No Starving Children!
Everyone should have a piece of land to care for.
news bits and squirming crumbles
from Lynn Miller and Paul Hunter
The news trickles down to us in a predictably confusing warp and weave: the latest incarnation of a federal farm bill has been “hot-potatoed” into something the US senate passed. Now the Congress is asked to get it through its mill before mid September – this on the heals of a House leadership which says, openly, that it wants to see how it fits in the shifting winds of this political season. On the surface, people we normally side with say this bill is a good thing. Deeper down, we have enough experience with this process to know it is nigh on impossible even for the experts to assess how such complicated legislative stuff can ever be fully understood until its seen in messy action.
Meanwhile the consequences of inaction are millions of starving children worldwide and lost opportunities to get good, prepared and willing people back on productive small farms. It is hard not to be ashamed of what humanity has made of political expediency. This “stuff” , the very workings of government, doesn’t work.
You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big, so also are our governments and our committee-molested collective assumptions. Get small real soon. LRM
PLANET EARTH does not belong to corporate interests, nor to governments, nor to the fashionable collective conscience of the moment. She belongs to herself, with a delicate but critical nod to biological life – all of it! Humans have taken for themselves a temporary leasehold on the planet. Somehow that was allowed over these last 100 years to slough off to the corporate boardrooms. This is not a good thing.
To earn the right to continue living on this planet, we need to find simple, direct solutions to human interaction with all other forms of biological life. We need to find ways that our time on this planet is beneficial for all. Wresting control of the land, air and sea from corporate interests is vitally important. It can start by accepting as axiomatic that every one should have a piece of land to care for. And by ‘every one’ we are speaking of individual human beings. LRM
“There is so much war in the world, evil has so many faces, the plough has so little honor, the laborers are taken, the fields untended and the curving sickle is beaten into the sword that yields not.” – Vergil, the Georgics
Another bedrock proposition is that farmland is open, vulnerable, so needs protection against human marauders and predators. Farming on a sustainable, caring scale presupposes a society that does not let bandits and paramilitary groups roam at large, taking what they please. And farming needs protection from upwind and upstream influences that pollute soil and water. PH
Nature’s balance shuffles in predation and disaster to hold the mix. Since the inception of the industrial age, man falsely believed he had no predator to fear save other men but such has not been the case. Man created artificial lives we know as corporations and computers and both have been eating away at the hearts and souls of people for a very long while. Corporations have all but dissolved human culpability. Within the next few decades we will no longer be at immediate fault. And computers have eaten away the range and elasticity of the human mind. Soon “thought” will be a curiosity of the past. Humans are devolving into a vegetable form. The question of the age? Can we put those two, computers and corporations, back in the can?
The planet is trying not to die. It is struggling against the destructive and denuding human foot print. There are horrible paradoxes in all of this. There are also magical and healing paradoxes plain to see.
Wresting the control of the land, sea and air from industry and placing it all in the “care” of individuals to steward this environment with a goal of increasing fertility, biological diversity, and healthfulness – this is what can and will save the earth. Sweet paradox: taking a step backwards towards the empowerment of the individual WILL result in the only sure step forward to save human life on earth. LRM
Some would argue that the U.S. is slipping into a third world status, forfeiting its position as world leader. We might reasonably ask “world leader” in what regard? When it comes to questions of world hunger, environmental degradation, and appropriate farming the U.S.A. has been woefully behind the curve for decades.
What the world needs NOW, today, are millions of new small farmers enjoying independence of operation and having the opportunity to employ the full range of intriguing, exciting, vital and fertile new approaches to intensive agricultural pursuit. YES, you can farm. YES, you should farm. YES, we need you farming TODAY! LRM
A Matter of a Raincoat
The difference between farmers and other people is not just a matter of a raincoat. It’s not just how they watch the weather reports and seasonal changes with care. Farmers have to act on the conditions they see, and live with the consequences of their actions. You could say they don’t have to if they have crop insurance, which the large-scale operators do, courtesy of the federal government, but in the long run there is no crop insurance. The big picture is made up of accumulated good guesses and bad guesses. Like the hot dog vendor outside the ballpark, who has to know how many hot dogs to have on hand, and how many to cook in time to make any difference when the rush comes, before and after the game. That’s how you make a living. Inside the ball park with a captive audience forced to wait in line to buy a dog at inflated prices, or curb their hunger, with the game blaring all around, it’s a different story, with less risk and more profit to be shared more ways with a large and assertive management. One thing about scale: it makes you either an insider or an outsider, and defines how you get to play the game. – PH
By most informed estimates there are in excess of one billion disenfranchised people on this planet who would jump at the chance to join the ranks of small farmers. As for the natural resources required? Industrial agriculture and suburban development are “wasting” millions of acres of the most productive farmlands. While The U.S. government (to name but one failed example) is paying out billions of dollars to agribusiness to NOT grow certain commodities, this ostensibly to protect prices. Meanwhile children starve and capable grownups are at a loss for what to do without work and purpose. Shame on us. Time to right the ship. LRM
“Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm—which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of American farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.” — Wendell Berry
Ethics of Farming
The psychology of raising a monocrop seems to be that with only one thing to look at, the farmer becomes a specialist, and presumably with fewer different things to watch will get more efficient, will become more like an executive as he tweaks the inputs of GMO seed, herbicides and pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and sophisticated irrigation, and the fuel and maintenance for massive planting and harvest equipment. Yet what happens to such an agribusinessman is often stultifying and frustrating in the extreme. Again the “efficiencies” are invoked, and again the farmer is led to work in a narrowly accepted way, largely to optimize a monocrop for which he receives an artificially low price at season’s end. We refer to this as the “commodification” of crops, the removal from thinking of corn or soybeans as foods to be eaten, where these crops become part of an industrial process that can as easily create fast foods or fuels or lampshades or seatcovers out of what is essentially treated as an anonymous raw material produced for the absolute least cost to the industries that depend on it. In this scenario the farmer has no standing except as he negotiates the tight squeeze between “inputs” and “outcomes”—between what it costs him in seed, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, fuel and equipment, and his yield per acre.
What is left out of the equation is what we might call the aesthetics and ethics of farming. How to do it sustainably and well, without passing on the costs of fertilizer runoff or soil degradation to the surrounding watershed community that we loosely refer to as the environment and to future generations, of not just our species but of all living species. It is the nature of economics as practiced by American business to try to externalize as many costs as possible, to dump undesirable byproducts and waste onto the commons, into the waters and lands downstream and downwind, where the tab will be picked up by the public. Yet increasingly there is no “away” to throw undesirable leftovers. These byproducts need to be accepted and paid for as part of the cost of doing business. PH
Yes it is confusing…
People on every side of the food equation, good people, all disagreeing about what is happening, what needs protecting, what needs to cease, what needs to be done. And most all of those folks base their beliefs on some sort of ground zero premise or axiom, something they see as indisputable, a starting point that they believe we must all agree on. Such as; small farms CAN feed the world – or – small farms CANNOT feed the world. I say we need to go back further, back to something no feeling caring human being can dispute. I say we go to a true ground zero premise. Here’s my vote; I say we can and must agree on this…
No More Starving Children!
Now, let’s take that premise and work up from there. Today, Industrial agriculture is NOT feeding all the children of the world. Small independent farms spred across the entire populated blanket of the planet can and will feed all of those children, and they’ll do it while restoring the environment and rebuilding biological diversity. But we’ll have to find ways to help. Here’s another premise as goal…
No One Should Be Without a Piece of Land to Care For.
Now our job is to find the ways to make those two points stick and all else will follow suit. LRM
The Essence of Sustainability
What do quinoa, hazelnuts, amaranth, asparagus, artichokes and apples have in common? They’re all perennials-which means you don’t have to plant them each year, you don’t have to disturb the soil so much, or risk losing nutrients. Such crops need vigilance and care of a different kind, since they’re stuck in place season after season. There are plant biologists who have long been working on perennial varieties of wheat, rice, rye and other staple crops, (ask Wes Jackson!) not to beat industrial agriculture’s astonishing yields, which are pumped up by synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, but to strike a lasting balance with the soil’s fertility. The essence of sustainability. If you don’t grow any perennials, it may be time to try some, to round out your knowledge of different plant strategies for dealing with pests and seasonal variables. Your toolkit will include pruning and mulching and planting certain varieties near each other, to keep the pollinators coming around. PH
What Small Means
Small farming means small fields and more variety, means more edges and more ‘tooth’ for other lives, means more sharing or competition, depending on how you choose to look at it. Means an enforced modesty of expectations and outcomes. Means paradoxically a lower cost of living for everyone in the neighborhood, spread more widely around. PH
“We have assumed that there is no obligation to an inanimate thing, as we consider the earth to be: but man should respect the conditions in which he is placed; the earth yields the living creature; man is a living creature; science constantly narrows the gulf between the animate and the inanimate, between the organized and the unorganized; evolution derives the creatures from the earth; the creation is one creation. I must accept all or reject all.” – Liberty Hyde Bailey (circa 1913)
We got the word just a few days ago that the World Bank and aspects of the United Nations agriculture projects are embracing the notion that the ONLY way to feed the world in the immediate and distant future is with a global network of healthy small independent farms. ‘Bout time. Next thing they need to realize is that the way forward requires we unearth that mountain of accumulated agrarian wisdom and knowledge which governments and industry have worked so hard to burn and bury. We need to unearth it, dust it off, round those corners that need rounding and allow farmers to get their hands on it. People are going to need to know how their particular soil and weather will work with the chosen crops and livestock. And they need that information RIGHT NOW. That’s our job here, with Small Farmer’s Journal. LRM
“Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped past him.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
We cover three or four miles a day in the neighborhood. I call it walking the dog, but we walk each other, take turns as we dawdle, mope and gawk. For weeks I’ve been watching some raised beds go in on a planter strip alongside a church. They’re on a side street and I don’t know what denomination it is, what the sign says out front, who attends there, what their socio-economic status might be. I don’t know because I never looked. The one thing I know is that whoever put in these raised beds did it right, and that this vegetable growing enterprise, these walled patches of dirt, speak well of them. Like that bumper sticker of the Mormons back in the late 60s, that asked “Have you hugged your kid today?”
These boxes of dirt are not overcrowded, yet there is diversity. Four kinds of tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, two different kinds of cabbages, a row of beets and a couple of artichokes. There is no lettuce, no greens, so the gardener will probably not be tending and picking every day. And one other clue: the beds are heavily mulched with old grass clippings, to hold and save water around the plants.
Studying how it’s coming together, I never catch anyone working there, and don’t know who to thank, but feel the urge to thank someone anyhow. Maybe it’s the custodian, maybe the minister, maybe the Sunday School teacher and her class, maybe it’s a project of the board of governors for this parish, or some parish volunteers. Whoever is responsible, they didn’t bother to put up a sign or take credit. Yet the people coming to church or just passing by all know that local food is important to one neighbor here, and has found a home. PH
Hi Lynn and SFJ crew,
We had a great time at the auction 2012.
I am sending these photos to put in a plug for Marvin Brisk in Halfway Or.
He built the cultimulcher that you see here. The implement is especially good at tilling up a very nice seed bed, fallowing for weed control, and breaking up clods. The undercut front roller set up allows you to turn on a dime, which is great for working in hoop houses. We pull it with two to three horses depending on the conditions. If you are farming, you have to have one!
Walt Bernard, Dorena Or
TICK REMOVAL: especially good for places where it’s hard to get tweezers—between toes, in the middle of your hair or the middle of your back. Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball, and swab it for 15-20 seconds. The tick will come away on its own and be stuck to the cotton ball when you lift it off. Just be sure you’re not allergic to the kind of liquid soap you’re using. PH