Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer :: Chapter 3 Book Report

Yes, I'm a book bouncer! My reading is dictated by my whim of the moment and last night my whim was  pushing me to Joel Salatin's latest book, "The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer". Chapter three is titled, "Small is Okay" and it was an interesting contrast to the article I just read about the importance of beef and pork exports in the coming year. The article talked about how the rising feed costs were going to make things difficult for farmers in the coming year, but that they could find some financial security if the export of meat remained strong. As I read through Mr. Salatin's chapter on small farms I saw a very different picture of financial security for farmers. In fact he strongly suggested that exportation was the wrong direction for the farmers and the countries involved!

I think that this is the first chapter in the book where the "lunatic" part of the title really starts to come out. Just think about how often you hear someone say that it is not the job of the United States to feed the world ... that doesn't happen very often! He is not saying that because of some sort of U.S. first mentality, but rather from the point-of-view that other countries (even developing countries) can produce the food that they need to feed the people in their own country. That is a pretty huge departure from the commonly held beliefs of the farmers, consumers, and politicians here in the U.S.

Here is a quote from the book that helps him express his point-of-view (this is something that a governmental official from Belarussia shared with Mr. Salatin) ::
"The day the foreign aid was deposited in our bank, every hotel filled up with U.S. corporate salesmen from machinery companies to seed to chemical companies. All that money was spent on things we did not need, things we could not fix, things we could not afford to put fuel in. If we had know about your kind of farming, we could have put in water systems, fence systems, and gone to a pasture-based system and fed our people and had enough left over for export."
It is an interesting quote and very interesting topic to consider. Often times I think Iowans (myself included) see ourselves and our farms as necessary for the survival of the world. I mean we play a huge role in feeding the world right? Our farms are some of the most efficient and highest producing ever seen right (my farm is not included in that)? But, Mr. Salatin sees things from a different angle ... he sees the possibility of farmers all of the world producing food for their local communities ... and he sees lots and lots of farmers!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. It is a topic that seems to boggle my mind!


Rich said...

Personally, I think we need all types and sizes of farms.

We need tiny one acre vegetable farms and mega farms half a country away growing vegetables to fill all those cans in all those grocery stores.

Of course I might be biased because I grow wheat (which might be exported), grain sorghum (likely made into livestock feed for local operations), cattle (sold as yearlings at the stockyards and sent to Kansas to be fed out), and beef (butchered locally and sold locally).

If I focused entirely on either only exporting my production or only selling locally, I would have much less options and would have more difficulty being successful (not to say either strategy wouldn't work). For the same basic reasons, a country or state would also have limited options if they only focused on one type of production to the exclusion of others.

t said...

I have been reading through your blog for the last several evenings and thought you made several interesting points. I come with the perspective of a organic market gardener who comes from a family of corn and soybean farmers. I see a place for both types of farming. With that said, one comment that can really touch a nerve for me is that we absolutely need conventional agriculture to feed the world. I do not agree with this. We are not currently feeding the world. There are many, many millions of people that go hungry right now despite the surplus of grain the U.S. holds. I think we need conventional agriculture because we (as Americans) are not willing to make lifestyle changes that would allow us to need less conventional agriculture. As long as our grains are being used in our not fuel efficient vehicles (and I guiltily have 3 of these old vehicles because it is what we can afford), being fed to our confinement animals which allow us to over consume meat because it is cheap, and being used to make unnecessary products such as soft drinks and other processed junk we will have to continue to rely on conventional agriculture. Until we are willing to make lifestyle changes, I do see a need for conventional agriculture but I wish more people would stop kidding themselves by saying they are feeding the world. I've found your blog interesting, I'm glad you have stuck with it.

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