Rural gentrification Part II: Of localists and homesteaders

In this post, I discuss some issues about gentrification, localism and homesteading or neo-agrarianism, following on from my last post and the wider debate I referred to there.

Let’s begin with a word on gentrification, which is usually applied to urban situations where richer people avail themselves of cheaper property prices by moving into poorer neighbourhoods, resulting in rising real estate values over time that price the original inhabitants or their descendants out of the area, and changing its social character in ways more suited to the incomers than the original inhabitants.

As I see it, these trends are significant social problems but their framing as ‘gentrification’ raises some problems of its own, of which I’ll mention three. First, the gentrification narrative implicitly blames the affluent incomers, individualizing them as the source of the economic problems faced by the original inhabitants and thereby diverting attention from structural problems of poverty, inequality and housing access operating within the wider economy and its politics. Second, it also diverts attention from competing interests among the original inhabitants, not least the owners and sellers of property who benefit from rising prices and economic dynamism but figure as silent players in the gentrification story. Finally, it involves cultural conceptions of authenticity and threat – the locally authentic culture of the original inhabitants threatened by the cosmopolitan and inauthentic culture (or personhood?) of the incomers. Such conceptions could do with some further elaboration.

I’ll return to some of these points shortly, but I want to turn now to rural and agrarian gentrification. The urban gentrification picture I just described can apply equally to small rural towns and villages, with the same caveats, but when it comes to back-to-the-land neo-agrarian homesteading it gets a bit more complicated. Everywhere is different, but a common situation in the rich countries today occurs when people liquidate urban properties, enabling them to buy a few acres – with or, often, without a house – in a countryside otherwise dominated by large farms growing input-intensive commodity crops for global markets.

This isn’t the same as urban gentrification for various reasons. While existing large-scale farmers may not make big incomes, they’re often sitting on multi-million parcels of real estate far beyond the means of the homesteaders, and are not necessarily less affluent than them in the straightforward way implied by the gentrification narrative. There are a range of homesteading styles, from ‘hobby farming’ supported by a mainstream high-income job at one extreme (a situation which frankly also applies to many households in the established large-scale farming population) to full-on homestead self-reliance at the other. But the fact that homesteaders do generally change occupation, swapping city income for rural production, makes it a different ballgame to urban situations where the gentrifiers don’t change their employment.

Deurbanizing back-to-the-landers often bring liquid capital with them that may enable them to pump-prime their enterprises and that may set local tongues wagging about their unfair advantage, but what they rarely do is inherit a fully built and functioning farm along with the natal learning about how to run it, so their advantage in this respect is questionable. Another thing they rarely do is get into large-scale commodity crop farming – cereals, oilseeds, intensive stock or dairy farming and the like – preferring more labour-intensive enterprises geared to local markets such as horticulture. In this sense, while their arrival on the scene may seem gentrifying locally it’s arguably de-gentrifying globally, because people in the rich countries long exited from these labour-intensive forms of production and pushed the responsibility for growing such products onto poorer countries with cheaper labour and less finicky labour standards.

All of which is to say this is a complicated matter to the point where the concept of agrarian gentrification probably lacks meaning. I accept there are grey areas, and I accept that the kind of entitled rural sojourners mentioned in a comment under my last post are a thing. All the same, the stereotype of the entitled but hapless urbanite versus the disparaged but salty countryperson needs a bit of unpicking.

Since, as I said above, everywhere and everyone is different, to do so I’m going to colour my story with a few details from my own personal history, while asking the reader’s forgiveness for the self-indulgence. And possibly for any defensiveness – I guess I probably fall on one side of a few lines here that I’m minded to erase.

My two grandfathers were working-class men born shortly either side of Queen Victoria’s death who started – and in one case finished – their careers in those quintessentially anti-localist citadels of Victorian industrialism, the coal mines and the railways. Energy! Motion! You have to go a generation or two further back to find any of my ancestors working the land – as it happens in Scotland and Ireland, before their descendants migrated closer to the metropole in search of greater prosperity. My grandfathers’ children, my parents, were beneficiaries of the postwar expansion of the education system that enabled them to study and gain professional careers in London. When they in turn had children they moved to a large village about thirty miles outside London where they could afford to buy a family-sized house – the place I grew up. There’s no way young parents in their position now could afford such a house there, still less a few acres of farmland. But such things were far from my mind when, prepared by my education, I entered a professional career in and around London myself.

It took me a full ten years to realize that (a) I wasn’t much enjoying my professional career, and (b) such urban-professional careers weren’t a sound long-term bet for humanity anyway. To cut a long story short, my wife and I bought an 18-acre plot of bare agricultural land on the edge of the small market and postindustrial town of Frome in northeast Somerset, about a hundred miles from where I grew up, where we’ve now lived, farmed, raised our kids and homesteaded for the past eighteen years. There’s some arable farming in the area (cereals, maize silage and oilseed mainly) and traditional family dairy farming hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Or at least ‘traditional’ inasmuch as it flowered in Victorian times to meet the demand for fresh milk in London that could now be satisfied from the West Country thanks to the innovation of fossil-fuelled transport, the milk train, served by people like my grandfathers.

In the past eighteen years, Frome has unquestionably gentrified in the normal urban sense of the term I described above. The Poundstretcher shop that used to sell piles of cheap but occasionally useful plastic crap manufactured in China has lately become a series of fancy but short-lived delis and cafés. When we arrived, soymilk latte wasn’t a thing here. Whereas now we’d be spoiled for choice, if we drank the stuff. Alternative therapists abound and house prices have rocketed to the extent that the children of locally-born people certainly couldn’t afford one, with the possible exception of those who’ve turned smart profits from the rising property prices. In fact, the children of non-locally born people can’t afford one either. There was a brief trend recently for baseball caps (now there’s a non-local thing) sporting the slogan Make Frome shit again.

A few years back there was talk of one of the big grocery chains opening a superstore in the town centre. With the kind of irony that often attends such things, a campaigning group called Keep Frome Local that seemed to comprise mostly people who weren’t locally born sprang up to oppose the store, while a rival group called Frome For All that seemed to comprise mostly locally-born people formed to support it. In the end, the superstore wasn’t built, for reasons that had more to do with the company’s commercial priorities than anything that anybody in Frome did or didn’t want.

Around that time I read Lorenzo Cotula’s interesting book The Great African Land Grab? about foreign and corporate land acquisitions in Africa. My one sentence summary of his complex argument: these acquisitions aren’t a good thing long-term, but in the short term they can generate jobs for the poorest and most excluded people locally, so often enjoy a degree of local support. I was struck by how much this argument chimed with the disputations over the supermarket in Frome – asset stripping the local economy, or bringing much-needed jobs?

Anyway, all this is by way of saying, once again, that it’s complicated. Quite a bit of the commentary under my Twitter thread that generated this post made a heavy play for the authenticity, the real grounded localism, of people with a multi-generational presence in a place. And it made fun of we incoming back-to-the-land homesteaders for cosplaying at being local. One commenter wrote that the problem of localism is that it’s mostly “a MOVEMENT, not organic, not humane. It’s a weird centrally planned local system with really odd enforcement motivators. The most popular enforcement idea is that the world is going to collapse and technology will go away and everyone will be forced into localism (but the model and plan that the proponent wants, of course)”.

What to make of that? Well, if a local farmer were to lean down from the cab of his 200hp John Deere on the way to cut maize silage for his robotic dairy – all these technologies vast monuments to economic globalism – and tell me I was cosplaying at being local as I rode past on our veg delivery trike, I’d have to say “you too, mate”. But to be fair, no local farmer has ever done that, and generally we’ve found them to be helpful and supportive of our attempts to tend our ground, notwithstanding acceptable levels of jocularity at our more hapless mistakes. Likewise, not many born and bred locals have said anything to me about not being a ‘real’ local either, at least to my face, although if you cup your ear it’s not hard to hear a little anti-incomer music playing softly in a minor key. In truth, much of the chit chat I’ve heard about being a ‘real’ local person has come from other middle-class incomers, if ‘incomer’ is really the right word. No doubt there are some places and some lines, albeit rarely fixed and certain, that it’s best not to come in across. I’m not sure they apply when you move a hundred miles from your birthplace to a town in one of Britain’s wealthier regions, twenty miles from its fifth largest city.

Ultimately, the only ‘real’ localism is one that can sustain local livelihoods over generations primarily from local use of local land and resources, and this isn’t a game that’s even being cosplayed let alone played by a significant number of people locally or nationally regardless of their take on localism or their sense of their own pedigree, essentially because it’s impossible. But it matters because the collapse of the existing global political economy isn’t an ‘enforcement idea’ but a nailed-on certainty for reasons that I’ve copiously rehearsed on this blog over the last ten years.

These reasons are obvious enough. What to do about it, how to ‘force’ or – better – to ease everyone into localism is less obvious. I suspect the real forcing will come from unfolding circumstances rather than anyone’s model or plan. But I do think the low energy, low capital, labour-intensive way of the homesteader runs a little closer to the kind of localisms we’re likely to get long-term than the models of large-scale, fossil-fuelled commodity farming or superstore boosterism favoured by many people, local and incomer alike.

This is what I meant when I tweeted “it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” in relation to claims of being local. When it comes right down to it, I see ‘localists’ as people working – however imperfectly – to build a sustainable political economy from their local ecological base, and not people who, for example, want to entice a superstore to their town, whatever their local pedigree.

I got quite a bit of pushback on Twitter for my “ain’t where you’re from…” remark. I stand by it in the sense I’ve just described, but I accept that in other contexts maybe it is where you’re from. Local particulars matter, as one commenter put it, and I agree – a localism worth the name does have to pay attention to the social landscape as well as the biogeographic one. But what kind of attention? Do all local particulars always matter? Matter to whom? Uniformly to all ‘locals’? In what contexts? And how exactly do you define ‘local’ geographically and generationally? Would my daughter, who was born here, count as a local? If not, how many generations does it take? Or is it more a matter of accent, class, attitude, or something else?

I think such questions need answers. The importance of local particulars is a reasonable opening gambit, but it needs substantiation. In A Small Farm Future I described the conservative and stratified fox-hunting commons of the English rural scene often presented as a case of timeless traditionalism, but more plausibly reflecting quite recent political battles with definite winners and losers (‘conservative’, incidentally, means something a bit different in the UK to the US … perhaps another important local particular?) Here in Frome, the summer festival is more the province of the incomers whereas the autumn carnival leans more to the long-established locals. Perhaps in time present tensions will be addressed ritually through a mock carnival battle, or some kind of prestation from festival to carnival, just as the Lamelerans I mentioned in my previous post pay ritual obeisance to the ‘lords of the land’.

So yes local particulars matter, but quite a number of the comments under my thread traded rather unreflectively on the local/incomer duality as exemplary respectively of authentic and inauthentic culture. Given the inherently plastic and hybrid nature of human culture, I’d argue that when a notion of local culture that lacks much specific connection to its local ecological base is weaponized defensively in its totality against perceived external threats, alarm bells ought to ring. Such static and unconfident mobilizations of culture or of local particularity lose their vitality, turn moribund and too easily become mere prejudice. This is also precisely what’s happening among the ‘globalists’ with their increasingly shrill trumpeting of global modernity, ‘Enlightenment values’ and progress.

On the localist side of this equation, the emphasis on local cultural particularity often operates as a cipher for more direct conflicts over economic resources or social status that reflect people’s relative power. This relative power often divides less cleanly across local/incomer divides than is implied in gentrification narratives, but in any case I’d argue it’s better to focus directly on the conflicts than to manifest them in sociological archetypes of the local versus incomer sort.

Some of the comments under my thread extolled the self-employed enterprises of locally-pedigreed folk, such as those running plumbing businesses, over and against the enterprises of incoming back-to-the-landers. Others went so far as to extol the eat-or-be-eaten logic of the competitive marketplace as exemplary of a localist economy. This is where, for me, localism becomes globalism. For sure, service trades like plumbing – necessarily local and labour intensive – are one of the few ways that people can earn an honest coin these days without submitting themselves entirely to the corporate machine, and the performance of practical skill in such trades is unquestionably a virtue. But ultimately these trades serve the consumerist household economy whose engines lie very far from the smalltown places we’re talking about. And if we endorse the logic of the competitive marketplace, then we can be sure that sooner or later it will become a non-competitive monopoly marketplace, and the Walmarts of this world will supplant local production for local needs.

So to pushback against the pushbackers, perhaps a little unkindly, I’m tempted to critique the homesteading-as-gentrification argument along similar lines to the critique of an earlier American agrarian populism made by the likes of Charles Postel (The Populist Vision) and Eugene McCarraher (The Enchantments of Mammon). A sour grapes politics, a having your cake and eating it politics of wanting the benefits of commerce, modernity and globalism while vainly trying to preserve local ways and local self-determination from the vast, pitiless and destructive global forces it implicitly rests upon, while directing its ire at potential allies such as back-to-the-landers simply because, well, they’re not from around here.

For McCarraher, the essence of the USA as a colonial and postcolonial country has always been a capitalist ‘errand into the wilderness’ with its eye on the main chance. I think you could say the same for modern global capitalism more generally. Time is nearly up on that errand, the chickens are coming home to roost, and ultimately perhaps it doesn’t much matter if you took your helping of capitalist culture on a more globalist or more localist plate. The future demands of us – all of us – rural localisms more deeply grounded in their immediate ecological base.

So I’d argue it’s better to accept that almost everyone in the world today is the child of a failing globalism and a failing modernity, and then for localists to seek alliances where they can with others in possession of localist visions concerning how to transcend these failures, wherever those people happen to come from originally.

One commenter wrote: “My warning to homesteading Twitter is that you guys are early adopters, the tip of the spear and often times the early adopters are more thoughtful, nuanced and flexible. Close the door behind you! You might not like what comes in after you”.

It’s a thought-provoking point. But my answer is that it’s not going to be possible to close the door behind us because ultimately homesteading is going to be among the most rational of responses to the increasing chaos of our times, and the handful of early adopters are going to become multitudes. Homesteading is not fundamentally a ‘movement’, as the comment I quoted earlier suggested, still less a centrally planned one. Rather it results from the failure of monopoly corporate planning, public and private, and it will grow as that failure grows.

Which brings us to the question of localism and migration, to be discussed in my next post.

39 thoughts on “Rural gentrification Part II: Of localists and homesteaders

  1. The early adopters might well be more thoughtful, nuanced and flexible. They (or we? I’m not a homesteader, but I am consciously moving toward more local production) also get to make most of the mistakes.

  2. Wow. Quite a mouthful you just said there.
    Thanks.

    My story might be a little like yours, in outline anyway.
    Perhaps because my (far) ancestors came from where yours did, more or less.

    My father’s father grew up in Kansas. His mother in Connecticut, they met in Wyoming, my father was born in Texas, and grew up in South Dakota. My mother grew up in Washington, DC and was the first of her family to leave the US eastern seaboard. My sisters and I were born in Los Angeles.

    So I can claim a little of Kansas, can’t I? Ultimately, I’m not really from anywhere.
    Not that anybody really cares, from what I can tell.
    As you say, the lines are drawn culturally. The ‘locals’ will use their birthplace for social leverage, but they probably aren’t going to be hanging out with the local kid who got all educated and liberal.

    When I lived in northern California in the 1990s, there was a big divide between the homegrown rednecks and the hippies who came in the 70s. Except 20 years later, they could only hold the line in the smallest towns. Everywhere else, the hippie and redneck kids went to school together and married each other and had grand kids that bridged the gap.
    In the smallest towns, the hippies just turned into rednecks.
    And all of them shopped at the local supermarket and bought vast quantities of petroleum products driving back and forth to town.

    It may be different elsewhere, but in Kansas, nobody is gentrifying commodity farmland. Unless you count the land-grab by large financial institutions.
    People with money want interesting terrain with trees, usually.
    The milo fields that are built up with houses tend to be commuter exurbs for people who will drive another hour to their job for the privilege of having their name on a title. Maybe exactly the opposite of gentrification.

    But… yes, it’s a hard problem. It seems to me that the main way forward is to socialize with our neighbors, whoever they are.

    • An emphatic “yes” to your last sentence!

      My wife and I have moved into rural communities twice in our lives (not counting our move to an atoll village in the Peace Corps), first into a logging-oriented community in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and then to a very rural community in Hawaii. We got along fine with everyone already living there, or at least as well as the “locals” did with each other.

      A newcomer has the benefit of being a blank slate to the established community, with no history of prior feuds or allegiances. If the newcomer makes an effort to be a good neighbor (in the terms of the local neighborhood) and doesn’t present as an asshole by trying to remake local society immediately after relocating, our experience is that becoming a valued member of the local community is pretty easy.

      That’s because every rural community has more social needs than can be met by the small population living there. From school athletics coaches to crossing guards to voting officials at the local precinct to helping maintain the local park, there is always something more to be done. Chipping in with energetic community involvement in satisfying those needs goes a long way to easing the transition to becoming, if not truely “local”, at least a welcomed member of the community.

      Maybe our experience was an anomaly. Perhaps there are rural communities so insular that no amount of goodwill and community involvement (on community terms) can earn acceptance, but in the coming years that won’t matter much anyway. There is going to be a flood of people moving into rural communities whether the locals like it or not. Socializing with one’s neighbors and chipping in with the volunteer work is still the best way to make sure everyone gets along as well as possible. I highly recommend it.

  3. Gentrification can be viewed as a type of colonization involving wealthier “outsiders”.

    Chris wrote, “All of which is to say this is a complicated matter to the point where the concept of agrarian gentrification probably lacks meaning.”

    Even if the discussion is limited to the “back-to-the-land neo-agrarian homesteading” type of agrarian gentrification, there is still an effect where wealthier “outsiders” can drive up the prices of the local land available for such purposes, putting this homesteading option out of reach for the working-class locals.

  4. I second your point about plumbing and local business. I work among the massive network of family-owned Amish construction/trades… driving as if in a fleet each day down the highway to build the luxury suburbia of Philadelphia, paid for by consultants, CEOs, lawyers, and housing developers.

    For Third World peasants and indigenous communities, who live on their local ecology, there may be some serious claims to being “authentic” locals. For the vast majority of First Worlders, your point about the John Deere mega-farmer is spot on. And that’s not to mention the total evacuation of roots and meaning in familial, cultural, and spiritual life. I’ve always been struck by the gravity of Marx’s famous phrase: “all that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred is profaned…”, but the next line is obviously false: “…man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind.” Rather, there is a constant desperate grasping for meaning, identity, and ‘religio’ (in the etymological sense of “binding together”) which blindly latches on to the manufactured idols which further prop up the system. That’s why I think McCarraher is right to call for a thoroughly “Romantic”/spiritual radicalism, per John Ruskin, in response.

  5. I’ve commented about this before, but this is the time to reiterate the physical benefits of rural gentrification. Regardless of what a wealthy family does after they move to the country, whether they commute to their jobs in a nearby city or simply bask in the beauty of the countryside, they still need a place to live. Often they build a house, typically a rather large and modern house. This is good.

    When the inevitable migration back to the land accelerates, people will need places to live. All those houses previously built by the “gentry”, often derided as “McMansions”, will come in handy. Their internal utilities may not work, but they will still provide a dry and calm place to stay for many people and for many decades. This will allow migrating newcomers to concentrate on all the things they need to do to grow food. If the original gentry had any form of animal-related hobby, like horses or llamas, and build fences, corrals and barns, so much the better.

    Another benefit of rural gentrification is the tendency for families to want smaller acreages than those used by commercial farms. These smaller acreages are also more suitable to subsistence agriculture, so the subdivision of large estates or commercial farms should be encouraged rather than resisted. Unfortunately, first-mover gentry often become the most vocal NIMBY opponents of further subdivision once they have their own parcel. Disputes over rural real estate subdivision and development are a likely source of community discord, but I don’t see any way to avoid it.

    Reassurances by doomers like me that gentrification will come in handy after modern civilization collapses and urban refugees flood into the country is not likely to be viewed as rational by anyone, local and newcomer alike. Rather than look at the big picture of the human predicament, most people will concentrate on the effects of gentrification on their lives right now. Future generations will be thankful that one of the last acts of modernity was the building of lots of country estates for wealthier newcomers, but that’s not likely to be comforting to those who dislike rural gentrification today.

    • The subdivision of large rural properties, and the resulting benefits for an eventual small farm future, don’t necessarily require gentrification (via “the building of lots of country estates for wealthier newcomers”). Unfortunately, the wealthier tend to have more influence over restrictive zoning laws, limiting the options for the working class.

      • Subdivision certainly doesn’t require gentrification. I think it would be far better for governments to oversee a process of rural migration and the building of subsistance farms and small villages for people of all income groups, including the working class and young people without any real money at all. A small farm future should include everyone, especially the young.

        But since a government program to create a small farm future isn’t likely to happen, any breakdown of land into smaller parcels and any building of rural shelter should be accepted, even if done by people who do it for the “wrong” reasons.

        • Let me add that the biggest opposition to gentrification is likely to come from environmental groups who would rather see large tracts of land be re-wilded rather than lived on by anyone. When those objections are raised, environmentalists should be asked where people will live when modern cities are no longer supportable. All you will get is silence (or pushback that cities are supportable forever if we only rapidly build out nuclear power or renewables or something).

    • Fascinating reversal of the normal argument. My wife has taken to calling “McMansions” that we come across “Dr. Doctor Zhivago apartments.” Apparently, in that story, large homes were subdivided into apartments post-revolution. McMansions have bedroom suites each with their own bathroom, huge kitchens, huge common areas, etc. Inadvertently designed for co-housing? Maybe we need building codes that account for future repurposing of the housing stock?

      Then there’s the related issue is how to respond to incomers building golf courses. The cleared trees, built ponds, small paved trails, irrigation piping, etc. look like someone was imagining a future of market gardens. Maybe permit them with the understanding that the soil must be revitalized and the purpose reverts to horticulture after some signal event? (Or is that last part unneeded since the future will make such realization inevitable).

      The issue here might be that getting such zoning and land use rules and regs adopted may be easier than imagined. After all, those proposing such development get their immediate benefit, and they’d be unlikely to imagine a scenario is plausible where our “repurposing clause” would ever be invoked. So they’d go along, laughing at us, and sign that clause into existence.

    • Hello Joe,
      Sounds great.

      It is quite similar to the vision of the future described in David Holmgren’s latest book “RetroSuburbia” (available for free online at http://www.retrosuburbia.com).
      It is about how to re-purpose “suburbia” into multi-generational homesteads.
      It is written from a very Australian perspective, intentionally, but can serve as inspiration for most of us who live in (temporarily) affluent societies.
      There are also beautiful videos on the site, visiting people who already do live like that life, with an orchard and a composting toilet. I got inspired to build my first composting toilet system.

      Thanks for giving a new perspective on the golf-course plague.

      Peace,
      Goran

  6. Without clear data being available I would guess that in fact a large proportion of urbanites who become rural smallholders come from relatively modest economic backgrounds and have and taken quite a lot of risks to live the life of a smallholder. I know many who have done so and who do not come from professional backgrounds nor have had a valuable house to sell as their entry ticket. That’s why frugal living and self-sufficiency are commons strand for many smallholders. As indeed it has long been the case historically with smallholding supplementing family income and provisioning. This picture is somewhat removed from any gentrification process.

  7. Joe’s points about gentrification as unwitting prepping make sense to me. The crunch is in the politics of the transition from McMansion to self-reliant farm community. Perhaps the ghost of Karl Marx invoked by Sean is stirring, but I don’t think it’ll play out in the ways envisaged by him. Raymond’s point about building in some sneaky transitional politics upfront is smart – it may help to ease the transition.

    Interesting observations from Eric regarding his Californian experiences – gentrification as a short-run transition issue? I’d have thought Kansas could offer some fine opportunities for homesteading. Maybe if that starts happening it’ll be a sign of the new times.

    To Steve’s point, I see neo-homesteaders and gentrification in general as symptom rather than cause. You need quite a lot of other policy in place, or not in place, for a straightforwrd ousting of locals by incomers. I think it’s better to focus on that policy. But I agree with Philip that many of the new homesteaders are scarcely gentrifiers in the normal sense. I may say a bit more about that in a future post.

    Agree with Sean’s points – perhaps I’d add that local pedigree can also function as a status claim, an idol or a form of ‘religio’. Incidentally, I finally finished reading McCarraher’s weighty book and will perhaps write a review here if anyone is interested…

    Finally, I agree on the virtues of neighbourliness. Given the nature of modern agriculture, however, chances are the only people the neo-homesteader will encounter living in the surrounding fields will be gentrifiers of the McMansion sort, who won’t want to speak to them…

    Thanks also for other comments and reading suggestions – all noted

    • I for one would love to hear your take on the McCarraher book (The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became The Religion of Modernity). Thanks.

    • Yes, Kansas does indeed offer some fine homesteading opportunities.
      I often joke that what ruined California is that the weather is perfect. What you need is crappy weather to keep the riff-raff out: Kansas.

      And people are homesteading in Kansas, but they don’t tend to be ‘Gentrifiers’ in the usual sense. Most often, I see young families moving to small, outlying towns and buying an old house with a few acres, and scraping by. In 1996, I bought a beat-up old farmhouse and four acres at the edge of town for $25,000. It would probably be 50 or 75K now.

    • One of the major problems with gentrification here in TX is that the high prices paid for property causes local taxes to rise in proportion making it near impossible to make a living , some of the pecan orchards are being abandoned as earnings fail to cover taxes , the margins are too tight , so the orchards are broken up into 5to 10 acre lots and sold to estate builders , ” home in the country 5 to 10 acre wooded lots starting at $15 000 an acre ” then you have to build the house ! .
      20 years ago a producing irrigated pecan orchard cost $1500 an acre and made around $40 an acre before costs .

  8. When it comes to rural gentrification, in Sweden I would say that people buying small farms and keep a few horses, build a pool and paddock etc. is a more common featrure than people becoming horticulturalists or John Seymoure. Alternatively that they invest in glamping, dog sledging or other ventures in tourism. Fishing communities, if any still remain, are often hardest hit by gentrified housing driving up property costs for young or poor people.

    • Fair points. Interested to know if the local inhabitants are investing in glamping etc too, and if not why not? And if housing prices or lack of fish/tragedy of the commons are the greater threat for fishing communities?

    • Thanks Simon, that was an interesting little interview. Since you’re living in a NATO country bordering Ukraine are you feeling any frontline heat from the invasion there? Then again, maybe Orbán’s isn’t the kind of NATO regime that worries Putin …

      • Like everyone else no doubt, we feel concerned, tense and worried. We’re about 100 miles from the border, a distance that suddenly feels quite close.
        Orbán has announced that Hungary won’t be drawn in to this conflict. He presents himself as pally with Putin and flew to Moscow earlier this month on what he termed a ‘peace mission’. Understandably, his reassurances seem to have gone down well with the populace, though I will add that I am hardly well informed as my impressions mostly come from the pulse of a small village, a few hundred people in a woody nook.
        Some of those fleeing the conflict have started arriving into Hungary – many will be Hungarian diaspora, perhaps with family or work ties here. One large university a short drive from the border, in Debrecen, has started to offer free rooms to others in need, and various organisations are appealing for donations to offer aid. Pleasingly, people’s pets are being accepted without passports.
        It’s a very complicated and fast-moving turn of events that could consume whole days and nights of head space if I let it. I find myself more delighted than usual that the first tomato seedlings are now showing themselves on the conservatory windowsill. I really need to let the ducks out. The donkey needs fresh water. And my son is asking for a bowl of “brown flakes” (Bran Flakes… I don’t correct him); the old ‘fetch wood, carry water’ has become slightly therapeutic, and I’m more inclined than ever to enjoy fussing our three cats. We hope for the best, and fear the worst.

        • “The person who has the key to solving this sits in the Kremlin.”
          For anyone interested in reading some of the backstory to the conflict in Ukraine, I found this a good article:
          https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/12/ukraine-on-the-front-line-of-europes-forgotten-war

          Perhaps I should know better, but in trying to connect this situation with ideas around localisation, gentrification and the other wider themes of this blog, I wonder to what extent this crisis is undergirded by the tensions / sits on the faultline between globalisation and deglobalisation, bullying and victimhood. I welcome anyone’s thoughts in attempting to see a way through the woods.

          • Looks like ” diversity is strength” ain’t working in the DonBas, they seem to want to be Russian yet Ukraine will not let them as I have said before random lines in a map and to hell with the people living there , Ukraine has parts of prewar Hungary and Poland within its borders , the hutu and Tutsi were forced into the same country by ” imperialists ” , Nigeria is Moslem North and Christian South with another slow burning civil war there , lines on maps forcing people that don’t like each other to live together , a recipe for disaster .
            As for globalists just look at the lockdown map of the world , all carrying out the same policies all watching their economies circle the drain ,all hooked on green energy , wokeness , snowflakes and high energy prices , globalism is foundering in rocks of its own making and that’s when it is most dangerous .

          • Similar to Russia, there’s still a fairly strong current in many Hungarian minds that harks back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in particular the land mass it then occupied. The Treaty of Versailles, over a century ago now, is still akin to a wound that isn’t healing (for some), to paraphrase some of Putin’s recent words. For instance, you still see a lot of bumper stickers in Hungary that show a map of the former Hungarian empire, with today’s Hungary outlined within, around one-third the country’s former size. It’s a mindset, like a religiosity, that must get inculcated from an early age, after which it’s hard to let it go.
            The way globalism can and will shoot us all in the foot is surely self-evident by now. Deglobalism also comes with hazards, and perhaps a slightly higher risk of interstate war if this projection is anything to go by:
            http://www.uky.edu/~ehill2/dynpage_upload/files/DeglobalizationScenarios.pdf
            To précis: nothing bodes well.

      • Thanks Chris, I’ll look forward to reading that. Thoughts and prayers, as you say.
        Having set aside the time last night to sit through some of the longer, unedited interviews with Putin (and apologies if what follows sounds like a penny dropping long-windedly), I came away with the impression of a male head of state who feels like he’s living across the road from a bunch of self-proclaimed peacekeepers who are constantly arming themselves the teeth and have a poor track record for starting wars under the pretext of lies and half-truths. In one interview he poses the question ‘how would the US feel if Russia started placing weapons along the Mexican border?’ I think Putin feels (for all his faults) like he’s been poked in the chest for years and now he’s really angry (the tragic expression of an unmet need) and has lashed out.
        I just mention some of this because, in the rush to grab the morning coffee on the way to work there’s a real chance of soaking up the impression, given by much (most?) of the English media, that we (the West) are at the mercy of a madman so let’s keep throwing weapons at this, while also weaponising the conflict in other ways in the name of peace(!?). Victory? Maybe I shouldn’t read tabloids.
        That’s not to condone any of what’s unfolding now of course (it is madness, is it not?). I may be way off and oversimplifying in my attempt to understand. Many reading this may strongly disagree and have a clearer, deeper, more nuanced (how I’ve come to hate that much abused word:) viewpoint. I sure hope I haven’t caused anyone to spit their coffee as I’m sincerely open to others’ viewpoints. I may have overlooked much. I weep for the loss of life.
        Hungary, meanwhile, is now offering free train travel to refugees.
        Like many perhaps, in struggling to find any positives in all of this I’m left very uneasy and disappointed. More than that, it’s the overriding impotence. I cling to the hope that, if Vladimir loves his country as much as he professes to, he won’t want to ensure its demise. Let’s hope he finds that way ASAP.

          • I also liked the piece in the Atlantic. Made me think of a comment Wolfgang Streeck made in a podcast last month:
            https://wolfgangstreeck.com/2022/02/23/revdem-podcast/
            [this is an hour long piece – if you want to skip it, the part I took to heart: There is an imperial rent, and an imperial cost. When the rent (income) won’t cover the cost, change is in the air.]

            But the conversation also reminds me of an exchange I had with Chris in a previous posting over the significance of historical outcomes where borders are concerned. Chris noted that some of the attackers on the US capital a year ago January carried flags from the Confederacy. Long memories of a war yet unsettled? Or newly taken on symbols that come with a cache known to provoke? If I draw a swastika on the wall, I feel reasonably certain I’ll get a serious reaction. But the image originally had a positive meaning. Either way, my use of it today shouldn’t imply that I want Germany to rule the world… just that I’m too lazy to build an argument for my cause and with a historical fire starter laying at my feet I can get some attention pretty quickly.

          • Interesting points from Clem. Do we say that a historical episode is definitively over and its later invocation in cultural symbols and the like represents a new episode, or do we say that the original episode is still live (shades of Mao saying it was too soon to determine the results of the French revolution). Or can we say both? I may come back to this when I have more time!

          • Looking forward to further thoughts on this issue.

            I doubt someone carrying the Stars and Stripes in downtown London would be arrested as a seditious interloper…. unless they were simultaneously breaking into Parliament. Yet the flag itself should carry a somewhat similar cache – even though the outcome of two conflicts (the revolution and the war of 1812) ended differently in respect to the flags in question and which side prevailed. My point here is context related then – who brandishes the symbol and why. Intent is so often very difficult to prove, and when there is a fair degree of nuance in the message there will also be varying degrees of understanding among the audience.

            For me, a historical event is a settled matter in the sense that it cannot be changed or modified. It is (or “it was”). How we react to a historical event in the present or in the future is not a settled matter. We can interpret evidence, we can surmise what may have been in the heads and hearts of those then present… but we can’t interview them. We can read books and notes they left behind, but even then we find ourselves looking at these items through a modern lens. If we make an error in judgement there is no recourse for those authors to correct us.

            This might lead to a conversation concerning whether anthropology is a science… but for now I’m not sure that debate helps our present cause.

      • Thanks Simon. Definitely no coffee spilling this end, just reflective sipping. Good article in The Atlantic too, many parallels with my own arguments about our strange modernist time/progress narratives and the nature of nationalism. It does seem to me the notion that Russia has been entirely unprovoked is a stretch too far, but likewise with some of the excessively pro-Russian stances taken on hard left & hard right platforms. Even so, the hubris of the western powers stretching back for decades is definitely part of the mess.

        Your point about the Habsburg empire living on in modern Hungarian politics is interesting – so much for the ‘prison of nations’! Hungary seems like a good vantage point to see the tensions of democracy & authoritarianism, nationalism & liberalism, east & west in play. Hopefully not a too uncomfortable one. But I fear these tensions are only going to widen in the years to come

        • Not too uncomfortable, no, but I agree that tensions only look set to widen, which is of concern to all.
          Interesting points re symbols brandished to provoke, Clem. You reminded me of a decade ago when, not to be outdone by his compatriots’ Habsburg bumper stickers, Orbán had his very own Habsburg ‘history map’ woven into a 200-square metre carpet to adorn the atrium of the EU’s Europa Building in Brussels. Apparently, unlike the carpet itself, what it represented didn’t go down too well, triggering accusations of nationalist nostalgia.

  9. Hi Chris. Big fan of your work and the book. Wanted to ask if you’d had any thoughts about small scale farming after the recent farmarama podcast series about the small scale family farm being a colonial concept?
    Best wishes
    Damian

    • Hi Damian, glad you’ve found my writing of interest. I did write a post engaging with that Farmerama series along with some other writings: https://smallfarmfuture.org.uk/?p=1870. I thought Col’s series was excellent, but I find the notion spurious that the small family farm is intrinsically a colonial concept. Farms of many styles and scales can be incorporated into colonial projects, or arise to resist them. As I see it, small family farms have operated both within and against colonial designs; there’s nothing about their size or scale that’s intrinsically colonial.

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