We’re going to need a lot more farmers in a future with less fossil fuels, as industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy; now he eats potatoes partly made of oil (Odum, 1971, p. 115).
. . . [Thomas Jefferson] wrote as he did in 1785 because he feared exactly the political theory that we now have: the idea that government exists to guarantee the right of the most wealthy to own or control the land without limit.
In any consideration of agrarianism, this issue of limitation is critical. Agrarian farmers see, accept, and live within their limits. They understand and agree to the proposition that there is “this much and no more.” Everything that happens on an agrarian farm is determined or conditioned by the understanding that there is only so much land, so much water in the cistern, so much hay in the barn, so much corn in the crib, so much firewood in the shed, so much food in the cellar or freezer, so much strength in the back and arms—and no more. This is the understanding that induces thrift, family coherence, neighborliness, local economies. Within accepted limits, these become necessities. The agrarian sense of abundance comes from the experienced possibility of frugality and renewal within limits.
This is exactly opposite to the industrial idea that abundance comes from the violation of limits by personal mobility, extractive machinery, long-distance transport, and scientific or technological breakthroughs. If we use up the good possibilities in this place, we will import goods from some other place, or we will go to some other place. If nature releases her wealth too slowly, we will take it by force. If we make the world too toxic for honeybees, some compound brain, Monsanto perhaps, will invent tiny robots that will fly about pollinating flowers and making honey (Berry, 2002, Orion Magazine).
(From Spellman, 2008): “Agricultural ecosystems (referred to as agroecosystems) have been described by Odum (1984) as domesticated ecosystems. He states that they are in many ways intermediate between natural ecosystems (such as grasslands and forests) and fabricated ecosystems (cities).
Agroecosystems are solar powered (as are natural systems) but differ from natural systems in that:
- there are auxiliary energy sources that are used to enhance productivity; these sources are processed fuels along with animal and human labor;
- species diversity is reduced by human management in order to maximize yield of specific foodstuffs (plant or animal);
- dominant plant and animal species are under artificial rather than natural selection; and,
- control is external and goal-oriented rather than internal via subsystem feedback as in natural ecosystems.
Agroecosystems do not happen without human intervention in the landscape. Therefore, creation of these ecosystems (and maintenance of them as well) is necessarily concerned with the (human) economic goals of production, productivity, and conservation. Agroecosystems are controlled, by definition, by management of ecological processes” (Spellman, 2008, p. 18).
John Ikerd: The industrialization of agriculture has been a complete failure. I believe in the future of sustainable farming . . . .
It’s hard to open up, to display my sad depression.
But indulge me for a while, as I share this history lesson:
During the birth of this fair nation, in 1790, just for measure
90 percent of us were farmers, a new-born nation’s treasure,
And when someone went to congress then, it was a deal of sacrifice,
They had to leave their stock behind, say goodbye to beans and rice,
But now our system’s shifted: the cause for my lament,
By 1950 in this nation, we were only 10 percent,
Today we stand together, but quite alone we stand,
Today 1 percent are farmers across this dusty land,
As we work to give this nation, the nurture they deserve. . .
. . . I have a message for our nation: I’m not trying to be rude:
But when you destroy your farmers, you destroy your food. . .
. . . To put seeds into the soil, and keep our fingers crossed,
To keep growing year by year, witnessing what’s lost,
We continue planting pumpkins in a world of chocolate bars,
We see a light that shines before us, under a sky devoid of stars,
We have dirt beneath our nails and a problem on our hands,
But we are working towards solutions for the providence of lands,
And when we hold each other up, we hold the world as well,
We have come to wage our peace with the produce that we sell,
We are still the sacred backbone, it’s not broken, but it’s bent,
We are our nations’ farmers, we are the one percent.
Home gardens will become necessary, normal, and stylish. Agriculture will become less intensive, but will use a blend of technology and hand labor, with better recycling, diverse crops and land use, using rotation on more land, with more smaller farms and homesteading. Subsidies will still be necessary in order to maintain soils and sustainable agriculture. Birds and insect partners may replace costly pesticides. Emergy indices can be calculated to measure relative intensity of agriculture.
Is a tractor bad? Is the power that turns the long furrows wrong? If this tractor were ours, it would be good – not mine, but ours. We could love that tractor then as we have loved this land when it was ours. But this tractor does two things – it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people were driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this.
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 14
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry
One of the articles in Reclaiming Politics (IC#30)
Fall/Winter 1991, Page 62 (poem from 1973)
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that
have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.