About

My name is Chris Smaje – I’m a social scientist by training and a small-scale farmer by occupation, helping run a smallholding in Somerset, southwest England where we grow fruit and vegetables for sale, usually keep a little livestock, and manage our woodlands and campsite.

Though smallholding, small-scale farming, peasant farming, agrarianism – call it what you will – has had many epitaphs written for it over the years, I think it’s the most likely way for humanity to see itself through the numerous crises we currently face both in the richer and poorer countries. This blog is my attempt to address why. The posts are sometimes practical but mostly political, as I try to wrestle with how to make the world a more welcoming place for the smallholder.

House Rules

I’ve been lucky to have had lots of great commenters debating with me on here over the years. A word on commenting etiquette: Now that regrettably my hotheaded youth is behind me, I put a lot of store by courteous exchange of views rather than angry or goading language. I recognize that people’s interpretations can differ and that there’s considerable potential for online misunderstanding, so I welcome polite corrections or remonstrances directed at me or other commenters.

Definite no-nos are threatening or abusive language, racism, misogyny and similar, and negative generalizations about whole religions, ethnic groups or general categories of people (eg. immigrants). And a polite request based on previous experiences to go easy on the phrase ‘political correctness’. Otherwise, I’ll try to work with people as best I can to shape respectful disagreement – with the ultimate sanction if that proves too hard of deleting comments or blocking commenters, which happily I’ve very rarely had to do.

Please bear in mind also that if you include more than two hyperlinks in your comment it will automatically be held in the moderation queue.

Thanks for visiting,

Chris

18 thoughts on “About

  1. Chris, Nice job on the summary. ILEIA has done a nice job in its re-organization aruond family farming a nice platform of social change in rural areas. We should continue to explore ways of supporting their important work.

  2. Hi Arpita

    Yes I’m on Twitter as @csmaje and usually send a tweet when I post something new on the blog. You can also subscribe to this blog as an RSS feed via the orange button on the top right of the homepage. Thanks for your interest.

  3. Yes, I’d like to follow this blog too and the orange button directs me to something else– just so you know. WordPress can be so tricky sometimes.

    • Thanks for your message Annie. I checked the orange button & it seems like it should work – right click on it, save the link address and then copy it into your feed reader. I’m loath to mess around with it because the last time I did I had a major meltdown of the whole site!

  4. Pingback: I pionieri della Permacultura in Europa da Patrick Whitefield

  5. Dear Chris,

    I have been thinking for a long time about starting my own small farm and am trying to do a business plan. My main problem is knowing the figures for electricity, water etc. I realise this is dependent on size, area and products however do you think you could point me in the right direction? My main goals would be to achieve growing a variety of foods that would be used for the family and visitors (residential rehab for 5 nights per week for vulnerable teens – 10 to 12 at a time), a few dairy cows, some goats (make cheese), sheep and of course chickens.
    Could you offer any advice please?

    Thank you,

    Paula

    • Thanks for commenting, Paula. Very hard to answer your question. Depends on where you live, what you’re growing etc etc. Water wise, I’d say that vegetables require quite a lot (irrigation is necessary even here in wet SW England with a precipitation of >1000mm pa), staple crops not so much. I’ve kept sheep, pigs and poultry on a small scale and found their water demands quite modest. Presumably a dairy cow would be a different proposition, but I’ve never kept one. Electricity wise, we have a 3000W off-grid system based mainly on PV panels which works pretty well for basic home & business needs, though it’s a bit touch and go in the winter. However, that’s assuming that you find other ways of getting energy-intensive jobs done – no kettles, irons, electric heaters, stoves, welding etc!

      Not sure how much that helps…

    • Try to get a copy of the Farm Management Pocket Book (original author John Nyx) published by Wye College – Ashford in Kent, for general economic/planning information. This was updated annually. Also the (primrose McConnell’s ) Agricultural Notebook Edited by Richard J Soffe Published by Blackwell Science 195 etc has a wealth of useful information on just about anything to do with farming. I am not aware of updates to this since about 2000, but I have had difficulty finding any useful information on agriculture using Google etc. Freams Elements of Agriculture is another classic reference book. Though dated these books are still the best sources of information for anyone involved in the practice of farming. there are American equivalents which are more up to date, but contain a lot of misleading information because they refer to American breeds of animal, crop varieties, chemicals and American law

  6. Hi Chris
    I enjoyed an article you wrote on right-wing populism, which I came to after a right-wing populist (old friend from childhood) berated my terribly leftist bourgeoisie ways (even though I am more of a left wing anarchist!). My wife grows salad and veg for local sale, and we are connected with many local growers and environmentalists here in the very north of Yorkshire and Teesside. Yes, even the mucky “North” has its alternative lifestyle folk!
    Anyway, you provided an interesting perspective on John Michael Greer and I shall be trawling some of your other articles. I’ve followed you on Twitter, so I’m, looking forward to further reading.
    Keep up the great work.
    Regards, Scott

  7. Hello Chris,
    I discovered you from reading your comments on The Market Gardner, and it was my first encounter with someone who shared my view on the importance or potential of the mutually beneficial Peasantry -and the likely misunderstandings of that proposal. As the son of a conventional Midwest U.S. grain/hog farmer, it’s not hard to see that our current race-to-the-bottom agricultural system could be partially replaced by micro-farms and produce much more product, happiness, and “flourishing” environments from an ecological and social point of view.

    It seems to me that recent neuroscience and human behavioral studies are at least hinting at the practicality of such an agrarian system (for many, not all). Of course, “It’s not your ancestors’ peasantry”, so I don’t use the term when I talk about this idea -I get enough funny looks as it is. I’ve just arrived at your site, so I haven’t read the historical perspectives but it looks great. I’m a former HS physics and environmental science teacher, so I love to learn “how things work”, but I’ll have to dig into your essays still.

    We’re planning to do a pilot here next summer with just college kids to demonstrate what something like this can do for a rural location as well as the participants. The idea is to rely mostly on young couples looking to have a rewarding, fun, and educational immersion into the agrarian world (with smart phones for connectivity and conventional entrepreneurial aspirations) without seeing it as a long term commitment -and alongside other young couples.

    I’m writing at https://regroup.farm/about/ and at
    https://medium.com/welcome-to-the-millennial-awakening

    They both deal more with background for now, because the Left/Right divide, the generational divide, the rural/urban divide, and the materialistic sea of marketing are both hurdles and opportunities long term. Haha, I don’t mean for this to sound Utopian, but it does seem like the divisions are as much manufactured as human nature -and we have a better understanding of both mechanisms now. I’m just saying “better” is within reach, not perfection.

    I’ve been looking at this since 2008 when I left teaching. I’m familiar with the regenerative ag and permaculture approaches from a methods perspective, but I’m especially happy to see what you’re writing about in terms of workable execution.

    Thanks for reading!

    Tim

  8. Just read your revisions to the House Rules. I see nothing to really disagree with, but also realize that discussing the variety of political changes required to facilitate a small farm future will press a lot of peoples “hot buttons”.

    I see no reason why religion or human rights would be relevant to some kinds of agrarian politics and not others, but the re-localization implications of agrarian peasantry might well have some relationship to population migrations, especially from cities to the countryside.

    But I think that international migration has little to do with urban-rural migration and the process of de-urbanizing and de-industrializing modern society. Vera was wrong to conflate the two kinds of migration and to toss in a “cultural defense” argument as well, since agrarianism should be able to tolerate cultural differences very well. And those promoting agrarianism should welcome aboard anyone who is willing to become a peasant, regardless of religious or ethnic background. The last thing we need is to create the impression that small farmers must all be WASPs.

    One other thing to consider might be placing people who skirt close to breaking your house rules on a moderation-required list and discussing the reasons for doing so off line. I know that sounds like a lot more work than simply banning someone “without debate or warning”, but it might be worth it to keep otherwise perceptive commenters on board.

  9. Hard to know what to think of the new house rules. I’m inclined to believe that you’re not going to be too quick to ban people with values more or less like mine, and I recognize that other forums may be even quicker to ban people without being so forthright or transparent about it, and comparatively there’s probably something to be said for forthrightness and transparency, but on the other hand it’s a strong disincentive to engage (in any way at all) with a site when the site openly declares a preparedness for viewpoint discrimination against views (and probably religion) more or less like mine. An insistence on civil discourse is one thing; insistence on political correctness is another, at least if you care to include people like me.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Eric. I’ll ponder your comments and may try to rewrite in the light of them. I don’t want to discriminate overly against viewpoints other than mine or discourage people who hold them from contributing. But I’d like to shape the discussion away from hectoring tones directed (usually) at me, especially when they deploy political tropes that I think are problematic. ‘Political correctness’ happens to be one of them – a term that I think is meaningless, and is basically just used as an insult. However, I think in the rules above I’m possibly overreacting to recent events (and to a sense of being over-tolerant in the past to some similar hectoring). The style and content of your own contributions on here, for example, is not something that I want to discourage in any way, despite our political differences. So perhaps I need to reconsider. Thank you.

      • Thanks for the consideration, Chris.

        Sometime when I have more time I’d like to share some thoughts on the meaning/meaninglessness of political correctness with you.

      • By the way, since you don’t see political correctness as a meaningful term, when I said above “insistence on political correctness,” I meant insistence that the mainstream left view of Islam, women’s issues, race issues, immigration issues, religious issues, etc. be given special, asymmetrical status and respect.

  10. I’ve revised the ‘House Rules’ as now above in the light of Eric’s and Joe’s comments. On reflection, I think Eric was right that the previous version was too heavy-handed politically, probably an over-reaction on my part to recent problems where I think I let a confluence of political disagreement, discourteous language and stereotyping slide for too long. I don’t consider political disagreement intrinsically problematic. Not so for discourtesy and stereotyping.

    Eric, on the ‘political correctness’ issue, I think you have a point that my previous version of the house rules maybe erred too much towards making my views normative on this site. Whereas your comment on ‘insistence that the mainstream left view of Islam, women’s issues, race issues, immigration issues, religious issues, etc. be given special, asymmetrical status and respect’ is not how I see these issues playing out in the wider world. Actually, I think this is an important issue which could do with a post to itself – hopefully you could feed your thoughts into it, if I haven’t already put you off participating here. I hope I haven’t…

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