My title is a quotation from archaeologist Francis Pryor’s book about ‘prehistoric’ Britain, but it serves well enough as a summary of the general argument in my own book about our likely global future, and the need to refocus the household from a place of economy to a place of ecology
As more and more of us are turned on to the idea of small-scale self-reliance and seek to build resilient local communities, one of the most serious challenges we face is basic access to affordable land.
But what’s perhaps of greatest import are the points where our human self-conceptions confront the wider world – and here farming looms large. Since I’m hopeless at multi-tasking, how fortunate, then, that I’m a ‘former’ social scientist and a farmer, albeit improperly!
Small farm does equal more labour per unit area and per unit product (which is why most rich countries import a large proportion of their horticultural produce … and why modern diets involve too much refined carbs and oils, and not enough fruit and veg). The challenge is to show that this (along with less energy, less carbon, less water, less soil loss, more product and more fun per unit area) is precisely what makes small farming the wave of the future.
In times of crisis, especially in urban situations, a lot of the usual individualist concerns drop away and people create ingenious new commons to get by, ‘paradises built in hell’ in the resonant phrase of Rebecca Solnit. But I’d argue the longer and larger task is to dwell less on this transient commoning and focus instead on building the conditions in which people can create their own livelihoods renewably and locally as individuals-in-communities.
Approximately 45-minutes drive from Kansas City, Powell Gardens’ Heartland Harvest Garden is America’s largest edible landscape, providing the perfect backdrop for culinary events and education. It’s a place where 60 students capped off a recent visit by helping to make salsa and where a two-year-old CSA is in full swing.
For Syria, small-scale, autonomous farming offers a model of inspiration for the challenges that lie ahead in terms of weakened food security, the use of food as a weapon and the vulnerability of farming livelihoods. In the long run, planting it as an idea may well be the most important thing to do.
On a recent Saturday, the Overland Park, Kansas, Farmers’ Market bustled with customers by 7:30 a.m. Amid dozens of vendors, four graduates from the New Roots for Refugees program sold sustainably grown kale, plump cucumbers, enormous scallions, bright red cherry tomatoes, and more.
To love the farming in a global economic context that writes its economic bottom line in diesel is not only a hard thing, but a conflicted thing. I can’t claim to have extracted myself from those dismal economics but my good fortune is that, on the ground and on the page, at least I’ve found some opportunities to try.
The Breakthrough Institute have published a response to my critical commentary on a recent post of theirs. Here I continue the debate, because I think it might clarify some worthwhile issues. I
An exciting food project called Grown in Totnes has started trading in this South Devon market town, selling processed grains, peas and flours to local shops, bakers and colleges.
More on organic farming, trade-offs, energy futures and small-farm definitions in this post. Veritably, it’s your one stop shop for a pick ‘n’ mix of eco-futurism…partly because indeed I have a few addendums to report on recent posts, and partly because despite my flippant recent remarks, I’m a bit too busy on the farm and on other things just now to put together a properly structured post.