It must be said; agriculture in these times is potentially one of the most creative activities for humans to engage in.
Not the agriculture that we know but the one we must invent!
The agriculture that we know "is a system that destroys ecosystems and produces humans " Toby Hemenway.
In the one we must invent, our whole relationship with life is up for review!! and through it our relationship with ourselves and with each other. The challenge is enormous. Not only do we have to contend with the requirements of a collapsing world that still demands things of us- ways of behaving and interacting, making a living, cumbersome administrative and functional baggage, as well as climate change, social upheaval, violence and diminishing resources, but now we are invited to invent the world as it will be tomorrow. What a tall order that is! Not a job for the feeble-hearted. Never before has a responsibility of such urgency been demanded of us as aware individuals. Life itself is at stake... and indeed our relationship to life is what must undergo a conscious transformation. As David Holmngren points out we will need to use any appropriate tools from traditional wisdom of the past as well as new technologies and emerging human potentials yet undiscovered or unexploited.
Reconnecting will be a vital component of this new agriculture; Technology, however useful, has taken us light years away from our own most precious measuring instrument - our bodies. The inherent wisdom of the body is a portal to much information that we have turned a deaf ear on for so long we are not even sure how it works
Through full body consciousness, our emotional connection to life is also reawakened. Not sentimental, guilt-ridden pseudo- compassion but rather deep understanding; Understanding of how life works as a whole system. Understanding the nature of our codependent arising in all its wonderful complexity. Not the fundamentalist, recreating a polarized world of right and wrong but the profoundly respectful sage, striving for balance, understanding, equanimity; recognizing the place of each and every participant in the dance of life.
If we take a look at what this might configure in concrete terms, we might see that this new agriculture, in the transition at least, may involve more sophisticated technology, more hardware. Technology at the moment is largely to do with producing more hardware. It may however serve the ultimate purpose of teaching us, by using concrete models, how to use our own software (our brains) to their fullest potential.
It will be an agriculture that works with the subtle energies rather than the grosser, clumsier ones used by agriculture at the moment. Homeopathy and Bach flower remedies are one entry point to this kind of interaction with ailing plant and animal life, working with Rudolf Steiner's theories and preparations or connecting with plant and animal devas as used in Findhorn are others. Innumerable experiments have been underway for more than 50 years now that work in this direction. This kind of soft technology goes way beyond hardware both in terms of conserving energy and in lasting results.
The goals of the new agriculture will necessarily change
Production, while still important, will not be more important than maintaining the resource base, for the simple reason that negligence of the resource base means that no production will be possible in the future.
It will be an agriculture of mutually beneficial interaction, of symbiosis rather than one of competition; of cooperation between humans and between humans and all other species, animal and vegetable, in the systemic model that nature has always used ; the self-regulating, self-organizing systems in their nested hierarchies from atom to cell to multicellular organisms to social grouping or community to ecosystem or community of species to planetary system to galaxy. Where as conventional agriculture seeks to eliminate disease, competition or pests the new agriculture will strive to redress the balence within a system, recognizing that disease competition or invasion of pests are all signs of imbalance. No element (other than human) becomes invasive in a balanced system unless its services are required to redress an imbalence for the benefit of the whole system- (no element other than human has to contend with ego)
It will surely be an agriculture that involves more people than the 20th century model, on smaller surfaces of land, simply because we live in a world of increasing population and limited surface area: simply because our rapid consumption of billions of years worth of stored carbon is going to make the earth unfit for life if we continue to burn it at an ever increasing rate.
A United Nations report on "Feeding the World" states that small scale organic is the only sustainable way to go about solving the multiple problems created by modern agriculture. Gardening and small polyculture will probably become the new model for 'agriculture' simply because it is the most productive form that humans have come up with so far. It also leads to a regenerative spiral of aggradation unrivaled by any other humanly managed system. It requires comparatively few resources other than human energy and ingenuity and uses small surfaces of land. It can be done by young and old alike with physical and psychological benefit to its practitioners and it constitutes the most appropriate diet in terms of human health. It also has the political advantage of putting people in greater control of their own food supply, and reducing the size of the feedback loops that stabilize systems.
In this system trees will come into their own agriculturally speaking, as food producers, co-gardeners, co-producers, carbon storage, climate modifiers, soil builders, oxygen factories, living solar panels, and true friends, just to mention a few of the free services they provide life with.
Our partnership with animals, both domestic and wild, will necessarily evolve as well. No more animal factories or people factories either! We will want to configure our relationship as one of cooperation rather than exploitation.
This will not mean all out veganism- at least certainly not to begin with.
As the only remaining top predator (we have wiped out most of the others) we still have a responsibility to regulate their populations for the sake of the totality of the ecosystem. It may be necessary to manage larger areas of wilderness in symbiosis with grazing animals. Herbivores are a vital component of rapid carbon sequestration in their grazing of extensive areas of grassland and quite possibly an important emergency food source in a time of climate upheaval- as they almost certainly have been in the past.
I think economics is a very important aspect to look at. Its one of the major reasons present day agriculture is in such a state! Food is not considered a birthright but is seen as a commodity. In the existing system not everyone has the right to eat well or even to eat at all; It all depends on how much money you earn. Food itself is regarded as a legitimate way to make lots of money. It may be unfairly remunerated, shipped from the other side of the world with little or no accountability for the consequences of its production on the people or the environment that it has been produced in. It can be transformed out of all recognition, poisoned ( intentionally or unintentionally), hoarded, speculated on, purposefully destroyed or squandered in waste... all in the name of sacrosanct economics.
The people who actually do the work of growing it are regarded as being at the bottom of a perceived social hierarchy and are very rarely the ones that 'profit'. Growing food is considered a menial job like any other by the business world and yet it isn't!!
"The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings" M F This is precisely because farming has been, for some 10 thousand years now, our main place of conscious interaction with life.
We all (or most of us) still have to eat and until we are all at the stage of being able to perform our own version of photosynthesis, producing food in one way or another remains pretty important. So how do we create an equitable system where all can eat well and help to produce our own food and where those who produce more than they need can be correctly paid or exchanged for their produce?
How do we design the less desirable attributes of money out of the equation?
How do we go about this cultivation and perfection of human beings??
The indigenous Columbian tribe, the Kogis, took a collective social decision to keep money out of their traditional society following some tentative experiments with it. They considered it dangerous to the social fabric and their way of life because of the inequalities and subsequent jealousies it provoked.
In our society the use of money has become such a pervasive notion that it would have to be our definition of its role that changes. We might have to agree that some things cannot be bought and sold. The air we breath, the water we drink and bath in, and the food we eat, are gifts of nature therefore we all have the right to partake equally... and we all have an equal responsibility to keep those gifts clean and intact. Perhaps they could be considered in a class apart from other commodities.
If 'there is no such thing as a free lunch' (Barry Commener) and producing food is not something one can just glibly pay someone else money to do for you then maybe we can invent new social systems that involve everyone in the process at various points in the year.
What office worker would not enjoy a month of collective living in the countryside helping to plant or harvest. A form of this kind of 'utopian' functioning has been experimented with by early communist systems such as the kibbutzes in Israel.
We still consider obligatory army service as a legitimate civic duty!!.. well why not food production and care of collective water supplies?
Why not a kind of food 'tribe' that encourages groups of people in geographically limited areas and in socially inclusive ways to take collective responsibility for their own food supply.
Perhaps a farmer or chief gardener could become a new kind of civil servant, payed a small stipend by the collectivity to manage the production of the local food resource.
We could go so far as to use the tripart altruism of natural systems to help out neighboring groups when their harvests were inadequate. Creativity in reinventing social tools is easily as important as methods of production!
Small changes are happening all the time... and small, patient solutions are a necessary aspect of durable change. It requires the full participation of each and every actor in the transformation of the system. Community supported agriculture, farm cooperatives, community gardens, wwoofing are all part of this changing attitude to our food resource; Talking about it, sharing it, teaching it, and, most importantly, just doing it.... gardening.
Learn the basics from a good gardener, research the understanding of why through science, but don't let dogma take over!
Watch how natural systems work, observe and then copy them. Include rampant diversity, of all species that are adapted to your soil and climate. This includes human diversity by the way, or daring to do it with other people. Other people constitute a wealth of information and observation different from your own, and like various plants and animals they are complimentary.
Our species have managed to dominate on planet earth not because of our superior brain power (other animals are proving to be at least as intelligent as most humans) as much as our capacity to cooperate.
Experiment, try things out. Research; each and every one of us is the equivalent of a new research institute and there is a wealth of information out there just waiting for you to ask the right question. Use your intuition (a much neglected human faculty) Use your social skills as well to make it fun and inclusive. Use your influence and imagination to find places to do it. Gardening engages all the human faculties.