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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

papa don't farm: part 2

This is tedious times eleventy for people not interested in agricultural issues, so I apologize.

Here's the thing. I can't so much interview my dad. I had a great conversation with him over our plates of Thanksgiving dinner, but because of my admiration for him I lack the emotional distance required to ask him probing questions, because I'm afraid of coming across like a clueless townie with no respect for farmers.

I did ask him why tractors are so much more expensive now, and he does think it's at least partially because tractors are capable of so much more. A tractor can now use GPS to drive, plow, and cut a field almost by itself. John the computer talker says "It's like a Word macro for tractors. You say, 'Record what I do,' and it does it." It's this sort of thing that makes it possible to farm 800 acres and still see your family every once in a great while.

He expressed frustration that the book my mom once checked out on organic gardening was full of propaganda about the cruelty of owning any animals for any reason. I know exactly how my dad felt. You know, they couldn't just be happy that someone was trying to learn how to get by without pesticides. They just had to throw a greener-than-thou speech in there (one with which I personally do not agree, but we've been here before). Once a few years ago I exchanged a couple of emails with the guy who writes Sludgie, and here's an excerpt:

Sludgie guy:
" . . . as a vegetarian, I would end up defending myself against vegans and meat eaters at the same time. And the cause gets forgotten. Most people are concerned about the environment, but say they don't relate to environmentalists. Yet we're all breathing the same air."

My reply:
" . . . I think you make a good point--environmentalism, or social consciousness, or whatever one calls it, is so full of striations that people who should be sympathizing and banding together end up bickering about the shades of grey within their cause, and therefore don't have a unified voice with which to accomplish their common goals. And they end up being the Captain Bringdown whom everyone ignores because it's just too depressing, man!"

In reviewing this email I'm painfully aware of how much of a Captain Bringdown I am at times. But I'm straying from my purpose here. And my dad made another good point. Barbara Kingsolver, my platonic celebrity girlfriend (buy her new book, The Lacuna, available in stores now!) who is unaware of my existence, said in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle something about the most productive farm, labor-to-return-wise, is one that is four acres in size (or thereabouts). I'm paraphrasing from memory, but her point, unless I misunderstood, was that a farm of four acres has enough land to grow everything you need to feed a family, but not so much land that you can't farm it without tractors, which require ownership of more land, which requires more tractors to farm it, and here we go 'round the mulberry bush. My dad disagrees, and when he put it to me that our own "farm," let's call it, produces enough hay to feed our few goats--and nothing else--I saw that there might be a sticky wicket there. I imagine that I'd have to have our entire yard planted in food-producing plants, and that's probably what Barbara Kingsolver meant. That you can do it, but you don't have room for luxuries, and you certainly aren't going to get fat on it. I need to go back and read that part again, because I want to believe her. I want to believe that we can be content with enough, not too much. But now we're veering away from my What's Killing Farmers speech and into my What's Wrong with America speech.

Anyway, I can't have this conversation with my dad, because he likes working more than talking about working. Plus he's busy trying to sell farmers the tractors that will make the difference between them eking out an existence and collapsing.

Conclusion: I'm going to talk to some other peoples who don't know me as well and will not mind me being nosy.

4 comments:

tipsybaker said...

Barbara Kingsolver would probably be very impressed with a place like this: http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/tag/urban-farm/
Every inch seems to be used, no tractor is required. As you know, I have inclinations in this direction but whenever I visit this site I get depressed. The life looks miserable and oppressive.

All8 said...

May I suggest another author, one who actually grows food for many and makes a pretty good living out of it? Eliot Coleman. His recommendation is 5 acres (if I remember correctly). He's got a system and Ambrose admires it greatly.

To be honest though, machines replace the human machine. Any kind of simplified/sustainable life will include more actual physical human labor. The question is, how much labor are you willing to do and how much are you willing to sub out to others (i.e. the industrial machine called agriculture)? And what ever that flexible equation works out to be, are you and your family going to be alright with it?

Layne said...

Tipsy--thanks for that link. It looks like more work than I'm ready for, but I do like that they hate Monsanto. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or something.

Layne said...

And All8--I'll check him out. I wonder if my library has any of his stuff.