Friday, October 19, 2007

Conventional Wisdom...

From Wikipedia:
Conventional wisdom (CW) is a term coined by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society, used to describe certain ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public.

Conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. Many urban legends, for example, are accepted on the basis of being "conventional wisdom". Conventional wisdom is also often seen as an obstacle to introducing new theories, explanations, and as an obstacle that must be overcome by such revisionism. This is to say, that despite new information to the contrary, conventional wisdom has a property analogous to inertia, a momentum, that opposes the introduction of contrary belief; sometimes to the point of absurd denial of the new information set by persons strongly holding an outdated (conventional wisdom) view.

Sometimes I feel like this is the toughest battle a beginning farmer will face. I realize that it probably is not the case because I really haven't experienced very much, but it is an obstacle that needs to be overcome.

While I have not really grown up on a farm, I did spend my weekends on the farm with my dad as a child and have been surrounded with farmers my entire life. As I begin to take steps towards creating a farm and a farm business I am running smack dab into the brick wall of conventional wisdom. In my search to create a farm that is profitable for my family and that will provide an income that we can live on, I kept coming back to alternative/outside-the-box types of agriculture. You know, things like grass-finishing beef, pastured poultry, agri-tourism, u-pick berries, premium priced meats, etc. I was encouraged about what I have read and the conversations that I have had with people that I have talked with. I have had talked with people who are making it work, I have seen toured farms that are doing it or that are almost there, and I have read many success stories.

Yet, whenever I talk with my family I run straight into the conventional wisdom brick wall, and it is starting to hurt. In not as many words this is the answer, "It works for some people, but that is not going to work here." That just kills me! And, what kills me even more is then people suggest doing conventional farming as the answer.

I need to prove that it will be able to work. I have tried passing along books with hi-lighted sections so people don't have to read the whole thing. I have related experiences I have had farm tours. And, I have passed along articles from and about people that are farming outside of "conventional wisdom". But, that is just regarded as "propaganda"!!!!

I am not broken, but I am frustrated. It is obvious that there are farms out there not making money, yet they aren't willing to try something different. I thought that these alternative farming methods and relational direct marketing were really starting to take hold ... in fact I was worried that I had missed the boat. I guess that not everyone is convinced yet, so maybe there is still room for me.

What do you think?


Steven said...

I hope it works too Ethan. I've got all the same responses and doubters in my extended family. I think the key is two fold. One is to only do it if you are TOTALLY convinced that you can. You have to just jump in and have the faith of a child that God will provide. Second, you have to be trying to do the BEST that your land and your family can do. "Good enough" isn't good enough.

John said...

I am in a similar situation in that I have an extended family of conventional farmers, mostly retired. So they will, I am sure, have much to offer me on what I am doing wrong. I have never farmed, but been around it a lot. So, I feel that I will have a license to be stupid in their eyes, while I go about my carefully researched plans for unconventional farming. Fortunately, I have a wife that trusts me implicitly, and will take Joel's advice to start out slow, build some success then expand. I don't have to convince extended family like you, Ethan. Maybe you have to come to an agreement to start out small, with some measurement system so that they see that you are becoming successful and a way to expand when there is enough evidence to refute the conventional wisdom.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head...


John said...

Another thought. Make sure they go with you on your farm crawls...

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for reading the blog and thanks for the advice. This is something that I really am passionate about doing, and it all makes so much since to me so I just seemed to think that would transition to every one around me ... well, that isn't the case. I still have the desire, but I'll have to keep looking carefully at the steps that I take.

zed said...


I've been following your progress for so time now and really enjoy your blog. But lately I've been finding it difficult to read your posts -- I love the content. It's just that the white text on a black background is really tough on these old eyes of mine. Maybe some day you could consider a different color scheme.
God Bless,

Randy said...

Ethan: Take heart, my friend. Fight the good fight. Your children's vitality and senior years are worth the disdain from unbelievers.

Just last night, my parents came over for dinner. As we ate, we discussed our Salatin-style pasture-penned poultry in our backyard. My mother, who was raised in small town Ohio in the 1950's remembers her aunt's farm with the classic chicken run and coop where the grass had all been scratched away and the soil turned to clay from the abuse done to it by the poultry she kept. My mother said that when we started, she was sure that we were destroying our yard, but that after almost two years of chickens on it the grass is far greener and more lush than before, there are no burn spots (to my mother's surprise) from the manure, and all of our chickens are healthy with no incidence of disease despite them being "packed in so tight together" according to my mother (who only knows the "free range" birds from her aunt, not the factory farms that she buys from at the supermarket).

My sister-in-law refuses to eat our eggs, since they do not have the FDA's stamp of approval on them. Her husband recently took part in a "pig share" 4-H program of one of his co-woker's sons. Recently, during a shared meal at their house as we munched on freshly butchered ribs, she commented on the better taste and nearly equal cost as anything from the grocery store. But will she eat our eggs, or just tolerate her husband's "eccentrism"? That remains to be seen.

We just got our goats and will be consuming their milk...RAW! I can only imagine the affront we will receive when people see our little 16-month old girl happily gulping down some unpastuerized, unhomogenized, unprocessed, grass-fed, fresh, domestically produced, hand milked milk. That should be fun! :)

Keep the faith: The revolution will not be industrialized!

roxsen said...

Ethan, some of what you are fighting is the negative image of farming. Farming and hardship have become synonymous, but that is changing. There is now an easier way to farm called SPIN-Farming, and it is re-casting farming as entrepreneurially-driven, rather than a downwardly mobile profession of last resort. It injects the joy back into farming and makes it more accessible to many more people by showing them how to create high-revenue producing farm businesses, wherever they happen to live. SPIN farmers are showing how you can live large yet be small, and make more from less. They are helping us all re-imagine not only how to farm, but what it means to be a farmer today. And they are helping to redeem the image of farming.

Walter Jeffries said...

Conventional Wisdom is a bit like Common Sense - neither.

Bil @ Silk Creek Farm said...

I know I'm late to the party here (just started reading your blog from the beginning this week).

We've been farming for about 6 years, and haven't found the success we want yet, but we're still trying.

Funny thing is, we get a ton of support from my family who have never really been farmers in the last two to three generations. Now my wife's family, they rain on everything we say because they have "tried it and failed". Well, we would like to have the chance as well. I said to one uncle, instead of just telling me why you failed, tell me what you would have done different to maybe succeed. He said, got out of farming when he was young. It was not a fun conversation.

Keep up the great work!


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