May 25, 2011

Where Farming Needs to Go

Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform, Peak Oil — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:35 am


It’s important that non-farmers understand agricultural policy and nature-based principles of farming. Corporate agriculture – shackled to global commodification; dependent upon cheap, plentiful fossil fuels; dependent upon farmer subsidies; engaging in monoculture practices which are extremely unresilient and vulnerable to even the slightest jolt to the structure – is not sustainable. It will lead to disaster, in the form of crop failure (as some superweed, superbug, or hitherto unsuspected natural correction lays waste to the fragile GMO-based system) or system collapse on account of rising oil price and constrained oil supply. (Picture the Depression spectacle of farmers having to destroy vast amounts of crops and livestock while millions go hungry, but picture a far worse version of this because the oil isn’t there to keep producing and distributing the food.)
Our industrial agriculture is one big hothouse flower.
Clearly a rational, resilient growing system will be decentralized, diversified, and in accord with the rules of nature. For it to be applied on the necessary scale will require a revolution. America needs tens of millions of small and midsize farmers, and it needs hundreds of millions of Victory Gardens. Other countries need the same. We won’t achieve them under the corporate structure.
But even now, there exist what smug bureaucrats and academics call “experiments”. One example is the Stieglemeier farm in South Dakota. Amid a sea of commodity corn, the sixth-generation Stiegelmeiers run an organic farm and pasture. 

The Stiegelmeiers diversified into organic spring and winter wheat, flax, rye, barley, and buckwheat and relied on age-old ways to fight weeds and fertilize the soil. They certified their pastures as organic and grew alfalfa to feed a herd of registered British White beef cattle. Dan­elle started a small herd of sheep. 

Their initial impetus for becoming organic back in the 70s was practical (they were becoming sick from the pesticides) and moral: “I don’t see how you can be a Christian and put poison on food.” But they’ve also proudly proven that it can work even in such a harsh socioeconomic environment. Imagine how such farms would fare in a favorable environment?
This basic system – growing grass and grassy perennials both for pasturage and for crops – is well-suited to the Great Plains, an arid grassland. Meanwhile corn can be grown here only with massive application of irrigated water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizer (all of these paid for by the taxpayer).
That example is the relatively extreme one of the Plains, but the same principle applies everywhere. The keystone of self-sustaining agriculture is growing perennials as crops, to feed naturally grass-grazing animals which are moved from pasture to pasture (as Joel Salatin says in “Fresh”, herbivore herds are natually nomadic), and to rebuild the soil. This remains the basic practice applicable to all farming above the gardening level. It is geared to the Earth and to natural markets, which for food are predominantly local/regional and for local/regional consumption.
Our corporate system does the opposite. It grows annual monocrops on zombified soil. The soil is dead but receives the constant shock treatment of synthetic fertilizer. The plants are slathered in proprietary poisons which by design try to stay just ahead in a biological arms race with weeds and insects. The monocrops aren’t primarily for human food, but to feed cars (ethanol, also a totally subsidized parasite), to produce cheap food-like products (corn syrup-based junk food), and to zombify the concentrated eating mass in the factory farms. Here another biological arms race goes on. The animals, hideously concentrated and fed an unnatural diet of corn and cannibalism (their own by-products are ground into the feed), are all permanently sick. None could grow, produce eggs or milk, or survive long at all unless they were on permanent antibiotic maintenance. This is contrary to all medical sanity (but our doctors don’t seem to mind). Here the antibiotic regime struggles desperately to stay ahead of the superbugs it intentionally creates. Someday it will create a microbe suited to cause a lethal pandemic among humans. When (not if) that happens, all corporate agriculture executives, major shareholders, and their political, media, and academic flunkeys will be guilty of mass murder. They’re planning that murder as we speak. (The same will be true for crop failures and other disasters caused by GMOs.)
So there’s the basic farming practice we need. That doesn’t mean we need to grow less fruits and vegetables – these are grown on a small fraction of the agricultural land. It means converting the bulk of grain and corn land to perennials and pasturage. Salatin offers one formula: Currently 70% of our grain production goes to cattle feed, and only 30% to people, pigs, and poultry. Take that 70% and convert it to pasturage.
And we’ll also be putting far more land into production, as we redeem the vast amounts of arable land currently being imprisoned in stagnation by the criminal system.


  1. Well put:

    Our industrial agriculture is one big hothouse flower.

    If you’d like to see what urban farmers can do with 1/10 of an acre (a smallish urban lot), check out this YouTube channel. This family is amazing:


    Comment by Goin' South — May 25, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    • Fantastic. Now that’s what I call a Victory Garden. And millions of us can do exactly that.

      Comment by Russ — May 25, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    • Very cool!

      Comment by Strieb Roman — May 25, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    • 6000 lbs is unreal for .1 acres. I imagine their level of experience as well as the length of the growing season help with that. I was trying to work out how much food 6000 lb of “produce” is on the back of an envelope. Guesstimating average vegetable calories per 100g to be ~25, thats around 68 million callories a year. That’s enough to give 100 people 1800 calories a day year round!

      Comment by paper mac — May 26, 2011 @ 1:15 am

      • It’s great. I wouldn’t say it would be sustainable water-wise for vast numbers of people in the greater LA area to do exactly that, but for better-watered places we see what society could look like. (And the same principle could be adapted to the level of water available.)

        Comment by Russ — May 26, 2011 @ 2:27 am

  2. Hello Russ,

    Thank you for sending me your essays, I enjoy reading them.

    I think the executives at the controls of Big Ag are already guilty of mass murder! Their hardcore sociopaths.

    I have some friends who are Dairy Farmers in Michigan. They lost a son to suicide a few years ago from the stress of staying in that business. American society has become a living nightmare.

    Comment by William — May 26, 2011 @ 9:36 am

    • Hi William. Yes, they’re all murderers already. And now they’re trying to figure out how to take it to a new order of magnitude.

      It’s horrible. Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide as well.

      Comment by Russ — May 26, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  3. […] bank-owned) in practice and principle, is where we’re starting out. Where must we end up?   America needs tens of millions of small farmers. This is a physical, economic, and political necessity. The only way we’ll achieve this […]

    Pingback by Occupy and Land Redemption « Volatility — February 17, 2012 @ 5:12 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: