jaroslava V / Shutterstock

Straw bale image via shutterstock. Reproduced on Resilience.org with permission.

In a world moving towards vat-grown meats and Soylent, Bryce Oates hopes for a return to the sustainable, diverse, and local:

I suppose we all have our favored notion of what’s to come, what’s preferable, how we should move along the path. Mine is more people on the land farming a mix of crops and livestock, minding the recycling and biological renovation of nutrients while producing healthy food for people, and leaving room for the wildlife with whom we share the planet. That’s already a mouthful, I know, but there also needs to be something said for economic fairness, decent pay, and incomes sufficient to support these food producers and conservationists.

Creating such a future may be difficult, Oates writes, as we would need to build “a policy framework and developing market opportunities and infrastructure. You know, truly sexy things like food processing shops and developing trucking routes.”

Meanwhile, Gene Logsdon wonders whether we ought to forsake capitalistic farming methods altogether, and turn farming into a not-for-profit enterprise:

Not-for-profit farming would be based on a different economic model for farmland. “Profit” would come from the satisfaction and enjoyment and recreational value of possessing or owning land, not squeezing it to death for money profit. Then the land and the farmer’s life on it would not be subject to money manipulation and would not need the highest yields or the biggest machinery to survive. It would just need more not-for-profit food producers.

The major goal for successful farming would not be to reap the highest amount of money from the land but to reap the most pleasure and satisfaction that a farm can provide. For example, the not-for-profit farmer would be content to derive as much enjoyment out of fishing, ice skating, boating, swimming, and bird-watching on his pond that others derive from taking vacation trips to far off lands. Rather than seeing the farm primarily as a place to make money, the non-profit farmer would see it as a refuge from strife. They would then have to make only enough money to pay taxes and cover living costs, the latter being minimal since the farm, correctly managed, can provide many of those costs without cash outlay. The financial reward would come from the rise in the value of the land both as property and as increasingly fertile soil.

Why does Logsdon see this as a more beneficial method than the current one? “When highest possible profit rules farming, the possession of the land inevitably flows into the hands of the richer people and more and more poor people are dispossessed— forced off or lured off the land,” he writes.

Both of these posts seem to raise the question, “Has capitalism broken farming?” As I’ve written in the past, I think it’s more likely that crony capitalism has broken farming, giving us the bloated industrialized system we have today. But these writers aren’t wrong to call for a return to a simpler, more diversified, craftsman-esque style of agriculture. Our current industrialized mode of farming has resulted in a swath of deleterious consequences.

Oates identifies the greatest challenge here: the need for a new infrastructure, one that gives local-food-craving consumers access to the goods they desire. That infrastructure is building, but slowly—impeded by miles of red tape.

The idea of not-for-profit farming is intriguing, but I wonder how well it would sell to farmers themselves—many of whom want to build a sustainable livelihood they can pass onto their sons and daughters. (Although perhaps it’s not a bad idea to open up the possibility of not-for-profit farming for those who are interested in such a lifestyle.) Many of today’s farmers are making “only enough money to pay taxes and cover living costs” as it is: rewarding them for their toil and hard work is a good use of our time and resources. We want to make (sustainable, local) farming a lucrative practice, so that smart and talented people will be drawn to the enterprise. That’s not as likely to happen if we transform farming into a not-for-profit enterprise.