Saturday, July 20, 2013

These Modern Practices are Devastating the Athletic and Agricultural Landscape...

I grew up on a farm and there are tried and true methods that are required to maintain and preserve the long-term heath of the farmland and the livestock. Similarly there are stages in the development of a child that must be honored for them to experience robust health as an adult. Unfortunately, these time-honored methods of tending to our land and children are being ignored in favor modern practices that are leading us all down an unsustainable path. 

Environmental pollution is a significant problem. But while most of the focus is placed on polluting industries, toxins like mercury and small particle traffic pollution, a major source of environmental devastation is caused by modern food production. Far from being life sustaining, our modern chemical-dependent farming methods:

Strip soil of nutrients
Destroy critical soil microbes
Contribute to desertification (happens when we create too much bare ground by plowing under grasslands in favor of commodity crop fields) [1]
Saturate farmlands with toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that then migrate into ground water, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Unfortunately, the Earth's soil is now being depleted of nutrients at more than 13 percent the rate it can be replaced. Not only that, but according to some, we may also be facing looming shortages of two critical fertilizer ingredients: phosphorus and potassium.

Phosphorus and potassium cannot be synthesized, and our aggressive large-scale farming methods, which deplete soils of nutrients that then must be replaced, are quickly burning through available phosphorus and potassium stores.

Monoculture (or monocropping) is defined as the high-yield agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and to some degree rice, are the most common crops grown with monocropping techniques. In fact, corn, wheat and rice now account for 60 percent of human caloric intake, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. [2]

By contrast, polyculture (the traditional rotation of crops and livestock) better serves both land and people. Polyculture evolved to meet the complete nutritional needs of a local community. Polyculture, when done mindfully, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort.

The evidence tells us that forging more sustainable alternatives is imperative if we hope to survive. Yet proponents of factory farms and genetically engineered crops argue that monocropping, or crop specialization, is the only way to feed the masses and that it's far more profitable than having small independent farms in every community.

But is this really true? A number of studies show just the opposite! In fact, studies are showing that medium-sized organic farms are far more profitable than ANY sized industrial agricultural operation.

For example, researchers at the University of Wisconsin's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (results published in 2008 in the Agronomy Journal) found that traditional organic farming techniques of planting a variety of plants to ward off pests is more profitable than monocropping. [3]

Not only that, but organic farming practices use natural, time-tested techniques that naturally prevents soil depletion and destruction, and doesn’t use chemical fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals that pollute our soil, air, and waterways.

Even the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is starting to question our current path of monoculture. It recently released a report titled: "Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States." According to the report, our current agricultural system, which is dominated by corn and soy, is unsustainable in the long term.

Speaking of unsustainable methods… The current youth sport culture with its heavy emphasis on early specialization (monocropping) and nearly year round single sport participation are devastating the American athletic landscape. A single-minded focus during what should be the “sensitive period” for global movement skill acquisition has left developing young athletes with soil that is of poor quality for elite athletic skill to grow and flourish.

The building blocks of advanced athletic skill are never fully refined because they were never experienced at the “grassroots” or basic level. You want to see desertification look at the athletic foundation of a single sport young athlete! This is what happens when we plow under playgrounds and neglect seasonal sport play in favor of elite sport training facilities and nearly year round single sport participation. When the windows to attain these athletic building blocks are missed they shut and it’s very difficult to go back and try to “re-open” them. Just as you can’t synthesize potassium and phosphorus you can’t synthesize the athletic qualities that spawn from crawling and skipping.

While kids are not being saturated with pesticides and toxic run-off (depending upon where you live) they are certainly being saturated with the repetitive motions, developmental imbalances and ultimately injuries that result from a one-dimensional athletic experience.

Contrast this with a polycropping approach to athletic development.  Expose children to as many different sport and activities as possible the more and varied their experiences are the better. This enriches their soil (overall athletic base) and makes it very fertile to grow whatever seeds (sport) they decide to plant.  This diversification also serves to make their athleticism more sustainable. Like monocropping a single minded sporting approach depletes the body and actually robs it of athleticism.

Playing sports seasonally allows the body to recover and develop new skills.  Each sport or activity contributes foundational athletic qualities that compliment one another and eventually allow the young athlete to develop their own unique “brand” of athleticism. This “brand” can only be fully realized if the soil is fertile.

I think we can all agree that broccoli is a very nutritious food but if that was the only crop we planted and harvested we would still be malnourished. Playing one sport exclusively from childhood into the teen years may seem like a good idea but in the long run your athleticism will be malnourished. Overall athleticism is the essential foundation upon which all sport specific qualities are based. Moncropping and sport specialization will likely produce high yields early on but in the long run these practices will deplete the landscape of what it needs to flourish.


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