A longtime rural resident, I use my 60 plus years of life learning to opinionate here and elsewhere on the “interweb” on everything from politics to environmental issues. A believer in reasonable discourse rather than unhelpful attacks I try to give positive input to the blogesphere, so feel free to comment upon rural issues or anything else posted here. But don’t be surprised if you comments get zapped if you are not polite in your replys.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Revitalization of Rural Economies (Conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a 3 part article by guest Nathan Carey.

Some Thoughts For You to Take Home
Agriculture is, of course, a primary industry, since it takes seed and soil and produces something of intrinsic value – food. This food, in turn, can result in a thousand secondary off-shoot industries. Think about a canning factory, a distillery, a community delivery service, or a candle manufacturer from Bee's wax? The possibilities boggle the mind, and every community will be different based on the needs and desires of its residents. 
Small farms trade back the destructive relationship between fossil fuels and efficiency for the creative relationship between human labor and resiliency. Farms need year-round labor, and if you’re not riding the wave of a commodity grain, that means job stability.  Stability means a stable local economy, but also stable families and households.  There are as many opportunities in or around small-scale agriculture as you and your neighbors have energy for.
     
What does all of the above mean for you right this moment? Well, it certainly adds a lot of weight to the phrase, "buy local". The idea of buying local has allegedly been accepted and embraced by mainstream commentators, but they use it as little more than a catchy slogan. Instead, it should be understood as something radical and revolutionary! Resilient food producers out there are challenging the food system on all fronts. 
So you’re not just reducing your carbon footprint and enjoying the tastiest, most nutritionally dense food, but you’re also -and perhaps most important of all- ensuring the long-term viability of your own community.  If you're an investor, then why not put your money into a small-agricultural business or related industry?  One of the largest barriers for new farm businesses is start-up capital.  Banking institutions generally don’t understand the benefits of this kind of resilient endeavor, because they see no immediate profits to be gained. 
The bottom line may look decent, but the return on investment (ROI) is very long-term and the interest might come in the form of hams, lettuce mix and soup stock instead of cash.  But if you’re a frequent reader of The Automatic Earth, then you probably understand why nutritional food is a much better ROI.  Instead of looking for a quick monetary profit, we can be satisfied settling for delicious food security. 
It is obviously important to learn the proper skills and gain experience. There are certainly a lot of folks out there trying to farm without the proper business sense or agricultural knowledge to succeed. With access to online or community resources, though, it is never too late for people to get started on their rural revitalization education. The cities of our nations are where we have focused our attention, but I believe it's in the "empty spaces" where the room for creativity and reinvention of a more equitable and prosperous society will find its roots. 
Innovation at the "human scale" is happening at the end of hoes and around micro-brews in a small town watering hole. Food is a basic need, it is non-negotiable and come rain, shine, deflation or inflation, we must eat! As the uncertain future looms large over all our lives, we need to be prepared both to survive and to thrive. For now, it is clear that people in some rural economies are feeling hopeful about agriculture for the first time in a generation. 
The fault lines are shifting, as the fastest growing segment among farmers is young women! What better statistic to reflect change from the "traditional farmer" in our culture’s iconography, and the agricultural landscape in general. "Eating is an agricultural act," Wendel Berry famously said, and we are all engaged in this agricultural act every single day. Whether those acts benefit a few multi-national corporate networks or our next door neighbors is entirely in our hands.

To end this discussion, then, I will turn to the extremely informative and insightful book, The Town That Food Saved, written about Hardwick by Ben Hewitt. 
The Atlantic Magazine interviewed Mr. Hewitt about the book last year, and he made clear that none of the things happening in Hardwick came without great patience and effort from the people and businesses of the community. 
It is not easy to revitalize our rural economies after decades and decades of mis-allocation and mismanagement of resources. Still, with enough effort and imagination, Hardwick proves that this revitalization can be done.
In Rural Vermont, From Famine to Fork
"In the course of researching The Town That Food Saved, Hewitt found that the issue of food systems was far more complex than he had first thought. "I wanted to ask what it really means to create a localized food system," he told me over coffee, one of the few items on his daily menu he does not produce. "It's hard—culturally, economically, and in terms of people's habits. Readers looking for empirical answers should look elsewhere. In a way, this book is more about questions than answers."

Still, Hewitt comes away feeling that 
Hardwick's recent history may be providing a template for a food system that could save all of us. "The fact is that our nation's food supply has never been more vulnerable. And we, as consumers of food, share that vulnerability, having slowly, inexorably relinquished control over the very thing that's critical to our survival," Hewitt writes. What is at risk, he contends, is the entire model of the way we nourish ourselves. Fixing this broken model is a matter of national urgency.

Should our industrial food system collapse, the Hewitt family (which includes his wife and two young boys) will have far less to worry about than most of us. They raise 80 percent of the food they eat: in addition to all their vegetables, they produce milk, beef, lamb, pork, chicken, eggs, blueberries, raspberries, apples, and maple syrup. Their house, which they built with help from friends, gets its electricity from solar panels and its heat from wood stoves.

Where does that leave the rest of us? "For 100 years food production has been headed in one direction," Hewitt told me. "
The people I profile [in Hardwick] are all articulating steps to get us going in a different direction."
This is the final part of a 3 part article by Nathan Carey, see part 1 here and part 2 here.
Nathan raises a variety of animals and grows organic vegetables in a sustainable manner on his 'little piece of heaven' near Neustadt, Ontario. Visit http://www.greenbeingfarm.ca/

2 comments:

Anne Harper said...

A brilliant three part article. You don't truly realise how much local economies can rely on non-industrial/cash crop farming to help create and/or revive a local economy. This is what the government needs to invest in, solutions that work when it comes to employment. More grants and funding to the youth who want to get into the food production movement.

Rural said...

Nathans article does indeed give us much food for thought Anne, however I do not see government of any stripe giving much attention to rural revitalization. As I have said before in these pages we are the 'Forgotten Minority', we can only try and save our communities from the bottom up.