last week we watched the documentary King Corn on PBS. it's all about corn production in america, and the excessive amount of corn we consume as a society, primarily through high fructose corn syrup (found in most commercially processed food), and through consumption of corn fed beef. the film is very well made, and features two young guys who try to learn about corn by growing their own acre, and trying to track where it goes once they sell it. one aspect of the film has continued to haunt me. most of the farmland in the US is used to produce an inedible product. the field corn they grew in the documentary must be processed before it can be consumed by humans. i found this info on the national corn growers association website:
Corn-on-the-cob and canned or frozen corn at the grocery store come from sweet corn. The corn you grow in your garden also is a variety of sweet corn. But the most abundant type of corn grown in the United States is actually field, or dent, corn. Almost all of the corn you see in farm fields is dent corn.
Unlike sweet corn, dent corn has a hard outer portion about the thickness of your fingernail. The inner portion of the corn kernel is soft and floury. Dent corn is used to make starches, oils, livestock feed, ethanol fuel and many other products like crayons, paints and paper. Dent corn also is used to make corn syrup sweeteners and other ingredients that appear in all kinds of foods from soft drinks to baked goods.
In 1996, U.S. sweet corn growers harvested about 119,400 acres of sweet corn. By comparison, the amount of land dedicated to dent corn production is much larger. U.S. corn growers plant about 71 million acres of field corn each year.
those statistics are quite dated. the amount of dent corn grown today is much higher, especially with the increased demand for ethanol, and the rising prices. if you are interested in this topic, i urge you to see the film, or just start poking around online, it's fascinating stuff, for sure.
but the reason i brought it up here is that seeing the film, and thinking about all that farmland producing inedible crops, brought home to me the importance of learning to grow food. gardening is a hobby for me, at this point. i'm not growing food to sustain my family, or even to reduce our food bill significantly. i grow food in the garden because it is pleasurable, and because i want cosmo to know what it's like to plant a seed, nurture it, wait, and eventually pick the fruit off the vine and pop it in his mouth. but maybe it is a more serious endeavor that i first thought. i am learning how to grow food. the hands-on knowledge i am gaining about soil, seeds, temperatures, and light....might come in handy someday. in any case, it feels like i am making a little patch of the world better by raising edible plants.