Learning

We were at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference this weekend.  I took pages of notes, and now have a long list of ideas and new things to try.  We’re still learning, and probably will be as long as we keep doing this.

The speaker in Friday’s plenary session was from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA.  He acknowledged up front that a group like ours might naturally regard him as one of the bad guys, but went on to talk about how he’d seen the light and was now going around the country speaking to ag groups and urging conservation and biomimicry.  I may blog more about his talk and his recommendations some other time.

At one point he asked for a show of hands.  “How many in the room have Ag degrees?” he asked.

He was trying to make the point that Ag Schools aren’t teaching the principles he was advocating, and his follow-up question was whether any of those with their hands raised had ever been taught that in Ag School.  This device probably worked well with his typical audience.   They’d all raise their hands then he’d go on to say keep your hand raised if you were taught xyz while there (and all the hands would go back down).

But when he asked for everyone with an Ag degree to raise their hands (expecting a sea of raised hands), only a handful of the people in a room of over 500 raised their hands.  My guess is that those few were extension agents or other government employees.

In our movement, we don’t have agriculture degrees.  We didn’t go to Ag School.  We don’t have to unlearn anything taught to us by Ag School faculty in bed with Chemical Agriculture, because we were never taught by those people in the first place.

In fact, one of the coolest things about the producers in the food movement is that the vast majority of us are self-taught disciples of agricultural heretics.  We learn from each other, from conferences, books, magazines, and the internet–not from Ag Schools or the USDA.

I like learning new things and I especially like learning things that help empower us as we take on the Industrial Ag Complex. But for me the learning curve can be pretty steep sometimes. I screw up a lot and often end up feeling like some kind of blockhead. Some of the stuff we’re doing comes easily to me, but some of it is extremely difficult.

Had I gone to Ag School I’d probably would have been a bad student.  Or maybe I’d be out extolling the virtues of herbicides and genetically modified seed.  Either way I’m sure I’d still be struggling to figure out things like how to fix a broken chainsaw.

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