You might discover that once you start paying attention to what you eat, the changes snowball and there's no going back. Every time you slip a quarter into a vending machine or buy groceries, you impact everything from the vacant lot down the street to the water in the Gulf of Mexico, from childhood obesity to global warming. According to a recent study by the Nielsen Company and the Natural Marketing Institute, so-called "green" consumers pay whatever it takes to buy organic and local foods even in a weak economy. Indeed, consumers may prove to be the true renewable resource of the food revolution, for rather than becoming frustrated and apathetic, as has tended to happen with past movements, they seem to grow more committed, powerful, and knowledgeable every year.
It happened to Wende Elliott. She landed a plum job in book publishing in New York City after graduating from Princeton. But when she and her husband had their first child, they started shopping organically and educating themselves about the food system. Within two years, they had decided to move to Iowa and start an organic livestock farm. At first their aims were humble. "We wanted to raise food for our family," says Elliott. But the couple soon discovered the power of collaborating with others, and in 2001 established Wholesome Harvest, a coalition of family farmers that markets its own meats, all raised according to higher standards than even those set by the USDA for organic meat.
Before long, Elliott began noticing that her organic farm stood out—literally—from the surrounding fields. "Our land is about three feet higher than our neighbors'," she says, a fact she attributes to age-old farming methods—such as crop rotation—that strengthen and nourish the soil. "They say the soil here in Iowa is the most fertile in the world," she says. "But row cropping has exposed it so much that it just washes or blows away. Nearly half the topsoil is estimated to be gone."
For Elliot, there's a reason even more fundamental than dirt to farm as she does. "The chemical approach to farming is that it's a war," she says. "It's you against the bugs. With organic, it's not about control. It's about participating in natural systems more complex and symbiotic than we realize. We see stewardship of the land as a spiritual practice. You can't control when it rains. It's a practice of faith."