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Small Farmers Will Be the Big Players


March 24, 2014 – The Post Carbon Institute has put together a fine talking heads documentary called “Agriculture in a Changing World.”  I learned a bit from it, so I thought I might summarize it for you.  You can find the film at

The half hour film consists of brief remarks made by leaders in the agriculture and climate change worlds.  I’ll start with Lester Brown, formerly of the World Watch Institute, now heading up the Earth Policy Institute.  He shocked me by stating that families in a number of countries around the world, among them Nigeria, Haiti, Ethiopia, India, and Peru, must go without food a certain number of days during the week.  While I was aware that Haitians have suffered this degree of deprivation for decades, I didn’t know that food supply was so precarious in other parts of the world.  He went on to say that water shortages are now a problem everywhere.

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of “The Limits to Growth,” published in 1972 and considered a turning point in the early environmental movement, commented that humanity has failed to solve the problems of growth and climate change, and will therefore have to have solutions imposed upon it, presumably by governments.  He further contends that the next 20 years will be a period of drastic change, with living standards undergoing deterioration along with the environment.

Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org, made some interesting contributions to the discussion.  First of all, for the first time in 150 years, there were more farms last year than the year before.  Not only that, but these farms, many of them quite small, produce very high yields.  Small farms generally are high producers because of the time and attention that can be lavished on them.  When you consider that downpours and droughts are making farming more and more difficult, small farmers may make all the difference in the years ahead.

Wes Jackson, of The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has always had a talent for pithy, unadorned truths, and this time was no exception.  He began by telling us what he considers obvious: humankind will try to subdue nature or, failing that, will try to ignore it.  We all know about the subduing part of the equation; I’d never thought about the fact that conservatives simply discount nature.  He then remarked, with regard to the slow food and slow money movements, that as long as energy-rich fuel is available, life will not slow down.  Jackson concluded by saying we must divorce ourselves from the extractive economy.

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Towns Movement, made what I thought were a couple of key points.  First of all, he categorically refused the alternative of giving up.  For this I applaud him.  Then he said we must invent our own economies, and do so as soon as possible.  If you’d like to hear Hopkins’ well-informed comments, along with those of Tad Patzek, Wendell Berry, Mathis Wackernagel, Michael Bell, and Mark Shepard (as well as the individuals listed above), then take a half hour out of your busy day to watch “Agriculture in a Changing World.”  It’s a relief to hear the truth.



With thanks to The Post Carbon Institute.






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