This is a call to farms. It is and is not a response. It is not a response to the route of any one brigade, the military mind that mapped it or the propaganda that is translating it into ideological talking points. It is a response to the forces that turned—lo’ these few brief millennia, and lo’er these few brief centuries, and lo’er yet (you’d think lo’est, surely, but no, there seems no end to the Great Acceleration) these few brief decades, these few brief tweets, these few brief algorithmic breaths, these few brief ultra-fast bursts of ones and zeroes—the Fertile Crescent into the Oil Patch and amber waves of grain into food as a store of cheap, shelf-stable calories, food as fuel for internal combustion engines, food as industrial power.
This is a call to farms because there is healing to be done. There is trust to be restored. Mutuality to be rekindled. Biodiversity to be valued. Conviviality to be nurtured. Carbon to be sequestered. Bread to be broken. Affection to be shared. Humility to be cultivated.
The overwhelming sadness I am feeling these days, witnessing the siege of Mariupol and Valodymyr’s leadership and Vladimir’s propagandizing and NATO’s struggle to respond without escalation, is deeper than generalized helplessness. There is a lifetime of barely repressed cognitive dissonance and American remorseful conscience to it. I say “barely repressed” because I’ve been imperfectly dealing with cognitive dissonance and remorseful conscience ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis, when, as I entered adolescence, I was just old enough to sense that as the nation that developed nuclear weapons and dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a certain inevitability to the crisis we then faced in the form of Russian nuclear warheads wending their way to Cuba.
I’ve been mulling anew, in these current hours of war in Europe, the roots of my American cognitive dissonance. How do we reconcile the American Dream and the military industrial complex? American Exceptionalism and 393 million guns? Going to the moon and thousands of nuclear warheads? Amber waves of grain and McWorld?
McWorld. That word encapsulates, perhaps more than any other, the blithe self-assuredness with which industrial capitalism has planted its flag all over the globe. For years, McDonald’s trumpeted its numbers on the golden arches themselves: “X” million burgers sold. They stopped putting the numbers up there in 1994, as the 100 million mark was being approached, because, observers suggest, the numbers had become so large they were starting to be a liability in the Quantity vs. Quality School of Value Creation and Marketing.
McWorld. So enthralled have we been with the entrepreneurial success of companies with global reach that we’ve even wanted to believe they could represent a pathway to peace. Thomas Friedman wrote in 1996:
The thesis is this: No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other. . .
There was enough of a correlation for me to ask James Cantalupo, president of McDonald’s International and its de facto Secretary of State, what might be behind this Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention — which stipulates that when a country reaches a certain level of economic development, when it has a middle class big enough to support a McDonald’s, it becomes a McDonald’s country, and people in McDonald’s countries don’t like to fight wars; they like to wait in line for burgers.
McWorld. When Benjamin Barber wrote McWorld vs. Jihad in 1994, Jihad was not as clear to many in the West as it soon became. We’ve still got a long way to go in terms of coming to grips with the implications of McWorld.
But rather than tallying what is good and what is bad in McWorld, let’s look to the question of balance. Isn’t it obvious enough that both McWorld and Jihad as poles, as worldviews institutionalized and ideologized in opposition to one another, do harm? Isn’t it obvious that consumerism, militarism, exceptionalism and fundamentalism too easily run to the extremes?
Less obvious, but no less important, is something we can call investorism. This is the culture of Buy Low/Sell High, Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later taken to extreme, the culture that prioritizes transactions over relationships, that, in Oscar Wilde’s famous formulation, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The price of a Tomahawk missile is $1 million. The price of a pallet of two-by-fours is $X. A loaf of bread in Cairo costs $Y. The price of a dose of insulin is $Z.
We cannot get all the way to peace and health solely by being more conscious consumers, nor even by being more conscious investors—at least not so long as we understand investing to mean the anonymous trading of securities and portfolios of financial instruments that are too complex, too abstract to be fully transparent and comprehensible. That’s investing 20th-century-style, courtesy of a few centuries of industrialization and corporatization and fiduciarization. In the 21st century, we need to put some of our money, and lots of our intention, and meaningful chunks of our time, into a new kind of investing—putting money to work near where we live, in things that we understand, starting with food, not with an eye towards how much money we might make, but towards how effectively we promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity, community resilience, health and peace.
A call to farms. . .
What kind of poetry is this, sprouting
in the face of. . .in the face of. . .
this warfare on the Steppes,
these implosions of the impossible,
wounds of geopolitical reductionism wrought,
ruthless obliterations of all poetic ought,
dropping from the sky
as if peace were a trinket?
A call to farms in the shadow of. . .
in the shadow of. . .we do not dare to think it.
A dull inevitability accompanies wartime punditry.
The Dnieper flows to the Black Sea.
Everything that had been taught, erased.
Every step that had been forgotten, retraced.
Every seed that had been planted, laid waste.
Tincture of treaty. Shadow of indecision.
The cancer had only been in remission.
Back in the Fifties, in countless dens of countless
tract homes in countless U.S. suburbs, countless
boys lay prone, playing with plastic army men
in various positions, making shooting sounds,
World War II in their heads in some way,
fathers in their heads in some way,
survival in their heads in some way,
being at such a great yet minimal remove
in their heads in some way, vaguely aware,
but not, of being a generation removed,
a continent removed, an American Dream
removed, a whole that never would be whole
removed, and removed again, displaced, free,
victorious, unwittingly emboldened, as only
those on the right side of history can be.
Elsewhere, gods and ghosts cavorted,
unsure whether to celebrate or weep.
Under the banner of Democracy’s victory,
Technology consorted with some demi-goddess
or other, and Nuclear Proliferation was conceived.
The ghost of Stalin stalked the empty Yalta grounds.
Around Gaia’s slender shoulders was draped
the shroud of unlimited economic growth—
with a certain alienated majesty she wore it,
while at the banquet table, revelers shouted.
The festivities were not long lived.
Everything was put on the market.
There were plenty of buyers.
There were as many buyers
as there were shares to be bought.
As there were battles to be fought.
As there were preachers to thunder.
As there were desks to hide under.
Then, as the millennium wound down
were myriad financial instruments sown,
the broad acreages of our non-bewilderment
receiving them without so much as a whimper.
Who knew there could be so many ways
to maximize return and minimize chance?
Scattered in fields of Ukrainian wheat,
The thread of such concerns goes back to Thoreau and then runs to Tolstoy, Ruskin, Gandhi and E.F. Schumacher, and thence to Dana Meadows, Hazel Henderson, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben. Greta Thunberg has picked up the banner for the next generation, calling out “fairy tales of unending economic growth.”
She reminds us that we run the risk, in railing against capitalism or against socialism, of failing to focus on those fairy tales of unending economic growth.
It is not as important to be against capitalism or against socialism as it is to be for humanism. Any economic system that belittles humans, that puts institutions and ideologies and financial abstractions ahead of people and the places where we live, is not an economic system under whose banner we should rally.
To be for humanism is to harbor a certain skepticism when it comes to consumerism, investorism, exceptionalism, fundamentalism and militarism.
This is the beauty and the subtle power of community supported agriculture. Community supported agriculture could be described as one part capitalism, one part socialism, two parts localism, but such a description would belie the degree to which, in their informality and deep mutuality, CSAs constitute a kind of stand against isms, altogether.
The first wave of community supported agriculture—which grew from the first CSA in the U.S. in 1986 to some 7,000 CSAs with 600,000 members today—is an indicator. We must build on this foundation, heading towards a food system in which meaningful portions of the food supply are produced locally and regionally. How much is “meaningful?” Over time, we may arrive at a percentage. For now, we can just affirm that a few percent is not enough.
What impels us is not just the desire to know our local farmers, although knowing them is surely a good thing. What impels us is not just the desire for fresh, toxic-free food and carbon rich soil, although these are surely goods of the highest order, too. What impels us is not just the desire to reduce the outsourcing of food production to corporations controlled by invisible shareholders, although enhancing local control of food and reducing the extent of our dependence on global supply chains is surely a worthy pursuit. What impels us is the deepest of suspicions that structural reform is needed and that it may never be possible from the top, down.
When we send our money to Wall Street, Washington and Silicon Valley, it doesn’t readily come back in ways that can repair the damage done by the sending.
In 1969, Wendell Berry wrote the essay Some Thoughts on Citizenship and Conscience in Honor of Donald Pratt. Pratt had been arrested for refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War.
I still cannot read Berry’s essay without getting goose bumps. It stands next to Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. As I’ve already excerpted it heavily elsewhere (in Part V of AHA!: Fake Trillions, Real Billions, Beetcoin and the Great American Do-Over), let’s just reflect on one snippet here:
No matter how sophisticated and complex and powerful our institutions, we are still exactly as dependent on the earth as earthworms. To cease to know this, and to fail to act upon the knowledge, is to begin to die the death of a broken machine.
Perhaps some of my goose bumps derive from the narrowness of my own escape from the draft, which ended in 1973, as I was graduating from college. Or perhaps they go back further, to JFK. In 1963, several months after the Cuban Missile Crisis and a few months before he would be assassinated, President Kennedy delivered the commencement address at American University. Titled “A Strategy for Peace,” it surprised the world with a bold announcement that the U.S. would unilaterally halt atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons:
Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable–that mankind is doomed–that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man.
The military-industrial complex and nuclear proliferation do not have lives of their own, however much it may seem so. They are not blind forces over which we have no sway. We give them power by owing our allegiance in certain ways, by allowing our money to flow in certain ways.
We can cause our money to flow in certain other ways as well, supporting decentralization, disintermediation, deceleration, and anti-deracination (?!), a.k.a. the slow, the small and the local, not as ideological alternatives to all things global, but as practical countervailing forces, promoting balance, resilience and healing at the level of household, community and bioregion.
In the mid-19th century, Thoreau dug into fundamental questions about war, conscience and where our money goes, questions that are as vital today as they were then. Reflecting on his refusal to pay federal taxes because a portion of those taxes was funding war with Mexico, he wrote:
It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. . .
I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with — the dollar is innocent — but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance.
Money finds its way to war. “Cast your whole vote,” Thoreau continued, “not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” If we bring our whole selves to the question of where our money is going, we can find ways to put it to work more peaceably.
Healing the wounds of the industrial food system is not, as a project, on the same pedestal of urgency as ending the war in Ukraine, but it is an urgent project, nonetheless, and not entirely unrelated.
Responding to an immediate crisis is one thing, attenuating causes of future crises, another. We are called to address the roots of violence. We are called to mitigate overreliance on global supply chains.
In response to war, a few extraordinary souls may make the difficult and complicated choice to become a conscientious objector. In response to the unintended consequences of globalization, the choice to become a conscientious investor is far less dramatic, far less binary, far friendlier—driven, sure, by being mad as hell and not wanting to take it anymore, but also by an abiding sense of conscientious affection.
Civilization is an awfully fragile thing, so prone it is to institutionalized violence, all the way down to the whys and wherefores of industrial agriculture, which, if not managed with the greatest of care, damages the web of life.
No Till agriculture is a wonderfully practical thing. It aims to leave carbon in the soil and put more there, pointing us in a certain direction as to our manner of comportment in relation to the earth and the cycles of life.
Do No Harm is a gloriously noble thing, although elevating it to the level of religious dogma is a way to kill its essence as surely as any plowshare ever killed an earthworm.
It is generally assumed, when calling for systemic reform, that big problems require big solutions and that big solutions require large-scale government intervention. The playing field, this thinking goes, can only be leveled by the machinery of state.
It seems incontrovertible that if the job at hand is the leveling of playing fields, then bulldozers are preferable to trowels.
But what if the leveling of playing fields is not the only job at hand? What if we are also called to cultivate mutuality and trust?
This is a rallying cry of the most pragmatic kind—yet not without some poetry about it.
There is nothing more pragmatic and more poetic, both, than a small, diversified organic farm. Such a farm is a supremely entrepreneurial affair and its steward must be a supremely adept entrepreneur. A community fed by supremely adept farmer-entrepreneur-stewards is a healthier community. A successful organic farm is, in its dance of biodiversity and continuous experiments in doing less harm, an affair of considerable poetic possibility.
Soil fertility, too, is an embodiment of pragmatism and poetry. It is the opposite of reductionist, linear, mechanistic thinking. There is much that we do not know about it. The microorganisms in fertile soil are almost beyond counting, billions of individuals and thousands of species in a handful, most of which have not yet even been studied.
It has been said by an Italian poet that wine is the poetry of the earth; the same may be said for fertility. Fertility is the soil’s imaginative expression of harmonious coexistence. (That’s not nearly as pithy, but then nothing can touch an Italian poet opining about wine.)
Poetry is the sweet nothings whispered
by Rhyme in Reason’s ear
by Ecology in Economy’s ear
by Aphrodite in Apollo’s ear
by Wendell in Tanya’s ear.
From such sweet nothingry do somethingries shoot,
allowing possibility and peace to bloom.
For a few precious moments,
even the dullest root,
though damaged by war’s cruelest winter,
finds ways to stir according to the seasons.
“There is the battle on the ground,” comments a BBC reporter in Kyiv, “and then there is the battle for the narrative.” In the information age, information is weaponized.
So is money. The trading mentality invades all spheres of culture. Abstract financial instruments and complex intermediation schemes attack self-worth. Investment banker Felix Rohaytn once described derivatives as “financial hydrogen bombs built on computers by 24-year-olds with MBAs.” Warren Buffett describes them as “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
Through this war and that, from military war to class warfare, we remain governed by the same economic narrative. This is the story of the industrial revolution, technological innovation and globalization. It is also the story of giving our money to people we don’t know very well, to invest in things we and they don’t understand very well, in enterprises located in places we will never visit. So long as the economy keeps growing and the stock market keeps going up, we are content relegating the stubbornest systemic problems to the realm of financial footnotes.
What will be the final narrative of homo economicus? That we never found a way beyond war? That we continued pursuing technological haste and generating industrial waste, ad infinitum? Or that we found a different path, a path to healing, ultimately doing what no other species has ever done or could do—using our symbolic reasoning to self-limit and co-exist?
We bear witness to the roots of war, the invasion of philia by sapiens, the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction, Means destroying Ends, electronic connectivity that disconnects us, intolerance fueled by religious doctrine that promotes love, petrochemicals insinuating themselves into every aspect of life and making pollution an economic necessity, and then there are all those -cides: genocides, biocides, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, the rationales of agribusiness applied, the laws of economics applied, and through it all, the erosion of soil and community, despite and because of the greatest accumulations of wealth in history, despite and because of the greatest technological advances in history, despite and because of the greatest transmissions of information in history. Signals barely get through from the History Repeating Itself Department of History Repeating Itself and the Too Much Of A Good Thing Department of Consumer Confidence and Confounding.
Against such far-reaching systemic forces and the confusion they engender, small diversified organic farms and local food systems seem wildly ineffectual responses. But they are not. Any more than a seed is inconsequential due to its diminutive size. The only question is how many we can save and share and grow out for next year’s harvest.
Perhaps it is historical coincidence that NPK fertilizer was brought to market after WWII by munitions manufacturers and that pesticides were derived from lethal military gas, or perhaps it is a cosmic clue. The industrial, command-and-control mindset that brings us Confined Animal Feeding Operations, meat laced with antibiotics, genetically modified organisms and vast acreages of monoculture is the same mindset that brings us Mutually Assured Destruction.
Mutually Assured Destruction. It’s hard to write a sentence that comes after those three words, that gloomiest of acronyms. Surely, there must be another way.
“I think of what I’m doing as biological diplomacy,” says Eliot Coleman, describing his work as an organic farmer.
Which might seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with Mutually Assured Destruction until Eliot continues: “If, in this most basic of human endeavors, agriculture, we can learn to live in harmony with biological limits of the planet, then we can similarly learn, on the plane of human existence, to live in harmony with ourselves.”
We build machines to sequester atmospheric carbon. We develop microbes that eat microplastic. We head to Mars. We steer trillions of dollars this way and that. We hope to avoid unintended consequences. But technology cannot substitute for culture, any more than artificial intelligence can substitute for judgment. Any more than away can substitute for here. Any more than there has ever been a catchphrase: “Think globally. Act virtually.”
Our hearts and minds are a battleground where two ways of seeing the world clash.
Camp One. If you believe that scientific advance and entrepreneurial creativity are engines of continued improvement of the human condition, and that lack of faith in the capacity of technological innovation to overcome obstacles is a greater problem than the obstacles themselves, then economic growth and profit-maximizing remain the sine qua non of progress.
Camp Two. If you believe that indefinite expansion of consumption on a finite planet is a physical impossibility and that there is a point of diminishing returns for cleverness and know-how, beyond which long-term ills begin piling up faster than short-term gains, then economic growth and profit-maximizing are no longer synonymous with progress.
In this struggle between worldviews, food is Ground Zero. A small diversified organic farm is a demilitarized zone.
Ground Zero. Square one. Mobius strip. Feedback loop. Carbon cycle. Moore’s Law. Exponential growth. P/E ratio. Squaring the circle. A circular economy. π. Oh, most definitely π, that infinitely irrational symbol of a circle’s area made.
Infinite irrationality must be irrational exuberance’s distant cousin. “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?” Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan once famously asked.
How do we know?
How do we know when irrational techno-utopianism is unduly upending the social order? How do we know when irrational pecuniary ingenuity is unduly cryptoing everything that can be cryptoed? And how, pray tell, do we know when it’s time to listen less to global financiers and more to local farmers?
You would think that when agriculture enabled permanent settlement 10,000 years ago, it would have put us on the path towards the culture of taking care of the places where we live. Oddly, though, it seems to have ushered us, in an epochal blink of an eye, straight from the nomadism of hunter gathering to the nomadism of cyberspace. Along the way, plantation agriculture and industrial agriculture have been spectacularly successful enabling urbanization and the mass production of cheap commodities, but at incalculable costs of slavery and exploitation, environmental degradation and diet-related disease.
And now here we are, in year 10,001, working towards a new vision of agriculture and culture.
Or should we say 1915? In that year, with World War I raging, Liberty Hyde Bailey, founder of the Cornell School of Agriculture, wrote in The Holy Earth:
Farmers. . . know how diverse are the forms of life; and they know that somehow these forms live together and that only rarely do whole races perish by subjugation. They know that the beasts do not set forth to conquer, but only to gain subsistence and to protect themselves. The beasts and birds do not pursue indiscriminately. A hen-hawk does not attack crows or butterflies. Even a vicious bull does not attack fowls or rabbits or sheep. The great issues are the issues of live and let-live. There are whole nations of plants, more unlike than nations of humankind, living together in mutual interdependence. There are nations of quiet and mightless animals that live in the very regions of the mighty and the stout. And we are glad it is so.
Consider the mockery of invoking the struggle for existence as justification for a battle on a June morning, when all nature is vibrant with life and competition is severe, and when, if ever, we are to look for strife. But the very earth breathes peace. The fullness of every field and wood is in complete adjustment. The teeming multitudes of animal and plant have found a way to live together, and we look abroad on a vast harmony, verdurous, prolific, abounding. Into this concord, project your holocaust!
He addressed, as well, more subtle forms of violence done to traditional patterns of living and culture by the modern economy:
To farm well; to provide well; to produce it oneself; to be independent of trade, so far as this is possible in the furnishing of the table,—these are good elements in living. And in this day we are rapidly losing all this; many persons already have lost it; many have never known the satisfaction of it. Most of us must live from the box and the bottle and the tin-can; we are even feeding our cattle from the factory and the bag. The farmer now raises a few prime products to sell, and then he buys his foods in the markets under label and tag; and he knows not who produced the materials, and he soon comes not to care. No thought of the seasons, and of the men and women who labored, of the place, of the kind of soil, of the special contribution of the native earth, come with the trademark or the brand. And so we all live mechanically, from shop to table, without contact, and irreverently.
He was writing many decades before farms would become factories, before petrochemicals and supermarkets and global supply chains would dominate food systems, before organic farming and holistic livestock management and soil carbon would begin to be understood as tools for healing.
A century later, we are still early in the process of recognizing the essential value of biological, cultural and economic diversity. Some of us find ourselves on the doorstep of slow food, celebrating food tradition and indigenous culture. Some of us, on the doorstep of slow money—we want to reduce our complicity in the collateral damage of money zooming around the planet, free, in its invisibility, to do who knows what kind of harm to who knows who, to who knows which remnant of which rainforest, to who knows which acre of soil.
We all find ourselves living in a world of “guided missiles and misguided men,” to use Martin Luther King’s words. So, we must constantly reaffirm the great work of reconnecting to one another, to the places where we live and to Terra Madre.
Someday, Mariupol will be rebuilt. There will be many jobs created in the rebuilding, much money to be spent, earned and made, just as there was much money spent, earned and made in the manufacture of the munitions and the military systems that were used to destroy Mariupol. But not even a mad economist would construe these as arguments in favor of war. Similarly, one should not argue that wealth creation is, in and of itself, always good, nor that the prospect of using wealth to fund philanthropy and public works is an argument in favor of enshrining consumer confidence, economic growth, war or patriarchy, simply because they generate wealth.
From the War To End All Wars to the War on Poverty, from the Russian Revolution to the Green Revolution, our quivers are full of industrial-strength, 20th-century arrows that can’t quite hit the bull’s eye in the Age of Greta. Maybe it’s because we’re shooting at the wrong target.
“If the lad or lass is among us who knows where the secret heart of this Growth Monster is hidden,” writes poet Gary Snyder, referring to the global economy’s pursuit of unlimited growth, “let them please tell us where to shoot the arrow that will slow it down.”
The crazy good news is that many, many such lads and lasses are, indeed, among us, living near and far. Eliot Coleman, Zoe Bradbury, Karen Washington, Will Harris, Ann Cure, Jill and Eric Skokan, Evan Mallett, Dan James, Linley Dixon, Jean-Martin Fortier, Shi Yan and 石嫣 博士 (Shared Harvest outside Beijing), Pat’s Pastured, Wild Plum Café, Organic Valley, Hawthorne Valley, Organically Grown Company, Veritable Vegetables, Red Tomato, Our Table Cooperative, Central Grazing Company, Terre de Liens, Savory Institute, Real Organic Project, Mississippi Cooperative Association, Rhode Island Farm Fresh, עץבעיר (Citytree Tel Aviv), Farmworks Nova Scotia, Swanton Berry Farm, Full Belly Farm, MijnStadstuin (MyUrbanGarden Amsterdam), Thirteen Mile Farm, Soul Fire Farm, Lucky Penny Farm, Butterworks Farm—trying to name all these farmers and food entrepreneurs in one place would be as silly as the idea of an institutional investment fund targeting them, aiming to generate competitive returns for distant investors.
If we’ve had trouble learning this hitherto, let us learn it now. With respect to many commercial enterprises that are foundational to our well-being, our sense of purpose and our sense of belonging, the returns that must come first—especially now, in the 21st century, and especially here, in the places where we live—are the returns to soil and air and water, to community and culture. Such returns are not delivered by cyber heroes offering buckets of virtual gold. They are brought to us by those who put their hands into the soil, with the intention of leaving the soil as fertile, or more fertile, than they found it.
Nell Newman knows. That’s why she used to tell her dad, “In life, we need to be more like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Newman’s Own charted a way forward in the post-modern economic journey by dedicating 100% of profits to charity. They’ve given away $570 million since 1982. In a much, much smaller way, but no less holistic in intention, local volunteer-led slow money SOIL groups have recently begun giving 0% loans to organic farmers and food businesses.
“I’ve never had this much fun doing anything that involves money,” said Jason Griffiths of Aspen Moon Farm as he left the room, where 40 folks had just approved a $30,000 0% loan to him. There may be nothing more wonderfully, apolitically, radically constructive and hopeful than the fact that we all knew what Jason meant by fun. His smile was lively serious. For a few moments, we shared glimpses of nurture capital, although we did not yet know it by name.
Before you dismiss such talk, in this time of global wheat supplies disrupted by war, as the musings of someone who has eaten at too many farm to table restaurants for his own good, consider this: A well-run, small, diversified organic farm can generate $50,000 or more per acre in revenue, while industrial monocultures of grain grown in multi-thousand-acre-swaths generate something like $1,000 per acre in revenues for their commodity crop. Small is not only beautiful; it can also be extremely productive. But let’s zoom out from the numbers as quickly as we zoomed in, because there are many ins-and-outs to them and the numbers tell only a part of the story.
The rest will be told by the growing number of folks who know in their hearts that we can never bomb our way to peace, any more than we can manufacture soil fertility in a petri dish or financially engineer our way to mutuality and trust.
In 1600, when the East India Company financed ships to set out from Amsterdam, a $2 trillion corporation was beyond imagining. In 1700, Native American reservations were beyond imagining. In 1800, the iron plow and steam-powered tractor were beyond imagining. In 1900, a billion cars and 8 billion people and climate change were beyond imagining. In 2000, Black Lives Matter coming to the fore was almost beyond imagining.
Today, the idea that nodes of mutuality and trust could proliferate in the wake of financialization and populism, enabling Making A Living to hold its own against Making A Killing, isn’t quite beyond imagining.
The question before us, then, is not only how we will mobilize to redress the immediate harm done by today’s militarism and violence. The question is also how we will plant the seeds of a peaceable economy. There is no more fundamental place to start than with how we grow food, how we feed ourselves and one another, how we relate to and care for the land.
Ancient tribal antipathies and modern geopolitical ambitions run deep, and the centrifugal forces of money and data zooming around the planet are great, but they must not absorb the whole of our attention, preventing us from preparing the ground for what comes next.
Let us nurture a great awakening of local conscientiousness, a great coming together in communities and watersheds and foodsheds around the world, so that what Slow Food’s Carlo Petrini calls “virtuous globalization” can sink deep, perennial roots into a complementary process of virtuous localization.
Let us march forthrightly in the direction of, with conscientious affection and gumption for the ages, the vision of millions of individuals in thousands of communities around the world, bringing money back down to earth, restoring and preserving local food systems and soil fertility, in the name of resilience, health and peace.