I have a copy of James Rebank’s A Shepherd’s Life. It was where I first came across the word “Hefted” – of animals or humans embedded in a place – intuitively in sync and harmony with place – of it – Tangata Whenua. I’ve used that word hefted in one of my recent blogs.
And then a friend sent me this NY Times article from Rebank, written observations of what he sees in American agriculture, suspecting I would concur. I thought it excellent. Here are some extracts…..
I traveled through Kentucky, through endless miles of farmland and small towns. It was my first visit to the United States, for a book tour. I was shocked by the signs of decline I saw in rural America.
for my entire life, my own country has apathetically accepted an American model of farming and food retailing, mostly through a belief that it was the way of progress and the natural course of economic development. As a result, America’s future is the default for us all.
It is a future in which farming and food have changed and are changing radically — in my view, for the worse. Thus I look at the future with a skeptical eye. We have all become such suckers for a bargain that we take the low prices of our foodstuffs for granted and are somehow unable to connect these bargain-basement prices to our children’s inability to find meaningful work at a decently paid job.
Rebanks is writing from the perspective of an English shepherd. His words are just as true for New Zealand.
Many of us have been writing and speaking for so long about the choices we have within land use – to continue to follow the deeply mythical, colonial, commodity, industrial, “Feed the World” model of ‘agribusiness’ where we become more and more alienated from stock husbandry and land husbandry. Stock and land and stream become ‘units’ – and husbandry is subsumed beneath the technology treadmill which grinds everything down. We become less husbandmen (the old name for farmers – those who *look after* land and beast) and more ‘managers’ of ‘agribusinesses’. All the evidence is there – social, economic and environmental decline – that this path is a moribund bankrupt, but we keep treating those who continue to speak from within its sightless walls – however dim their bulbs – as the go-to commentators. Perhaps it is the suits they wear.
But there is another path – to value, diversity, working with the patterns of the land to create – not trade-offs between economy and environment – but multiple positives. Land is not a zero-sum game of this against that; you can design landscapes that sing like a choir – resonating harmonies. You just have to know how to orchestrate; to build options and diversity, to hold price, retain local ownership, build long local value chains and all the civic, environmental and economic performance that comes, provide resilience to an uncertain future where climate and oil constraints – not to mention crises of price and availability – will inevitably kick in.
That orchestration can only come through retaining husbandry as the measure of a good land user – rather than some idiot measure of gross production – as if the land was a factory – whatever the social, environmental and *even* financial cost!
Read this article. It so relates. And when you hear Federated Farmers or GM Food advocates spouting their illogic – look to the gutted middle America – and the dispossessed who now vote for Trump because all hope is gone. We are 20 or 30 years behind the States. And the decay is already well advanced. Why don’t the leaders try to understand it, rather than enthusiastically call for one and all to put the hammer down – more dams, GM Food, more N, technofixes, get bigger, a bigger mill, reduced water quality standards, the right to exploit workers ….. ?
I don’t think we are led by thinkers who seek to understand before they act. I think they continue to react … because that is the only nightmare they know.
We should learn from the lessons of America. It was a phrase I heard today from someone who has suffered through life:
“If you don’t learn from your experiences …. you’re fucked.”
We laughed at her outspokenness.
We also laughed because it’s true.