This felt like it deserved a new thread:
I almost named it “Agrarian Independence” but the notion quickly threw into relief the many apparent contradictions in my own rural lifestyle. I live in the country on a farm, but I’m a UX designer for Amazon, a situation made possible only by the unique juxtaposition of Watsonville (a farming community, the “berry basket” of USA, and a hotbed of organic agriculture innovation) to Silicon Valley. My wife, who has retired from tech after a fight with cancer (that she’s winning!) spends more time in the orchard than I do, and I spend more time at the computer than she does. It’s a compromise, and it doesn’t fit the idealized mold of self-sufficient independence at all.
As I was thinking about all of this I realized it doesn’t matter. Independence isn’t the goal anyway. Interdependence is. I’ve lived in some truly terrible rural places in my life, where my neighbors were racists, machine gun collectors, meth cookers, alleged murderers, etc. Obviously you don’t want neighbors like that, and I got to learn the depths of this fact from experience.
When we moved to Watsonville did we instantly become successful farmers? Were we suddenly freed from the shackles of modern society? Was it all flowers and fruit and butterflies from now on, as far as the eye can see? No, no, and no. (but also “yes” a little more each day). What matters is that many of our neighbors here are pulling in the same direction. We’re all trying to figure it out. That means that when I need to set up a new kind of irrigation and I’m not entirely sure how to go about it, there’s folks around I can ask. When I don’t know who to ask, there’s someone nearby who knows who will know. I was blown away by the first couple of years here, every time we needed something, someone would come out of the woodwork to explain how to find it.
I didn’t know to expect this. Before we moved here, I always sort of imagined the agrarian lifestyle as one of rugged independence. There’s this fantasy of 40 acres and a mule, a self-sufficiency wherein everything you need comes from the fruit of your own labor. It was a daunting and overwhelming prospect. So many things to learn, so few decades on the planet in which to learn them. It was a foolish fantasy. We are all forever interdependent. We are all members of a global society. It’s a very simple and incontrovertible fact. The real challenge is figuring out where we can best contribute, and where we will best be supported in our efforts.
So, I feel very fortunate to have learned that the goal is not to be alone. The goal is not to have all the answers. The goal is to get started living a life where we are participating more directly in the production of our real needs. If we are becoming independent of anything, it’s a gradual withdrawal from the industrial mechanisms of global food distribution, a system that causes us to feel dependent on the status quo of industrial society. In the process we are becoming increasingly interdependent in our local food systems. We don’t grow all we eat here on the farm, but increasingly we do find all that we eat within the county where we live. Sometimes no money changes hands. It’s an amazing feeling the first time you have a meal whose ingredients all came from people you know, who have traded their modest harvest with one another. No one of those folks could have made a meal on their own, but together we have an excellent “Stone Soup”.
You have to figure out your own way. @tehn and I have talked a bit about Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. It’s a lovely story about one man’s effort to transform agriculture with his “do nothing” philosophy. In the first years of his experiment, he literally did nothing, and the results were predictably disastrous. The orchard he inherited from his father, that had survived for decades, almost immediately became entirely useless from neglect. He had to adapt his strategy when he learned that once disturbed/cultivated, agriculture requires continuous cultivation in kind, for this disturbance has weakened the plant and created a dependence on your labor for survival. And as he perfected his method, in truth, he does not really “do nothing”. It’s a phrase, a philosophy. But he works quite hard at times, doing the things that he found he could not eliminate. His farm in Japan grows mainly rice and citrus. The microclimate in Watsonville will not allow me to follow his method precisely. I can not even grow the same plants here. We are finding our own balance of what must be done, and what we should do less of, or not at all.
And that’s the whole point. You have to find your own balance. It will be yours. It will be unique. And when you find it, you are not at all likely to be alone. You are likely to find yourself in a web of agrarian interdependence.
This is how I am Building the world you want to live in. A world without kings. A world in which we rely upon one another.
How do you do it?