Growing change in agriculture 

Satoshi Ikeda

By Dawn Wiseman

Satoshi Ikeda (Sociology and Anthropology) may be talking about a revolution, but it’s a quiet one, involving the recreation and re-imagining of the way we live our lives.

Satoshi Ikeda Magnifying glass

Satoshi Ikeda

Ikeda holds the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Political Sociology of Global Futures.

“The title means we are critical of the current direction of globalization, particularly the way things are going under corporate domination,” he explained.

“We are very concerned with questions of inequality in the distribution of economic and political power, and are looking at alternatives that will lead us in a direction that will solve the ecological, economic and social unsustainability of the capitalist system. We’re really striving for reform and better quality of life.”

Within the Chair, Ikeda, along with colleagues and graduate students, is analyzing key industries, examining how decision-making is centralized in these industries and then looking at trends that may bring about greater decision-making equality. One of his areas of focus is sustainable agriculture.

Located in Alberta prior to his appointment at Concordia in 2007, Ikeda has spent a good deal of time examining both industrial and alternative farming in that province.

“Alberta is a good example of how corporate agriculture is creating unsustainable practice,” he said. “It’s unsustainable for the farmer, for the environment and for the community.”

The thought of cattle ranches brings to mind images of wide-open spaces and large herds slowly grazing on wind blown grass. Ikeda underlined that space and feed are essential to the balance inherent in this traditional method.

“Grass provides the animals with a lot of Vitamin A and D, which are required for nutritious beef,” he said. In addition, because the cows wander over the fields, nutrients are returned to the land via their excrement, and more grass grows. The cycle is relatively self-sustaining.

Corporate beef production, however, relies on feedlot farming. In this system, cattle are penned into small spaces and provided with grain-based feed, which increases their bulk but actually decreases the nutrient value of the meat harvested from the animals.

“Feedlot operations also create a nutrient imbalance in the soil,” Ikeda said. While animal waste is still used as fertilizer for the feed grain, only potassium is returned to the land in sufficient quantities; to restore balance, chemical fertilizers are required.

“This system produces less nutritious food, depletes the land and requires significant use of petroleum product — the whole process is hugely unsustainable,” he sighed.

An alternative even better than traditional cattle farming is bison. Because these herd animals are indigenous to the prairies, they eat prairie grass and are naturally adapted to surviving the winter out of doors even under harsh conditions.

“These animals essentially take care of themselves and require very little additional support from humans,” Ikeda said. Because they do not require hay, even in winter, farmers raising bison do not need diesel to sow, reap, and spread winter feed. In fact, bison farming requires “so little borrowing that farmers can remain independent of corporate structures.”

Of course, independence comes with its own challenges; perhaps most significant is the development of a market. As Ikeda explained, “These farmers tend to do direct marketing. They either have stalls at urban and suburban farmers’ markets or invite the public onto their land to see the animals, learn about farming practices and buy their goods.”

He sees reconnecting urban dwellers with the land and the food that they eat as a very positive development. “We have isolated ourselves in urban areas,” he said. “We need to restore the community aspect of food production and consumption.”

In some areas, community networks are being built through a practice called community-supported agriculture (CSA). City-dwellers prepay local farmers in the spring, helping them to purchase the supplies needed to raise their crops.

When the harvest starts, each contributor receives a weekly box of fresh produce, either delivered to their door or to a central pick-up point. The contract between farmer and client usually includes an obligation to volunteer, so that people take part in the growing and harvesting of their own food.

“It’s a very good system,” said Ikeda. “It cuts out the middleman, it gives farmers power to set a fair price for their produce, the consumer gets quality goods, and there is no packaging.” In Quebec, where a number of the networks already exist, the system even has the potential to become year-round with local produce.

“With the new rural pact, the government is encouraging farmers to explore alternatives. Combine that with greenhouse farming supported by Hydro power or biomass heat generation, and we could have fresh, locally grown, organic produce all year long.”

For more information on CSA, go to the Equiterre web site. The Montreal-based network provides links to 97 CSA farms in Quebec that deliver provisions to at least 15,000 people in the province. For information about registering for the next season go to:


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