A Small Medium @ Large

The 20 Year Plan – A Survival Strategy for Small Farms

The pattern of today’s column, like most weeks, begins with an indictment of a situation.  But beyond a simple complaint about what’s wrong with the way things are, I try to articulate a vision of how things might be.  I always aim to leave a message of hope, plus include any insights that folks send back from the front.

We’re all just trying to get through what’s in our everyday lives.  That’s why today’s exclusive feature – a leak of an upcoming Presidential speech – flat out bombshells the Herald’s competition:

“My fellow Americans. . .  I hear that some of you are getting, like, all emotional about the tariffs and stuff.  So listen up- because this is gonna be huge. Huge! The overarching crisis in agriculture- and everybody who eats can thank me for this- is that the transformation of farming into an industry is all but complete.”  

“Everything we need to know to grow food is now up in the attic- in satellites.  Boy do we have satellites!  Now our great scientists say we’ve got food that can plant and harvest itself, almost, without any human intervention whatsoever.”

“Let’s hear it for our scientists.  We’ve got meat that tastes like vegetables, and vice versa.  We never had it so good. And now Chi-nah!  Communist China wants what we’ve got- can you believe it?  Not $16 billion, not $30 billion, but $50 billion worth of food!  Our giant multinational corporations, which control each commodity sector with the singular objective of maximizing profits for their stockholders, are the envy of the world. So we need to triple production overnight! It’s true!”  

“And our economy!  Industrialization means specialization, standardization, and consolidation of agricultural production, processing and marketing under one roof.  Industrialization absolves stockholders from skyrocketing environmental, social and economic costs.  America’s agriculture establishments’ finally freed of regulations that mangle anything that threatens short term profits. America’s corporate model has come to Chi-nah!  How ‘bout them farmers!”

“We need bigger tractors. You can’t even believe!  We need . . .right now they’re building three models for me to choose from- and there’s a lot of room down there at the border now- let me tell you.  And the economy!  Huge tractors. . .  and plows so big they can’t even turn around in- forget little-bitty blue states like Rhode Island or Puerto Rico- so sad about the hurricane- America needs red state like Texas- am I right? You’ve got the room  . . . and talk about a turnaround- HUGE! These are manly tractors- Texans know what I’m talking- so let’s hear it: Make America Grain Again!” 

The election is coming down to those four beautiful words, j-o-b-s.  We only use the best words.  And corporate collectivism is beautiful- you should see how it advances management types that are deficient in any human quality that could complicate profit streams. We’ve got lots and lots of profit streams now.  Everybody needs a job, right?  So I’ve turned it all around. 

Management’s paid higher when profits are higher – nothing’s fairer than that.  We’re not so shabby in the stocks – holding its own – and you’ve got a 401K, right? You farmers, teachers and the little people everywhere- you are making it work! And because of you America will never be a socialist nation!”

 (Ed Note: Over his strenuous objections, and notwithstanding the Small Medium’s regard for secondhand informants, this leak has been condensed from 35 pages).

Now where was I?  Oh yes. Farmers are being told to maximize production to feed a hungry world. Missouri’s ag industry says we need to go deeper into debt to feed 50% more people fifty years from now, never mind that nutrient-dead soils are losing the ability to feed even us here at home.

The revival of 19th century corporate triumphalism comes with the crash of social and environmental integrity at all levels of the ruling establishment.  There is zero intention of helping farmers to become independent of costly farm inputs, poisons and machinery.  Open Secrets.org, to give but one example of how many zeros, calculates a 1,176.6% change in $enator Roy Blunt’s net worth since grabbing the barrel end of the “public service” corn cannon.  Who’s in your wallet?   

Not one truly consequential idea has come from him, or any Missouri politician, in my lifetime.  They cannot even imagine a system of agriculture that would stop destroying nature with public tax dollars, much less a sustainable food system as a worthy key-end goal.  But listen to them bemoan the lack of trust in the system.

The truth is that nothing about Missouri’s industrial agriculture policy is done above board and their clap-trap about “saving the family farm” continues to insult our intelligence.  The institutional culture of the USDA, and the corporatized U. of Missouri’s School of Agriculture, wholly dominated subsidies of industrial agriculture do not further the cause of food security.

The dirty little secret is that all the potential economic gains from “efficiency” have already been realized.  Now the farmer is being eliminated altogether through satellite-directed technology. The corporate-state control of food systems, by driving the independent family farm into oblivion, has devoured the soul of freedom itself.  Who’s on your ballot?

“How can farming families” writes Ag economist John Ikerd, “hope to compete with the giant agribusiness firms?  How are people- those who are committed to stewardship- compete against corporations that mindlessly exploit nature?  How can people who are committed to being good neighbors and responsible members of society compete with corporations that mindlessly exploit other people?”

The answer, he says, is that real farmers can’t complete, at least not for the single bottom line.  But we can do new things. This is the reason for the triple bottom line accounting of the watershed-based, community foundation economies I write about.  When caregiving, labor and capital are equitized, social justice follows.

Managing for a triple bottom line balances the economic, environmental and social dimensions of business performance.  We need this because the single bottom line mindset is wholly opportunistic- it ignores social and ecological consciousness – nothing it touches will be economically viable over the long run.  And here we are.  

If common sense remains our last social asset, the question becomes “Who has it?” Well, those who actively conserve nonrenewable resources have it. Those who promote species diversity, and strive to be better neighbors and civic leaders do.  

When will our honorable Congressman and Senator speak to the reality of an agriculture system gone wrong?  Will they ask voters, service organizations and the Chamber of Commerce to get behind a sustainable food system policy?

We can only hope.  The collapse of family farming has directly affected the personal integrity of each one of us, not only politicians.  To restore our integrity means voting for the redirection of scarce public resources to proven approaches that will feed the Ozarks of the 21st century.

Missouri’s government web site lists $26.4 billion as the general expenditures for the 2019 Fiscal Year.   Some fraction of this amount- who knows how much- subsidizes research and salaries at our corporate universities.  Some goes to high-tech and biotech research.  And some just goes to poisoning our roadsides, power easements, air, water, and living flesh.  The natural environment is seen as a constraint, not an asset, and the people’s health is simply irrelevant to profits. 

Whatever the money involved, we can turn things around by de-monopolizing synthetic biocide use.  The entire industry must be redirected around health considerations, must be reformulated and decentralized.  The cultivation and scaled-up production of plant-based substitutes, by state licensed entrepreneurs will rapidly redirect capital into rural job creation.  They did it for weed, right?  

The price we are paying for subsidized agribusiness is the soul of freedom itself. To rediscover agriculture is to revive hope in American democracy.  The real political mandate for Missouri’s political leadership is to restore the resilience and regenerative capacities of full-time family farming.   

Vaclav Havel, who led the peaceful overthrow of Soviet occupation wrote, “It is hope, above all, that gives its strength to live, and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless . . .  Life is too precious to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love and, finally, without hope.”