(THE GUARDIAN) Health comes from the ground up, Charles Massy says – yet chemicals used in agriculture are ‘causing millions of deaths’. Susan Chenery meets the writer intent on changing everything about the way we grow, eat and think about food
The kurrajong tree has scars in its wrinkled trunk, the healed wounds run long and vertical under its ancient bark. Standing in front of the homestead, it nestles in a dip on high tableland from which there is a clear view across miles and miles of rolling plains to the coastal range of south-east Australia.
Charles Massy grew up here, on the sweeping Monaro plateau that runs off the eastern flank of Mount Kosciuszko, an only child enveloped by the natural world, running barefoot, accompanied by dogs and orphaned lambs. Fifth generation, he has spent his adult life farming this tough, lean, tussock country; he is of this place and it of him. But when his friend and Aboriginal Ngarigo elder Rod Mason came to visit he discovered that a lifetime of intimately knowing the birds, trees and animals of this land wasn’t significant at all.
The tree is probably a lot older than 400 years. Rod told him that when the old women walked their favourite songline tracks they carried seeds of their favourite food and resource plants, and sowed them at spirituality significant camping places. His front garden was one such ceremony place – there would have been a grove planted, and the women had stripped the bark from the tree to make bags and material. This old tree represented a connection to country “deeper than we can imagine, and linking us indivisibly with the natural world”, he writes in his book Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth.
Part lyrical nature writing, part storytelling, part solid scientific evidence, part scholarly research, part memoir, the book is an elegant manifesto, an urgent call to stop trashing the Earth and start healing it. More than that, it underlines a direct link between soil health and human health, and that the chemicals used in industrial agriculture are among the causes of modern illness.
“Most of our cereal crops, the soybeans, the corn, are all predicated now on the world’s most widely used chemical which is glyphosate [Roundup],” Massy says. “There is mounting evidence that it is one of the most destructive chemicals ever to get into the system. Its main effect is on the human gut and our entire immune system.
“When you look at the As – autism, ADHD, all the other auto-immune diseases – their take off is a 95% correlation to these chemicals being introduced. The evidence is that it affects the gut and the immune system, though it is not the sole factor, and it is a complex thing. But it is that gut that drives our whole immune system, it is our second brain.”