Agrarian Interdependence


#1

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?


Generative visuals: video, graphics, art, etc
#2

Beautiful words, and an interesting contrast to my impression of the suburbs and rural areas where I grew up, which seemed to me to be full of upper-middle class folks who could afford to build their fancy houses with pools this far from the city, people who aspired to that, and others who were more or less stuck there, there being fewer and fewer jobs that required few skills but paid reasonably well.

So far I guess I’m a confirmed city slicker—for me the height of luxury is being able to walk to, say, buy groceries, and I am determined to put off car ownership as long as I can. I think I see your form of interdependence in the way I am constantly rubbing up against people around in a way I never did in the suburbs.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that the “forty acres and a mule” is what was promised and never given to former slaves in the US as part of Reconciliation. It’s interesting to consider the tension that that thrusts through each of our dreams.


#3

Excellent thread and start.

I’ll be concise if I can.

I teach University, specifically a mix of information science and geoscience. I emphasize people live with the land in lectures where I can, and discuss sustainable alternatives when I can. I struggle with conversations with some non-geo’s about, for example, mining. We need to reduce mining by using less metal, not by calling mining evil and using laws to force it to other jurisdictions (where there are no or at least less environmental regulations). We need to build a sustainable future, but as far as I can tell the reaction to 20 years of blame has been a shift at least in North America to electing those who will repeal rather than strengthen laws. In my Province we’re about to elect a mini-Trump who is going to make gas cheaper, encourage more resource use, …

In my personal life I’ve tried to reduce my footprint every year, and so far have managed significant benefits every year though the pace is slowing. We’ll see how long this can continue in that there are fundamental limits where you hit the available interaction opportunities and the realities of the climate you live in.

My partner is heavily involved in permaculture, rewilding, redesigning urban spaces as edible landscapes, etc. and I help where I can.

I grew up in the exurbs and still struggle with living within a city, but I need to be at the university most days most times of the year and that really forces a balance in terms of time, transportation, and so on.

I’m also a fan of One Straw, and furthermore Alexander et al’s Pattern Language approach to thinking about how different spaces can learn to be more in tune with humans, and humans with those spaces. For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend leafing through it - it is a nonlinear text that encourages page flipping.


#4

I spend a fair amount of time in downtown Seattle due to my job. Something I’d like to get better at during those times, is learning how to “break the ice”. Not necessarily even to the degree of having some kind of deep engaging conversation, but just to any degree at all. When I find myself in a city, I am more or less constantly overwhelmed. So much stimulus! And my reaction to all of this is honestly to shut down quite a bit. Avert my gaze. Try not to interact.

I feel loneliest in crowds. I would love to change my approach to this…


#5

Oh boy! @rodrigo and I were going to start up a thread like this in a few weeks :smiley: I don’t quite want to let the cat out of the bag just yet (because the chickens haven’t hatched, metaphorically speaking<–have to be clean about this on an agrarian interdependence thread lol), but we’ll have some very big news coming up. Excellent thread @jasonw22!

*I did not mean to imply that the bag cat would hunt the freshly hatched metaphorical chickens!


#6

Great thread :slight_smile: As I mentioned on the Women + Trans thread, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, southwest england. Moved to the city in my late teens, and found it so much better and far more progressive, it gave me the freedom I needed, and suddenly the art I was making had spaces for it to exist in. That said, I heavily missed having forests at my front door, and me and my girlfriend have bought a boat to live on, we will be close to the city but in enough of a green place to breathe a bit easier.
We both plan to, later on in our lives, move to the country and start a smallholding, but right now we feel like we are needed in the city.
She is studying a PhD in geoscience, looking at community resilience in intentional communities and smallholders practicing permaculture in Wales. Before that she worked for an NGO in east Africa, collecting interviews from farmers on land use, from an agro-forestry perspective. She has quite a few opinions on the western idealization of living off the land, mainly because all the African subsistence farmers she met by no means lived ideal lives, living off your land is really hard!
Anyway, we both feel the drop out culture pull of running away, finding a smallholding or community somewhere and no longer engaging with a city, living low emission and low waste, but we know we can make more of a difference influencing others in the city ‘within’ the system, than we can by leaving it altogether. Later in life yea, but not until we’ve changed a few minds here. I feel like we have found a middle ground on the boat, we can have a compositing toilet, woodburner and solar panels, and move it closer or further away to the city as we need!


#7

This is hard. Or at least, doesn’t come naturally to me. I considered myself pretty introverted until recently, and I thought low-stakes communication, like talking about the weather, was “fake.” Lately my perspective on it is that actually, most people are as thirsty for social connection as I am, and “safe” subjects are a way into that, especially across difference.

I’m still quite bad at it, but I’m trying.

My PhD advisor, when she takes her children to the beach, tells them “go make a friend,” which is kind of brilliant, honestly. I grew up with a lot of “stranger danger” messaging—which I understand—but find to be largely overblown and a little isolating.


#8

So will definitely have more concrete questions (and (un)related concrete info) soon enough, but came back from taking a closer look and pictures of @Angela and my new home(!!).

This is something I’ve spoken to @jasonw22 and @tehn (and the lurking @sandreae) about, but never really thought it was gonna be for us.

But after many twists and turns , we’re doing it!

It’s about 1.7 acres in the Portuguese countryside and has several plantable/growable areas. Tons of trees, water/brook things, etc…

The previous owner kept animals (goats, chickens, horses, pigs) at some point as well, so there’s some structures for that.

We are both completely brand new to this, so super into input/thoughts/suggestions. As it is there lots of fruit trees all over the place, but it would be wonderful to grow some things in these plots. (is that what they’re even called?!)

One thing is that neither one of us wants to really work work as farmers. It would be great to grow things and obviously to live in a quiet/peaceful place like this, but having done tons of construction work growing up, it’s not something I (romantically) want to return to. So the One Straw Revolution stuff @jasonw22 mentioned is really appealing.

Don’t think I got pictures of all the flat/growing areas, but here are a few of the areas that are plantable on the property:

This is one of the beautiful views:

A picture of the house from the side:

(and what will become the creative studio):


Joy in pictures
#9

WOW! :grin:

This looks like a spectacular place to live, grow.


#10

So beautiful!

What are the local markets like? I’d recommend not rushing into any kind of food production until you get a sense for what’s available nearby and how you might be able to make a unique contribution. It’s the “inter-” in interdependence.

Looks like you’re in zone 10a which means you can grow sooo many different things. You’ll have less luck with anything that requires chill hours like pomme fruit (apples, pears, quince). But great luck with things that want a bit warmer/mediterranean style climate. Figs should do amazing, and they’re especially easy to grow. Hard to give more specific advice without being able to see how much sun different areas are getting. Looks like the particular day you were there it was cloudy, so it’s hard to tell how much shade you’re getting from the nearby woods and hills.

If you’re thinking about animals, you’re going to want sturdy fences, shelter from the elements, a water source, and enough space for the type of grazing/browsing the animals like to do. Do you guys already have pets? If not, I’d recommend a dog or cat first!

Really really excited for you guys and I hope to make a lines farm tour someday when the time is right (another stop would be in Delhi, NY of course!)


#11

Looks wonderful. I’ve only been to Portugal twice. One as a student, the second time visiting @keymanpal. It’s a lovely country and I really need to find time to visit again.


#12

There’s other local farmers too (blueberries, strawberries I know for sure, though likely more). One runs a local shop, so we’ll pop in to see what’s up.

That’s a great idea for not wanting to be redundant.

(I had to google what 10a meant…)

There’s several apple, quince, and fig trees all over the place, and some variety in the amount of sun/shade. Some of the oaks need pruning back, specifically in relation to a couple of the growable areas.

Thankfully there’s a bit of a community set up around this. The owner introduced us to the guy she has work the farm sometimes. Running a tractor to cut back the grass and till (?) the soil.

They’ve also had arrangements over the years where he grows some stuff then takes care of other things.

In going there today there’s oodles of numbers and contacts were gonna get from her for all the local people/workers/specialists.

We presently have two dogs (staffies) and would add at least another dog and a cat to the mix. Neither one of us wants to take care of other animals (the previous owner said the goats would get hurt trying to jump over things, even breaking their legs etc…) but I’m open to see how that works in terms of the system/balance of stuff.

Tons to learn for sure!

And really, really exciting!!


#13

There’s also the flip side: if you grow something your neighbors grow, they can give you advice. This is a good thing if your neighbors give good advice! Really depends on the neighbors…

Nice to hear there are apples and quince there. They must be warmer weather varieties than I’m familiar with. Hardiness zones have to be taken with a grain of salt anyway, as microclimates tend to vary a lot more than the map suggests. Also, hardiness zones tend to be more concerned with low temps than high temps (both matter) and don’t really address wetness/aridness (a huge factor!)

So great you can get some help with the mowing! That bit of tractor work is one of the things that keeps me busiest. We can have a rather long conversation about what tilling means (and whether or not you actually want to do it. It’s very situational, but the short verison: tilling and any other tractor work is pretty antithetical to “one straw”. That being said “one straw” is a disaster if you don’t adapt it to your current/local situation.)

Woohoo! That stuff is gold. Put it in a safe place that gets backed up. You’re going to need it for years.

Oh yeah! Looks at those buddies! I had forgotten.

woohoo!


#14

Nice place! If both of you are not into gardening, you might want to check out ‘workaway’

I’ve done it as a volunteer in Bali a couple of months. It’s a win/win situation for both volunteer and host.

Wish you all the luck


#15

Workaway is new to me.

http://wwoof.net/ is one I’m more familiar with.

My experience with WWOOFers is that they’re great for help with short, clearly defined projects, but not so reliable for sustained/maintenance type of work (which makes sense given the nomadic nature of the thing).

Other experience with WWOOFers is they typically need a lot of supervision. A few are extremely experienced, but most are fairly novice.


#16

A friend WWOOFed at some point. I don’t know if we’ll go the way of volunteer farming (though it’s good to know the options out there), but there will be something else instead.

Another nice perk is that in the 25years it was owned by the previous owner it’s all been organic.


#17

Nice, just got some of the technical drawings from the Realtor.

I have no idea what any of the lines mean, but to give an idea of the space itself.


#18

What a detailed survey! We don’t have anything near this level of detail for our place. Now I really want to know what those numbers mean!


#19

Me too!

There’s another page that has the house sections in similar level of detail. These are back from 97, which is when I think they got a bunch of work done (they bought it in 93).

Apparently it was a big/long deal to do work as it was/is a nature reserve, so they had to convince the council that it was ok to live in and to join some of the existing buildings.


#20

Congrats! Keen to see how you get on. I have a vague ambition to live somewhere like this eventually, but no idea on the how (also how to stay embedded in a ‘scene’/gig regularly).