F.A. Farm

  (Ferndale, Washington)
Postmodern Agriculture - Food With Full Attention
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Synthesis of Hip and Radical

Back in the late 60's and early 70's, a synthesis of hip and radical became necessary. After the air-brushed photo of Charles Manson on the cover of Life magazine December 19, 1969, every flower child became an instant satanic killer in the minds of the public. A wonderful Christmas present for a segment of the population (i.e. the hippies) that had already become disenfranchised by stormtrooper tactics on a daily basis, wouldn't you say? This is not just revisionist bosh, by the way. The basis of this statement is personal experience, an explanation of the techniques used by a commercial artist, and a subjective sample of articles in both the mainstream media and the underground newspapers at the time. By the fall of 1969, the killing at Altamont had already happened and the mainstream media was calling for the death of the counterculture (by hanging if need be). This pre-Christmas attempt by Life magazine to sway public opinion was quite a savvy attempt to polarize the populace in the same manner as Vice-President Agnew's numerous diatribes. Then, during the winter and spring of 1970, President Nixon attempted to escalate the Vietnam War to Cambodia, the first Earth Day was held, and the murders at Kent State and Jackson State brought the War home with a vengeance. Clearly, a crux point in the Movement had been reached. A song from the Grateful Dead caught the tenor of the times quite well.
"I don't know, but I've been told
If a horse don't pull, you've got to carry the load.
I don't know whose back's that strong,
Maybe find out before too long."
- New Speedway Boogie (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter - from the album Workingman's Dead, 1970)
NOTE: This song was actually about the Altamont incident.

What happened then was that many people in the counterculture decided their backs were indeed strong enough and started working in several directions at once. The student radicals found out that there was a pool of committed hippies out there, ready to put their energy into concrete solutions. The hippies, in turn, found out that the student radicals were not just former "clean for Gene" pseudo-intellectuals who had traded their horn-rimmed glasses for a pair of Lennon look-alikes and a cheap copy of Mao's Little Red Book purchased from the Black Panthers. This synthesis was quite important and helped along by the realization that yes, the cops and National Guardsmen will shoot you and the rest of America will cheer them on.

Out of this synthesis, centered around 1970, came the co-op movement, the back-to-the-land movement, the environmental movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the organic food movement, and the feminist movement. [Sorry if I missed your movement, but I am just commenting on the ones with which I have experience.] Of course, all these movements existed well before 1970, but in much smaller numbers. After the winter and spring of 1969-1970, both the number of participants and the sheer volume of energy increased exponentially. It was like yeast when a sugar-rich medium reaches a certain temperature - it blooms explosively (and yes, I cribbed this analogy from The Sea Wolf by Jack London).

So, why bother with this bit of countercultural history at this point in time? Simply put, we face a major crisis. Once again, we need a synthesis. I do a lot of posting on both the Local Harvest forum and this blog, as well as another blog. I am a member of two listservs that deal with postmodern agriculture - one local, one national. I also have an informal circle of like-minded folks who send me forwarded emails and articles that bear on the problems we face today. The problem is multi-faceted, but the downfall of the US economy seems to be a valid blanket term. The solution is to feed ourselves locally, since we may not be able to get grapes from Chile or oranges from Australia. Thus the locavore movement. Currently, there seem to be two trends in this movement. One is the earth-friendly trend that gravitates towards biodynamics and subjective solutions to subjective analyses. The other is the scientific trend, which takes a hard-nosed objective approach to solving food problems and comes up with objective answers. These objective answers do NOT include GMO's by the way, since they are not sustainable in the long run. The synthesis of these two trends, or streams, or ways of thinking about the problem, seems to be that they are both flowing towards the same solutions. The solution really is sustainable agriculture, which I see as postmodern - a reaction to modern petroleum-intensive agriculture. So, just as we needed a solution in 1970 - we had to see whose back was strong - we now need a synthesis of the subjective and the objective to solve an even more pressing problem. If the peak oil folks are right in their predictions, your children and grandchildren will face a much tougher world than we did in the 1970's. We need to pull together.

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