Monday, March 16, 2009

A Farm for the Future

I know I have been foisting a great deal of "viewing" on people lately. I had been intending to take a bit of a break from this, until I came across this British production:

"A Farm For the Future" is a 50 minute look at the future of agriculture, primarily in Britain. I found this film to be particularly interesting, as the film-maker reminds me a great deal of myself. She grew up on a very traditional farm, and was encouraged to get an education and move on to a "better" kind of employment...better meaning higher standard of living with less backbreaking labor. She also has come to a point in her life where she realized the quality of life that comes from agrarian life. And she as well has realized that Peak Oil means our Green Revolution style of agriculture, which is completely dependent on fossil fuels, has a very limited future. So this short film documents her first few steps towards finding what, if any, type of agriculture will sustain our population into the future.

I was delighted to see that the solution seems to lie within permaculture, which is the direction I am intent upon with the family farm. The difficulty here is that my location is nowhere near as climate ideal as southern England. Our winters here are much longer, much colder and usually come with several feet of snow. It is my belief, however, that this just means we need to discover a different kind of permaculture. We will need to do far more year-round green-housing, for one thing.

As with all things, I believe the answer lies in balance. We will need to balance our population in general, but more importantly, we will need to find a better balance between urban population and rural. We will need to balance food production between rural and urban settings as well. We need to develop a better mix of human labor, animal labor and fuel-based labor; all this comes down to a better balance between the natural world and technology. We will need to balance our diets. I will not argue for totally vegetarian diets, but the truth is that westerners eat far more meat than is healthy (for the physical labor they do, especially). We would also get better dietary benefit from hemp-seed cereals than from the traditional wheat, oats, barley OR soy with lower ecological impact.

Again, I believe agriculture is going to have to shift from family based, to group or community based. No longer will so many be able to get by on one skill such as truck driving or writing software, for example. Certainly specialized skills or interests will remain important; we will always need teachers, doctors, veterinarians, engineers, etc, but more important will be flexibility and adaptability...and a willingness to help where needed.

I am quite sure than anyone who comes to this site would find this film to be a well-spent hour sure to lead to hours of thought later on.

Peace and comfort to all.


Anonymous said...

But how will permaculture work with climate instability/change?

SoapBoxTech said...

That's a good question. I would say that it depends on how climate change manifests in different areas. But I would also say that investing the energy into significant permacultural development should ease the effects of climate change, albeit perhaps marginally. More importantly, I believe it will go a long way to reversing the anthropogenic aspects of climate change. The more it is implemented, the greater should be the reversal. I think this is especially the case in regards to ecological damage and destruction of bio-diversity as I think the human effect is far greater on these issues than on global temperature.

Either way, I think permaculture is worth the energy expenditure.

Amber said...

Oh yay! I'm so glad you posted this video. I read the news article about the documentary a few weeks ago, but couldn't find a way to watch the video outside of the UK. I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Have you seen Permaculture Canada?

I think permaculture in a climate changed world will present many challenges. I remember when I first learned about peak oil and was telling a friend that one solution to peak oil is more backyard (and front yard gardens). He responded basically, 'good luck with that, with climate change.'
Long term he has a point. Short term, we need to do it anyway.
We can still grow food in backyards now. We can still practice permaculture now. Until we can't, we have to do whatever we still can to increase food security and wean ourselves off of industrial agribusiness.
As with everything else I do in my daily life to be more sustainable, I'm not giving up on what is possible to change in the present, just because it might not be possible or useful in an uncertain future. I figure at the very least in will help in making the transition, no?

SoapBoxTech said...

That is my argument as well Amber.

I do believe, however, that implementing urban permaculture is going to be a lot more challenging than rural, other than in terms of sheer numbers available to help. But I agree that the effort is totally worthwhile, and the bigger the better.

Amber said...

More challenging indeed.
At the peak oil discussion group I went to someone raised the point that in Cuba, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they ripped up parking lots and turned them into gardens.
The counter point was made that we can`t do that here, since we mined all the topsoil out before paving over our land, so there`s nothing underneath our parking lots to grow food in anyway. As well, there are issues of contamination, brown land and such.
The benefit I can see to scaling up urban agriculture where possible, is that you don`t have to worry about shipping.
Every viable neighbourhood becomes a mini farm(ers) market.
Assuming of course that you have a reasonably stable climate... Sigh...

SoapBoxTech said...

Another thing Cuba had to its advantage in their agricultural recovery was a fairly homogenous population. Looking past the dictatorship for the moment, a homogenous population seems to be more capable of joining together in common goals. I believe this idea is supported by looking at Scandinavian countries which have managed to come together in support of re-building cities and other infrastructure toward more sustainability.

However, countries with mixed populations still seem to be figuring out how to live together at all, while now having to try to find the RIGHT ways to live together. This is the case when countries have to work together as well.

Personally, I think the vast majority of people would get along fine amongst themselves if we weren't pushed so hard at focusing on adversity. Because it is possible to derive great power and wealth from this push, it is hard to imagine that it will just end. This is why I argue so hard for people to wake up to this situation and to realize that we have to make responsible social changes OURSELVES. We cannot keep empowering these people.

I share your sigh, Amber. But I am standing here with you to try to fix this horrible imbalance in our world.