Notes from nowhere – Fit the third

Obviously, the bulk of trade was local trade – market gardens emerged within and in the surrounds of towns – street markets expanded accordingly.  Suburbs began to re-centre as villages, or small towns – each with shops and workshops.  Urban fringes faced some dilapidation as both town centres and rural economies enlivened.  But the slower nature of travel provoked the old need for pubs, cafes and bunk houses.  Likewise, the old service trades revived – local joiners, electricians, metal workers, appropriate small-scale agricultural machinery manufacturers, boat-builders, wind and water turbine manufacturers and so on.  Of course, town and village bakers, butchers, green-grocers, dairies and fish-mongers rapidly replaced all that decaying super markets had once provided.

Farmers’ markets, which had begun as tools of transition disappeared into street markets and rural produce found a variety of buyers amongst local trades-people.  Every market town had its wholesale fish, veg and dairy market halls.  The intoning of auctioneers became a familiar early-morning event – as natural as cock-crow.  In many cases, redundant super markets proved ideal for this new (and old as the hills) purpose.

Still, while the dew was on the grass and birdsong was amorous, young people itched for adventure.  Many found it in those brigs and schooners moored at the quay, or lying enticingly off-shore from the beach.  Typically of about fifty to three hundred tons they carried grain, apples, wine – evocative things – Well, they traded comparative advantages of terroir across the wine-dark sea!

Sail traders learnt directly from the highly-developed marine architecture of the Nineteenth Century, but had the advantage of electric and hydrogen engines, which were used to leave and enter port, when sail alone would have waited for the tide.

Clusters of wind turbines became a comforting sight, which marked the headlands of every harbour – charging batteries and sometimes producing electricity to extract hydrogen from water.  Our White Ladies of Welcome – sailors called them – amongst other things.

It goes without saying that farming methods were organic methods – or agro-ecological, or biodynamic if you prefer.  What else could they be?  The fossil wells and mines were either empty, or after the Declaration of Sequestration were left to lie sequestered in their strata.

Let me remind you – Organic – Method which gains efficiency by imitating the cyclic behaviours of organisms.

Let me also remind you – Agriculture – Societies whose cultural methods are emergent properties of fields.  That includes all settled cultures which have evolved from the Neolithic, or Bronze Age until now.

Let me further remind you that this is a tale told under the surety of the stars.  It is my News from Nowhere.  In any case, the gossip from Nowhere included many references to wild delusions left behind: of economic growth from a finite supply; of enlightenment progressively superseding human nature; of private property enclosing priceless commons; of biomass burning forever from a continuous and magical re-growth – delusions to equal the achievements of Easter Islanders, or the dust bowl farmers of Oklahoma!

So it was that communities came to share an almost palpable relief at their common escape from the delusions and static properties of power.

Any child from Nowhere would tell you that economies will grow only to the optimum point that ecologies can sustain them.  The rule of return was taught to children as the first principle of agriculture – useful because it was also the first principle of social justice.  Biomass extracted from a field in crops must be returned in some form to feed the field for subsequent crops.   If we burn that biomass, then nothing can be returned but gas and ashes.  Gas and ashes well describes the future diet of post modernity.  Gas and ashes also describes what the Great Revolt was glad to leave behind for a life lived by laws of life.

Ideas of commons centred round the Rule of Return.  So biomass became a common from which a temporal property could be extracted by valued labour.  A cabbage was mine to eat or sell, but its biomass was not my property.  The flow of biomass between species from soil fauna to plant and animal and back again was a flow in time as well as space – from husbandries of the past to those of the future.  An optimum flow maintained an optimum mass.  This natural law was easily-understood, because it chimed with an intrinsic ethics.  We own neither the wind, which drives our turbines, nor the biomass which drives our bodies. – We own the temporarily-transformed state of our food, but not its flow – to and from soil.  The forms of both cabbage and king are temporary properties – states which will always dissolve to liquidity – dust to dust.

Pretty soon, it became clear that the return of wastes to fields was a matter of social justice.  Those who obtained most waste could grow the biggest crops and make the most money.  Human nature being what it is – well you know the story.  So administration of town wastes – vegetable, sewage and so on needed regulation.  Fertility Boards were set up for the purpose – rather like those which regulate water rights in the Mediterranean, or which once administered the annual rotation of strips in medieval common fields.

The ethic behind the fertility boards was a powerful one, since whole communities gained by an even distribution, which produced the highest optimum yield.  If a farmer imported too large a share of fertility, then much was lost as gas to the air and as minerals to water courses.  Maximum, total, community crop yield was achieved by an optimum mineralisation of wastes – too much increased the yield for the greedy farmer, but reduced the yield of the whole.

Since growing food was understood to be the foundation of a settled community, it became a noble calling – with the primal act of civilisation running through it.

Without bagged fertiliser and the large diesel-powered vehicles to distribute it, arable farmers far from population centres found that yields began to fall.  Bear in mind that fertiliser is high dry matter and very light relative to its bulk, whereas sewage and green/food wastes are heavy.   Of course, with regards to problems of transport, grain is similarly light, whereas vegetables are heavy.

So – because green manure, or pasture rotation alone, proved insufficient for regular arable harvesting, social patterns began to change accordingly.  Here’s the thing – towns and cities had become too full to be easily-fed from their hinterlands, whereas good land far from centres of population was lacking both labour and the imported fertility necessary to replace exported crops.

Rural populations grew – and grew most dramatically on the best soils.   Basic Income and the New Deal in Rural Housing assisted the migration from towns and cities.  The crash in property values, far from slowing economic activity, actually stimulated it.  Economic activity is not measured by spending.  Adam Smith’s proposition became a populist saw – Goods can have many purposes, besides purchasing money, but money can have no purpose, besides purchasing goods.  Economic activity was revealed in new villages – some expanding to small towns.  The land around those settlements was often marked out into market gardens of three or four acres.  The arable land and pasture was most usually enclosed into new holdings of under a hundred acres with small easily-managed and hedged fields.  Fifty acres of good land became the yardstick for a successful family farm.  Sometimes whole communities managed originally large farms.  The old landlords’ implements lay idle and the labour they’d hire to replace them came with a social movement at its back.  As centralised distribution decayed so did all its elements: – the large farms; the retail parks; the super markets; the pack-houses; the processing factories; the abattoirs.  The old large landlords were forced to trade with a new network of small butchers, dairies, mills, green grocers and so on, or go broke.  Some joined in.  Others fought till their end, which was inevitable.

Scottish land reform measures became a commonplace throughout Europe as communities bought out the large farmers and landlords.  Don’t forget that as casino site values had collapsed, so land values emerged which reflected the value of agricultural production.  Field rents similarly collapsed.

Scotland’s feudal systems remained a living and potent memory and also served as a reminder that post modernity had replaced feudalism with something even worse.  That is: power with responsibility had been replaced by mere property-right with no responsibility attached.  Of course Scotland’s history held far too many examples of betrayed and ignored feudal responsibilities, but these had been written down as iniquities.  Post modern property-holders lived in an amoral world in which moral judgement had become inappropriate.  Property law had become divorced from the foundation of all laws, which is the Common Good.  So, post-modern property-law was baseless and easily reformed.  After all, post modern property appropriates the wealth which good work produces by increasing rents and lowering wages.

***

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