Pollan is a naturalist. I thought I would answer the title question right off the bat. As he makes clear in his article, he is no fan of the bureaucracy of United States Department of Agriculture of the policies of the U.S. Government in general. As we learned in class, “natural system analysts emphasize that formalization places heavy and often intolerable burden on those responsible for the design and management of an organization” (Scott, 63). Pollan offers a wonderful example of this in the US farming system. As we remember, “formalization may be viewed as an attempt to make behavior more predictable by standardizing and regulating it” therefore creating more stable expectations (Scott, 37).
Pollan points out that the U.S. Government has done an outstanding job at formalizing and unifying the U.S. farming system. Perhaps part of the problem is that many US consumers have never tasted or experienced locally grown food. It’s hard to understand how poor food quality is or appreciate how high quality locally grown food can be in system of complete formalization that does not encourage trying different types of food.
Pollan seems to suggest regional formalization by methods such as changing U.S.D.A. laws to accommodate smaller regional food growers and slaughterhouses and encourage the development of “agricultural enterprise zones” to allow small farmers to grow and sell without making huge investments. Perhaps an example of what Pollan has in mind is the Farmers Diner in Barre, Vermont. 70 percent of the products offered in the diner are grown at area farms. Much of the dairy products are sold at a slight premium—$1.95 for a 16-ounce glass of milk instead of $1.49 down the street at Friendly’s—but “so far, enough customers have been willing to pay those modest premiums in exchange for the taste and satisfaction of the genuine article.” Tod Murphy, the owner of Farmers Diner, conceptualized a franchise organization of decentralized regional “pods” consisting of four diners and central food-processing plant where area animals and produce from local farms could be processed. In an area of decentralized online networks, perhaps it is about time companies begin to develop as more autonomous organizations that specialize their services to each individual community instead of offering a ubiquitous service across the nation.
Overall I think Pollan made some very insightful suggestions. His suggestion that the government incentive farming as a career, however, makes little sense. There is a reason that the nation’s “best and brightest” are not going into farming—it’s often hard, repetitive, and occasionally physically intensive labor set in mostly rural if not middle-of-nowhere locations with comparatively little social interaction and poor compensation. For those of us who grew up in the suburbs or cities of America, the extent of our farming experience is helping mom plant peas or flowers in the backyard garden. Such little exposure encourages gardening as a hobby, not farming as a career.
The wave of sustainable practices across the food industry is an unstoppable trend. Even the White House cooking staff is on board. The real question is simply how long it will take to implement practices such as those suggested by Pollan.
Scott, W. Richard and Gerald F. Davis: Organizations and Organizing – Rational, Natural, and Open System Perspectives. New Jersey, 2007.
Pollan, Michael: Farmer in Chief from New York Times Magazine. New York, October 12th, 2008.
Shorto, Russell: A Short-Order Revolution from New York Times. January 11th, 2004.