thousands of hives which are exposed to all the pesticides that modern agriculture brings to the field. In the case of bees, systemic pesticides appear to be the problem. The French, whose bees collapsed in the 90’s discovered the same thing and banned systemic pesticides. We still haven’t banned them and US beekeepers continue to lose 30% of their bees every year, victimized by the monoculture they serve.
The bee is like the canary in the coal mine, trying to tell us that something is wrong. The small family orchard in Wenatchee is a canary as well demonstrating that monoculture is not sustainable.
In Broken Limbs the filmmaker discovers the work of Dr. John Ikerd who argues for sustainability in farming. The film then features several “New American Farmers” and finds a couple who are thriving on small parcels using boutique marketing techniques.
The development of monoculture in the USA is disturbing, with vast acreages of single crops, mostly unhealthy ones at that—GMO corn and soy, heavily sprayed apples and other tree crops. It’s all part of the bigger is better philosophy that has brought us the global economy, the big box store, the regional medical center, corporate media and the freeway system to get us back and forth.
The problem with monoculture is that it seeps into all phases of our life. In Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything by FS Michaels the author argues that our one story is about economics, about making money and how that determines our relationship with work and family. Monoculture is like a giant magnet that sucks us in. Think: Costco, Amazon, St. Joseph’s, Fox News, et al. Think food from South America. Think manufactured goods from China.
It’s going to take more than a few people to change things up because right now monoculture dominates and controls. To change the system will require thoughtful choices about how one lives and spends.