Posted on | October 31, 2012 | 2 Comments
Wendell Berry always hits the nail on the head. A brilliant and perspicacious advocate for the small family farmer:
“… if you’re going to have sustainable agriculture, it has to be adapted locally. Local adaptation means that you observe in the economic landscape the same processes that you find in healthy natural landscapes: You must have diversity. You must have both plants and animals. You must waste nothing. You must obey the law of return — that is, you must return to the ground all the nutrients that you take from it. You must protect the soil from erosion at all times. You must make maximum use of sunlight. In those circumstances, you may leave the crops and animals pretty much to fend for themselves against diseases. The farm will have some disease, but it won’t have epidemics. If you look at a healthy forest, for instance, you see some prematurely dead trees, but not massive numbers of them. … It’s the diametric opposite of reductive science, and industrial agriculture is based on reductive science.
We have always had to have ‘a good reason’ for doing away with small operators, and in modern times the good reason has often been sanitation, for which there is apparently no small or cheap technology.
We are now pretty obviously facing the possibility of a world that the supranational corporations, and the governments and educational systems that serve them, will control entirely for their own enrichment–and, incidentally and inescapably, for the impoverishment of all the rest of us.
The result is that problems correctable on a small scale are replaced by large-scale problems for which there are no large-scale corrections. Meanwhile, the large-scale enterprise has reduced or destroyed the possibility of small-scale corrections. This exactly describes our present agriculture. Forcing all agricultural localities to conform to economic conditions imposed from afar by a few large corporations has caused problems of the largest possible scale, such as soil loss, genetic impoverishment, and groundwater pollution, which are correctable only by an agriculture of locally adapted, solar-powered, diversified small farms—a correction that, after a half century of industrial agriculture, will be difficult to achieve.
To the corporate and political and academic servants of global industrialism, the small family farm and the small farming community are not known, not imaginable, and therefore unthinkable, except as damaging stereotypes. The people of “the cutting edge” in science, business, education, and politics have no patience with the local love, local loyalty, and local knowledge that make people truly native to their places and therefore good caretakers of their places. This is why one of the primary principles in industrialism has always been to get the worker away from home. From the beginning it has been destructive of home employment and home economies. The economic function of the household has been increasingly the consumption of purchased goods. Under industrialism, the farm too has become increasingly consumptive, and farms fail as the costs of consumption overpower the income from production.
Biotechnology, variety patenting, and other agribusiness innovations are intended not to help farmers or consumers but to extend and prolong corporate control of the food economy; they will increase the cost of food, both economically and ecologically.
Objectivity’ has come to be simply the academic uniform of moral cowardice: one who is ‘objective’ never takes a stand.
Why have they [land-grant colleges] watched in silence the destruction of the markets of the small producers of poultry, eggs, butter, cream, and milk—once the mainstays of the small-farm economy?
Why have they never studied or questioned the necessity or the justice of the sanitation laws that have been used to destroy such markets?
The expert knowledge of agriculture developed in the universities, like other such knowledge, is typical of the alien order imposed on a conquered land. We can never produce a native economy, much less a native culture, with this knowledge. It can only make us the imperialist invaders of our own country.
It is, of course, one of the miracles of science that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons.
But let us…abandon our superstitious beliefs about knowledge: that it is ever sufficient; that it can of itself solve problems; that it is intrinsically good; that it can be used objectively or disinterestedly. Let us acknowledge that the objective or disinterested researcher is always on the side that pays best.
What works poorly in agriculture — monoculture, for instance, or annual accounting — can be pretty fully explained, because what works poorly is invariably some oversimplifying thought that subjugated nature, people, and culture. What works well ultimately defies explanation because it involves an order that in both magnitude and complexity is ultimately incomprehensible.
Here, then, is a prime example of the futility of a dependence on information. We cannot contain what contains us or comprehend what comprehends us.
Science at the bidding of the corporations is knowledge reduced to merchandise; it is a whoredom of the mind, and so is the art that calls this “progress.” So is the cowardice that calls it “inevitable.”
We could lose, and I think we need to face that. I was speaking in Nebraska the other day and a very intelligent man came up afterward and said in a very kind and intelligent way, “Of course you know you may be fighting a losing battle.” And I answered, “I’ve known for 30 years that I may be fighting a losing battle. The question to me is not whether I’m going to win or not, but whether I’m going to fight or not.”