Our Next Frontier

From Robert Rodale’s book Our Next Frontier (1981):

The highly productive home gardens of tomorrow will, I think, be the sprouts from which many new small farms will grow. The small-scale farmers of the future can hardly learn their craft in the land-grant colleges, which preach bigness in almost every way.  These new farmers will start as gardeners and grow from there.  I think that we will see the size of gardens increase, so that the distinction between a large garden and a small farm will become blurred.

The new wave of small farms will fill the chinks of land made available as some of the old-style farmers are driven out of business by ever-bigger farming conglomerates.  I think there is room now for many more small farms of the future.  Much land that could be used to grow vegetables, beans, specialty crops and fruits is lying idle.  Those acres growing up to weeds might be made into profitable farms if the proper plants and cropping systems for efficient small farms are developed by researchers.

I suspect that people displaced by the trend to consolidate farms into ever-larger units, as well as those who don’t want to fit into city life, will return to the land and make these small spaces productive.  Large farms today aren’t suited to produce the fresh, natural foods that are in growing demand.  They will be even less suited for that task in the future, as agribusiness turns more and more to the manufacture of semisynthetic foods from bulk commodities like soybeans, cornstarch, and even petroleum.

The garden-farms that are a growing part of our food future have another important value.  They can be operated as closed systems.  Organic wastes of both the community and the farm itself can be collected, composted and returned to the land. By doing that, the vitally important minerals and nitrogen in those wastes can be preserved and used over and over again.

The recycling of minerals in that way is more than just a step toward greater commercial and ecological efficiency.  It is a significant movement toward the creation of a permanent human society on this planet.  Our present system of production is in reality a bleeding process in which the riches of the earth are drained away to create the things we need to support ourselves.  As long as we allow that bleeding to continue, we are imposing on ourselves a time-limit for survival.

There need not be a limit to our tenure.  We can learn to live happily, producing all the food and other goods we need, without wasting the resources that are going to be needed by future generations. There, in the concept of the creation of a sustainable way of life, is our next frontier.

Real Things

The real things haven’t changed.  It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and to have courage when things go wrong.

Laura Ingalls Wilder


I often complaint that our society stubbornly holds on to diets that are deadly.  And that is true.

But sometimes we do the right thing and make changes for the better, even if slowly.

As I mentioned a few days ago, as a society we smoke far less than we used to.

And I just read that trans-fat consumption is down 75% over the past 10 years.

It seems that awareness is improving.  I wonder what our diets will look like 10 years from now.  Maybe by then we’ll have the ship headed in the right direction.


In a blog post I recently read the author made the claim that, “Division these days is not over race or religion, but over political identification.”  To support his contention he cited a recent Pew poll, which showed that on on the question of which issues should be considered “top priorities” there are huge gaps between those who call themselves Democrats and those who call themselves Republicans.  At the top of the list was protection of the environment.  65% of Democrats consider it a top priority but only 28% of Republicans do–a gap of 37%.

Protection of the environment wasn’t the only issue on which there is such disagreement.  The poll revealed these gaps:

  • Protecting the environment: 37% difference
  • Helping the poor: 32% difference
  • Reducing the budget deficit: 31% difference
  • Addressing global warming: 28% difference
  • Strengthening the military: 25% difference
  • Improving education: 25% difference

I wonder how much of this is driven by the constant barrage of partisan spin that comes with 24-7 news channels, talk radio, social media and blogging.

But I also wonder if the “division” might not be as deep as it seems.  My guess is that most Americans aren’t locked into loyalty to a political party and maybe this poll only represents the opinions of those who are.  My guess is that that most Americans favor both protecting the environment and reducing the budget deficit, for example.

When I first began blogging I often posted about political issues. Eventually I stopped doing that. There are plenty of places to go on the internet for political arguments or to have one’s biases reinforced.  So I try to steer clear of the hot buttons, unless directly related to agriculture. Admittedly I sometimes backslide. If I ever step on any political toes, it isn’t my intent. The last thing we need is more of that.

A Time To Sow

The weather has been beautiful lately and I’m really getting the itch to plant.  But the ground is still soaking wet from all the rain and snow we’ve had. It will be a while before we can work it.

We have starts coming up though.  Broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and collards.


We don’t have a greenhouse (it’s high on my list of things I plan to add to the farm) so we’ll still have to buy most of our spring transplants.  In the meantime we have trays of starts in window sills and doorways.  Next week I’ll start putting some out into the cold frames.

It’s a good time of year.

Farm Workers, Again

Our country’s immigration laws need to be reformed.  They’re harsh, unfair and counterproductive.  I’ve been encouraged to see churches across the political spectrum unite in agreement on that.

But I’m not so encouraged to see industrial agriculture also pushing hard for relaxed enforcement of immigration laws and an end to the current deportation craze. They’re not taking that stand out of compassion for the immigrants or to protect human dignity.

The American Farm Bureau Federation just released a report projecting significant reductions in produce, fruit and livestock production, and significant increases in the price of food, if Congress permits the emphasis on enforcement to continue.   Bob Stallman, President of the Federation and a loud critic of the immigration enforcement policies, is also citing a report claiming that over 80% of raisin and berry growers in California and over 70% of tree fruit growers are unable to find enough workers now to harvest their crops.

There are over 1 million hired agriculture workers in this country.  The government estimates that half of them are here illegally. The Farm Bureau Federation puts that number at 60-70%.

I completely agree that folks who come here to pick fruit and vegetables as a means of supporting their families should have the right to do so and I detest policies that result in their arrest and deportation.  We need more industrious people in this country, not fewer.

But we ought to be asking ourselves why, in a country with well over 10 million people unemployed, it’s supposedly not possible to harvest our crops unless undocumented immigrants do it.

It calls to mind a blog post I wrote in January, 2009.  It seems relevant to the current debate, so here it is again:

There are over one million hired farm workers in this country.  These farm workers were paid over $28 billion last year.

I was once a hired farm worker myself.  I started out making 35 cents per hour when I was 7 or 8 years old.  By the time I was 15, I was making $2.00/hour.  It was very hard work, but from a very early age I was able to make enough money in the summer to pay for my own school clothes and books.  And it certainly instilled a work ethic.

But today, with unemployment skyrocketing in this country, 72% of the hired farm workers are from Mexico.

No doubt these Mexicans are glad to have these jobs, and their families benefit from them.  Of course many of these men would prefer to be with their families on their family farms in Mexico, but American agricultural policies ruined their local economies and farms, and drove them across the border as hired hands.  But that subject is for another day.

In my community, all the large farmers hire Mexican labor.  The Mexicans are great workers and they don’t complain.  But the truth is that these farmers couldn’t meet their needs with local labor, even if they wanted to.  Millions of Americans would simply rather be unemployed than do farm labor.  And that’s a shame.

For some, they just don’t want to have to work that hard.  But for millions, working for hire on a farm has demeaning connotations.  I remember cringing many years ago when I first heard the Run-DMC lyric, “I ain’t baling no hay.”  What the heck is wrong with baling hay?, I thought.

I’m tempted to paste yet another Wendell Berry quote here.  Certainly he has written forcefully and beautifully on the subject of farm labor.  But instead I’ll close with Carolyn Chute’s dedication to her novel Merry Men.

“Let me honor here all the farmers who still work the land themselves, who are not agribusinessmen or agribusinesswomen, but farmers, who know family and community interdependence…America’s last vestiges of freedom.   And honor to all those millions who were born to be farmers, as they have been for thousands of years, but because of modern “education”, Big Business and Mechanization, they cannot be and will never know their true gift, but are instead herded into welfare lines, prisons, or the slavery of Big Business…may they find it–the gift–in another life, another world.”

Granny’s Advice

Almost 3 years ago I shared a post from Granny Miller about moving toward a self reliant life. Lately that post has been getting traffic for some reason, causing me to go back and read it again.

It was a helpful reminder to me and it seems to me to be good sense.

Here are some tips from Granny that are worth sharing again:

A Few Suggestions For What You’ll Need For A Life Beyond The Digital

To change the direction of your life you must fundamentally change your worldview. And that takes courage, faith, fortitude and commitment.

  • You must first and foremost – put your TV set in the garbage or give it away to charity.You and your family can no longer afford the time or luxury of consumer and state sponsored propaganda. It is imperative that you learn to think for yourself and stop wasting time. And do not substitute being online or on the phone for the TV.  This will probably be the hardest thing you will have to do. How successful you will be in your journey for a more self-reliant and self-sustaining life depends upon this one single thing. The no TV  is absolutely non- negotiable.
  • You must begin at once to learn some type of self-sustaining skill. And that can be anything useful or practical. Plumbing, sewing, carpentry, cooking, baking, weaving, knitting, animal husbandry, vegetable gardening, soap making , bee keeping – whatever – just pick something that you are interested in and jump in with both feet. You’ll have plenty of time and maybe extra money to spend on learning that skill because you don’t have a TV. No matter where you live or what your circumstances you can start first thing tomorrow. If you want to learn to how to garden – do it. Never mind that it’s December. Go buy an aloe plant or herbs for a sunny window sill. Want to learn how to knit? Get some yarn and get started. If animal husbandry interests you – get a pet rabbit or bird. The skills required to care for a pet bird or rabbit are the same ones you’ll need for chickens or for meat rabbits. You don’t have a TV remember. You got to do something with all that extra time.
  • Debt is slavery. When you are in debt you do not own your own future. If you have any debt– get rid of it. Plenty of information is available about how to do that. And don’t try and justify your credit cards. Get a debit card if you need to rent a car or order online. Credit cards keep you chained to consumerism. Consumerism is fueled by popular culture and TV . Whatever they are advertising on TV – you don’t need it – and without a TV you won’t really know or care about it. You must live within your means no matter how modest.
  • Stop eating processed food, fast food and drinking soda pop. Junk food is expensive and just about everybody knows it is not good for your health. You cannot grow potato chips, Twinkies, ready to eat boxed cereal, Pepsi, Coke or Mountain Dew in the garden. Those foods are addictive and unsustainable. Fast food is also a big  waste of money and will keep you tied into a consumer economy. Not to mention that they are  cruelty based foods. Without the exploitation of people and animals, Burger King, McDonald’s,Sisco and the rest of them would go out of business. Plan ahead and bring a bagged meal. That’s what dinner leftovers are for. Don’t pay for something that you can do for yourself. And no matter what your age or health – get moving outdoors. Fresh air and sunshine is good for you and is what you need. Two or three hours a day outdoors everyday is the goal to work for – summer or winter.  A life of deliberate self-reliance is an extremely physical life. You must preserve your good health.  It will be easier now that you don’t watch TV and eat junk food.
  • Develop some type of personal philosophy or faith if you don’t already have one. Particular cosmology doesn’t matter. It is vital to hold a belief in some type of universal order, plan or reason. Without this you will not be able to sustain the heartaches, questioning, losses and disappointments that living a more self-sustainable life will often bring.  Believe me when I tell you this: when you are in a race against time to save an animal that is struggling for its life; or a newborn calf is born dead; or an entire crop is destroyed by a sudden July tempest – there are no atheists.

A more self-sustaining life is possible for everyone but it doesn’t happen overnight. If you try and take on too much too fast you are setting yourself up for failure and discouragement.

A successful transition to a more self-reliant life is an evolution in life and not a revolution.

Good luck.


To read the entire original post go HERE.  To visit Granny Miller’s blog go HERE.