F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Shifting My Paradigm

Over the last couple of months I have been shifting my agricultural paradigm. I have now concluded it is unlikely farmers will ever make a fair wage. There may be confusion over what constitutes a "fair wage," but what I intend to say is that focusing on getting a fair price or a fair wage is behind the curve. 

Over the past 7 years, as I spent over 3000 hours a year in food production and direct marketing, I assumed that as the cost of transportation increased the price of food at the supermarket, the organic/natural produce would settle into parity. That is, as supermarket potatoes rose in price, at some point my potatoes would be equal in price to those in the supermarket grown by industrial agriculture. However, it now seems that price rises will not just drift up. The whole system is likely to crash instead. In other words, there will be no transition to sustainable agriculture because this would mean parity for farmers' wages. I already have a system that would provide a living wage for small-scale farmers, but that is precisely the problem. In other words, giving farmers a living wage would crash the system dependent on farmers NOT getting a living wage. Sounds crazy doesn't it? 

Civilization depends on slavery. You can look at past civilizations - Greek, Roman, Aztec, Sumerian and the others. They all depended on slavery for the energy to grow food. The US had slavery until 1865 and Colonel Drake had already dug the first commercial oil well in Pennsylvania in 1859. After the post-Civil War "sorting out," which included the debacles of Reconstruction and genocide on the Great Plains, the US was well-positioned to use the energy slave of petroleum to fuel civilization. The rest of the world soon followed suit and by the year 1900, civilization around the world was run on this new energy "slave." 

As our energy slave of petroleum runs out, we will have to make a choice on whether to re-institute slavery or watch as civilization collapses. Actually, I doubt we would even be able to get slavery up and running in large enough numbers to do the job, even if we wanted to do so. People are just too interconnected and unmanageable in this day and age. It is likely we will just have to watch as civilization crumbles from lack of the energy slave that keeps it alive. 

Back to our farmers who do not make a living wage. When Cuba had their own "special period" after the collapse of the Soviet Union and they couldn't get Soviet oil, they switched to organic/natural agriculture that was fueled by human energy. This allowed farmers to actually make a comparable living to doctors, merchants, professors, etc. for a short period. (This info is from the movie The Power of Community, 2006.) However, once Cuba got more oil flowing back into the country, along with more foreign investment and tourism, they went back to a somewhat different mixed economy, but based on their old central administration. The "special period" from 1991-1993 had few lasting effects. If you are interested in this topic, you might find this paper interesting:http://www.ecineq.org/milano/WP/ECINEQ2006-52.pdf 

Now, if Cuba could actually make a transition to living wages for farmers but then went back to the old inequality as soon as they got a chance - and after only a couple of years of the change - how much more difficult would it be for us to make that change, even for just a couple of years? Since we have less centralized authority and are more estranged from our food production than Cuba, it is not likely we could make that change at all, much less make it last. Indeed, it is more likely that we will be stuck with inequality in pay for farmers right up to the moment when the US as a society implodes into a punctured balloon. This will likely leave regional economies operating somewhat coherently on a more or less tribal level. Regional fiefdoms, if you wish. 

Of course, I don't know the future. However, the trend is visible. That trend is that civilization will collapse before farmers are paid a living wage. So what do you, the consumer, do? The answer is simple. You have to start growing 5% or 10% or 15% of your food now, so that you can adjust after the collapse.

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You are a perceptive man indeed...

Posted by David on April 07, 2011 at 05:18 PM PDT #

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