Statement of Purpose
More People in Farming Repairs Earth, Saves Humanity
by Lynn R. Miller
Much of the world’s population is unemployed or underemployed. Most of those people are poor by any measure; they are hungry for food, purpose, place and hope. One pursuit, or endeavor, may employ millions and employ them with dignity, gain and satisfaction – that pursuit is human-scale, traditional farming. And with that employment comes dramatic increases in localized, health-some food and a commensurate decrease in hunger, disease and war. A move to allow and encourage people and peoples to return to the land and their agrarian heritage would transform the world’s economy with natural growth, all the while healing human society.
More farmers would call for even more farmers (yes, I said more farmers) and call also for more of every other related service, vocation and skill. The multipliers could be as rapid and dramatic as what we have seen in the ‘accidental’ birth and crazy growth of the internet. If we realize millions of new small farmers, natural evolutions would grow new, small-scale infrastructures and their concomitant communities. We would see an immediate growth in the constituency for agricultural extension services plus vocational education. There would be a growing customer base for seed and feed operations, small towns, mom-and-pop stores, shade-tree mechanics and manufacturing, hatcheries, creameries, farmer’s markets, public school facility improvements, churches and community centers, good – dependable – private sources of information, and regional distribution.
It would create a world within a world where a builder of appropriate-scale cultivators would require labor and distributorship, metal supplies, breakfast cafes and luncheonettes, good independent hardware stores and local newspapers – where nurseries would require seed, seedlings, trellising, burlap, string, wire, sticks, sprinklers – where small dairies would benefit from cheese makers, yogurt makers, bakers, vacuum machine repairmen, refrigeration technicians, and corner grocery stores. And the bakers would need local flour and eggs. And small specialty looms and mills would require a ready supply of local wool and fiber. And that little manufacturing shop out back would have a steady demand for the small refrigeration units required to extend the life of produce and meats. And that high school would enjoy just cause to offer advanced vocational training in butchering, farm implement design, plowshare repair, and rabbit hutch construction. County fairs would feel the freshening and experience new vitality in the competitions for quality farm produce, home economics, and livestock as new middle-men work to identify local sources for heritage seeds, old-time livestock varieties, and new kitchen-counter influenced foods. And every single imagined and unimaginable piece of the growing puzzle would spell vibrant increases in the self-sufficiency of each small rural community.
This idea does not require conventional investment – a big, cold-start lump-sum, lump-in-the-throat investment – or federally funded government-mandated programs – no, none of that: it requires that we find inspiring and provocative ways to talk about it, to speculate together on the sort of world we might want for ourselves and our children. It requires swelling, throbbing conversations, here, there and everywhere, all on the subject of getting people back on the land. The world does not need a Gatesian or billionaire solution, it needs a gateway or people solution, it calls out for us to give each other permission to pursue our instinctual interests in a natural and sufficient life on land. It requires lots of work parties where like-minded folk get together to plant trees, vines, potatoes, onion sets, fish heads, and ideas.
What we have now doesn’t work. Industrialized agriculture is fully dependent upon bankrupt debt addiction where land, chattels, even future production are leveraged to tomorrow’s abstracted values, and survival requires either non-stop land-value appreciation, or ever higher production levels, or freakish economic events. Industrialized agriculture also depends on the indenture that results in production credit from corporate partners who have designs on the profitable control of global food production. Industrialized agriculture is stripping independence from individual farmers and replacing it with dependency, and that without guarantee or insurance. And industrialized agriculture is destroying the motive of farmers, in some cases cornering them to resulting desperation and defeat. Industrialized agriculture is often destroying farmers.
While many people feel the disconnect and defeat of corporate industrialized agribusiness systems, they may be confused about available options. They may feel locked into a frightening grind with everything dependent on ability to pay increasing mortgages and operating costs. Locked in and unable to consider backing off that wagon.
There are as many variations in farm realities as there are farms. Within that observation is best hope because it translates to there being just as many options for ways forward. It is with the deceptively simple focus of specialization and monoculture that options disappear. Especially when the ‘white shirts’ of banking, agricultural economics, and corporate contract management are ever present to enforce ‘how’ crops are to be grown, when to harvest, who to sell to, etc. It does not have to be this way, in fact it should NOT be this way.
Good farming cannot be about the requirements of capital. Good farming is always about good farmers working carefully with what they have, what they know, what they may learn, and in concert with each other and nature. The Chinese, American, and Russian governments are dead wrong on this subject. These governments, in their marriages to big capital, hold that the way forward for humanity and the planet is leveraged industrial farming. They do not see that this model has failed and continues to destroy the food supply, the environment, the planet, human societies and dignity.
The answer rests in the opposite direction. A move to allow and encourage people and peoples to return to the land and their agrarian heritage would transform the world’s economy with natural growth, all the while healing human society and the environment. Confusions about words like sustainable, organic, non-GMO, local, healthy, fair-trade, shade-grown, community-supported, biodynamic, green, and small farming all will fall away as the waves of new small farmers answer every question with a positive action. You will know what is local because you will know first-hand the people who raised that meat, because you will have picked the crop yourself, because you will have watched that food grow as you drove by, because your brother and sister work at the creamery that buys Fred’s milk and makes your cottage cheese, because you stood patiently waiting at the farmer’s market as Sandra backed her husband’s produce-loaded pickup to the table. Every cog in the wheel of your community’s agrarian pursuits will have cause to know and protect every single piece of the puzzle, to avoid poisons, to encourage fertility, to guarantee freshness, to embrace what makes that region’s food unique.
But it has to start by talking it up.
We need more people in farming, so that we might repair the earth and save humanity.