14 December 2011
Farming is an essential component to the sustainability of mankind, which is why the modern farmer must emerge and use the information handed to him from the farmers of the past and present. Farming has been an important concept since the settling of America. In the beginning, it started mainly with corn and cotton crops. Then it grew into many more foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, and beans. The important concept learned through reading three of the required novels, is that farming is now taking on a more modern approach. Farming is no longer what it used to be and new concepts need to be implemented for successful farming in a technological, modern world.
The three books that I read for in relation to farming were, “Fields Without Dreams” by Victor Davis Hanson, “New Roots for Agriculture” by Wes Jackson, and “Living The Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. The one idea that all of these books shared are listing what the authors saw as essential to maintaining or starting a farm. All of the authors outlined their successes and failures, what to avoid, and what to hold onto when it comes to farming and contributing to agriculture.
Maintaining the health of the land, and being able to have a productive land are key factors in the ideal of farming. The purpose I am seeking is to find a new modern approach to farming based off of the key points illustrated in the above mentioned novels combined with more modern techniques, to create a new ideal that I would like to call the modern farmer. The modern farmer knows that his purpose is not to be the sole provider of produce, but to live a more energy conservable, natural life. The modern farmer can no longer work solely on the farm or rely on small crops to make his living. The modern farmer should work outside of the farm, and be able to use technology to his/her advantage.
I will first start with summarizing the three novels that I read regarding farming so that one can understand what was essential to farming in the past and what key ideas each author presents about farming. Then, I will discuss the lives of individuals who lived on farms. And finally, I will discuss the story of an individual who I would consider the modern farmer and what his ideals entail to become successful in the modern farming business.
The first book, Hanson’s “Fields Without Dreams” illustrates the lives of a family and their farm which was passed down for many generations starting in the early 1900’s. This book highlights their successes, failures, and suggestions for maintaining a farm. This book is obviously aimed at defending the Agrarian idea, or advancement of farmers. There are six guidelines that are outlined by Hanson. The first is that all farmland should have a house. Hanson said that it would be wise to have a house on the farmland to avoid driving from one location to another and trying to maintain more than location. The second guideline is to keep a history. Every farmland should have data kept that shows what the best and worst crops were and on what part of the land. This is to give the farmer a better understanding of what his/her land’s weaknesses and strengths are. The third guideline is that all farmland, especially vineyards and orchards should have proven crops. This means not having strange exotic fruits, but to stick with what you know such as plums, peaches, and nectarines. The fourth guideline is to make sure the farmland has easy access to water. This means that the land should be located beneath and not in the mountains. Therefore the water would flow downward. The fifth guideline is that farmland should have predictable weather. Having predictable weather will help to prevent “limb-breaking winds, fruit-rotting rains, and tree-killing snows and frosts” (Hanson 126). The sixth and final guideline is that farmland should have neighbors. Neighbors can offer expertise, and share ideas of what works for them. Also, as we learned in Collapse, it is good to have someone close by for resources or tools that you may lack.
Hanson also expressed several challenges of the farmer, especially during the early 1900’s after the depression and periods of inflation. The most important challenge of all was trying to stay in farming. The second challenge was to continue to be able to produce an income, and the third challenge was to not borrow or lose money. The farmer’s struggled to be able to keep an income from the crops that were produced because of inflation. For example, a tray of raisins that could once sell for four hundred and fifty dollars, was now selling for less than one hundred dollars. This minimized the actual profit from the produce and only sometimes the farmers broke even. The banks started having a lot of control towards the mid 1950’s in thinking that they were helping the farmers survive when all they did was make it worse. Farmers had to borrow from banks to keep their land and in the end found themselves in debt. The inflation was not good for their income and the amount that they were able to produce was no longer enough. The farmers would try anything and everything necessary to stay in farming but after many years still found that they had failed.
And finally, Hanson mentioned one statement that said, farmers complain about the injustice of their plight, robbery of their produce, the cruelty of nature, and the carnality of the bank. On page 215, I found Hanson’s comment about the “more urbane reader” not being interested in this issue to be offensive. The “more urbane reader” is not always pro urban and may have a certain respect for rural or suburban ideals. My conclusion about this book is that we can change the image of the Agrarian. We can make him more modern and able to survive farming in a new way. This book was perfect in demonstrating the hardships of farming in a time where all economy was facing a downfall and slow rise.
The second book I read was “Living the Good Life” by Helen and Scott Nearing. This book was focused around the authors who travelled to Vermont to learn the way of farming, which to them was the good life. They were in search of the good life, by maintaining or living in a cooperative or an intentional community. They first selected where they wanted to live the good life and figured how they would finance it. And then they had to found out the ways in which the good life is supposed to be lived. At first they were looked at as only being “summer folks” and were not liked by the community (Nearing 11). This means that by only habiting a community during the summer, the town then turns into a ghost town which creates in continuity for the community. Helen and Scott Nearing also had seven guidelines for their success in living the good life. Their guidelines were as follows:
o To raise as much food as possible
o To Barter
o Use wood, that they would cut themselves, for fuel
o Put up their own buildings
o Implements such as sheds, screens, ladders, etc
o Hold down or maintain the implements
o Rent or trade machines
These guidelines are what the Nearings found essential to living their life the best way they could. They used natural stone and rock and would only repair rather than rebuild to conserve. They found a surprising way of income, which was selling syrup. They became tappers of maple trees. With the profit from the syrup they were able to pay for all of their expenses. The Nearing’s would conduct these guidelines over a ten year period. This book was also centered in the early 1900’s which is why it displays some of the same characteristics as “Fields Without Dreams”, except the bank was virtually nonexistent in the Nearing’s life. The Nearing’s seemed to live a more free life.
The importance of this book is the outlining of how to get started with a farm. Although those guidelines will not be the same for the modern farmer, the authors share the same purpose. The idea of starting or moving to an intentional, cooperative community is the same idea of the modern farmer.
The third book was “New Roots for Agriculture” by Wes Jackson. This book reminded me the most of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring with many mentions to pesticides. Jackson mentioned the idea of training and licensing pesticide handlers, but also said that doing this would not eliminate the problem of pesticides because most “will be there due to error and not intent” (Jackson 28). Jackson believes that farmers have a need for a better land ethic. He discusses the failure of success, saying that some of the techniques that gave farmers success in the short run were killing their land and crops in the long run. As we continue to push for production, we plant more crop varieties that are susceptible to pesticides. Water mining, land salting, pesticide accumulation, and fertilizer application contribute to genetic vulnerability. This vulnerability takes place during the short run success mentioned earlier. The plants lose their genes for resistance and make them vulnerable.
We were also presented with the problem of nitrates in the water. Many farmers were forced to switch to bottled water for drinking for both themselves and the animals. Irrigation then becomes a major problem for farmers as well. Over eighty percent of our water is consumed on farms and ranches. The problem is not only the nitrates but also the salt accumulating in the fields, and the draw down from pumping is occurring faster than recharge.
Jackson also discusses the fact that farmers have no choice but to move into “large-scale, capital-intensive type[s] of farming” (Jackson 31). This correlates back into Hanson’s discussion about the banks getting involved and what negative affects it can have on the farmers. Farmers are forced into less personal more government reliable farming because they cannot afford to pay the banks. They also lose time and have increased costs because of tools and equipment. One part of Jackson’s argument that stood out to me was the failure of organizations which aimed to save the land and do what was best for the land. Some organizations believed that technology would solve the farming problems and some preached conservation. The tragedy was the fall of primitive peoples who are connected to the environmental way of living. As we grow further from those generations, the ideas of farming are less accepted or wanted.
Towards the ends, Jackson claims that as humans we could possibly have a predisposed psyche telling us to take from the environment without regards to the future. This was mentioned in class when we discussed how humans are working together survival for mankind, and they’re willing to do anything to make sure they survive. However, Jackson says that we need to negotiate with nature to get back what we once had which is a healthy, rich land. The final chapter discusses a Utopian Farm and how they use more modern approaches to be successful. We see innovations such as alcohol powered tractors and herbaceous poly culture for oil.
What I gained from these books are the techniques of farming, what could or could not work best, the successes, the failures, challenges, and problems of the past generations farmer. The fact that all of these books did not focus on farming past the late 1970’s, shows that there have probably been changes since then. “New Roots for Agriculture” also highlights the issue of the government becoming too involved. We will see later how this affects the modern farmer negatively.
I received a statement from two middle aged women who had lived on farms as children. They were growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, which is still close to the time period discussed in the novels that I read.
One woman, Debbie Wiles, moved to her uncle’s farm when she was 12. She recalled the men getting up early to start the outdoor work such as milking the cows. When the women woke up they would make a breakfast with fresh fruits that they grew, and dinner would also consist of fresh vegetables grown on the farm.
Another woman, Bonnie Cesnick, grew up on a farm as well. One of her most vivid but not joyful moments was helping to slaughter the pigs. Bonnie recalled hiding under her bed and covering her ears to minimize the squealing of the pigs. She described the pigs as being intuitive, almost like children. They seemed to know that slaughtering was getting ready to happen.
Both Debbie and Bonnie discussed the fact that every one of all ages helped on the farm. It was not hard work for them to do but rather busy work or a chore. For many families, the children helping are a crucial part of their profit. Without the children’s help, much less work would get done. More recently a child working on the farm has become an issue of child labor and can possibly be changed to illegal.
One article, “Children in the Fields”, by John Biewen, looks at a Mexican American family of 8 living in the state of Washington; “they make more than the average farm worker family – $18,000 last year, they say. That’s still $10,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of eight” (Biewen). Without the help of the family’s children, they would get twice as less work done and make half the money they are currently making in a year. Biewen says that the children are at risk and are being used as “guinea pigs”. In reality, all children have always been at risk throughout history but were probably in better health because they had to participate in family work outside of the home. What better will the youth do if they do not have to stay physically active to help the family? The children would waste time watching television and playing video games. They can learn the same hand-eye coordination by helping to farm. If society truly wants to minimize the number of children working on farms, they should do so “by raising the wages paid to adult farm workers” (Biewen).
This issue is significant to both the past farmer and the modern farmer. As Debbie and Bonnie said, everyone helped out on the farm. For the present farmer, the children’s work on the farm is essential to their income. For the modern farmer, everyone will still need to contribute to the new high maintenance techniques. I do not believe that a child helping on the farm is child labor; it is merely them learning the ways of the household. It certainly can be looked at as the same as chores. The children are not forced to work all day and they are getting paid with a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.
Now I would like to present the ideal modern farmer ideas from an individual named Teddy Galloway. Religion has inspired Teddy to live a more conservative, natural life and to provide life-long sustenance to his family. Teddy wishes to “improve upon the ability for [him] to live without excess”. The first thing that Teddy needs to do is purchase a large area of land, preferably land that can be easily farmable and at least 2 to 3 acres. There are four objectives in place once the land is purchased. Thos objectives are to build an earthship, create permaculture gardens to maximize food production, produce biodiesel, and have a farm. The ultimate goal is to have 5 to 6 families living in this community and all families working together for the success of the community. To Teddy, this is “the most important thing to survive in the economy and in order to actually be involved in the economy”. Excess produce will be given to the poor and also used for profit.
An earthship is made out of natural and recyclable materials with solar panels. Because of the materials it is made from, it does not look like the typical house. They are typically built off grid, meaning being as far away from public housing as possible. This will be different for Teddy’s community. His ideas are to be shared with public society for them to have an understanding of what sustainable living is about. In the earthship, rainwater will be harvested and well water will be used as back up. In addition to the solar panels of the earthship, there will be a production of biodiesel. Obviously, the Sun does not always shine. Therefore, there needs to be a backup generator which will be the biodiesel, created from sunflowers combined with a generator to be used for heating purposes.
Permaculture is derived of several disciplines including sustainable development, organic farming, and ecology. Permaculture focuses on the agricultural systems and human settlements which can be summed up as modern agriculture. Like the earthship, it is self reliant and does not rely on the public, or government, for assistance. Permaculture gardens will be setup both indoors and outdoors of the earthship. They will be used to grow plants and foods in a temperature controlled environment. Permaculture will be used to produce a farm, to keep land fertile and to cause the least amount of harm on the land. The land can be regenerated and rejuvenated. There will be animals such as sheep, goats, chickens, and in the longer run cows and horses.
As a man who makes a six figure salary, theses goals are more attainable for him than others. While his plan may only take him 5 to 10 years to get to a sustainable life, it could take some up to 20. If the government were to fund projects such as the one presented, it would help to sustain the human population for a longer period of time and do so in a more healthful, conserving manner. This is not to say that the government can then govern how this community lives or makes decisions.
There are several reasons why Teddy believes sustainable living is important. As mentioned earlier, America started as an Agricultural society in which Industry later took over. Once industry took over and America began to urbanize. The disappearance of Agriculture relied in the increase of big businesses. The businesses are now running what is left of the Agriculture. The businesses used technology to expand their capabilities. The technology killed the agriculture. This created a dependency issue in which Americans transitioned to being independent to being dependent on the government to provide more. When government fails, as in the failure of organizations explained in “New Roots for Agriculture”, the societies begin to fall apart.
The conclusion is that the economy crashed because of the transition from agriculture. America has put herself back into the depression. In order to bring our economy back to being somewhat independent, agriculture needs to pick back up. According to Teddy, America needs to deurbanize to get back to agriculture. This is what he calls the cycle of dependency. The cycle is continuous from agriculture, to industry, to technology and eventually back to agriculture. Agriculture is not important to Americans anymore because they are receiving their sustenance from the government. With proper planning, the people of society can teach themselves to become independent and to live the proper agricultural life. The motto here said by Teddy, is that “proper planning prevents piss-poor performance”. The plan could take 10 years, but would ultimately lead to better lives.
All of the ideas presented by Teddy Galloway are examples of what I would consider the ideal modern farmer. In order for us as humans to be able to understand what it means to live the good life we need to have more innovative ideas. Majority of Americans have no ideas about what it means to live agriculturally, to live on a farm, to own animals, or to independently provide for themselves. If mankind wants to be able to thrive they must learn how to survive a more sustainable life.
Hanson, Jackson, and the Nearing’s all had key ideas that are still relate-able to the modern farmer. From Hanson, the techniques of avoiding the government and banks are important. Once you begin to become dependent, slowly your independence will be gone and you will have to rely on the government to keep your farm running. From Jackson, we also see issues of the government becoming too involved. When the government tries to regulate a natural process of farming, they are only depleting further the chance for Independence. From the Nearing’s, the idea of getting started, of being independent, of wanting an intentional cooperative community is one of the goals of the modern farmer. Both need to find a plot of land, build on that land, and establish profit.
In conclusion, the farmers of the past and present are shaping the way for the modern farmer to be more successful. For the economy to raise out of its slump, agriculture must take a stance and show the world its importance. Modern farmers know better than anyone else what works and what does not work and can create the most successful way to farm. If humans do not want to die out due to environmental issues and depletion of resources, are more sustainable, agricultural life is necessary. We must stop the cycle of dependency, and get back to the independence we first worked hard to achieve.
Biewen, John. “Children in the Fields.” American RadioWorks from American Public Media. American RadioWorks, 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. .
The Cycle of Dependency. Prod. Teddy Galloway. Perf. Teddy Galloway. 2011.
Earthships, Permaculture, Sustainable Farming, Solar, Biodiesel. Prod. Teddy Galloway. Perf. Teddy Galloway. 2011.
Good Ideas for Living a Better Life: Parts 1-4. Prod. Teddy Galloway. Perf. Teddy Galloway.
Hanson, Victor Davis. Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea. New York: Free, 1996. Print.
Jackson, Wes. New Roots for Agriculture. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska, 1985. Print.
Nearing, Helen, and Scott Nearing. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. New York: Schocken, 1982. Print.
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