Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Forward to the land

{Running in the SEN 8/23/13}

The variety of stuff from our field that was ripe at the same time one day last week. (Also got a few turnips and a peach later.)

Our culture talks a lot about “independence,” “individualism,” “boot-strapping,” and “freedom,” but has an awful lot of features that impede all of those things, most of them tied to money, debt and consumption.
At the same time, it tends to dismiss or ignore people who decide not to play by “the rules” and actually seek some form of self-sufficiency. The exception is if someone can commercialize it. Take agriculture as an example: state law creates protections for commercial farming but doesn't (as far as I can tell) clearly do so for the common-sense right of people to raise food for themselves.
If that's not the true basis of independence, I don't know what would be. With energy, ecological and economic issues being what they are today, we need more people doing that, pretty much anywhere possible, from porch boxes to rooftops to single-acre plots to more traditional farms.
As anybody reading my column knows, I'm not exactly a conservative. But in this regard, I'm glad to see I am, since true conservatism and true conservation overlap heavily when we ignore the capitalist knuckleheads trying to dominate our culture.
When I did a Google search to find some good historical info on the fact our nation's founders were generally proud to be farmers, one of the first sites that turned up started with this observation: “Our founders were farmers: they provided for themselves through hard, honest physical labor. The dissolution of our society began when our ties to the land were ruptured.”
That comes from the Intellectual Conservative website, a column by J. Harris titled “Agriculture and Freedom: An Inseparable Bond.” While I disagree with some of his (or her?) details, this statement is certainly true: “The notion that frail individuals need Big Brother in order to survive would never have crossed a true farmer’s mind, and would surely have turned his strong stomach.  (I speak not of agri-business, by the way—not here or anywhere else; most of what passes for farming today is just another species of statist boondoggle.)”
Absolutely – giant factory farming exists only because of laws and huge subsidies crafted to favor politicians' friends at the expense of actual farmers. The evidence shows something like 80 percent of such subsidies go to a tiny handful of already-rich “farmers,” while more than 60 percent of family farms get nothing, being too small and/or not well-connected-enough to even be seen by Washington.
Actually, though, that's not a bad thing; we all know people who support themselves and help their community thrive “under the radar” in plain sight. But it takes the symbiosis of community and individual – just as collectivism taken to extremes can destroy personal initiative, individualism taken to extremes can undermine community well-being, and thus ultimately destroy the individual. It goes both ways: The community needs to foster self-sufficiency and make it legally easy, favoring local producers over long-distance ones, and otherwise planting seeds for a 21st century agricultural renaissance in preference to 20th century development. The individuals need to prioritize feeding their community at the expense of growing for export or for sale as a commodity to big business.
Such an arrangement probably isn't as profitable in the short term, but it's far more likely to last, especially if we as a community come up with ways to share some of the start-up costs (for example, by creating a tool- and skill-sharing library and encouraging young people to learn agricultural skills).
That's one reason I'm starting this blog to share ideas and start a conversation about these things that a one-way column really can't do too well. Going forward, this column will be mirrored there, with a bunch of other things (not all of them farm related), even though I won't be a staff writer anymore. It'll mean a chance to do something that's been growing in me for a long time: a need to focus more energy on self-sufficiency and deeper community involvement the “observer” status of a reporter doesn't really allow.
Going into something like this, I know Maureen and I are lucky in some key ways – several people we know are willing to share their experience (thanks Dick, Cal and others), she has an agroecology degree and we own our home outright, with no other significant debt. We've been expanding our garden for a couple of years, but have a lot more space to play with and aim to gradually transition toward a mostly-perennial system.
Even though it's definitely a step into the uncertain in some respects – who knows what the weather will do and we're not independently wealthy – it's long overdue. We also feel it's likely to be necessary as the economic, climatic and political games play out over the next several years. Our world is changing in ways for which our present culture does not give us the tools to adapt, since it continues to create dependence on far-flung, faceless entities and slogans rather than interdependence with people we actually know, the land we live on, and the other species sharing it with us.
The former leads to slavery. The latter, to genuine independence. I don't claim to know the route's potholes and curves any more certainly than you do, but I hope you'll join me on the journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment