Revolutions

There is an article in the August edition of Progressive Farmer (a big-ag publication) that begins:  “A revolution is sweeping across U.S. agriculture–the growth in the size of farms and ranches.”

According to the USDA there were 2.2 million farmers in the U.S. in 2007.  Just 50,000 of them produced 59% of the total U.S. farm output.

In other words, 2.3% of American farms produced 59% of the agricultural output.

It is projected that by 2017 over half of the agricultural production in the country will come from a mere 20,000 farms.

The decline in the farm population and the increase in large scale industrial farms has been going on since the end of World War II, seemingly accelerating each year.

It should be obvious that it is unwise to increasingly put our food production into fewer and fewer, larger and larger, hands.  And of course bigger farms doesn’t mean better food. Most of the time it means worse food.

I would argue that alongside this big-ag “revolution” of growth,  consolidation and industrialization, another more promising revolution is occurring.  Even as fewer and fewer large corporations and mega-farms tighten their grip on industrial food production in this country, thousands of small sustainable farms are popping up, producing food naturally and giving their communities an alternative to the industrial product.

It seems that the distinction between the two types of farms is becoming more pronounced every year.

Revolutions often produce counter-revolutions.  In this case industrial ag’s “revolution” of growth and consolidation is being met by a counter-revolutionary return to small diversified natural family farming.

Vive la revolution!   (Ours, that is).

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9 comments on “Revolutions

  1. Jeff says:

    I agree with you. Everything that I see and read about points in the direction that you are going. I just got a notification from a place in Berea, KY stating that a weekend permaculture class had filled up early and that they couldn’t take any more applications. Big Ag, like all dinosaurs, is myopic – time is not on their side for a thousand reasons.

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  2. Jeff says:

    Oh, another observation: the name of that rag should be Regressive Farmer, not Progressive Farmer!

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    • Bill says:

      I agree. I cancelled my subscription years ago after becoming disgusted with the wrap around Monsanto cover ads and content aimed exclusively at chemical-based farms. I only get it now because a neighbor gives me his copy when he’s done with it. It gives me lots of things to fume about.

      I remember it being a good magazine for family farms when I was a kid, so your comment prompted me to research what happened. It’s all laid out in the wiki entry.

      The magazine was launched in 1885 in Winston-Salem NC as a means of getting information to Southern farmers. It was successful and grew steadily, with 1.3 million subscribers by the mid-60s. In 1966 they spun off the farm living section of the magazine into a new publication Southern Living, which became very successful.

      In 1985 Time, Inc. (later Time Warner) bought the magazine and merged it with a Midwest regional farming magazine, making it more focused on Midwest corn/soy agriculture.

      In 2008 Time Warner sold the magazine (which had about 600,000 subscribers) to DTN in Omaha, Nebraska. DTN is described in its wiki entry as “DTN/The Progressive Farmer is an agricultural information services provider to the North American corn, soybean, and cattle complex.”

      That’s a sad end to a once-fine publication.

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      • Jeff says:

        I wonder if Buffet owns DTN? Same town as the Berkshire headquarters, no?

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      • Bill says:

        It seems that DTN is owed by Telvent, a multinational corporation headquartered in Spain. Telvent, in turn, is owned by Schneider Electric, S.A. a multinational corporation headquartered in France (but whose CEO and principal execs work from the Hong Kong office). But Mouser Electronics, a subsidiary of TTI, Inc. (part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate), just 2 months ago became Schneider’s U.S. distributor.

        From such humble beginnings in Winston-Salem….

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  3. El Guapo says:

    Is there a magazine for the small farmer? And is it useful?
    If the counter-revolution is successful, I wonder how long big-ag will take to swing to more organic production (if their land can still do that after all the chemical baths), and if there would be a backlash to that, just because it’s corporate conglamerate…

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    • Bill says:

      There are several good magazines out there. But with the internet, magazines are less important as sources of information these days.

      Big-ag is already trying to co-opt the organic movement. Much of what is sold as “organic” in the supermarkets these days was produced on an industrial scale, often by subsidiaries of the big-ag companies.

      It will be more difficult for them to hijack the local food movement, although they’re trying to.

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      • shoreacres says:

        But even here (i.e., the internet) there’s just a bit of a counter-revolution going on. For example: I’ve become accustomed to looking up wildflowers and birds on the internet. There are some wonderful sites. But a couple of weeks ago I celebrated the arrival of two wildflower identification books, which I can take with me on any road trip into the wilds (or even the suburban wilds).

        Some people carry their smartphones, but I have no desire to move in that direction. The books are wonderful, and actually easier to navigate than the web.

        Here’s another small sign of a coming time. Over the past couple of months, I’ve received three thank you notes, one letter and one “just for fun” card in the mail. I haven’t received an electronic greeting card in months, and I haven’t sent one. I’ve gone back to snail mail myself for such things.
        When I sent a contribution to a couple of kids in Maine who are homeschooled and buy assorted bits of musical equipment through a combination of work and the generosity of absolute strangers, I received a thank-you note from them. It was written in cursive, with ink.

        I nearly wept with gratitude. It was a sign of hope. They’re actually everywhere, if we look closely.

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  4. claire says:

    What can mere man do? We prefer to be hungry and live in deserts!

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