If my child said that she wanted to be a farmer when she grows up, I would be beside myself with joy. Needless to say, I would certainly encourage her, and hopefully assist in making her dream become a reality. However, there is a huge counterweight to that enthusiasm, and it is in discerning the types of farming and/or agriculture that she has in mind.
What does it mean to be a Farmer?
In the end we will see that the question is not so simple, as we must clarify ‘her’ definition of farmer. I could rely solely on the many works of Joel Salatin for this paper; however, I will include a bit of Lierre Keith for some context, and I will begin with a basic idea that requires neither of them.
Harmony with Nature
The very first positive image that motivates my encouragement for her plan is the idea of her being connected to nature. I want her to be more physically connected to nature, as the modern world isolates us too much from it. I in fact do have a child, born to a Japanese mother, and her name is Ryuka. This name was chosen to represent a woman that I hoped would someday become a guardian of nature; a guardian of our world. Her name literally translates as ‘Flower Dragon.’ It is a strong name, too strong for a woman by conventional Japanese practices; however, I had a strong desire to name her that way (I was born in the month and year of the dragon, and I have always considered myself an activist).
Unfortunately, my daughter is a city girl, born and raised in Tokyo, and now a young teenager. I say unfortunately because the city life keeps her too disconnected from nature, and in doing so, it keeps her from fully understanding and appreciating it. She, like so many city dwellers, has lost sight of the fact that humans are in fact part of nature, and that in turn has removed them from part of their humanity. I would like to see her discover her full human potential, and perhaps even radical abilities such as animal communication; which is inherent to all humans (Breytenbach, 2010). Hence, I would encourage anything that could bring her closer to nature in any capacity; as long as it is NOT for destructive purposes.
And it is destruction that leads us to the heart of this paper. Agriculture is destructive. Farming, by most definitions and practices in first world countries, is destructive. I could quote Keith (2009) endlessly here, but let’s just look at a couple of short ones –
“I’ll state right now what I’ll be repeating later: everything they say about factory farming is true. It is cruel, wasteful, and destructive” (p. 2).
And a page later –
“The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us.” (Keith, 2009, p. 3).
It is not just the large scale factory farming and ‘Big Agro’ either, as most of the little guys are also doing destructive farming, even in the organic business, because most of them use chemical fertilizers, monocropping, and/or are over tilling the land. Soil is a self managing ecosystem under natural conditions, containing a complex array of synergistic species of plants, root systems, insects, fungi, bacteria, and more. However, the simple mechanical act of tilling the land disrupts that ecology and thus the soil never reaches its potential. Imagine it as attempting to build a city that is continuously demolished before construction can be complete. Not only do we destroy the land, but we even destroy its future, as Michael Pollan (2016) notes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
“Moreover, the short-term boosts in yield that fertilizers delivered could not be sustained; since the chemicals would eventually destroy the soil’s fertility, today’s high yields were robbing the future” (pp. 148-149).
In addition to chemical fertilizers destroying the soil’s fertility, the runoff from such fields is toxic to the surrounding environments, killing swamps, coral reefs, etc. Add to this the fact that manufacture of chemical fertilizers is highly destructive to the environment via pollution, resource consumption, transportation – the entire supply chain that it creates. Soil does not need tilling or fertilizer, as (among other things) it converts animal and plant waste products into complete nutrition for plants. But it cannot do that in a monocropping environment, as it needs plant (and animal) diversity to evolve and function optimally. Monocropping is very destructive in itself, as it perpetuates a monoculture in the environment – starving the soil of specific nutrients, encouraging opportunistic pests, creating dependency on agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.), and causing a host of other problems. Monoculture is the antithesis of biodiversity. Humans need to turn away from the destruction of agriculture and farming, and turn towards sustainable living that would make humans a contributor to the planet, rather than a cancer. Regenerative forms of farming can help us rebuild what we have already destroyed.
As Keith said above, more of the same won’t save us. There are many practices that purport to avoid destruction; however, I must discern further. Biodynamics sounds great. Permaculture sounds great. Restorative agriculture sounds great. Holistic farming sounds great. We could go on and on with quite a bit of well intended labels for farming and agriculture. And there are some people wearing each of those labels that contribute rather than destroy. It sounds exciting and offers encouragement; but the labels do not matter nearly as much as what the farmer actually implements. A label is not enough. I would encourage my daughter to be a thinking farmer. Joel Salatin illustrates this well in his decisions to buy local, even if the source is not ‘certified’ organic. As Pollan (2016) quotes Salatin:
“We never called ourselves organic—we call ourselves ‘beyond organic.’ Why dumb down to a lesser level than we are? If I said I was organic, people would fuss at me for getting feed corn from a neighbor who might be using atrazine. Well, I would much rather use my money to keep my neighborhood productive and healthy than export my dollars five hundred miles away to get ‘pure product’ that’s really coated in diesel fuel” (p. 132).
Salatin elaborates at great length about the ‘organic’ issue, alluding to the countless chemicals that U.S. certified organic allows. I want my daughter to understand that stating the type of farmer is not enough. She must remain flexible in her thinking, and must evolve to avoid unforeseen pitfalls that emerge along the way, and take advantage of all opportunities to become more ‘sustainable.’ In my opinion, avoiding labels helps us avoid dogma.
There is another motivational point that I would like to illustrate. I often tell people that the only reason to go into business is because you feel that you have something to give to the world. This was my reason for starting an IT business in the 1990s, and it is a principal taught in business school. Sadly, the vast majority of entrepreneurs are only concerned with taking from the world. This same point should be true of farming, and it is in fact necessary due to the current state of the planet’s soil. We have quickly destroyed the soil, as Price (1939) points out early in his book:
“While many of the primitive races studied have continued to thrive on the same soil through thousands of years, our American human stock has declined rapidly within a few centuries, and in some localities within a few decades. In the regions in which degeneration has taken place the animal stock has also declined” (p. 7)
Also indicated in Price’s quote is that the soil can support us endlessly if we give back to it. We must view farming as a way to give back to the land – and we should do so enthusiastically. I want my daughter to become a farmer because she wants to revitalize a part of the earth, and wants to restore health and life to all those connected to her farming activities. Again I can turn to Salatin (2010) for support of this idea:
“The joy of knowing that every day our farm is growing soil is beyond description” (p.14).
That statement comes near the end of a chapter – the first chapter – that is titled “Growing Soil,” so you can imagine how many quotes like that are in there. I want my daughter to give to the world, not take from it, and Salatin shows us that a farmer can do that.
Of course the giving doesn’t stop there. A farmer like Salatin not only gives to the earth, but he gives quality of life to everything connected to his farming activities. He also gives his customers a level of nutrition that is unmatched by anything found in a supermarket, or even on most other farms. Salatin loves to show this off with his eggs, because there are visual queues for such, and he recounts how in books, podcasts, videos, interviews, etc. He would crack open his eggs to show the color, and to show how the egg yolks stay intact as he tossed them from one hand to another. I have my own blogpost on the advantages of ‘Pastured’ eggs (Cozzetto, 2017), which lists not only the dramatic difference in nutritional content, but the visual queues for identifying such eggs: darker orange yolks that have greater integrity and stand taller and stronger, and thicker shells that do not break so easily. You probably need at least a half dozen conventional eggs to equal the vitamin D in one egg from Joel Salatin. A dozen is more likely. My daughter’s farm should produce eggs like that.
A White Collar Farmer?
The farmer has a new image. The farmer can be, should be, white collar and smart. Salatin talks about the brain drain in farming with an entire chapter called “White Collar Farmer” (Salatin, 2010, p. 236). The brain drain is very real, and one way to restore brain power is to change the image. A farmer doesn’t have to be dirty, uneducated, and chained to his land from dawn till dusk. Farmers can focus on the management, just as other white collar workers do, and they can do that with advanced education in traditional practices and modern science – science that proves the wisdom of those wise traditions, and science that helps us support them. Such farmers can be speakers, healers, attend seminars, travel the world, and do anything that other businessmen do.
The possibilities are limitless. Farmers like Joel Salatin are showing us that, and I would help my daughter grasp these possibilities. One of my heroes in the world is David Wetzel of Green Pasture; the provider of FCLO. He is a farmer, and (to my knowledge) possesses no degrees or certifications in the field of nutrition. Yet he is one of the greatest information resources for Vitamin D, and I learned more from his website on the topic than from anywhere else. Farmers essentially live in a lab, and if they become aware of that fact, and leverage the potential, they can be great scientists if they wish. It is not necessary to be a scientist, but it is a point that illustrates the reality and potential scope of a white collar farmer.
Farmers as Heroes?
One final reason that I would encourage my daughter to be a farmer is hope. It can be a productive and meaningful career. People like Salatin have restored hope in our ability to repair the earth. And more recently for me, more hope has been found in something called EM (Effective Microorganisms). Something akin to kefir, it is a powerful tool that can help restore the land and water to its natural state, much in the same way that kefir does for our gut.
EM “achieves synergistic effects by combining beneficial microorganisms which exist in nature, such as lactic acid bacteria, yeast and phototrophic bacteria” (Higa, 2016).
In fact, my cousin has a farm in Costa Rica, and he has been using EM for years, as all the ‘organic’ farmers around him do. It displaces all the agrochemicals. Farmers in over a hundred countries have been using it for decades. It is not new. We don’t hear about it in the U.S. because it displaces the agrochemicals; and the profits of those who make them. When my daughter starts her own farm, there will be EM and other great tools and knowledge to help her do it the right way.
In conclusion, one of the biggest reasons that I would encourage my daughter to be a farmer is because we have such great role models now in people like Joel Salatin, Dave Wetzel, and many more. Not to mention great organizations like the Savory Institute, the Weston A. Price Foundation, Kiss the Ground, and others. She would not stand alone. My daughter does not have to blaze her own trail and fight the tides of darkness by herself. There is much to guide her in the right direction. It certainly would not be easy, and Salatin (2007) has an entire book dedicated to showing us just how difficult it can be:
“The more things change, the more they remain the same. Yesterday it was the promise of chemicals. Today it’s NAIS. Tomorrow it will be something else. Just look at who’s promoting the agenda, and you can always come down on the right side of the issue.” (p.306)
As his last sentence reminds us, we must learn to discern, and his advice on one way of doing so is quite good. It will help her steer clear of dogma and labels. Although not easy, my daughter can follow a safe and beaten path, joined by a global community of like minded people, that together will evolve into farmers that have no connection to the destructive practices of generations past. To help ensure that, I would hope to get her an internship at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Or perhaps she will spend time on my cousin’s farm in Costa Rica, or in my family’s proposed homestead in New York. Even if farming is not the end goal to a sustainable planet, it can be a step in the right direction when done properly. It can make my daughter a natural, contributing part of the planet, and it can help her fulfill her destiny.
The part about my daughter’s name is not fiction. I thought I should mention it here, as this post might sound a bit too dramatic and contrived; especially with the mention of EM and animal communication, which are also not fiction. I was in fact quite insistent on the idea of her name representing a guardian, and including the word for dragon. (Due to phonetics it is actually written as dragon flower; which is also a more sensible meaning for most people). Her mom, being Japanese, selected the final kanji characters:
Ryuka: 龍花 (龍 = Ryu, Dragon, 花 = Ka, Flower).
- Price, W. A. (1939). Nutrition and physical degeneration: a comparison of primitive and modern diets and their effects. Redlands, CA: The author.
- Pollan, Michael. (2016). The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
- Keith, L. (2009). The vegetarian myth: food, justice and sustainability (Kindle ed.). Crescent City, Ca.: Flashpoint Press.
- Salatin, J. (2010). The sheer ecstasy of being a lunatic farmer. Swoope, VA: Polyface Inc.
- Salatin, J. (2007). Everything I want to do is illegal:. Swoope, VA: Polyface Inc.
- Cozzetto, V. F. (2017, June 19). Pastured Eggs. Retrieved August 15, 2017, from https://vitagenics.me/pasture-eggs/
- Higa, T. (2016). Learn how to live sustainably using EM microbial technology on agriculture and environment. Retrieved August 20, 2017, from https://emrojapan.com/what/
- (2010, January 7). Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://www.animalspirit.org/ Short welcome video by Anna Breytenbach on her homepage.