2016-06-11

Evolution

There is a transformation taking place.  A change.  It is just beginning, and one would be hard pressed to recognize anthing at all is different.  In fact, from an outside perspective....you know, like driving by a place you have driven by countless times before and noticed was there, but really had no vested interest in engaging any thought about....  from that outside perspective, the change might as well not exist.

The Farm has the same number of acres that it has had since probate was completed. There are a few more tillable acres (about 20 ) that we tore up on the south side.  There is the new well and septic which we were forced to install both by law and by necessity.  Some equipment is new or improved. These are changes, however they are changes that take place as a regular course of business.

But it is the same place, the same layout of fields...  .  It is The Farm.  Isn't it?

In many ways, yes, it is.  But something is changing, and while the outside observer will not see it, it is fundamental, and gut wrenching....   It is the way we think about The Farm that has, and continues to, change.  The decision to cease operating in the conventional manner of commodities production won't make much difference to anyone who does not directly work on The Farm.  No one really gives a damn about 153 acres of tillable land unless they plan on buying it.  In the grand scheme of today's agricultural business model, the 234 acres total is something akin to a hobby farm.

Of course my neighbors care, after all, they are neighbors.  We talk of plans, of hopes, of shitty prices and a volatile market driven by money hounds who don't give a damn about the long term impacts their market manipulations have on us.  We agree in principle, but differ in our visions of implementation.  But we are neighbors, and we care.  So my neighbors will watch and hope for us to do well on our venture.  And they will be glad if we do, and shake their heads sadly if we don't...

The changes began long ago, as all changes do.  After all, evolution is an ongoing process.   I wont' delve deeply into the history here, but suffice it to say that the prosperous little dairy farm eventually became a beef and commodity operation, and subsequently exclusively conventional commodities only.  Which is where we, the next generation, took over.  And we did reasonably well.  In an environment where Big Ag gets the attention, a small farm that survives is doing well.  But a small farm sustains itself by remaining stable.  By setting aside enough for hard years during the good years.  A small operation balances on a very thin line between outside influence and self-reliance.  That is not a business model that flies these days....

So how does one think about this evolutionary challenge to the small family agricultural operation? Some simply sell to one of the bigger operations.  A couple of years ago, 10,000 acres in Grant County, which was made up of a number of family farms, got swallowed up by a large European bank.  The houses and buildings have been demolished. Of course a bank does not really need to worry about amortization.  They are just looking to dump money into something that will probably hold value.  Thus, they don't really worry much about purchase price either: they can out-bid pretty much anyone other than another financial institution.  That prices us real people right out of buying land, and raises our taxes, as the assessed value is influenced by the prices paid by the large institution, which gets tax breaks of course.  $79 million dollars, and many small farms were swallowed into a factory operation.

That is disturbing on a number of levels.  One of them is community.  Farming has in the past been a community experience, a community activity, a community interest.  When land disappears into the corporate void, that community dissipates.  The land becomes a distant thing to the community.  It beomes -- 'that land'-- ...no longer 'our land'.  That sense of 'ours' disappears.  And that is not good for the people, nor for the land.

We are evolving into entities that are dependent on systems which are so much larger than ourselves as individuals, as communities of families with a vested interest in ourselves and our local surroundings, that we are becoming rootless.  We are resources that can be moved about by simply making the act of staying where our roots are, and have been, is made non-viable.

To have the freedom to pick up and move is one of the greatest assets this country of ours has to offer. That freedom, however, has been corrupted in the most clever of ways.  Our choice in our way of life is reduced, not because it is the best thing to do, but because that choice is in the way of larger forces. And those larger forces apply a unique logic to their methods and goals:  They say "You have the ultimate freedoms!  You can move anywhere you want, do any job you want to do, buy any product you wish to buy!"  And they say it with a straight face, while reducing the choices available.  They simply buy the choices.

Evolution is a scary thing.  We don't know enough to be able to predict its path nor its outcome.  We can only look around us, see and interpret  to the best of our ability, and then hope luck is on our side. I sincerely hope that the Farm is one of those things that evolution pays little attention to.  Like the cockroach: Too small to mess with.  And ultimately hope that in time, the dinosaurs we call 'institutions'  die off, leaving behind a better people, a wiser people.  I hope the Farm is there in some healthy, productive form to be a part of that.

I do have hope....