It was nice to wake up this morning with the sun shining, although it will be awful to drink my tea this afternoon in the dark.
Still, I do love the constancy of change.
[A]bout 2 million family farms remain in the country, and to support them, the federal government continues to spend about $20 billion annually.
Sarah Mock, who grew up on a small family farm in Wyoming, has a long and throughtful piece in The Counter explaining why, in her experience, small family farms are not the future. She certainly poses the conundrum that drives her recent book. The “small family farms” that were successful were, broadly speaking, either not small, not caring of the land, not in it for the money, or a huge tax dodge. In other words, though she doesn’t say as much, not the kind of place that springs to mind when you hear the words “small family farm”.
The article examines in some depth why this should be so, and identifies a system that has, since the days of the founding fathers, privileged white people with stolen land, stolen people and government support that could do a lot more good elsewhere.
What I learned is that this country, at its core, is infatuated with agrarianism. Our founding myths are steeped in farming symbolism, from the deeply American (and problematic) harvest festival-turned-founding saga that is Thanksgiving, with all its patriotic, religious, and genocidal baggage, all the way to George Washington the farmer-warrior, resting under his own vine and fig tree.
The solution, as she sees it, is two-fold. First, consider promoting an agriculture premised more on community than family. Secondly, treat the young people who want to farm as the entrepreneurs they are (or should be) and give them the kind of knowledge and skills in marketing, team-building, leadership and financial nous that are essential adjuncts to the hugely under-rated knowledge and skills needed to produce food in the first place.
To which I would add, ditch the $10,000 that those family farms are currently getting a year (and you know the distribution of the handouts is way skewed), and spend the money on something more useful than socialist handouts to the rich and landed. Like sustainable food production.
I’m not sure how often this needs saying, but there really are no simple solutions to complicated problems, and reining in climate change is nothing if not complicated. I will be keeping a brief eye on what happens at the climate change conference in Glasgow, but the honest truth is that I have become very, very cynical about governments ever collectively agreeing to do anything meaningful. I hope I’m wrong.
In any case, it seems worth pointing to an article from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. It pulls together evidence that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with moving food around the place are not as high as people imagine; in other words, eating local is not always the best choice. The canonical example is New Zealand lamb; eaten in England, its greenhouse gas emissions, despite transport, are a quarter those of English lamb. (Naturally, I can’t seem to find it here in Italy, which is a great pity.)
Of course it is special pleading, given that Asia and the Pacific depends on food exports, but that doesn’t negate the point, that the bulk of GHG emissions come from food choices rather than food transport. The article looks forward to labels that inform us about “CO2 calorie equivalent”. For me, that’s giving calories way too much influence. I would far prefer to see a metric based on a more rounded view of nutrition, although I have no idea how to implement it.
Then again, maybe I should just give up on New Zealand lamb. It seems the chair of the UK’s climate change advisory board has: New trade deals ‘are unfair on farmers and won’t help emissions’.
Another multifaceted post from the always intriging Old European. As usual, we are in the realm of meaningful symbols, where Taurus the Bull is not, yet, a constellation but a symbol of the calving season, and Leo likewise stands for the mating season of Eurasian lions.
All of which is a prelude to an interpretation of one particular Sumerian legend, how grain came to Sumer. That brings in the mountainous location of barley domestication and communities that could survive two or three years on one oak acorn mast year with relatively little effort. And that, maybe, gave them enough sustenance that they didn’t need to kill all the animals they caught, and enough spare time to domesticate some of the animals and develop quite a rich culture.
All very suggestive and, indeed, convincing, to me, although there is nothing about the processing needed to make acorns taste good. Fear not, that is dealt with, in great detail, here. Be warned, though, the Old European makes it very easy to pull at a single thread and, hours later, find that you have unravelled completely.
Yes, I am being delibrately provocative, but I feel justified because that’s the thrust of an article by Sophie Chao, an anthropologist, about how local Marind people see the oil palm plantations that blanket parts of West Papua.
Plantations everywhere threaten the way of life of local people, many of whom campaign against them. But there is a subtlety to anti oil palm activities, as one activist, Kosmas, explained:
“Many Marind see oil palm as the enemy because it destroys our forests,” Kosmas continued. “But oil palm has its own enemies—the beetles, rats, fungi, and many more. Oil palm is taking over the land and forest, but it is not invincible. There is something important to be learned from oil palm’s enemies.”
Activists see the parasites as working secretly and quietly to undermine the corporate and government-sanctioned monocultures that threaten their way of life, and it is not lost on them that it is monoculture itself that in the long-term gives parasites the upper hand.
Some Marind people, however, are employed by the plantations to apply the insecticides and other toxins that keep parasites in check. Their perception is very different from that of the activists, and seems to ignore the dangers that toxins pose to people.
Workers are opposed to parasites because they make a living from killing them. And yet, ultimately, workers and parasites inhabit the same toxic environment. In the face of shared chemical risks, both humans and nonhumans partake in a strange and deadly form of multispecies solidarity.
Chao does not have any easy answers – there surely are none – but it is intriguing to think that, like the parasites, the activists are in some sense brought into being by the plantation monoculture.
Even if you don’t, you might enjoy reading Andrea Nguyen’s account of how she came to write Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and what came next. It is a fine, insider’s recollection of the process and some of the pitfalls along the way, which will either have you redouble your efforts to find an agent and publisher or else give up completely.
There’s one part on which Andrea Nguyen does not elaborate, and that is how “serendipity” connected her to Phil Wood. He was the founder of Ten Speed Press, which took a chance on Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and so many other fine books. I, for one, would love to know.
And thanks to Bee Wilson for linking to the article.
Coconut rhinoceros beetle, scourge of oil palms, by Len Worthington/Wikimedia Commons. Barbie & Ken, who knows?