It’s necessary and we are not far removed from them.
Remember this if nothing else: Humans were the first domesticated animal species.
This important article was published today.
‘A disconnect’ in the food chain
This time last year, half of Paul Allen’s green bean and cabbage crops at RC Hatton farms in Pahokee, Florida, would’ve been destined for food service. Now he’s plowing 5 to 6 million pounds of vegetables back into his fields.
“Retail cannot absorb it,” he said. “Whatever else you’ve got just goes unharvested and you’ve got to mulch it back into the ground.”
It’s hard to get the feel for what it is like to plow under acres of vegetables just because it costs more to harvest than you will receive by selling them. Blood, sweat and tears are expended to prepare the soil, plan the fields, start the seeds, transplant the seedlings, fight weeds and pests, prune the vines, arrange labor for harvest and keep the equipment running and banks at bay. Just when you’ve reached the very end of your credit and energy rope, the market disappears. The only canning plants are huge and a thousand miles away, and probably only built to process one or two types of crop, on predetermined contracts, and not the varieties you have. The farmer is the easiest one to cut off at the last minute: next to his workers, of course. She’s only one person who probably can’t afford the time or the money for a lawyer.
Therein lies the lie of “efficiency” and “competitive prices.” We have grown complacent allowing corporations to manipulate markets, government and whole generations toward convenience foods and low prices. The use of money and debt to manipulate farms has created strict paths of logistics that provide profits to major players and threats for smaller ones.
The loss of small town processors, butchers and farm equipment makers that came from the farm consolidation and losses of the 20th century have given our food chain over to politics, money and automation rather than human participation. The USDA supports corn, wheat and soybeans for government to trade for foreign goods (and votes), Media advertising revenues support pizza for delivery companies, crates for trucking companies to haul, big farms are run by big banks and enormous processors. Government subsidies keep farm prices low and roads paved for the haulers even as farms continue to go bankrupt.
We are facing an unparalleled event in human history. Millions of people will be seeking food, employment and new places to live as the economy is upended by a virus that plays berserker on all facets of life as we knew it. Yet, our political leaders, holding the hands of bankers and equity market criminals, only seek to ‘save’ a system that disconnected human beings from their own places, foods and skills in exchange for ‘futures markets’ that borrowed money to make promises they could never keep with the resources available.
“What does this have to do with animal farming?” you ask?
No, I am not talking about farms with 10,000 dairy cows pumping chlorine and hormone-laden, low fat chalk water to city schools full of iPhone-mesmerized children.
I am talking about people knowing and working the place that their food comes from, and whether that food will still be standing in a barn stall or in a jar in the pantry tomorrow morning when their children are hungry.
Animals on pasture in communities of land-based people are the core of the human existence, whether wild ones in a forest or domesticated herds under our protection. A cow in the barn and a couple of chickens on a nest aren’t going to be dependent on markets or banks to remain a cow in the barn and a chicken on the nest. We’ve forgotten what it means to be in control of our next meal and our next day’s work. Everything has become dollarized to the extent that the decision to destroy millions of pounds of food has to be made by one man under the weight of an ill-defined Invisible Hand Job that has been stroking the American Aristocracy’s ego.
Farm animals teach us how to be human: both the good and the bad. They teach us that life is precious, even when we are killing some of it so that other life will survive. They teach us that manure isn’t something to be flushed into the ocean. They store value that doesn’t have to be harvested in a narrow window of time or the fickle demands of unfettered markets. They provide a steady source of nutrition (milk, eggs, meat) that is easy to maintain with simple watchfulness and engagement with nature’s living systems. They survive nearly anywhere humans can tolerate, unlike vegetables that need predictable climates and labor-intensive conditions for planting and harvest. Vegetables are OK for a garden, but you don’t want to make a living from them. “The only way to make money from poor farmers is by keeping them poor.” -paraphrased from Terry Pratchett, “Making Money”
Market-based or not, centralized systems provide only high system stress and myriad chances to fail under heavy loads and random chance. They are great for fighting wars and building highways (are cars the dominant species?). Wars are fought so that one massively centralized system can steal the resources of other systems. Business is war, and war is a racket. Everyone knows this except apparently, business leaders, politicians and (most) generals.
Heifer International shouldn’t have to be a non-profit anomaly: it should be the core of any government: helping people be useful to themselves and their place by connecting us to the animals we are and keeping our value local and close to the earth.