Of climate crimes, community conflicts and carbon cowboys

I should really be getting back to my blog cycle about A Small Farm Future, but I have a motley assortment of agenda items I feel the need to share in this and the next post. I’ll try to round them off as quickly as I can.

1. Climate crimes

First, I can report that at City of London Magistrates’ Court last week I was duly found guilty of climate protesting, or more specifically of failing to comply with a condition imposed under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1988. I was given a conditional discharge on the grounds of my ‘previous good character’ (previous??), which means that technically I’m unable to boast having a criminal record.

But I do have to pay the prosecution’s costs – a rather eye-watering amount, especially when you consider their case didn’t amount to much more than getting me to say “yes, I was there” and “yes, I did do that”. I only wish my occupations as writer and farmer paid as well by the hour. Suffice to say the generous donations I received on the tenth anniversary of this blog have been well and truly neutralized, and I’m beginning to rue the purchase of that bottle of bubbly in January. Well, y’all know where the donate button is…

It would have been a lot cheaper if I’d simply pleaded guilty, but I don’t feel very guilty. Narked would be a better word to describe my mood after the trial, at least if you’re a Brit of my generation. It wasn’t the verdict itself – always a certainty – so much as the manner of it, which showcased the vast indifference of the court and by extension the state to the climate crisis engulfing us. I was already aware of that indifference, of course. It was the reason for my civil disobedience in the first place. But bearing witness to it in a court on unequal terms when the indifference was directed at me personally gave it a sharper emotional edge than I’d expected.

Anyway, I’ll say more about my supposed crimes and misdemeanours in my next post. Walking out of the courthouse right in the middle of London’s financial district, where a disproportionate number of the real climate criminals go about their business with the full support of the state, suddenly felt a bit on the nose in the circumstances. With my dear wife, who’d come to support me in court and thankfully on this occasion managed to resist the temptation to glue herself to its walls, we searched amidst this besuited miasma of peacocking masculinity, this ossified architectural monumentalism of phallocentric inadequacy, this Potemkin palace of overcapitalized excess, for an eatery whose menu didn’t involve prosecution-level costs for the prosciutto starter alone. Eventually we located a little place down the appropriately named ‘Change Alley’, where I proceeded to treat myself to a beefburger, thus contributing mightily to the problem of global heating, no wait, doing my bit to help sequester historic greenhouse gas emissions, gosh, this is confusing (see below).

2. Community conflicts

In the week prior to my trial I spent a couple of days at my desk trying to prepare my case, for all the good it did. The boredom of this led me into various distractions and temptations, such as slipping the brake on my usually restrained Twitter habit. This is something Martin cautioned me never to do in a comment here a while back. He was right. I think there must be some disequilibrium in the universe creating a Newtonian third law of Twitter engagement with a twist: for every action in the Twittersphere there’s a greater and more irate reaction (though to be fair my Twittering did receive some pretty good notices too). In the rest of this post, I’m going to run the rule over some of this to-and-fro, most of which could be regarded as friendly fire conflicts within the broad community of alternative/renewable agriculture. It’s a truism, of course, that people standing on adjacent ground often make the bitterest enemies. I’ll be interested what the regular commenters here at smallfarmfuture.org.uk make of it.

By far the politest and most congruent exchange was with @GIFTCIC on the matter of county farms, these being farms owned publicly by local governments in England and Wales with the idea of helping new entrant farmers get established, and of keeping land out of speculative clutches. Both ideas are close to my heart, and in view of the way that many local authorities have sold off or neglected their agricultural estate, and of the various crises now tormenting us to which small, locally-oriented farms provide some mitigation, @GIFTCIC’s call for a campaign of government compulsory purchase to revive the county farm estate makes a lot of sense.

It’s the kind of thing I’d write to my MP to support, if it wasn’t for the fact that my MP is currently suspended amidst allegations of sexual, drug and financial offences. Wherein lies a reason I struggle to get too excited about lobbying for county farms. With the vomit stains still spaffed up the wall from the partying at No.10, with backbench MPs spending their time looking at tractor porn or worse, and with magistrates neglecting to listen for even a few minutes to arguments about the necessity to protect against climate change, my personal cost-benefit calculus for pressing the organs of the state to take enlightened agrarian action no longer turns up favourable odds. I’d probably go so far as to say that helping to put more land into government hands right now, or possibly ever, is a risky option.

@GIFTCIC wrote: “We don’t have the luxury of time for anarcho syndicalism to the commons”, which may be so. My take is that we don’t have the luxury of time for any proposal on how humanity can extricate itself from its present predicaments, so we might as well focus our personal efforts on our own favoured approaches and try to support those of likeminded people as best we can. I lay my own hat in broadly anarchist-populist or civic republican attempts to build a new bottom-up politics locally in the shell of the old. Building the county farm estate is no hindrance to that, and possibly a help, but in my opinion probably not a key lever.

My exchange with @PSBaker10 was a bit more conflictual. It appears he’s not a fan of my book and its vision of low input, small-scale agricultures, writing  “To be more than a pipe dream you need projections, ball-park figures. How to realize such a future? Who’d be the farmers, how to train them? Investment costs … major irrigation, polytunnels, subsidies, extension service, insurance for climate shocks. Else – magical thinking!”

Let me just reiterate why I don’t think my description of a small farm future is a pipedream or a case of magical thinking. It’s because it or something like it is probably going to happen whether we like it or not. It might happen in more congenial ways or less congenial ones, and the relative congeniality will not be related to how soundly small farmers have planned their polytunnel investments. It will be related to how the biophysical and socioeconomic shocks unravelling present systems play out. This in turn depends considerably on the nature of the political forces at large in societies of the future. So it’s to these latter that I now devote most of my attention. A small farm future is not an ideal I’m championing, although there are aspects I do try to speak up for. Rather, it’s a coming reality that I’m trying to analyze in order to make the best of it.

@PSBaker10 added: “Not suggesting a detailed plan, but you need some sort of theory of change or framework. E.g. adaptive development based on complexity science … Ramalingam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos is a good guide. Otherwise it’s just blah blah blah.”

I don’t doubt there’s much to be gained from more detailed thought about all that would be entailed practically and materially in a move to small farm localism, provided we don’t overestimate our predictive powers. Who’d have thought even last year, for example, that my own ramshackle little English farm would be donating spare seeds and old tools to growers in one of the most fertile and productive agricultural regions on Earth, before war sawed off its normal supply chains? These kind of shocks are propagating, so for my part I think over-specified attempts at farm planning or political course-plotting themselves exemplify ‘blah blah blah’.

But each to their own. I’m just a lone-hand writer-farmer with no great interest or skill in financial forecasting (even though, strangely, my book has on occasion been right up there on Amazon’s bestseller list for this very topic). Maybe others might weigh in and help build a picture of the small farm business future – a more useful pastime than sniping at me on Twitter, I’d submit. Actually, I’ll be touching on this a couple of blog posts down the line, but at a level of generality that I think befits the huge uncertainties involved.

The only thing I want to add to this particular debate is the suggestion that readers take my projections about such things as three or thirty-three acre farms of the future powered by horses or oxen with a pinch of salt. I just can’t help myself from jumping off the main highway and exploring these old-time byways of small farms with oxen or draught horses. This is for a variety of pressing contemporary reasons, but also as a slightly mischievous counterpoint to the endless newspaper articles about the robotized agrarian techno-cornucopias to come that seem to expect their readers to (a) believe them, and (b) welcome them. In truth, I don’t think it’s so important exactly what form or size these future holdings take so long as they’re providing real food and fibre locally with broadly renewable methods and building local community. The real issue is the politics. Which I concede often does sound like just a load of blah blah blah. Until it suddenly explodes in your face.

3. Carbon cowboys

Finally, my journeyings on Twitter brought me into the firing line of various ardent advocates for regenerative ruminant grazing. Ironically, this was in the context of a thread I wrote making the case for livestock in low impact, renewable agricultures – specifically in the grassland-cropland rotation of ley farming. However, in writing that we will nevertheless need to eat less beef in the future I provoked the ire of various regenerative grazing advocates, who took a distinctly contrary view.

I didn’t particularly want to argue, so I softened my position and said that ‘maybe’ renewable agricultures of the future could accommodate more cattle globally than the present 1.7 billion. But nope, that wasn’t good enough for @soil4climate who insisted there was no maybe about it. When I tried to suggest lightheartedly that ‘maybe’ is the right answer to most questions, this is what came back to me:

“We aren’t interested in appeasing people who don’t understand soil or the essential role of ruminants in restoring it. We’re interesting in removing 300 billion tons of legacy carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into pasture and protein. Cows can do that. Not doubters.”

…a tweet that was liked by some thirty people, most of whom seemed to be beef farmers, perhaps in more ways than one. Well, here’s my last attempt to be conciliatory: in my opinion, beef and ruminant farmers unfairly get it in the neck for climate change/methane emissions and if I were one of them (which I sometimes am, on a very micro scale) I would probably be quite annoyed about it too. However, that doesn’t justify the kind of dogmatic self-righteousness from carbon cowboys – to use Simon Fairlie’s somewhat snarky but apposite phrase – on display in the quotation above.

What a curious world we live in where ruminant agriculture is identified by one vociferous minority as a major cause or even the major of climate change (the veganic argument), while another vociferous minority (the carbon cowboys) identifies it as the major way of mitigating climate change. My sympathies lie closer to the latter, but in truth I think ruminant grazing is neither a major cause of climate change nor a major way of preventing it. And while grazing ruminants on permanent grassland will definitely be a key local livelihood practice in some places, generally it will play only a minor role in the global agricultures of the future. I’ll explain the thinking behind this further in another post. Meanwhile, I plan to go a bit easier on Twitter.

55 thoughts on “Of climate crimes, community conflicts and carbon cowboys

  1. Narked indeed!

    The thing that gets to me about the regenerative rumination, er, ruminant folks, is that *over*-grazing is so obviously damaging for ecosystems and soil alike. This even applies with wild ruminants in situations where their predators aren’t allowed to thrive (I still forget which national park has had significant ecosystem regeneration after reintroducing wolves, which eat the deer that were grazing it to destruction). Clearly, for any given parcel of land, there is a carrying capacity for ruminants. But tucked into the regenerative cattle ruminations, there seems to be, at times, a bit of magical thinking about just how many cattle can be supported if you get the right combination of mob-grazing techniques and herb-planted leys and so on. Now, I figure it’s highly probable that you can support more cattle, while improving the soil, with the right techniques than the wrong ones. But at some point there has to be an upper limit on what the land can support. And, of course, if your sheep farm or cattle ranch or whatever has an impact on the number of predators in the surrounding area, then the land (and soil) effects may well be spread wider than just your property; so if you’re going to protect your sheep from wolves, you’d better also be prepared to shoot some deer now and again if you don’t want the neighbouring forest to suffer. At that point you might well ask, why bother with the sheep in the first place? But that’s a digression for another time…

    It seems to me that at the end of the day if you remove food from land in the form of ruminant bodies or ruminant products, you’re also still removing nutrients. How much calcium is in a cow? Quite a bit in the bones; milk has plenty too. Nitrogen, at least, can be fixed from the air in the right conditions. Dairy produce is reasonably high in potassium, which has to come from somewhere. I have no idea about the phosphorus content of such food, but I trust that cows, like humans, need at least some to survive and thrive, and that isn’t coming from the air either, and at least some of it will remain in the body of the animal when it is slaughtered in addition to what is normally excreted over the course of the animal’s life. So local consumption — and local processing and recycling of all waste products — is super important again. And sure, you can plant taprooted plants like comfrey to “mine” minerals from deep in the soil, and having the right soil microbes makes minerals that are already in the soil more accessible to plants, and one volcanic rock dust treatment will last quite some time if you aren’t losing your topsoil to runoff and wind, and so on and so forth; but simple conservation of mass suggests that our options are local recycling or bust.

    I wonder, though, whether there is some rough arithmetic around the age of the animals consumed that can be calculated here. A cow that is alive for three years is going to eat a lot more (and turn a lot more energy into heat) than a cow that is alive for a year. At the other end of things, a cow that is alive for three years is going to poo a lot more, recycling a lot more nutrients into a soil-available format before being removed. On that basis, should we be eating more hogget and mutton, and less lamb? Or, at least, those of us currently without the facilities to recycle all our wastes? And what does that mean for the total amount of meat we eat, when the carrying capacity of the pasture is considered?

    At the allotment we recently had the portaloo contract changed, as the old provisions were not being serviced frequently enough and the result was unhygienic and unpleasant. I did suggest to the committee that we might investigate one of the fancier types of composting toilet, which has an enclosed chamber and uses a solar chimney to evaporate the liquid part of the wastes, and so might be suitable for our (high water table) site. Like my other suggestions to the committee, I have no idea whether the idea even made it as far as a meeting. No shade on the committee for that, better communication would be nice but they will have a much more accurate idea than I do of whether the site membership as a whole is Ready For That Sort Of Thing, and also of Whose Problem it will be when Something Goes Badly Wrong. Meanwhile, I will continue to only use the portaloo for solid wastes, and am so far resisting entreaties to consider joining the committee sometime. I don’t think I would make life easy for the current committee, and really I’d rather be growing vegetables.

    I think Twitter is a good space for sharing and finding interesting ideas and cat pictures, and a bad place for in-depth, critical conversations on important topics. But someone Tweeted this Helen Keller article on economics the other day, and it reminded me of some of our conversations here about household economics and increasing production, and also local community coordination of resources.


  2. Yes there are a lot of claims where ruminants are concerned here in the US there were millions of ruminants , buffalo ,deer , elk , read the history and the were all the way to the east coast , in the great plains numbers claimed as high as fifty million , so in my mind ruminants have been contributing to methane since the last ice age , the great plains of Africa have their own contributors , so we shoot them all ? Elephants / rhino included .
    Replacing meat with bugs will be just as bad as ruminants , millions of little eaters that need their food trucked in ( wherever that is ) fart or burp and whatever they eat has to be grown somewhere , cut packed and delivered , a whole new food chain needing ( cheap ) energy to make it work !
    It’s a circular argument that goes nowhere !

  3. Glad to hear that you’re not in jail and still turning out great turns of phrase.

    As someone who has never joined either Twitter or Facebook, I am ignorant of the dangers of an unrestrained Twitter habit or Facebook compulsion. I waste enough time in the comment sections of too many blogs. I even recently commented on an Ezra Klein post in the NY Times, but why anyone bothers to join with (as of today) 1,137 other commentors whose comments will have odds of being read at 1,136:1, I’ll never know. I’ll probably never do it again, but Klein’s post had the words “aren’t doomed” in it, so the temptation was too great.

    As to the substance of your post, my sympathies are with @PSBaker10 regarding the need for some form of plan and policy prescription if any sort of political movement is to result. I know that the best way to teach people how to build boats is to get them to love being out on the water, but I think everyone already loves to concept of an idyllic and bucolic little farm. The motivation is already there, so how about some practicalities?

    We need to come up with plans, or at least one or two simple catchphrases, that get small farms on the political radar screen and help tug the ship of state in the right direction. But as much as I scratch my head or tug at my chin I can’t think of anything. In the current context, pushing the creation of small farms is like asking for the immediate colonization of Mars, except that colonizing Mars would probably get far more political traction than creating small farms, especially on Twitter. My guess is that we have to wait for widespread hunger to create a much-needed sense of urgency, but by then it will be too late.

    • Do we need to get it on the political radar screen and tug the ship of state in the right direction, or is that a lost cause?

      Maybe it’s easier to convince people who already have huge farms to plant some gardens on them, just for their own household’s consumption, and people who don’t have farms at all to do the same with whatever land they can get hold of. I spent some time in Ontario recently and was surprised at how few of the farmhouses I saw had fruit trees outside. My mother lives in a house with a tiny front and back garden where she is literally not allowed to grow vegetables. Tomatoes in pots on the patio are okay, but nothing in the ground. (She is toying with the idea of setting up a local community garden. I am giving her every encouragement I can, in the form of pictures of my strawberry harvest…)

      • Re. practicalities Joe, Kathryn and others – a ray of hope from Wales on the radio this morning, with some positive figures from the funding of small-scale growers (farms under 5 hectares). Verity Sharp takes up the story on the first four minutes of this broadcast.

  4. Also, you write “Maybe others might weigh in and help build a picture of the small farm business future”

    It seemed to me very clear from reading your book both that the politics will have a lot to do with how things turn out in the face of our environmental reality, and that local responses to these political and environmental realities will vary.

    Positive systemic change doesn’t usually stem from one person or one government department or whatever having a huge overarching plan that extends right down to the type of irrigation to use (or whatever) and imposing it. In fact, often the attempts to do that don’t turn out so well. Instead, change happens when we know what the goals are, and ask how we get there from here.

    I don’t even know the answer to that for my own household, never mind the city or country I live in. But I can identify relatively low-risk actions that I can take to increase our chances of a) surviving and b) being able to help others. I can run time-limited experiments (but call them projects) and see what works well, and then iterate. If 98% of my projects fail, that’s still useful information: I don’t need to waste my energy doing *that* again. This logic is what made me take on a half allotment plot at a site in a different part of London recently; if it works, then I can potentially iterate elsewhere. If it doesn’t, then I give up that plot after a year and some work, and someone else inherits a plot half-full of perennials.

    Time is tight, so I think we need to be running several of these experiments in parallel to maximise good outcomes. But we *already know* that financialised industrial monoculture cropping with fossil fuels on mega-farms is a failed experiment, and we are already doing well if we rely on anything except that for any part of our food, fibre and fuel needs.

    I think people who want you to draw up a business plan before they’ll consider your arguments would struggle to come up with a business plan for financialised industrial monoculture cropping with fossil fuels on mega-farms that doesn’t lead to ruin. Additionally, I think a lot of people think they can “fix” farming by solving one aspect of that. Perhaps they say “well, the subsidy system is all messed up, let’s fix it so farmers don’t have to get a mortgage to have a tractor in order to survive” and they still end up with industrial monoculture cropping with fossil fuels on mega-farms. Or they think the fossil fuels are the bad bit, so they figure solar panels and robots are the answer, and forget about the financialisation, the monoculture, and the mega-farms (and their implications for locality). Or they agree that they want small farms, but they think you should sow three acres (or whatever) of wheat (financialised, industrial, mono-cropped, with fossil fuels) and your neighbour should sow three acres of broccoli and then you should sell those and buy stuff, when you could each still make some money off of an acre of wheat or broccoli and use two acres of mixed horticulture/pasture/woodland to meet 80% of your own needs. It’s really difficult for people to think at the same time about all the different changes needed to the current model of what “farming” is under financialised crapitalism — and that’s before we get to things like whether polytunnel plastic is permissible, or the fossil fuels required to build solar panels, or whether the fact that I have a half allotment plot almost entirely in potatoes at the moment is a mono-crop or not. (At least some of the varieties are allegedly blight resistant.)

    Sometimes it’s easier to re-imagine something from the ground up than to take a current paradigm as a starting point. That, in turn, is encouraging to me in doing what I can with what I have where I am, and to cherish the very small scale of what I am able to do. If I decide “no petrol-powered tools and no learning to drive a car” then it’s relatively easy to do that, because I’m not trying to convert three (or thirty-three) acres that have been laid out on the assumption that someone is going to drive around with a truck; and the “business case” for my foraging and horticulture is, and always has been, that it’s a much more varied diet than I could buy in the shops, and means that in the case of severe food shocks we won’t go (as) hungry.

    Perhaps that very small scale could be instructive for the “show me the business case!” people, though. Maybe for someone with three hundred acres the trick isn’t to convert the whole lot at once, but to set aside an acre for wildlife-supporting plants and a quarter acre for permaculture food forest-y stuff and a tenth of an acre (or whatever) for annual horticulture to feed their household with, and see what happens. That means having farming as a livelihood and also farming as a hobby, which perhaps isn’t so attractive to some, and might be impossible for someone in a very precarious financial position who is, say, doing off-farm labour to make ends meet, but of course that could be scaled down too. Maybe for some current farmers the starting point is three fruit trees and a potato patch.

    • I can tell you the farmers around here the wife usually grows a garden , they will not eat the GM stuff they grow themselves .

  5. most of whom seemed to be beef farmers, perhaps in more ways than one.
    That made me laugh out loud …

  6. Thanks Chris for news from the real world.

    I must say that your countrymen (my ancestors) certainly have perfected the art of plausibly deniable legal abuse of anyone who doesn’t hold the proper beliefs.
    Which is not to say that British innovations of that kind have not been adopted worldwide.

    I have also been reading Craig Murray’s accounts of various legal proceedings, and I’m coming to recognize a feeling in response, a delicate blending of abject depression and blind rage.

    Best to move on to other topics at that point, no doubt.
    Though I’d draw the line of potential sources well outside Twitter.

    For the majority of my professional life, I have had jobs hovering around things called ‘engineering’. There is much jargon associated, and one phrase that was popular for a while was ‘Concept to completion’.

    I don’t recall hearing that phrase much lately, but what I have seen is that many people act as if ‘concept’ is the same as ‘completion’.

    In my spare-time pursuit of impractical and silly bicycle building, I can’t count how many times I’ve had somebody tell me an idea for a bike that is even too stupid for me, and then stand back with a satisfied look as if they have just achieved something.

    My usual response is “Cool, you should do that.” They never do.

    There appears to be a vast inability to distinguish between the imaginary and the material world.

    Twitter is perfectly suited for that kind of nonsense. Thus its popularity, perhaps.

    And people seem to much prefer the imaginary because they don’t need to go outside and get dirty & sweaty and pick up heavy stuff.
    So it seems pretty obvious that if you insist on making a business plan and doing statistical analysis before you ever plant a garden, you don’t really want to plant a garden.

    How does that phrase go? No farm plan survives its first contact with the soil? Maybe that wasn’t about farming…

    On that note, I have been searching for methods for making clay seed pellets. One seed per pellet. In small quantities of about 1kg of cow peas, and as much as 5kg of wheat seed. I have found almost nothing on the internet, etc, and I’m reduced to abject experimentation. Anybody have any ideas?


    • Thanks Joe.
      Yes, I have copy of Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ and it even has a photo of them making seed pellets.

      I’ve tried the dry powder method with no success.

      I think you are correct about not being able to control the number of seeds per pellet with the kneaded clay method, and I hope that it isn’t essential.

  7. Chris wrote, “I don’t think my description of a small farm future is a pipedream or a case of magical thinking…. something like it is probably going to happen whether we like it or not. It might happen in more congenial ways or less congenial ones…”

    Similar reasoning can be applied more generally to “sustainability”, which is going to happen, one way or another (since anything short of sustainable cannot be sustained).

    “The bad news is that Genuine, Meaningful Sustainability is going to be far more difficult to achieve than is commonly understood.  The good news is that we WILL achieve it because sustainability is NOT optional.  We have no choice in the matter.  Whatever we don’t do voluntarily, we WILL do involuntarily.  Regretfully, I expect that 90 percent of humankind’s inevitable transition to sustainability will be involuntary as we get slapped around by reality.” (Robert Bolman)


    • Indeed, I expect that we will all come to a sustainable small farm future at some point in the coming century. I see no other configuration that could work.

      The challenge is to make it convivial.

      In that I am very inspired by the discussions here and the Graeber-Wengrow book and RetroSuburbia by Holmgren and Lean Logic by Fleming, to inspire my imagination of all possible configurations. And how to build a value-base and a mythology that could be shared on a village scale that would drive a society of my own liking.
      Or… failing that, how to find a village that is in line with how I want to live.

      I expect that there will be a huge diversity of villages/towns with different configurations, value systems, influential people etc. Not all in a flavor of my liking. And that is fine. That is also diversity.

      How do you navigate towards conviviality?


  8. 1) There is more than a little daylight between what is right and what is legal. Thanks for taking a stand for common sense. I’m sure that to most of us you are truely a criminal (in the legal sense).

    The state is always about business as usual. It is money that matters. Period. Full stop.

    2) Twitter is not your community. Try to get one of them to help you fix a flat tire or plant 5000 pepper plants.

    3) Yes aaand lab grown ‘meat’ is good for the environment. Is most of the commodity beef there pasture raised or corn fed in a feedlot. Feedlot beef is not an answer to anything. Lab meat even less so. Cows are not magic. More carbon would be removed and more protein would be produced if they plowed under the grass every 3 years and planted beans (640 pounds vs.300 pounds (2 yr old cow)).

    @Kathryn Farming as a hobby ? That sounds like fun. I’d love to figure out growing pole beans on sorghum. As a livelihood, it is a lot of work. You are right about conventional farms not having a garden of any sort. They simply are not producing food.

    How big is an allotment ?

    @ Eric Why clay seed pellets ?

    • Allotment sizes vary, and are conventionally measured in ‘poles’ or ‘rods’. I think there are 160 rods to an acre. The old standard size of an allotment was 10 square rods, or about 1/16th of an acre. But my allotment plots are 8 rods, 4 rods, and 3.5 rods (with the 3.5 rod plot being on another site entirely, in another part of the city); if I round up a bit I have a total of a tenth of an acre. This seems like plenty to manage without much in the way of power tools (we do use an electric strimmer from time to time), especially as all the plots were somewhat derelict when I took them on.

      In that space I have eleven fruit trees (some inherited, some I’ve planted myself), two nut trees, various herbs, other herbaceous perennials (lasparagus, rhubarb), some patches of Jerusalem artichokes, wineberries, tayberries, loganberries, a grape vine, strawberries, ten pallet-sized compost bays (used for growing things in summer once the compost is ‘done’), a 12×6 glass greenhouse, some blueberries, cranberries, comfrey patches, a scented pelargonium, a 4×8 shed, a 4×6 shed, a mushroom patch (currently shared with popcorn), and plenty of space for annuals. The four-rod plot was new to me in January, and the 3.5-rod plot new to me in May, so I also have copious quantities of bindweed, couchgrass (or whatever the local stolon-forming grass is around here), and creeping cinquefoil. I tell myself that the latter is a) better than having bare soil and b) a sign that I need more groundcover plants.

    • A friend is letting me use about 1/8 acre of his fine silty bottom ground, and I have a nice stand of hard red winter wheat growing there now.
      My plan is to go full Fukuoka and do a rotation of cow-peas between plantings of winter wheat. Harvest & plant at the beginning of July and middle/end of October, broadcasting the new crop into the residue of the prior crop and not doing any tillage. We’ll see how it works…

      My experience with wheat is that it won’t germinate properly without good soil contact, so the pellets should help with that. I have cow-peas in my yard that volunteer without any help, but I’m confident that a pellet would give better germination.
      Also, as with Chris’ pheasants, when I did the first planting last fall, the neighbor’s chickens were following me around digging up the (un-pelletized) wheat even though I’d chopped it into the weed cover using a hoe.
      I don’t know if chickens care about clay pellets, but the loose crop residue might confuse them.

      Thanks for the ideas.

      • Don’t laugh too hard, but I started my winter wheat in modules in the greenhouse because direct sowing was just feeding the mice! It seems to be fine, lots of tillers. I’ll use slightly closer spacing to plant it out next time but this was entirely experimental and so far it looks like I’m going to get at least some harvest, weather permitting.

  9. It’s a pity you can’t do community service over paying that eye-watering fine – planting trees for a few hours on some carbon cowboy’s land, perhaps? C’mon, Your Honour, where’s the joined-up thinking?
    Apart from the obviously sorry state of things in general, you still left me entertained by this latest chapter of Chris Smaje My Life – The Courtroom Years: Section 14 – Gone to Seethe.

  10. Chris, I feel your pain. I’ve walked out of the same courts, with the same feeling, having laid my soul bare to the curious waiting room called justice (with same outcome). As a first time commenter, I’d like to thank the erudite and collegiate crowd that gathers here, I’ll try my best to emulate the vibe.
    I see my partner get consumed in Twitter disputes and I am ambivalent about its role as ‘the town square’. Which relates to the robots and the ‘I want to see your business plan’ crew. The town square is the town square. And it’s that space that a SSF wins back. Physical reality is what puts robot farming and planned routes to utopia into question. I kind of see it like a culture war for future thinkers. Like you say, this isn’t a political ideology being argued for but an inevitability that we can choose to meet in the most joyful way possible.
    I am reminded of Vandana Shiva’s observation of the identity of Indians being based in their crafts before colonisation, religion being fluid and tertiary, and the religious identity being deliberately fostered by the British Empire to ‘divide and conquer.
    There seems to me a correlation between those with the least hands on experience of crafts and machines have the most support for robots and detailed planned forecasts. Indeed, when the Town Square emerges, in all its real and messy splendour, we will clearly see the hilarity of the professional classes, the old gate keepers of academic, legal and economic fictions spouting their delusional ideas to whichever passerby will listen to them. And perhaps this is the fear of these increasingly obsolete structures, that they really will be left with nothing.
    As part of me, if I’m honest, would enjoy the gentle humbling of this world view, we have to look for its healing. I understand The Enclosures as a generational trauma. One that underlies the series of separations both physical and psychological that frame our world view today. They underpin the absurdities of our present justice system and the idea that robot (slaves), can sort out all our needs and problems.
    My partner and I work to bring people into the joy of making, materials and all that entails. Through textiles, from growing, fibres, spinning, to the weaving, knitting and sewing together for clothes. I don’t think this is a romantic enjoyment, I mean who wouldn’t love to click their teeth at a happy horse to trundle down the road? Surely it’s about a pretty upfront way of just living in the world? I mean aren’t we just waking up to the hangover of the fossil fuel party, feeling pretty sick, thinking ‘best get back to work then!’?

    • Some of us are indeed waking up and trying to get back to work.

      Others are trying that age-old remedy, the hair of the dog.

  11. Thanks for the comments, support and indeed the donations to my defence fund.

    I’ll say more shortly about the issues around climate protesting, and about ruminants and climate. So I think I’ll hold off on further comments about that right now. But thanks for the various informative observations – I’ll try to pick up on those themes in due course.

    On the issue of planning for a small farm future, I think Eric’s “cool, you should do that” is the best response to my critic, Mr Baker. I’m all in favour of planning, and I do a bit of it on my farm and in other organisations I’m involved with. What’s problematic to me is the ‘pipe dream’ and ‘blah blah blah’ stuff, which I think fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the problems we face, as outlined interestingly by Kathryn and Steve in different ways. Joe, I think you have a strong grasp of those problems too, so I wondered a bit about your endorsement of Mr Baker’s framing, but where you ended up in your comment resonates with me – there’s no small farm catch phrase that’s going to outcompete ‘progress, prosperity and the nation!’ until the emptiness of those ideas really shines through. I think that’s beginning to happen. But probably too late, I agree.

    In some ways, I’d argue the very idea of a blueprint for a small farm future or some grand theory of change are a part of the modernist framing which is precisely the problem – somewhat along the lines of Eric’s comment. The problem is not so much the lack of grand plans and theories, but the lack of the small possibilities for people to get serious about local food and fibre production – though I think many of us here are exploring some useful paths in that respect.

    I often feel like I should have planned things in my farming and gardening better. But indeed as Eric says, I think if I’d planned them better they may not have happened at all. My big tussle at the moment is how to plan to get away from the writing desk to start new farm projects, while also wondering if the writing desk might actually be the right place for me to be.

    Regarding Eric’s pellets, like Greg I’m interested in the reasons. We broadcast quite a bit of spring wheat this year (quite a bit for garden scale, that is). The pheasants enjoyed it. We did manage to shoot a few of the pheasants, so we recouped our losses a bit, albeit at some cost in trophic levels – another beef to have with the beef farmers. We might try using our push-along seed drill next time. Interested in any experiences with that. Or indeed with pellets…

    Thanks for your comment Joel. Always nice to hear new voices here. Indeed, it’s hard not to entertain thoughts of a raggle-taggle group of mendicant ecomodernists travelling the country in the future, loudly preaching that nobody wants to farm any more while everyone else is just getting on and actually farming. But it’s good to model a positive vision as you are – all power to your ways of getting back to work.

    Finally, thanks Simon for that excellent chapter suggestion. I’ll bear it in mind. I’ll be doing a bit more seething in my next post here, but – to take another leaf out of Simon Fairlie’s book – I first need to scythe before I can seethe.

  12. On “…no small farm catch phrase.” I’ve been teaching a seminar on localization for 15 years with a colleague. Content of the initial class sessions evolved through several stages. Early years we had to argue hard for our stated premise of energy descent, later contended with questions about the ecomodernist counter-arguments, and more recently the privileging of DEI concepts before anything else can be considered (where your discussions of authenticity have greatly helped Chris).

    It was fascinating that an eco-anxiety slowly emerged over the first decade (and not just in our seminar but across our entire school of environment) and then unexpectedly, it completely went away, at least in our seminar.

    We were baffled about that, but finally realized we could ask the students why that happened. A few things came up (e.g., our inclusion of psychological well being in the readings, affirmative stories of small-scale localization efforts) but universally they credited a phrase we use and a technique that directs the focus of conversations on small steps, that can be taken now, but are about the future.

    The phrase we use is sometimes credited to perma-culture folks but I’ve also heard that it was used by a football coach: “Blame no one. Expect no help. Do something.” The emphasis is, of course, on that last part. And that’s what the students say their education has come to ignore.

    Now we’re a professional school so we do emphasize procedural knowledge. But even my school has moved more and more toward academic publications, conceptual frameworks (how I’ve come to hate that term), international/global thinking, etc. and away from grounded, practical, and smaller-scale efforts.

    The other thing we do is use “barn raising” to structure conversations. Kahn has discussed four basic types of seminars (Kahn, 1971):

    A. FREE-FOR-ALL: There is a prize out there in the middle of the floor. It may be the instructor’s approval or it may be one’s own self-esteem, but it’s there and the goal is to win it, and anything goes. You win by looking not just smart, but by looking smarter. And that means it’s just as important to make others look dumb as to make you look smart. The main tool is criticism of the readings and other member’s ideas. The academic critique mode fits well in this model.

    B. BEAUTY CONTEST: In this model I parade my idea to you seeking your admiration. Then it’s off the runway I go to get ready for my next appearance while you’re parading your idea. Of course, I’m not paying any attention to your ideas, nor you to mine.

    C. DISTINGUISHED HOUSE TOUR: In this model someone advances an idea. The rest of the seminar spends time exploring it, asking questions, uncovering inconsistencies, etc. When they have got a good grasp on it one of the other members offers another idea. It may be a whole different point of view on the same subject. The seminar members then explore that new idea. This is a high form of discourse and can produce good outcomes. However, while outright criticism is not used, neither are ideas compared, or built upon.

    D. BARN RAISING: In frontier North America when a family urgently needed a barn and had limited resources, their community gathered to help build the structure. The family described the idea, the kind of barn they needed, picked the site, etc. But it was the community that pitched in and actually built it.

    One student’s feedback really captured the process: “[The seminar] prompted intellectual curiosity by building a classroom environment that was founded on building UP each other’s thoughts, instead of on critiquing them and breaking them down. [The] course taught me the value in thinking ahead to how we’ll respond as a community to our changing world, and that in higher education, we need to think more about doing through action, and by starting small.”

    I know this is a long comment, and it may seem to be about congratulating myself for running a great seminar. But what I really mean to convey is how rare it is to find a place like this blog where “barn raising” is the social norm.

    And maybe to wonder if “Do something + Barn raising = Realistic optimism about the future.”

  13. I think this is a pretty generous framing of what we are up against.
    I would say the rich don’t care, but it is possible they are capable of imagining a problem with the status quo.

    On planning: Did you ever try to plan for herbicide drift that wipes out your organic market for 1 to 3 years, depending what gets drifted on. Did you ever try to plan for a pandemic when all the restaurants are shut down for 2 years ? Did you ever try to plan for a hot (90+° every day for weeks), dry (no rain for months) summer ?

    These have all happened to me in the past 3 years. I will have to admit that I do need help with my business plan. Perhaps Mr Baker could offer some practical suggestions. Mr Baker sounds like a dumbass who has never put a seed in the ground. ‘Cool, you should do that’ is perfect.

    I let the neighbors know that if their animals eat our crops, We will eat their animals. It works better than a good fence.

    • “Did you ever try to plan for herbicide drift that wipes out your organic market for 1 to 3 years, depending what gets drifted on. Did you ever try to plan for a pandemic when all the restaurants are shut down for 2 years ? Did you ever try to plan for a hot (90+° every day for weeks), dry (no rain for months) summer ?”

      No to herbicide drift, but I now plan for aminopyralid poisoning in my manure sources. (I test with legumes initially, and have a sort of decontamination process, which also involves testing with legumes at intervals.)

      I wasn’t planning for a pandemic, but I was preparing for Brexit-and-other-calamities, with the result that earlier in the pandemic when it seemed like everyone else was upset about shortages of loo roll, I was absolutely fine not buying groceries at all for several weeks. I’m not selling to the restaurant trade though. I took on the first allotment in December 2019, which was jolly good timing.

      I definitely plan for the possibility of drought, each and every summer. That’s a lot easier to do on my tiny scale than on an actual farm, it’s a combination of having significant amounts of water storage available, planting diverse crops, and appropriate mulching. Last year I did lose some crops to flooding; building up the soil to somewhere further away from the water table is a longer-term project, but I’m working on it.

      I also have some longer-term plans for mitigation of various plant diseases. The allotment gets late blight on the nightshades pretty much every year. My own plot has allium white rot. So I’m exploring blight-resistant tomato varieties to find some that taste good, which I’ll then dehybridise; and I’m going to try the “garlic juice drench” method of fooling allium white rot into activity when there are no actual alliums in the ground, and see if that helps.

      I can do all of this stuff because I’m *not* in a position where I have to keep my costs (including labour costs) below what the market (which is very distorted) will pay me. That is a huge privilege. None of my plans are business plans in any sense at all.

      Every year I tell myself I’ll label all of my annuals absolutely religiously, and every year I tell myself I’ll measure yield properly and work out what I’m actually adding to the household budget, and… well, let’s just say it probably isn’t going to happen this year. I have my tomatoes properly labelled though, and yield on some things is easier to measure than others.

      • Did you ever try to plan for a hot (90+° every day for weeks), dry (no rain for months) summer ?”
        Sounds like your typical TX summer ( It does not rain but the humility is a killer ) yes this week’s highs have all been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit lows around 70 degrees .
        Yes some crops will grow if irrigated but non of the northern crops you grow , maize, black eyed peas , melons do reasonably well , but it’s a short season for things like potatoes , planted the last week of February and harvested this week , I average five pounds per root .

        • Right. Now drive 900 miles north on I 35. The average high temperature in July (when it is the hottest ) is 83F. Nobody plants a garden before the middle of May.

          I have heard that you are getting a lot of heat. We are getting cool air from Canada. Highs are in the low 70s. Lows could be in the upper 40s tonight.

          Five pounds of potatoes per plant is darn good yield.

      • I think that testing your inputs is a great technique. I found out the hard way about weed free hay for horses. Now I buy semi loads of compost that is tested for contamination. Our organic certifier approves it as in input. The drift was from a contractor in the neighbor’s fields spraying when it was much too windy.

        The last person who I knew who used rods as a unit of measure was my Dad. It was from his days as a kid, farming with horses. At tenth of an acre will keep you pretty busy.

        Disease resistant hybrid tomatoes taste like cardboard. Can you get Peron Sprayless tomato seed ? They are a disease resistant OP. Save seed from the best (surviving ?) plants. Repeat. Hybrids are hard to untangle.

        Have you read Return to Resistance but Raoul Robinson ? It is out of print but you can read it for free.

        • I’ve only seen rods used to measure allotment plots!

          Hybrid tomatoes aren’t *that* hard to untangle: tomato plants generally make plenty of seed, and don’t cross all that easily. (Though some of my blight resistant varieties are “potato-leaf” types which do cross more readilly, so that will be interesting.) And some of the commercial varieties that are allegedly hybrids are… pretty stable, actually. I definitely know people who plant every year from tomato seed they buy in their tomatoes, and get excellent results.

          This year I’m testing 14 different BR varieties outdoors. I don’t have Peron Sprayless, but I do have Skykomish, which is an OP variety; importing seed from the US is not straightforward for me here. There’s a variety recommended by Carol Deppe (I can’t now remember the name, and don’t have her book to hand) that I would love to get hold of, but couldn’t. But I’m only going to save seed from the best 2 or 3 varieties, in terms of flavour and yield; and then next year nearly all my outdoor tomatoes will be seed from one of those.

          It’s a long process, but I have time. What I actually want is a BR outdoor paste tomato.

          I haven’t read Return to Resistance, I’ll have a look though, thanks.

          • I think that seed saving is a big part of the Small Farm Present, let alone the SFF. Hybrid seeds ( I do use them too) are not produced around here and may not cope well with low fertility and erratic climatic conditions.

            Early or late blight ? Carol Deppe mentions Stuppice and Amish Paste in “The Resilient Gardener”. She has a list of resistant varieties in ‘The Tao of Vegetable Growing’. Stupice, Prudens Purple, Black Krim and Brandywine are all on that list.

            We have so many tomato plants that it is easy to have a population large enough to see the real standouts for any characteristic. Early blight is a given. We only see late blight every 10-15 years. Some Brandywine and Peron Sprayless survived the last round.

          • Late blight, usually. Last year people said it was early blight, but it was late blight that came earlier in the season than usual. And it got my Amish Paste last summer even though they were in the greenhouse! It was a pretty bad blight year, we did well to get a crop at all.

            Blight-resistant or possibly blight-resistant varieties I’m growing this year:

            Skykomish (OP)
            Indigo Rose (OP)
            Crimson Crush F1
            Cocktail Crush (F1 I assume but packaging doesn’t say so)
            Pink Honeymoon F1
            Honeymoon F1 (not sure if these are the same, they’re from different suppliers)
            Oh Happy Day F1
            Mountain Magic F1
            Clou F1
            Primavera F1
            Primabella F1
            Russian Long Pink Icicle (OP – did get some blight last year, but did remarkably better than other plants)
            Shimmer (not sold as BR, but did well year before last, no idea if OP or hybrid)

            I have a few more to try as well, but 38 tomato plants is enough to be getting on with if I’m honest. (I sowed 4 seeds of each, some failed and I gave some away.) I’ll be very busy in the kitchen if even half of them give a decent yield.

            I tried Black Krim one year and while the fruit was tasty, it was almost entirely devoured by slugs and snails!

  14. The arrogance of some of the holistic grazing people is almost at par with the arrogance of many of the vegans. It is a pity as their overblown claims undermine the the whole proposition of better use of grazing and the fact that even today an estimed 55% of ruminant feed actually comes from grasslands.

    Even with (heroic) assumptions of double productivity with improved grazing methods, such as AMP or holistic grazing, we are very far from “feeding the world”. However, such improvements would make it possible to produce beef and milk on current consumption levels from grasslands only. While I am a fan of regenerative grazing, I believe there are far too many open questions for us to assume that a doubling of productivity is possible, but I also don’t think there is a basis for ruling it out. I expand more on this here, https://gardenearth.blogspot.com/2021/05/we-cant-all-live-on-grass-fed-beef-but.html

  15. Thanks for the further comments. Just briefly – great post, Gunnar, thanks for linking. I’ll re-read it to absorb the details and come back to this issue when I can. But I think you basically nail it in that post.

    Also, thanks for your fascinating comment, Raymond. I feel it’s taken me a long time to learn to be a barn raiser, but I appreciate your comment, just as I appreciate the other barn raisers who congregate here. I wish I’d been aware of Kahn’s framework in my days as a junior university teacher, it might have saved me some strife. Very interesting to read about the trajectory of eco-anxiety among your students – I’d like to hear more about that and its implications!

    I love the “Blame no one. Expect no help. Do something” phrase. Kinda find it hard not to blame certain people, or at least structures, sometimes. But I still think it’s right – similar to the XR 8th principle of avoiding blaming and shaming – “we live in a toxic system but no one individual is to blame” https://extinctionrebellion.uk/the-truth/about-us/

    And the ‘expect no help’ is important I think. We do, of course, need to help each other, but we’d get a lot further towards effective actions and politics if we embraced the idea that large and remote political structures are not on the side of most ordinary folks.

    Thanks also for the continuing inspiration from the gardening and farming efforts of many of the folks commenting here…

  16. Going back to your visit to ” the city ” and the bankers there money etc,
    I live in the TX oil patch , We have round here quite a few oil production companies working world wide , the people I speak too tell me that raising money in the UK or here is such a pain with all the strings attached that they don’t bother anymore , if they want financing for oil infrastructure overseas they go to China , Singapore , India or Russia , the USA has slammed the brakes on both financially and drilling ,Texas is closing its second largest refinery this year with no replacement leaving a three hundred million gallon a day loss of diesel alone , plus jet fuel and gasoline production ( don’t expect LNG from the US, flat out the USA can supply 6% of Europe’s needs , forget liquid fuels ) where energy is concerned western financial hegemony is over , BP ,Exxon shell et all are really only bit players compared to rosneft or Saudi aramco , oil producing countries need western oil production expertise the don’t need western money .

  17. The view from Down Under…
    (1) The SMM. Twitter (and the rest of the SMM – Sado-Masochistic Media) sound like the first 3 types of ‘learning’ conversations outlined by Raymond de Young/Michael Kahn. (Thanks for that, Raymond – I will be sharing it with the ‘alternative’ educators at PeDaGoG – Post-Development Academic-Activist Global Group.)
    (2) Ruminant ecosystems. I live in a country (Aotearoa NZ) which had no ruminant animals (no land mammals at all) prior to colonisation. The forests were destroyed for sheep which then (with a bit of help from introduced rabbits) destroyed the hills and rivers (erosion – still happening – plantation forests are the new destroyers). When the market for wool tanked and NZ joined the WTO sheep numbers declined dramatically and dairy cattle numbers tripled from 2 million to 6 million in two decades. The environmental impact has been as bad as sheep, but different – horrendous water pollution and extraction from aquifers, methane and carbon emissions – agriculture produces 49% of NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s not counting the coal burned to dry milk into powder for export. 95% of NZ’s dairy production is exported; c. 80% of its ruminant meats. The first frozen meat shipment went out a hundred years ago this year – in a sailing ship burning coal to keep the freezers operating.
    In parts of the world where ruminants are native and there are extensive natural grasslands then it might be possible to do sustainable or even regenerative ruminant farming, but this will never be the case in NZ when most of the production is for export and there is no commitment to farming within ecosystem limits (let alone ecosystem restoration).

  18. TFTFC

    Interesting observations from NZ, Christine – thank you. I hadn’t thought much about its ruminant/mammal free history. I guess the historic natural grasslands there must make for something of a natural experiment compared with ruminant-grazed grasslands elsewhere. Has anyone written about this? Hard to disagree with your wider conclusions – another cautionary tale about extractive export agriculture. I hope to write more about this in the future.

    Goran, any further thoughts you (or anyone else) would like to offer on ‘Retrosuburbia’? I should probably read it. And yet I feel that, in contrast to the situation with non-human species, ex situ conservation may be the better bet for us humans than in situ.

    I also like your question, ‘how do you navigate towards conviviality?’ Answers in one sentence below, please.

    Thanks for the link Diogenes. Important points therein about risk-spreading and community building. And yes, global/local politics and their interactions around fossil fuels are getting increasingly interesting.

    • Kia ora Chris,
      most of NZ’s natural grasslands are tussock grasses (see
      https://teara.govt.nz/en/grasslands/page-1) and not good for mammal grazing. In Australia there are many more species of grass and other ‘grazing’ plants, and a lot of evidence that the grasslands were kept open by judicious use of fire to promote suitable growth to feed humans and animals. (See ‘Fire Country’ by Victor Steffensen and ‘Dark Emu’ by Bruce Pascoe.) When the British colonists arrived they saw what they thought were ‘naturally’ abundant and fertile parklands – which after a few decades of being stocked with ruminants, and not being managed properly by the traditional owners, were totally wrecked. Charles Massy covers this in ‘Call of the Reed Warbler’. His book is a plea for regenerative farming, and in some places in Oz ruminant farming is certainly better managed than it has been previously – but again, most of what is produced is exported. Massy does give examples of people producing quality foods for local consumption in sustainable ways, which are inspiring in the way that the examples Courtney White gives in ‘Two Percent Solutions for the Planet’ are inspiring – but in the US situation, which has native ruminants, it is possible to ‘re-set’ the ecology of farming in a way which is just not possible in NZ or Australia. So the best that can be hoped for is to reduce the ecological damage currently being done by too many ruminants being farmed for the export trade. This has been a key campaign for Greenpeace NZ for the past few years, but no luck so far…

  19. On the topic of conviviality, I think some lessons can be drawn from the “buen vivir” (or “sumak kawsay” in Quecha) ways of indigenous life in parts of South America. In one sentence, it involves developing widespread nonmarket relationships of reciprocity and collective action, maintained through ceremonies, rituals, celebrations, and community fiestas.

    Some excerpts from “EL BUEN VIVIR, Notions of wellbeing among Indigenous peoples of South America” by Ana Maria Peredo (2019):

    “These different forms of exchange are embedded in social networks and rituals, and they are hidden from the view of somebody who is just looking for market activity. At the heart of these systems is the institution of reciprocity – exchange for mutual benefit and typically based on rates established by something other than forces of supply and demand…”

    “Life and wellbeing in the Andean rural highlands depend fundamentally on cooperation. The land tends to be poor; and agriculture, which forms the backbone of the economy, is risky and uncertain. Most families, in order to diversify crops and minimize risk, possess a number of small plots in different areas. The nature of agricultural activity requires most families to depend on outside labor at certain times. Mechanisms of cooperation in this highly risky environment, where there is no state support, diminish overall insecurity and provide a level of food security.”

    “Practices of reciprocity allow Indigenous families to achieve diversification in their diet even if the harvest of one product or another fails. Village commoners – members of the community 18 years and older – live in a context where even better of families depend on cooperative relations. To survive in the highlands, each Indigenous family must develop the ability to mobilize a social network through the careful cultivation of social ties. Individual and family wellbeing are thus secured in the context of community.”

    “…these forms of reciprocity do not apply only to agriculture. Families build a number of work relationships to reciprocate, barter and/or exchange goods and services, including such things as the erection of a dwelling.”

    “Ceremony and ritual are an essential aspect of Andean reciprocity, through which, for example, spiritual kinship is created. Kinship brings with it an obligation to both parties: to well-off families the responsibility to provide work and goods, and to the not so well-off the duty to provide labor in exchange for goods. Spiritual kinship is linked to life cycles of individuals-in-community. For example, when the first haircut of a child takes place at about the age of five, godparents are formally designated in a public ceremony that involves most of the community…”

    “At the community level, the community provides commoners access to common land, water and other resources. It also provides entertainment and enjoyment through the fiestas and ceremonial celebrations. In exchange, commoners have an obligation to protect the community, serve the community through occupying cargos – community leadership positions – and working in the faenas. The faena is among the most interesting mechanisms contributing to the wellbeing of all commoners. Every head of a household is obliged to participate in faenas from time to time, contributing work toward public services such as bridge-repair, construction of schools, cleaning of rivers, etc. Faenas often include a celebratory aspect, in which families are working together, women bring food, coca and liquor, and there is a general sense of conviviality.”

    “Relations of reciprocity extend beyond human beings. Celebrations of a sense of reciprocity and gratitude that include a relationship with the Pachamama – Mother Earth – and the Wamanis – the mountains – are major events in Indigenous Andean communities.”


  20. Hello Steve, Chris,

    Thanks for the hint towards “sumak kawsay”. Sounds like a very adaptive response to the vagarities of living in a place where harvests and yields are highly variable. It sounds quite similar to what I have picked up of the medieval village tradition in Scandinavia, where everyone is related to everyone else, in intricate ways of reciprocal obligations. I will read more about this. Sounds like a good source of inspiration for a highly variable future!

    Regarding “RetroSuburbia” – I think this book is a masterpiece of utopian literature, since it contains examples of people doing most of the described activities already today, even though no whole neighbourhood is yet ran according to the model. It is an utopian handbook of a lifestyle that seems to be within reach for lots of people.
    On the website Retrosuburbia.com, there are video case studies of 18 families who are doing this, so that is a good place to start to see if it resonates with you. The book is also available online, but I much prefer the 600+ pages of beautiful writing and illustrations and photos.

    The premise is that an Australian suburbia can be a great place to live. A street with quarter-acre lots with few people can be retrofitted to house many more people, with home-based businesses and a strong household economy. Someone runs milk goats, someone else apple trees and eggs. A third family focuses on health services, etc. etc. A neighbourhood is a village. It is also dependent on a hinterland of rural field crops of grains or chestnuts or some other bulk starches.
    The book is in three parts, Biological (growing food, compost toilets etc.), Buildings (water, heating, etc.) and Behavioural (how to interact).

    The suburban configuration today looks different in different places in the world, so this is not as easy to do in densely populated parts of England or The Netherlands, but in many places I think it could work.

    All in all, I think this is the most positive and practical guide to a possibly pleasant very-small farm future.
    What do you think? What is missing?
    Which other guides do you know to a future that is worth living for?


  21. Hello Chris and everybody else,

    I’m going to apologise for starting off with this, and I hope you don’t mind, Chris, but it ties in with climate activism, climate criminals and indigenous activism in the Global South.
    As an introduction, I’m part of the Malaysian diaspora, living in the UK, and since the end of last year have re-entered the fray of indigenous activism against the expansion of industrial monoculture and deforestation in my homeland. Apropos of small farms, the majority of farms until the late 80’s in Malaysia were subsistence farms until, you guessed it, the frantic expansion of global capital and free market capitalism, together with the increasing prevalence of political corruption.
    I’m plugging this here because I’m plugging it everywhere, because the indigenous peoples of Sarawak and Sabah (also Kalimantan) have been pushing back against the multinationals and the group I’m involved with has asked for publicity.
    It’s a microcosm of what small farmers trying to protect their lands are up against. To cut a long story short, one of their most successful campaigns have had a SLAPP instituted against them for speaking out against illegal deforestation in the Baram area, one of the last remaining areas of primary rainforest, and the homeland of the Kenyah people. If the kind folks on here would like to help, please publicise, or if you would like, donate to SAVE rivers for the legal fund to fight the SLAPP

    • An intriguing read – thanks for that, D10:)
      The mention of “a new generation of sustainable and efficient greenhouses” can provide British farmers with “opportunities to reduce our reliance on overseas production” came under the spotlight last week on the radio (June 8) – to quote
      “A team of researchers from University of Greenwich are trialling the use of transparent solar panels on the walls of glasshouses, and also flexible panels on polytunnels, to see if it’s feasible for growers to generate their own electricity AND their usual fruit crop.”
      PS Diogenese, you might enjoy the latest film on faircompanies dot com, about building a Medieval castle using Middle Ages technology and steel-toecapped boots, a fascinating doc that in many ways reminds me of my own locale, particularly the hand-cranked flour mill, which are still made here for sale.

  22. Thanks for the Andean examples Steve, very interesting. And likewise Goran on Retrosuburbia – I must have a read. I’d be interested if anyone would care to answer Goran’s question about other such guides.

    Hoon, thanks for that info on those goings on in Malaysia. I will follow up on that, and encourage others to!

    Finally, indeed the British government has just discovered farming, and even figued out that it has something to do with food. I suspect their newfound enthusiasm may relate to the need to divert attention from partying and Brexit, but hey it’s something. More locally grown fruit and veg (hurray!) to be grown in huge, high-tech glasshouses (boo!) Cake for all, or at least venison. I suspect it’s on a par with no diesel trucks by 2040. Time will tell.

    • The smell of pitchforks really concentrates the mind lol. Hunger has removed more governments than anything else .
      I watched the castle being built on yt with three English historians working on it , medieval farming must have been good to provide for all those working on it the sheer bloody graft of building it from scratch , quarying the stone mixing the mortar all heavy jobs needing lots of calories yet medieval farming Fed them all . We must be able to do better than they did and it looks like we may have to .
      Looks like Kathryn’ s allotments are going to come into their own ( dig for victory ?) I hope you don’t end up like the allotment holders of Moscow having to employ security guards to protect their crops . Perhaps you should get the “cottage pig ” it could be worth a fortune when it’s bacon time ..

      • I also hope we won’t have to employ security guards; but so far, thefts seem to be limited to one or twice a year snatching of garden tools like strimmers that people leave in their sheds.

        We did have some entire plants, as well as some beans, stolen from the Soup Garden at church in 2020, but that was very likely partly because there isn’t a gate that can be closed on that part of the garden.

        Of course, another defense against theft is to grow a diversity of crops that come ripe at different times of year. Anyone breaking into my allotment now could steal my strawberries, but they wouldn’t get all that many potatoes, and they’d be out of luck as far as wineberries are concerned.

        While the allotment sites are unattended at night, it does take time to dig up potatoes or pick berries or apples, and there are quite a few allotment holders. I’m sure we could, if necessary, set up a rota to deter intruders.

        Yet another strategy is to have allotments on different sites. I have some crops at one site, some at another, and some more in my back garden (which isn’t accessible from the street without going through a bunch of other people’s back gardens too).

        I am not allowed livestock on the allotments, and indeed would be in a certain amount of trouble with my landlord and my neighbours if I tried to keep a pig at home.

    • I do sometimes wonder if there will be any trucks of any description by 2040. If not, getting rid of the diesel ones isn’t that difficult.

      I can’t decide if “no trucks by 2040 anyway” is the optimistic or pessimistic side of me, though!

      Ho hum, I’m off to the allotment to pick strawberries. I certainly buy a lot less fruit now that I grow or forage so much of it myself, but I suspect British fruit grown under industrial conditions in high-tech greenhouses will require just as much (underpaid) labour as, say, Spanish or Dutch fruit grown in the same conditions, and probably taste just as bland too. I’d be seriously interested in bananas and citrus grown more locally, as I do still buy the fairtrade versions of these (citrus mostly in winter but still), but I can’t see them being affordable grown under glass compared to imported fruit, which is still exceptionally cheap to buy. Fruit walls (like those of 17th-century Paris, detailed at Low Tech Magazine) seem more practical. And yes, I’m experimenting with my own greenhouse citrus; the lemon (Eureka, I think) I bought earlier in the year is still in the bathroom but needs to go to the allotment greenhouse soon; the Meyer lemon that’s already there is three inches tall, so I’m not expecting fruit anytime soon from that.

      • I can’t decide if “no trucks by 2040 anyway” is the optimistic or pessimistic side of me, though!

        Oh, wild optimism I’d say!

        (or perhaps I shouldn’t say. Other aspects of such a scenario would prob’ly be hellish. Yeah, I know that. But still … No trucks … )

  23. Pingback: The tragedy of the climate commons and one way I tried to fight it - Resilience

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *