On the Farm

Farms and gardens remain as the principal engine of all economies. City states whose money flow is largely of the trades and trading are yet utterly dependent on the supply of food. Thus, we come to have a devalued food supply – the modern world over, the labours of fields have mutated to become the labours of slaves. Of course, by way of their money markets, modern cities also pillage trade and the trades, while in turn, those trades pillage the labours of fields…
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It follows that cultures, which would sit within their particular rations of Earth must re-empower the ingenuities of fields – emancipation of slaves.
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Whichever way we reorganise settlements and social systems, the new organism must flow through its particular ration of soil and back again. That ration of soil gives the ingenuity of a social system the problem of both distributing its ration of food and returning that ration to soil. As I say elsewhere, it is beneficial to think less of limits and more of rations. Rations indicate fair shares. Limits provide excuses for enclosure, monopoly supply and then – imposed austerity.
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As I stand up to reclaim my citizenship, I also stand up to reclaim a word – organic, which I define as a cultural method, which gains efficiency by imitation of organic cycles. That is, it follows the rule of return. That the term has become debased by those who’d market it, is not a reason for abandonment. Rather, we must attack that marketing and emancipate the word. After all, many cultural methods have become debased by fossil-fuelled methods and must be similarly reclaimed. My green friends have turned to the clumsy and modernist new-speak of agroecology and permaculture. Both new-speak and modernism (including post-modernism) are a large part of our problem. On the common, the deepest understanding is simple and universal to all. Everyman understands the rule of return and the cycles of life. Meanwhile, the innocence of academic study is a beautiful thing. It should not be tainted by experience. Similarly, agroecology has no place in the wind and rain.
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That brings us to another and critical problem – inflated claims for carbon sequestration – indeed, also, the use of the word itself. Unlike our thickening deposits of atmospheric CO.2, soil life flows at variable speed in variable masses. Sequestration implies a still and quiet mass – one which denies that mass to the atmosphere.
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But it is the power – the acceleration of life and death in the soil, which leads to acceleration of green photosynthetic blades and leaves – all those lives, in soil and above following the rule of return. Here we note, by shear experience that acceleration due to biomass (life) travels only to the optimum point that can be maintained within a particular volume of soil, water and air. Within that cycle, it is also plain that complexity means resilience.
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However hard the organic farmer tries, she will never imitate that complexity and will always fall short of that resilience. We have simple minds and simple techniques. All farming systems will disrupt the efficiency of natural systems. Since modern cultures are agricultures, it follows that our task is to grow food and limit disruption as much as we can, while leaving as much as we can of Earth untouched by the simple, clumsy and limited tools of humanity.
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It is fortunate that leaving fossil fuels in the ground also enforces appropriate, mostly man-powered field systems. That is – the efficiency of horticulture. Now, horticultural systems will need about two-thirds of their areas sown to green manures. A good way of recycling that green manure is by grazing animals. They provide meat, milk and eggs and also remove part of the considerable work of incorporating plant materials. Animals can be easily managed by “dog and stick” methods. Of course, human wastes, can be returned to grazing parts of the rotation.
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Please note that I speak of what we can do on an instant – we can have perennial fields, such as orchards, but other perennial crops, such as cereals managed like perennial grasslands are a hope for the future.
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We can imagine narrow strip fields (centuries corroborate it) bordered by hedgerows or fruit and nut trees. We can also imagine cereals grown in the same dis-modernist, horticultural way, in which people replace fossil fuels. Don’t forget, that human ingenuity will similarly replace fossil-fuelled monopoly. So, animals fit that agriculture in much the same proportion as animals fit in nature. To exceed that balance leads to inefficiency and also further erosion of what must become essential – the return of the wilds – for both biodiversity and bio-massive photosynthesis. Don’t forget that hedgerows can be left to grow on an instant and that high-powered flail hedge cutter, can be left to rust – or rather re-forged to more appropriate tools.
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Another advantage of a human-scale, horticultural mind-set is the slotting of vegetable and fruit growing within towns and cities and as suburbs by necessity (by loss of transport power) fade into new centres and their hinterlands, so people can occupy new rings of market gardens… Small plots become highly visible, and so suddenly possible to the imaginations of many more people, who’d learn both the travails and the delights of their soil; their place; their weathers – that is, the truth.
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On a macroeconomic scale of a nation state, we would need a third of farmed land in crops and two-thirds for regenerative grazing, or green manures. Plainly, for wealthy nations, meat consumption must dramatically fall. Intensive organic market garden production will liberate land for re-wilding. Of course, true yield is durable output minus durable input, so that organic methods far out-yield techniques, which import (always from somewhere, which is similarly diminished) artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, biocides, matricides…. along with the closed minds of their intellectual property licenses.
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As we farm, we must know that we are adding to climate change. Our task is to limit that addition. Fortunately, the same task leads us to the most efficient cycling of nutrients from man to soil and back again. Here in the UK. the most fulsome, diverse and successful habitat is untouched woodland. Only there, can we find so-called negative emissions. Those who boast the sequestering power of well-managed grasslands are in truth, flaunting an excuse for the status quo – even though the boast has been made at the Real Oxford Farming Conference – home of an alternative status quo. Sometimes, I find my green friends, to be the most shocking friends.
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As individuals, as families and communities we must live within our ration of Earth. That cannot extend to rolling grasslands, which are purely allocated for the grazing of cattle and sheep. Changing weathers will lead to failed crops, inappropriate timings for sowing and cultivation and for many mistakes. Even the most skilled are sure to add a little to climate change. But if woodland regenerates over those pastures, it is possible that the whole may muddle along. Don’t forget, we’ll need timber for building materials, far more than we’ll need the luxury of meat with every meal.
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Negative emissions do not exist in agriculture. Their pursuit is a distraction from the epic journey we all face, which is to remove fossil fuels and biofuels from our lives. There is no escape from this truth – we must instantly and absolutely end the burning of both life and fossilised life. We are no longer super-human. As our oil power shrinks, so time expands and with it a marvellous diversity of space will fill those hours. Distances will become walking and cycling distances, so that we must re-organise both work and pleasure. Fields will return to a human scale – apparent to the intelligence of many pairs of eyes. Work and pleasure will become of necessity, both personally and socially, self-determined (unenclosed). Two people walking, or working side-by-side are more or less equal. The difference being, not in their wealth or status, but in their personal qualities.

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Of course, we can burn existing fermentation gases (anaerobic digestion). Fermentation is an essential part of life cycles. Use them or not – those gases will rise. Even so, we do not have the acreage to grow crops specifically for the digester.
Devising farming and distribution systems, which are not powered by fossil/bio-fuels is surely a cultural and personal problem of a magnificence to dwarf the anxieties of all the rest. If we do it right, it’ll bring unprecedented pleasure.

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If a young person, as young people do, needs to escape the parochial, soil-bound identity of farm life, then a wide world waits. After meandering through fields, woods, towns – across rivers and in many weathers, eventually perhaps, she’ll come to a schooner moored at the quay – in-tune with the trade winds. Meanwhile, her natal parish will remain imprinted in memory, in a complexity of images, scents, sounds and personalities, which will all have been harvested at walking speed. That memory will own a greater wealth of intelligence than anyone’s today. It will guide the traveller’s understanding and also at times, call her home. Fossil fuels have impoverished both happiness and understanding and as far as good husbandry goes, have lifted us too high for intelligence of the land below and also too fast for the diverse speeds of a common soil.

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3 Responses to On the Farm

  1. Joshua Msika says:

    “Another advantage of a human-scale, horticultural mind-set is the slotting of vegetable and fruit growing within towns and cities and as suburbs by necessity (by loss of transport power) fade into new centres and their hinterlands, so people can occupy new rings of market gardens… Small plots become highly visible, and so suddenly possible to the imaginations of many more people, who’d learn both the travails and the delights of their soil; their place; their weathers – that is, the truth.”

    Yes! And it is in this liminal peri-urban space that I’ve found my niche that I am developing slowly, one season at a time, at “the speed of life”. My garden is indeed highly visible and I hope that the abundance of greens of various hues, changing with the seasons, might inspire the many passers-by to imagine an alternative to manicured lawns and sterile shrubbery or to “chuckies”, the sea of granite gravel engulfing suburban gardens where I live.

    In the peri-urban space, more so than in the larger rural fields and isolated steadings, long-severed from any kind of human scale, I saw possibility in the here-and-now. The patchwork of houses, trees, home gardens and shared open spaces offers clear opportunities for creative re-inhabitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joshua Msika says:

      *the abundance of *edible* greens of various hues

      Liked by 1 person

      • bryncocyn says:

        Yes – and the beauty of it – that beauty a part of what may be a revelation to many, as we lose the speed of fossil fuels and regain the speed of life – its scents, tastes, sights and sounds… Acceleration due to people, rather than acceleration due to fossil fuels, may surely become a personally delightful thing, in which our own footsteps are suddenly potent footsteps..

        Like

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