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The economics behind a system where two hours works produces 10,000 pounds of food

Posted at 6:17 PM on December 7, 2007 by Euan Kerr

Curt Ellis and his college pal Ian Cheney decided a good way to learn about the way we produce food would be to rent an acre of prime Iowa farmland and plant it with corn.

Ellis says they learned a lot. It took 18 minutes to plant their acre, and 25 minutes to harvest it. In all during the growing season he says they spent a grand total of two hours working the field and produced 10,000 pounds of food.

They filmed it of course. They also filmed the white board where they worked out how much it had cost them, a figure around $200. And then they worked out how much money they had lost. It was about $20. They learned it wasn't so much they were bad farmers, it was just the way the economics of farming works out. Their neighbors told them they could make up the difference with a farm subsidy.

While Ellis and Cheney had fun with their farm adventure, they also learned a lot including how most of the corn grown is inedible for humans without further processing. But it works for animals and after it is processed it becomes a product which can be added to all kinds of food.

A great deal becomes high fructose corn syrup, which appears in almost all fast food. The film makers talked to a man who lost over 100 lbs after simply stopping drinking soft drinks. He had lost family members to diabetes caused by obesity.

Ellis had his hair analysed and learned that 50 percent of his diet is actually corn. And he thought he was eating hamburgers!

The finished film "King Corn" is screening at the Oak Street Cinema this week. Ellis will introduce the film tonight. The he's off to Iowa for more screenings in an attempt to make the issue of food production and farm subsidies part of the pre-caucus presidential candidate debates.

Ellis is actually a landowner in Iowa now. He and Cheney were so horrified by what they saw as the negative impact of corn, that they bought the acre they planted from the farmer who was selling up. They say they did it to take it out of corn production, and they hope to plant vegetables there instead.

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