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.

10 comments on “Our Next Frontier

  1. DM says:

    the guy is a prophet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, Rodale publishing company was my first entry into organic gardening way back in the late 70s and early 80s. I worked in a downtown area which had the main library close by. During my lunch hours, I would scurry down to the library and read magazines like Organic Gardening and Prevention Magazine. Those years fired a passion that still burns today in my gardening ventures. Robert Rodale’s influence still is alive and well today. His books written oh so long ago are even more sensible today. He was indeed way ahead of his time.

    Have a great gardening day.


    • Bill says:

      I still consult an old J.I. Rodale book on organic gardening that was published in 1961. Still read Organic Gardening magazine too. We all owe a debt to the Rodale organization. Far fewer people today will find this quote crazy than did when he wrote it.


  3. shoreacres says:

    I notice the date is 1981. The amount of federal/general governmental intrusion since then is remarkable, and it’s not going to help such a vision increase. One of my friends in Houston just was given a cease-and-desist order for a row garden along the edge of her property. It doesn’t maintain neighborhood standards, etc. And she’s surrounded by people who flock to Whole Foods and ridicule the rubes who still buy at Kroger. Oh, the irony.


    • Bill says:

      Yes, but the laws against urban and suburban gardens, chickens, and livestock are mostly from the post-WWII era when communities didn’t want things like chicken coops, pig pens and gardens to interfere with their new suburban dream. Those laws are being repealed all across the country these days and it’s actually considered hip in a lot of places to practice urban agriculture.

      It’s funny when the times overtake the laws like that. I once represented an upscale golf community in Florida. They had deed restrictions making it unlawful to park a van or truck in the driveway–to make sure no riff-raff who might make their living as painters or contractors would live there. Fast forward a decade or so and all the suburbanites were buying SUVs and mini-vans and parking them in their driveways. Awkward.


  4. The date is disheartening, but hope springs eternal, albeit this winter has taken a toll on that. One way or another we will no doubt arrive at this place, but I’m concerned that it will be “another” way … Thank God for the Rodales, and the Guerrants …


    • Bill says:

      One way or another indeed.
      While I am very grateful for the sentiment, the Rodales have done much for which we should be thankful. Not so much the Guerrants. 🙂


  5. Inch by inch and with the patience of seeds we will overcome.


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