In its ceaseless search through the blogosphere to identify even the smallest of byte-sized morsels that might inform its mission, Small Farm Future has stumbled upon an alter ego in the shape of Steve Savage’s blog Applied Mythology, which puts the case for agribusiness-as-usual.
I think I can safely say that the editorial office here at Small Farm Future is unanimous in its commitment to evidence-based policymaking, and Savage’s evidence as an industry insider is certainly interesting. I do wonder a little why critics of organic farming and similar initiatives are so vociferous in their condemnations given the overwhelming dominance of large-scale conventional agribusiness in global political opinion – perhaps they’re afraid of something? Nevertheless, it’s good to engage with the other side once in a while.
What’s interesting though is that in these debates matters of technical fact quickly turn into matters of political opinion. For example, Savage purports to show that in relation to greenhouse gas emissions organic wastes are better sent for anaerobic digestion than composted in situ. I don’t think his evidence can entirely support that conclusion, but he may turn out to be right in terms of life-cycle emissions per unit waste. However, such an analysis takes much for granted – and in particular it chooses to focus on one small part of the emissions profile that happens to be strongly associated with organic farming, rather than suggesting any modification to the whole outgassing edifice of our highways, cities, supermarkets, cold chains, soya plantations, airlines, cheap goods from China and all the rest of it. That, of course, is where the politics comes in. And also the ‘myth’, which I take to be a much more complicated and ambiguous word than Savage does – for ultimately both farming in particular and human life in general turn on the stories that we want to tell about ourselves, and how we enact them.
In an article in the Journal of Agrarian Change (‘Beyond industrial agriculture?’ 2010, 10, 3: 437-53), Philip Woodhouse complained about the polarised debates between advocates of “‘small-scale’, labour-intensive ‘peasant’ or ‘family’ farming and large-scale, mechanized ‘industrial’ farming’”. He has a point, but I think the debates are likely to stay polarised until that small-scale, peasant or family farming vision is treated as a serious option in political debate (Woodhouse’s use of scare quotes is quite interesting in that respect). Until that comes to pass, this blog will strive in its own sweetly polarised way to change the world by fronting up to agribusiness. ¡No pasarán!