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.