The International Day of Peasant’s Struggle – some notes from the farm

A happy International Day of Peasant’s Struggle to you. Talking of which, I’m still struggling away trying to write my book about peasants while the rest of the farm crew are up in London protesting about government inaction on climate change, which means I’m having to do a bit of proper work as well for a change – all reasons why this blog is wallowing in the doldrums at the moment.

So here are just a few nuggets to keep it ticking over for the time being. I’m hoping normal service will resume in the autumn.

In the book draft, I’d been penning a few critical thoughts concerning Emma Marris’s take on ‘post-wilderness’. Then I went out to do some farm chores, one of which was removing old shreds of plastic mulch littering the place. Under almost every one, I found a nest of ants mightily pissed off at the disturbance and the consequent need to move their precious eggs. Post-wilderness. What to make of it all, I can’t say.

Prior to the post-wilderness section, I crafted some thoughts on future energy scenarios, which prompted me to finally read this paper by Victor Court that Joe and Clem linked on here a while ago. My thanks to them for doing so, it’s a real cracker – not least because it connects up various issues of interest to me, including the matter of perennial crops in the context of r and K selection. An excerpt from the paper:

“the [principle of maximum entropy production (MEP)] provides the explicit criteria linking selection at the individual level with emergent and directional properties at higher levels of organization such as communities and ecosystems … there are three different MEP selection pressures at work during the development of an ecosystem. The first maximizes the rate at which entropy production increases through successional time, which, initially at least, is achieved via rapid colonization of species with fast individual/population growth rates called ‘r-selected species.’ The second selection component of MEP is for maximum sustained entropy production during maturity. This is achieved via maximizing biomass and structural complexity, which necessarily involves longer-lived, larger, slower-growing organisms named ‘K-selected species.’ The third selection component is for stress-tolerating species extending the effective mature phase and postponing retrogression of the ecosystem. Thus, given the existence of ecological disturbance in the landscape, the MEP theory leads to the prediction that there should be long-term co-existence of r- and K-selected species, a directional transition from r- to K-selected species during succession, and increasing predominance of K-selected species in ecosystems with longer disturbance return times.”

To my mind, this is suggestive of the hard trade-offs I hypothesized between productivity and longevity in temperate perennial grain crops and the unpromising options for artificial selection to create a win-win across those dimensions. Maybe it’s also suggestive of (1) an energetic basis to that elusive idea, an emergent property of ecosystems, which ecologists I’ve debated with on here like Ford Denison and Andy McGuire treat with great skepticism, and (2) a similar dynamic in human societies and civilizations when a new and abundant source of energy is tapped – from the high energy throughput, high entropy ‘r’ phase to the low energy throughput lower entropy ‘K’ stage. In that respect, perhaps we can expect a small farm future that will resemble aspects of the small farm past, unless and until it’s disturbed by the discovery or creation of new energetic stocks.

Meanwhile, I’m currently reading David Montgomery’s book Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life. I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of anyone who’s read it.

I’m also continuing to ponder my comment policy in the light of recent discussions on this site here and here, and also in the light of events in the wider world – especially the mass murder of people in New Zealand on the grounds that they were Muslim, by a murderer who invoked some of the same Islamophobic tropes that I’ve tolerated up to now on this site. Then again, he also invoked various environmentalist tropes, prompting some people (not in good faith, IMO) to identify him with an eco-terrorism of limits and boundaries. If anyone feels they have insights in these murky waters I’m (probably) interested to hear them…

Moving on, the blog post I’d most like to write at the moment but don’t have time to do properly is one about commons, and in particular the need to go beyond an Ostrom vs Hardin duality. I’ve recently seen a few posts and tweets suggesting that it’s wrong to even mention Hardin on the grounds of his racism, eugenicism and general wrongheadedness (hmmm, back to the comments policy issue…) But a true grasp of Ostrom’s work and that of other analysts of common pool resource regimes surely involves appreciating that successful CPRs are successful precisely inasmuch as they recognize the dangers of a Hardin-style tragedy and take well-crafted steps to avoid it. Trying to erase Hardin from polite discussion is about as sure a way of realizing his presentiments as I can imagine. More on that at some point soon, I hope.

Finally, our friend Adam Tooze – star of the this recent post guest-written by Michelle Galimba – has penned an interesting article in the LRB essentially arguing that Trump’s USA is gearing up for a gloves-off superpower showdown with China that constitutes a break with the narrative of globalization since the 1990s, but not with the longer-term reality of a US-led world political order, to which the globalization model now stands as a threat. What has ended, according to Tooze, is any claim on the part of the US that it has a wider, benevolent political model to share with the world. Or as some old TV celeb has-been recently put it, “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first, America first”. Hey, I think Professor Tooze must have been reading Small Farm Future.


50 thoughts on “The International Day of Peasant’s Struggle – some notes from the farm

  1. Interesting that you mention Tooze’s LRB piece… it was lying only inches from the laptop as I read your piece. But I come away with a bit different impression.

    I was humming along through his narrative, nodding and musing on one thought after the other until I came to his gambit on US soybean farmers. I doubt one can confidently make the entire case he has presented – a sort of Jason Hickel style exaggeration – but allowing for a bit of bluster he is actually just adding soybean farmers (who we should well note are NOT merely soybean farmers, but corn farmers as well) to the list of other US industrialists heavily engaged in trade with China. Earlier in said paragraph Tooze lists Apple and GM as also caught in the bilateral trade kerfuffle. So I take his point… somewhat.

    Unless I’ve missed it, Tooze fails to mention IP protections as something US businesses are strongly carping for in relationships with China going forward. So when he observes that “one might have expected more pushback against Trump’s China strategy from US business” my sense is that diplomacy (corporate diplomacy) is more mature within invested trade folk in China (on the ground so to speak) than it is within the Oval Office. And so long as I’ve brought up IP protections I might as well make a nod to Jason Hickel from whom I’ve taken the impression that IP protections are a sort of colonialistic sanction and not something to gin up a war over (and I consider my own thinking on that matter in need of more maturing).

    So for me there are motivational differences among the various actors being discussed. Capital flows on Wall Street are pushing Apple and GM to invest in China as an enormous marketplace – a future middle class of gargantuan scale and one that if allowed to build its own phones and automobiles (with someone else’s technology) would accelerate the demise of said industry participants (looking at Tooze’s short list we immediately find Google and Amazon missing…. hmm, one wonders why). But the comings and goings of America’s farm investors (read as soybean farmers by Tooze) are not (yet anyway) as married at the hip to Wall Street. And there really isn’t too much IP in a soybean seed [there IS… but not so much in the arena where said seed is headed straight for a sow’s gut] so the agrarian interest is not of a similar scale as Apple’s or GM’s. But very much like our fellow China traders (I used ‘our’ as a soybean industry insider might) there are well established trade mission folk on the ground in China to assist with soy market flows, soy market development, and appeasing soy customer concerns in real time. Thus it seems to me the targeting of soybean for a counter tariff move on Beijing’s part is merely a clever poke at Trump’s political base. And one that may well have some legs.

    But regardless of whether it’s Wall Street or Main Street being snubbed by the Chinese there seems to me another significant difference between the US vs Soviet Union world dominance trope of the Cold War era and the present US vs China situation. Colonialism didn’t take China under its boot. And now I feel as though I might be singing from Hickel’s hymnal. Not implying that Russia was a colonial victim… Marxism and Communism as the Russians employed them may have brought them to Glasnost and the world order situation of the late 20th century. But the Chinese gambit of building a modern society on the back’s of cheap laborers with the assistance of greedy foreign investors – doing the work and suffering the externalities the West has long sought to fob off on others – their strategy has changed the dynamic and led to the situation Tooze describes. And Tooze also nods toward some pending difficulties China may need to deal with – aging society as result of one child policy, overbuilding housing infrastructure to keep their building industry hot… these details I think he’s right to include.

    In his final paragraph, however, I see him pondering whether Trump is a sign of things to come. And the professor does soften up in his final summarizing sentence. I too should allow that nothing here is going to predict exactly how matters will evolve. But I for one don’t imagine the bluster of a former reality television star (a sort of infelicity to be sure) will serve as the basis of geopolitical developments that last as long as the Cold War or Napoleon’s realignment of European politics in the early 19th century. Finally then, if there is to be a small farm future on the horizon, I’m not seeing Adam Tooze’s analysis as pointing to it.

  2. Sorry – got too involved in whether or not Trump matters earlier today… forgot my manners…

    Thanks for the mention of David Montgomery’s book… looks interesting and will have to have a look. I think of soils as living habitats and very much capable of being reinvigorated. How to do so under current models of politics, commercial realities, and societal concerns seems to me the kernel of the question.

    Off on a tangent I came across something from Alan Jacobs that I found interesting and it involves someone you know and another Brit: Paul Kingsnorth of the Dark Mountain project, and Richard Smyth. – and if you know of the work by Kingsnorth that Smyth is so critical of, do you have a copy?

    BTW, just finishing up Dr. Jacobs’ book How to Think which I can recommend with almost no reservation. It is a quick read (absolutely tiny in respect to Dr. Tooze’s tome), it is well referenced (far better than Dr. Hickel’s effort), and share’s a message I think the whole global kindred of humans could stand to ingest. If you need another book review to fill some time here, I might attempt to match Michelle’s recent effort in that genre.

    • Hmm. I am generally sympathetic to Paul Kingsnorth’s writing, though not well enough versed in British culture to hear any of the dog whistles that others seem to hear from him. It sounded to me like Alan Jacobs hadn’t made up his mind how to respond yet, for whatever that is worth. Maybe I should just state my own opinion here. I think I am concurring with Kingsnorth when I take the view that ‘Environmentalism’ as we have known it is dead, and pretty thoroughly failed on its own terms. Seems to me that the husk is now mostly a luxury product displayed by urbanites who conflate ‘Nature’ with adventure tourism. Ungenerous, I know, but I grew up in Southern California, so I think I come by my bad attitude honestly.

      I’m with Joe in not seeing how a feeling of connection to the land has any implication of ethnic identity. I can see how geography will suggest a certain set of practices that work for producing the optimal yield of crops appropriate to the locale. I can see how working closely together with your neighbors will suggest a set of cultural practices to bind and remind the members of the neighborhood what to do and when. I don’t see how any of that limits what color your skin can be, or what shape of bread you bake, or what deities you choose to follow. Furthermore, I don’t think that is what Paul Kingsnorth is trying to get at.

      I will not attempt to speak for him, but my sense is that he is trying to get at the underlying reasons why environmentalism failed, and I think the biggest reason is so close and obvious that we can’t see it, and so true that we don’t want to admit it even if we do manage to see. I am speaking for myself here. I think the root is that we regard ourselves as outside of ‘Nature’ and we want to stay that way. We feel guilty about habitat loss, etc, but we don’t want to be part of the food chain. We want to be able to wash up and medicate away those parasites, and go indoors when the mosquitoes get too bad. And we want to save the whales, or whatever too. I read Kingsnorth as saying that we can’t have it both ways. Either you accept that the steel mill that you require will poison entire watersheds, or you exchange that set of values for a way of living that values the lives of all the beings around you, and accept that you may get eaten by wolves. What he is attempting, as I see it, is to try to make a case for why embracing the natural world, with all of the dirt and danger that comes with it is the better choice.

      The trouble is that such a large portion of our population has no idea what he is even talking about. Nearly everyone starts with a baseline assumption that pavement and cars are normal, and we only need to be more careful about how we make them, then everything will be fine.

      Also, not really related to that, it just occurred to me that in a certain way even racism could be construed as a luxury. Who is such a racist that if they were drowning would refuse the wrong color hand?

      And re: mulching, I will admit more ignorance and wonder if some laborious tillage then penned up pigs or chickens might eat up Joe’s grassy rhizomes. Here in the temperate middle of North America where the growing season is about 7 or 8 months at most, six layers of cardboard and a quarter meter of chip mulch for three years will do the trick. But you have to watch out for the edges, and admittedly it becomes impossible for a large area. But here in town where sometimes we can put college kids to work, and cardboard and chip mulch are pretty much free (if you know the right people), we have done this on about 1/6 acre.

  3. IMHO a little more even handed reporting by the msm would help , in the same week the NZ massacre happened 250 members , animists and christians of a village were massacred in sub saharan africa by boko haram , msm was deafening by its silence .

    I and a few engineer friends have been trying to work out the EROEI of wind generators , from mining iron ore / copper / magnets to forging / winding the coils / cutting the gears / rolling the plate for the towers manufacturing the bearings and pouring the bases for them to sit on , ( we have no ideas about the cost of the blades as no one is a plastics / carbon fiber engineering trained or where they are going to get the forty or so gallons of fossil based lubricant needed in each gearbox in a oil strapped world ) , so the general consensus is if the generator delivers 30 % of its rated output per annum ( that seems about average ) it will take 19 years to repay the energy used in making it .

    • Well, here’s a case in point that tests the boundaries of my comment policy. The link you posted definitely doesn’t make the cut, so that’s gone I’m afraid.

      For me it’s not about the body count on either ‘side’, it’s about how we come to define ‘sides’ in the first place. I don’t intend to weight moral judgments by offsetting the numbers of dead Muslims against dead Christians. What I am saying is that I don’t want Islamophobic comments on this site. Nor will I entertain anti-Christian or anti-secularist prejudice from fundamentalist Islamists. But so far on this site I’ve only had examples of the former, not the latter.

      If you could reference the 250 killed by Boko Haram, that might help. As I see it, the ‘MSM’ under-reports news from sub-Saharan Africa mostly because it cares less about what happens there, not because it goes easy on Islam. The ‘MSM’ that I see (Daily Mail, Express, Sun etc.) is rife with Islamophobia.

      • Ok NP
        Now for something I just fell over , your workers are wasting their time protesting if this interpretation of the IEA report is correct ,
        And this
        “Protesting environmental concerns involves a high degree of denial and self-deception; as it is based on two gross errors. The first is the irrational belief that governments have the means to respond to the predicament we find ourselves in. As a corrective to this, just look at the dog’s breakfast that the current British government has managed to make out of what is a simple (by comparison) trade negotiation. ”
        The government is good at one thing , gross incompetence .

        • Thanks. Maybe it’s time indeed for another turn around the peak oil issue. Any takers? Mind you, there’s plenty enough coal left to fry the planet.

          Regarding the protests, well I confess that a similar skepticism to that in the article you linked is one reason why I’m here at home tending the farm. On the other hand, what am I doing – writing a book, watering the spinach, bringing in some logs ready for next winter… Whatever one does with one’s time in the face of climate breakdown could be seen as a waste of time… I’m not so on board with the second criticism, though – agreed, an imminent zero carbon future is unlikely but since carbon dioxide is locked in for so long even a slightly less than it would have been carbon future is better than the alternative. Plus there’s something satisfying about closing the business down for a week and prioritizing protest over profit… The protests have certainly got a lot of people talking … which is better than not talking …

          • England will not join ” theres enough coal to fry the planet ,” the mines are flooded the wooden and steel props holding the roofs are rotten and collapsing there is no way of re opening the pits , nope britain will not be joining the race for coal .

          • Except for the knowledge that peak oil production is mathematically certain and that it is almost 100% likely to occur this century, it is difficult to pin down the date. Peak production will depend on the global economy as a whole and how it interacts with the energy sector.

            One thing to keep in mind though; the peak will occur when supplies are greatest, a glut, and prices for oil are quite low, just when the signs of the peak are least evident.

            If the peak is due to supply constraints, it will only be after oil prices reach record levels and production still can’t match the previous glut that we will know the peak was reached.

            If the peak is due to demand reduction, the evidence for the peak will be that consumption continues to fall even when prices are at rock bottom. If the demand reduction is due to economic recession, we would need to wait until growth resumes and see whether oil consumption and prices rebound. If not, we are past peak.

        • The problem isn’t English coal – except for the carbon still circulating in the atmosphere from its bygone days. The problem is the >1 trillion tonnes of US, Russian, Chinese, Indian, Australian etc coal, whose carbon is yet to come.

  4. Alan Jacobs asks two questions about agrarian culture at the end of his post… And if you can love and practice those old ways without being a racist — How? What would distinguish morally legitimate attitudes from the ones that Kingsnorth is being pilloried for?

    The answer is simple. Just celebrate the life and health of the land and the small farmers making their lives on it, all while paying no attention to those farmers’ race or ethnicity except to appreciate any creativity it brings to rural life. It should be just as easy to do in a rural context as in a city.

    Which is not to say that racial and ethnic tolerance is always easy, but I see no reason why it should be harder to avoid racism in the country than in a city. Celebrating the joy of a harvest festival is no more intrinsically racist than celebrating the joy of attending a symphony. Admiring those who grow food is no more racist than admiring those who have a good paying job working in a car factory or writing computer code.

    • I agree Joe – it doesn’t seem to take too much imagination to make the case. I did have a look at Richard Smyth’s article (linked in AJ’s post) and was somewhat shocked. If I understand correctly, Paul K is pilloried for harkening back to an ancestral England, one with only white faces. Somehow this is racist? Historical accuracy gets set aside (but there may actually be some historical evidence that about 6000 years ago some humans made it to the island from Asia Minor. Farmers… their ethnicity? Why would it matter?)

      There is quite a bit of other eco-fascist ink spillage going on right now. And I’m wondering if I might be in a similar box to Chris on the matter. Above he wondered (about the NZ shooter):
      Then again, he also invoked various environmentalist tropes, prompting some people (not in good faith, IMO) to identify him with an eco-terrorism of limits and boundaries. If anyone feels they have insights in these murky waters I’m (probably) interested to hear them…

      No insights from this quarter. At least not yet.

  5. Clem, thanks for your comments. I’ll ponder your interesting thoughts on US/Chinese economic relations. I didn’t intend to suggest that Tooze’s analysis pointed to a small farm future. But what I think he was suggesting was that in recent history US policy has always been about ‘America first’, but until Trump it hasn’t been about ‘ONLY America first’ – however, the geopolitical situation is such that that might become the new normal, even on the watch of a more credible successor to the presidency than Trump. Where I think the small farm future may come in is that the global Pax Americana is probably ending (even if there was always more pax in some places than others…) at the same time that numerous other crises are kicking in, and it seems unlikely that the superpowers will be able to organize global political space as comprehensively as they have in recent history.

    Interesting stuff on Paul Kingsnorth – I’ve corresponded with him a little and written for Dark Mountain. Can’t say I’m much in sympathy with where his thinking’s been going of late, though I think it’s a bit strong to call him a racist or eco-fascist. I’m pretty much with Joe. I guess I sort of agree with Kingsnorth about the irruption of modernity as a historical loss, but I think trying to regain the past in the way he does is impossible and somewhat dangerous. I don’t think ‘praising old ways’ intrinsically involves praising exclusive whiteness, but I do think it’s necessary to attend to global interconnections in history and be aware of what’s being foregrounded and backgrounded. The bigger question is why the need to ‘praise’ old ways? Learn from them certainly, inasmuch as they might teach us about how to live better in place. But don’t reify them as pure or authentic. Any plausible model to see us through in the future has to deal with the fact that almost all of us are lost children of modernity (even white English folks – Peter Fryer’s book ‘Staying Power’ on the history of black people in England starts off with the nice point that there were black people in England in the guise of Roman soldiers before there were any ‘English’ people here in the guise of Anglo-Saxons). I kind of get what Kingsnorth’s saying in terms of the pull of a time-honored landscape – but that pull is available to anyone. Maybe the pull is stronger if you live in it, so demographics being what they are the pull of the English countryside no doubt has a white hue…but it’s when you start acting as gatekeeper and deciding who’s allowed to claim that pull and who isn’t that the problems really kick in.

    Saying that, there’s people who scorn me here because I grew up a hundred miles away…something I’d like to write some more about some time. ‘Defence of culture’ is never a good idea in my book, because culture is not a thing that stands in need of defense. It’s a process, and an inherently hybridizing one.

    Sorry, I don’t have a copy of Kingsnorth’s ‘recovering environmentalist’ book, and it’s not high up my reading list. I did write some critical comments about a ‘Guardian’ article of his in a blog post some time ago…

    • IMHO there is no point in denigrating the past the people who lived then or their lifestyle and customs , they were what they were .
      Only fossil fuils allow todays global civilisation to operate ,take the jets out of the sky and the world becomes a much smaller place take diesel out of shipping and trade grinds to a near halt , by the end of this century the worlds pontificators will be busy following a draught animal a agrocentric world can not support cities ,80% of whats left of the population will be working on the land , we are living in the golden age and doing what humanity does best , argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin !

  6. as to: ” while the rest of the farm crew are up in London protesting about government inaction on climate change”

    how would you refer to such words:Protesting environmental concerns involves a high degree of denial and self-deception; as it is based on two gross errors. The first is the irrational belief that governments have the means to respond to the predicament we find ourselves in. . .


    • I guess I’d say that governments do have the means to respond to the predicament we find ourselves in. That’s not the same as saying it’s likely they’ll simply step up and solve it. But I doubt anyone involved in Extinction Rebellion seriously expects that. However, the British government has a lot more power to do SOMETHING about climate change than any one individual, and the protests are geared to encouraging it to exercise that power. To be honest, I find Mr Watkins’ objections largely spurious. Yes possibly it’s too late. But the same goes for any other action. Might as well party, then – which pretty much seems to be what the activists are doing.

      I’d also put a different spin on his interpretations regarding the relevance of Brexit. Brexit resulted from a fringe political party spooking a government into an action it hoped would head off a loss of support, but had the unanticipated result of creating potentially vast systemic political change. I’d have thought climate change protestors could take a lot of inspiration from that.

      All of us judge where best to invest our efforts for a mix of reasons that are usually a combination of self-serving and community-minded. My personal reading of the runes hasn’t led me to invest my efforts into Extinction Rebellion, other than supporting people around me who have in minor ways. But I don’t think by that token I’m intrinsically right, and they’re wrong. It’s often worth debating choices and tactics with other people – but I think it’s unwise to loudly proclaim that one’s own choices will turn out to have been obviously superior.

  7. I went out to do some farm chores, one of which was removing old shreds of plastic mulch littering the place.

    Oh yuk! I just can’t let this pass by! I detest that stuff!

    What about grass or hay or manure mulch?

    Part of a peasant’s duty is to resist industrial civilization — which includes single-use plastic.

    • OK, here’s my problem: I live in the tropics with very rapid weed growth all year long. If I don’t want to use herbicides, the only way to get rid of rhizominous grass is through light starvation for many months. Even constant tilling will only knock it back. Organic mulches, no matter how thick, will never kill it. I know; I make tons of wood chip mulch every year. I have not tried cardboard, but I doubt I can get 1/4 acre worth of cardboard around here.

      So when I need to prepare ground for growing root crops, I have to first cover it with something opaque to kill grasses. This is especially true if I am practicing what I call “agro-pasture”, taking livestock pasture and converting a small percentage to arable use for a few years and then moving on to another area.

      The woven plastic ground cloth I use will last for many years. I don’t know how long,since I am still re-using some that is seven years old. I take care not to use staples or anything that will puncture it. I use bricks to weigh it in place. I have considered going to something that would last forever, like remnant lengths of aluminum roofing, but that wouldn’t meet the “peasant” criterion either.

      My plan is to use what I can from industrial civilization in ways that allow me to grow food in a quasi-organic manner (I’m still using up some synthetic 14-14-14 that I bought for Y2K on bananas) that preserves and enhances soil health and fertility. If industrial materials and equipment go away, which I am sure they will at some point, I and my successors will have to substitute something else, perhaps swidden methods over a lot more acreage. They’ll figure it out.

    • Great mulches, of course. But what if the plastic were biodegradable and either left in place or collected and sent to the compost pile?? [collected only for cosmetic purpose]

      To the complaint that manufacture of a soy based biodegradable plastic must somehow be the result of industrial civilization… soybean oil can be extruded from raw soybean with a press – so that much is still small farm future possible. Plasticizing it… well, will have to dig into that part. But how hard could it be? Residents of the 3rd Rock from the Sun can do it – and look at what they’ve done to their planet!

    • Ok, here’s a link to a soyplastic recipe.
      The recipe calls for corn starch too – which is not beyond a peasant’s reach. But they also want you to heat the mixture in a microwave… which on its face tosses our peasant off course. I think heat is all they’re going for, so we may still be able to pull our peasant back on board. Will double check and report back.

      Don’t want Joe’s progeny struggling with perennial grass weeds any more than necessary.

      • For a more in depth dive into the ‘plastic from soy’ world you can check out:

        This piece is two years old, so some improvements may already exist. There are non-degradable soy plastics (I hear the boos) – but there are also degradable ones. Among the degradable are those also considered compostable… the latter designation comes down to the length of time required to turn to compost. There is no recipe here, but they do indicate some soy proteins are used in the degradable plastics. Needing to use proteins instead of oil might cause some peasant head scratching. On the surface of it – once our dear peasant has extruded oil the residual meal is primarily protein. BUT, primarily may not be sufficient (as much as half of the meal is not protein). Not sure if this is a deal breaker. Back into the ether to see… 🙁

        • Good news and some news in need of further improving. Our peasant in search of biodegradable plastic materials may need a little technical support (especially if the lights go out right now). But the technical support may be no more onerous than what a black smith brings to a community. Here is a recent paper about bioplastics in a circular economy.

          On the plus side, starches (easily available, even to a Neanderthal) can do the lion share of the work. Also, the EU is has adopted an action plan for a circular economy. So this circular economy is likely to arrive even before the Brits manage to escape the EU (given current rates of progress on that latter front 🙂 )

          Now to be fair to the doomers who I’ve often argued should make their doomish predictions with dates attached so we can mock them when their predictions fail to materialize on time… I suppose I should offer some sort of prediction about when a compostable bioplastic will become available using only sustainable means and technologies that a peasant population can muster. Wow… need to unpack that some and lay down some parameters. So – Jan, (Joe and others welcome!) what exactly would we need to do, and how long do we have to get there?

          • I don’t think anyone will want to try and craft-build plastic from natural materials. Just think of the labor involved in making even a few square meters of the stuff.

            If I really had to do it, I think it would be easier to go through every spade of dirt and pick out the weeds and rhizomes and then mulch with banana leaves or split banana stems. I am going to try heavy layers of chop-and-drop tree branches as mulch in the near future too, just as an experiment.

            And if mulch doesn’t work, I can see doing things like I saw in Fiji, where they just burned off a hillside and planted cassava in the ashes. On the other hand, I might have to wait a long time for it to get dry enough to burn around here. If so, I will be stuck with continuous hand weeding.

    • Hmm, well a long reply somewhat along the lines of Joe’s would be needed to fully work through the issues. Perhaps I’ll aim for that soon. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just say that I hate the stuff too…which is why I was removing it (though the ants seemed to like it)…and it wasn’t single use. However, I’m no longer primarily responsible for the commercial side of our growing operation and it’s not for me to tell the crew what they can and can’t do, but there are complex trade-offs involved between labor, yield, income and non-renewable inputs – and a life-cycle analysis would almost certainly put manure and grass along with tillage or plastic into the latter category.

      I agree that resisting industrial civilization is a fine thing (though I don’t agree that it’s part of a peasant’s duty), but I struggle slightly with the present pillorying of plastic, while trucks and tractors seem to get a free pass. I’m trying to work personally towards an industry-resisting gardening strategy. But that involves not selling anything.

  8. But that involves not selling anything.

    Growing just the subsistence for the farm residents involves a heck of a lot of work, with or without any industrial inputs. And that subsistence being just the food side, not counting any spinning and weaving or cobbling or milling of wood.

    Doing things like they used to do where I live would mean stone tools and wooden farm implements. I think it will actually come to that, doomer that I am, but only after a few centuries of industrial-era-metals salvage.

    That salvage period will result in the loss of a lot of basic knowledge. Once the salvage metals run out after many lifetimes, who will know how to make iron from ore and charcoal?

    In the meantime, this 70 year old body appreciates modern labor saving devices like water pumps and chain saws. Plastic mulch is the least of our non-peasanty stuff.

    • One could always attempt to sell one’s knowledge to those eager to learn.
      On mulches and unwanted rhizomes, some useful temporary structure like a yurt, if left in place long enough before moving it on, could be another way to clear patches of earth via occultation, prior to cultivation.

    • Will there be any iron ore to get ? The mines get deeper the ore grade gets poorer, once like the coal mines in the UK the pumps are off and the mines / opencasts flood there is no way of getting at the deposits , all the ” easy ” stuff has been extracted .

  9. Thanks for the further comments (I’m going to abbreviate that to TFTFC hereafter, since as Michelle pointed out it’s become my catchphrase…)

    I’m enjoying Clem and Joe’s different orientations to the future. Not much to add from my lofty vantage point up here on the fence, though the winds blowing up are leaning me a little towards the salvage yard.

    Much to agree with in Eric’s comments regarding Paul Kingsnorth. But when it comes to the question of whether humans are inside or outside of nature I think it’s an inescapable part of the human condition that we’re both – an argument I tried to flesh out philosophically and theologically in my article ‘Genesis and J. Baird Callicott’ … and also one addressed by Professor Callicott. Here’s an example of where fence-sitting feels the right place to be, because attempts to deny either human naturalness or the human urge for overcoming seem to me to take one to less steady ground than trying to keep consciously balanced on the fence.

    Regarding political misgivings about Kingsnorth’s thought, I think Eric is basically right about what Kingsnorth’s project is and that it’s not reducible to racism, fascism or nationalism in any straightforward way. Still, his incautious invocations of nationalism and patriotism, his enthusiasm for the Trump and Brexit votes as positive symptoms of a turn against a hated globalism and his rather one-dimensional contempt for modernity strike me as politically naïve in a world that presents us with numerous resounding examples of the violence, misery, self-interest and bad faith that so easily attach to notions of locally-grounded authenticity and purity

    • Thanks Chris for your agreement with my speculation about Paul Kingsnorth’s project aims. I definitely agree about his naivete. A common problem among people who style themselves into the prophet profession. Also something that Trump seems to bring out among both his supporters and detractors. I know a number of people who like the idea of Trump because they think he will hasten the destruction of the empire. A cheery thought, but didn’t Rome last a really long time even after Nero?
      Also, yes, being both inside and and separate from nature is a really hard problem, and central to our time here as a species. I understand why some people want to push the rudder full one way or the other, but developing the maturity to live in both modes while understanding the limits of each strikes me as much more important, and vastly more difficult.

  10. I’d been thinking I’d drop this link into the conversation whenever the discussion turned to Kingsnorth again, and it looks like my opportunity has arrived:

    It’s a thought-provoking piece that immediately reminded me of some of your own criticisms, Chris, of the Kingsnorth essay to which the authors are responding.

    I’ll add a quick thanks to Clem for sharing the link to Alan Jacobs’ ruminations on Kingsnorth’s most recent controversial essay and also to Eric — your thoughts on Kingsnorth artfully capture why his work so often resonates with me (despite my misgivings).

  11. TFTFC.

    And thanks Ernie for posting that link. I posted some similar critical thoughts on the same piece by Kingsnorth at which was pretty much the point where I stopped reading his work, but the libcom piece goes deeper. I find it convincing … it’s worse than I thought … Though I daresay Kingsnorth still has interesting things to say.

    Joe, thanks for that on energy futures. The general picture you paint seems incontrovertible, though I wonder if you have any thoughts on how the dynamics play out if productivity plateaus for a time rather than sharply peaks, which is what Berners-Lee and Clark suggest in their (not very recent) book ‘The Burning Question’? An interesting point they make in that book is that low carbon/renewable forms of energy seem to be acting as additions rather than substitutes for fossil fuels, but they impute this to the somewhat mystical notion that ‘energy begets energy’. It seems to me that it’s much more rationally explained with references to the dynamics of capitalist growth, which are now inseparably wedded to fossil fuel combusion. I’d be interested in any thoughts.

  12. Total subject change:
    My wife and I have a small flock of layers, and do not wash or refrigerate them. We have been doing this for three years now, with no problems, but are starting to trade/barter with neighbors, and tried to find definitive information on shelf life.

    Innumerable websites point out that most countries do NOT wash and refrigerate, which I get, but nowhere can I find clear info on shelf life.

    I read plenty of vague, “consumer” focussed drivel, and anecdotes from homestead bloggers, but gave up after a while. With European authorship and readers, I thought that this group might know the actual research based data, and share it.

    ( Brexit or no, am I wrong to ascribe Europeanness to the UK?)
    thanks in advance

    ( I promise to comment on the actual subject at hand in another comment)

    • This study indicates a shelf life of 2 weeks (stored at 25◦C), while coating the eggs with mineral oil increased the shelf life at least 3 more weeks.

      “Based on the Haugh unit, eggs can be classified into 4 grades, AA (above 72), A (71 to 60), B (59 to 31), and C (below 30) grades (Lee and others 1996). Changes in egg grade during a 5-wk storage are shown in Table 3. The classified grade decreased with increasing storage periods, from AA to C after 3 wk for the control eggs. After 5 wk of storage, grade of all oil-coated eggs changed from AA to B, except the 7 cP oil-coated eggs that changed from AA to C.”

      Table 3 shows, for the uncoated control group stored at 25◦C, Grade AA at 0 wk, B after 1 wk, B after 2 wk, and C after 3 wk. This indicates a shelf life of 2 weeks, as stated in the conclusion:

      “Based on the Haugh unit and yolk index data, mineral oil coating increased the shelf life of eggs at least 3 more weeks at 25◦C compared to the noncoated eggs.”

          • “Room temperature” for Mother Earth News “varied from 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit” (18 to 21 degrees C), while the Karen Garcia study had eggs stored at 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees C).

          • Great article. I don’t plan to fuss with water glass or vaseline, but simply putting unwashed eggs in the fridge sounds like an easy life extension method, as long as we have room!

            In the mean time, I guess I’ll go with five or six weeks.

            I’ve got ten dozen on the pantry shelf right now, and have started going through my address book, considering which additional neighbors might enjoy a couple dozen free range eggs during this spring output peak.

            Thanks to Steve L. and Gunnar for responding as well.

            I guess in a way, this is relevant to the small farm future, where energy constraints and seasonal eating will mean that knowledge like this will come back to the fore and be a basic bit of food facts that all will know.

          • I guess in a way, this is relevant to the small farm future, where energy constraints and seasonal eating will mean that knowledge like this will come back to the fore and be a basic bit of food facts that all will know.

            Absolutely… and preservation methods will also chip in. Making a vegetable stew with excess eggs and canning it for the larder for instance. Also, with a feel for seasonality in the chicken yard one can plan for a time to have some hens hatch clutches of replacement chicks, and to cull some older hens.
            One can also pickle eggs and add an additional 3-4 months to their shelf life:

    • Having lived on a sailboat with no refrigeration, I can say from experience that eggs (from my parents’ flock) will keep for at least 31 days at reasonable temperatures.

      We marked them on one end and then turned them over every week. The theory is that the eggs go off when the yolk touches the shell. The yolk drifts down through the white very slowly, so if you turn them over every week, it never gets to the shell. I don’t know if the theory is accurate, but it seems to work in practice.

      Breaking eggs into a cup, one by one, and only adding them to the recipe when you can confirm they are fine is an additional precaution that helps to avoid nasty surprises and the loss of an entire dish.

  13. I found Montgomery’s Dirt book very interesting. In Growing a revolution I think he has become a bit too enchanted by the magics of no-till and cover crops. By and large, I have no issue with most of his claims, but I think he overstates the potential and underestimates the shortcomings of the various practices he advocates. In particular I am sceptical to his claims that those practices also are profitable. In my view there are always trade-offs and compromises. E.g. if we want to get more carbon (=energy) into the ground, we are likely to harvest less (which is what the perennial annual vs perennial crop debate boils down to). If we want to mechanize, we will sacrifice bio-diversity etc. etc.
    The book is just fine as a rather eloquent introduction for people with not too much knowledge about regenerative farming. I’d give it to a friend, but not to a colleague like you.

    • Thanks. I read his ‘Adam Smith in Beijing’ and liked it. Yours is another one for the reading list…

  14. Isn’t Hardin a bit misunderstood when it comes to the commons. From what I gather he didn’t claim that commons MUST deteroriate, but that they must be managed in order not to deteriorate. A rather non-controversial statement in my view.
    He writes: “To judge from the critical literature, the weightiest mistake in my synthesizing paper was the omission of the modifying adjective “unmanaged.” In correcting this omission, one can generalize the practical conclusion in this way: “A ‘managed commons’ describes either socialism or the privatism of free enterprise. Either one may work; either one may fail: ‘The devil is in the details.’ But with an unmanaged commons, you can forget about the devil: As overuse of resources reduces carrying capacity, ruin is inevitable.””

    • I’m pretty happy with arguments against taking Hardin seriously – in fact I think we can blame him for some of the present confusion around the everyday use of the word ‘commons’. Sure, his little parable is neat enough, if you’re happy to assume that rational self interest is the only force driving people to do anything, but even if you take it this far, he’s not actually describing any kind of common property regime. Labelling the situation he describes an ‘unmanaged commons’ only works if you’re happy to use the word ‘commons’ to describe resources that aren’t subject to any property regime at all. Historically ‘commons’ is used to describe resources subject to common property regimes. Useful alternatives to Hardin’s label such as ‘open access resources’ are available, but he compounds the confusion by using as his example a communal pasture that is far more likely in any real-world situation to be treated as a common property resource, not an open access one. I’m just not sure what Hardin adds to any serious thinking around these issues.

      • well, I didn’t mean that his contribution is great or important in anyway, just that he seems to be a bit misunderstood.

        But it is equally true, which I believe you say Andrew, that his much later qualification of the “tragedy of the commons” means that he in a way de facto creates a new and meaningless meaning of the word commons, as they in a sense always were managed…..

      • Thanks Gunnar and Andrew – this is exactly the debate. I agree with Andrew that Hardin sowed a lot of confusion, but also with Gunnar that we need to bear in mind there can indeed be a ‘tragedy of the open access regime’ that’s easily concealed through too much pillorying of Hardin, especially of the ad hominem variety. I wonder how many people who invoke Elinor Ostrom as the righter of Hardin’s wrongs have actually read her book, because the picture she paints is a lot more complicated. It’s not an easy read, to be fair – there’s only so much of my life I want to devote to learning about the minutiae of water rights litigation in 1930s California…

  15. Oh, I missed the Tooze/China discussion, darn! The current administration of the US is making a huge mistake going bare knuckles with China. “We” suffer from stupendous ignorance of Chinese history and have no idea what we are getting into. Sigh!

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