Gene Logsdon and Friends

Occupy Absentee-Owned Farms

In Gene Logsdon Blog on November 9, 2011 at 8:13 am

From GENE LOGSDON

I know something I would much rather occupy than Wall Street. I wonder if the typical young critic of the moneychangers realizes where the wealth that drives Wall Street comes from. How much of it, for example, resides in the land out here in corn and soybean country that is owned by wealthy people who have never set foot on it? A typical if somewhat fictionalized example is Mrs. Petunia Luckybirth who inherited 1200 acres of good Illinois prairie simply because she slid out of the right womb at the right time (as a friend puts it) 84 years ago, but who long ago moved to California and married a man wealthy in his own right. He left her with a million dollar mansion and about 3 million in his own investments when he passed away a few years ago.

Her Illinois farmland is worth some $9,000 an acre at the moment and earns her about $24,000 a year in rental payments which she (actually her lawyers) has been investing dutifully in the stock market at an average return of around 6% over the years which means it about doubles the money every ten years. Industrial corn growers farm her land. She has never had to spend a penny of her farm income. She has never thought of selling it. One thing her father and grandfather had drummed into her head: never sell farmland. It is the best long term investment there is.

What her entire current net worth amounts to is hard to say, but if suddenly her farmland disappeared, she wouldn’t even know it until someone told her. She would have a hard time finding it if she did go back to her roots because she has been away so long all the old landmarks are gone.  Even on the county plat books, her farmland is no longer listed under her name but under an investment company her lawyers cooked up to shield her from nosy people like me who used to be able to use plat maps to figure out how much land a farmer owned.

I don’t want to sound critical of Petunia because she is a nice person and gives generously to charity. I should know. Many years ago when I realized that the only way I would ever own a thousand acres of good farmland would be to marry a Luckybirth, I dated two of them, not really for that reason but it crossed my mind. That didn’t work out, thank the Lord, but they were nice girls and still are. Also one of my best friends, now passed away, was a Luckybirth, real name Craig Bowman. He inherited farmland big time. When I would complain to him about the wealthy classes and the unfairness of life, he would look abjectly at me and say rather plaintively: “I can’t help it because I was born rich.” Then he would add, significantly: “Inheriting land is not the whole story. You still have to be smart and work hard to hold on to it.”

But I still wonder what all those people who want to occupy Wall Street would do if they understood how inherited wealth building up over time by inflationary demand, manipulated money interest and tax deductions for the wealthy are the real driving force of Wall Street. Those stock brokers and traders are mere serfs of the investment industry. If those demonstrators knew about Petunia Luckybirth, wouldn’t they decide that it would be a whole lot more effective to occupy absentee-owned farmland especially in cases like hers where her lifestyle or wellbeing would not be hurt one penny’s worth?

Since land reform has been one of the moving forces of human history, how long will it be before that happens? Occupying farmland would certainly be more fruitful than occupying Wall Street. Wall Street is an inflated windbag of pretend money. Petunia, or at least her money managers, knows what kind of wealth it really pays to occupy.
~~

  1. Then there’s Hans Arbeitung, who worked hard for 40 years to stuff away a little cash. He and his wife are a bit long in the tooth to do all the farm work by themselves, so he started a cooperative, whereby his life savings would provide most of the funds for getting a chunk of land. Then he would recruit young people to volunteer, learn his skills, and earn sweat equity in the cooperative.

    Problem is, he didn’t have quite enough to fund the entire venture, he made some bad decisions concerning business partners, and unless someone of similar mind and situation comes along to invest, the bank will soon own the property.

    Petunia Luckybirth opens her investment statement, and sees a big bump in capital gains. “What’s that about?” she thinks as she calls her investment advisor, who tells her, “We’re buying farmland foreclosures at 20 cents on the dollar!” not revealing that they are then entering them in their books at full market value. “Lucky me,” she thinks as she files the statement, only slightly assuaged by guilt at profiting from someone else’s misfortune. “I guess if I don’t do it, someone else will,” she placates herself.

    Hans ends his shift at Macdonalds with some frozen milk-like substance. It is bright pink, and mostly corn syrup, artificial colouring and flavouring, and dried whey and nonfat milk solids. It’s not that great tasting, but it keeps the hunger at bay, and he can’t afford his rent and his wife’s medical bills otherwise, since she’s developed asthma since leaving the farm and moving to a cheap apartment next to the mill, where Hans was hoping to get a job, but he was just too old by then.

  2. I think about this all the time when I drive by beautiful barns with roofs sagging and multiflora rose overtaking their pastures and know there are young people who would love nothing more than to farm but can’t access land. I think there is some sort of matchmaking service trying to pair the absentee owners with the aspiring farmers – I hope it is successful.

  3. Just got back to my little, 12-acre homestead. Delivered cookies to the Nashville Occupiers–God bless ‘em.

    • hello Betty i live on a farm in scotland that is 4 acres what skills do you need for sheep the farm is called sixpence in pinwherry

  4. Gene, I know (at least I hope I know) that this article is tongue in cheek, but I find the OWS movement disquieting. Yes, they are unhappy and yes, they have reason to be. However, they have no ideas other than to tear down the system. What will they replace it with, and how will they keep things going while it is being replaced? Chanting slogans and wearing matching Tee shirts doesn’t get at the root cause of the problem — massive debt. It kind of reminds me of the folks in Egypt — is what they have now better in terms of jobs, food supply and overall quality of life? Doesn’t look like it to me. It’s tough enough to make societal changes in a situation where there are adequate resources and the rest of the world isn’t in equal or worse shape. It’s a heck of a lot harder in the current economic milieu. The other thing that bothers me is how quickly the OWS movements have turned violent in some places. Not that OWS is violent in and of itself, but there are an awful lot of disaffected folks out there who don’t need much of a push to start pillaging and looting. I don’t have any answers; I’m beginning to think the best thing we can do is to try to put what we need in place so we and our families can ride out the coming storm. Sometimes a system (or in this case, multiple systems in multiple countries) is so badly broken that it can’t be fixed, and wholesale destruction is inevitable. As a student of history, I think of Germany and England after WWII (and England was on the winning side!), of the Soviet Union collapse, and of course, of ancient Rome. I sure hope I’m wrong …

    • “Chanting slogans and wearing matching Tee shirts doesn’t get at the root cause of the problem — massive debt.”

      Or peak oil? Or peak phosphorous? Or collapse of global fisheries? Or global climate change?

      We’re in a situation botanists call “Leibig’s Minimum.” In plant science, this means that whatever nutrient is in least supply is the limiting factor on plant growth. You can’t apply extra potassium to make up for a lack of nitrogen. And if you lack nitrogen, but somehow meet that demand, growth can only continue until the next least nutrient becomes the limiting factor.

      You can’t convince me that “massive debt” is much more than a symptom, rather than a cause. We don’t depend on little rectangles of coloured paper for sustenance. We do depend on petroleum to grow plants and to grow industry and to grow economies. “Massive debt” is merely an artifact of the constant growth we’ve been able to achieve over the past couple centuries, due almost entirely to the exploitation of fossil sunlight.

      But even if we solved the “energy problem,” Leibig’s Minimum would rear its ugly head somewhere else, and things would stall — perhaps we’d run out of the copper that keeps the electronics industry going, or the lithium that is enabling a new generation of cars that are supposed to solve the petroleum problem.

      I don’t think you’re wrong that the system “is so badly broken that it can’t be fixed.” This is what the occupy movement is reaching for, but not quite able to elucidate. The fact that they’re not just sitting back and being victims is encouraging in itself.

  5. Beth, I’ve never heard an occupier say they want to tear down the system. There are 3 basic concepts. They are against corporate greed, for economic fairness and against corporate money influencing politics. In this group, Monsanto about covers all three.

    The OWS groups didn’t turn violent. The police did. In the one case in Oakland, the livestream clearly showed outsiders running out from a side street, throwing stuff at the cops and then running back to the side street before the teargas. This was likely a planned event to make Occupy Oakland look bad. It was outsiders in black robot suits that broke the windows. That is clear from the videos.

    The system is destined to fail if it continues as it is. I think it’s too late to fix it.

    For something to smile about. Gov. Hickenlooper in Colorado insisted the Occupiers appoint a leader to interact with his office. So they elected a border collie named Shelby. They said a dog is as much a person as a corporation. Last I heard, the Gov is looking for someone as smart as a dog in his administration.

  6. There’s a lot of absentee owners getting wealthy of timberland, too (at least, before the housing market crashed and people still needed 2x4s). I cruised timber for a small hardwood sawmill, and I always enjoyed getting to talk to landowners who had forty or fifty acres of timberland that they took pride in. Some of the stories people told me, a complete stranger, as walked with them through their woods are still very special to me. On the other hand, I was always wary of cruising timber tracts owned by absentee owners. I never knew if I was going to walk up on a drunk hunter or liquor still. One time, on an absentee tract, I walked up on a makeshift meth lab–it was a scary experience.

    Anyway, now in the timber world, we have TIMOs, or Timber Investment Management Organizations. As far as I can tell, the prevalent idea around TIMOs is to get a bunch or wealthy investors, often foreign, to pool their money to buy large amounts of timberland (which, of course, they never step foot on). The land is managed intensively for timber for 10 to 15 years, then harvested, and then sold piecemeal to achieve the highest return for investors. Unfortunately, this often leads to fewer forests or more fragmented forests, as the highest bidders are often developers.

  7. I can not help myself but to take the bait:

    “Massive debt is merely an artifact of the constant growth”
    The debt was doubled in just the last three years, it had nothing to do with “growth” it had to do with stealing from the future to pay for failures of the present.

    Re: The Flea Party and their demand – “There are 3 basic concepts. They are against corporate greed, for economic fairness and against corporate money influencing politics”.
    The only official demand, as reported in that conservative bastion known as the NY Times is: Free education, $20/hour minimum wage paid for those working or similar income for those who choose not to (work). All other demands are simply conjecture by those who sympathize thus project.

    As to Comrade Gene’s redistribution of land and whether it is legitimate or tongue-in-check; he is not that silly. I believe it is only part 1 of the story. The Rest of the Story, as they say, will define how all this came about, Part 2 is about that Pesky Farm Bill.

    The land ( or use of ) would not have the value and thus the demand if it were not for the farm bill i.e. government money out of control. In NYS it is difficult even to find agricultural land as most is bought up before it even goes onto the market. This is true due to unnaturally high demand for commodities and farmer welfare both farm bill items.

    I received a document by mistake where the NRCS was building an enormous manure lagoon for a farmer in the tens of thousands. All this did was allow him to pack more cows into the same farm and actually paid for more land to deposit all that shit. It is now common to truck the smelly stuff on public roads, thru villages, 25 miles or more each way just to get rid of it on fields. The more cows the more money they get and the greater demand for land, an endless spiral.

    We can not fault landowners to take advantage of legal and available options. We should fault ourselves for allowing it to exist at all.

    • “Massive debt is merely an artifact of the constant growth”

      “The debt was doubled in just the last three years, it had nothing to do with “growth” it had to do with stealing from the future to pay for failures of the present.”

      I think we may be in “heated agreement” here.

      The debt shot up when growth stopped. Had growth continued, the debt would not be in crisis mode. That is what I was unsuccessful in communicating. But I stand by debt being a symptom, rather than the problem. Constant, infinite growth is what allows and enables debt. When growth stops, almost always due to physical constraints, debt balloons into crisis.

      In reality, we’ve been “stealing from the future” for much longer than the past few years, when it became a problem. It’s just that growth masked that it was going to be a problem, so we all took part.

  8. I keep reading this blog because I get to read different opinions, some of which conflict with mine, and I occasionally have to google things for definitions. My world keeps expanding! Cool.

    As for the violence of the Occupiers: I don’t think the majority is of that persuasion. I went to an Occupy Dayton (Ohio) rally and didn’t see a hint of violence. I was impressed with the diversity of attendees, and made a point of conversing with some people in my demographic (people in their sixties) to compare their thinking with mine. This is not to say there aren’t violent people in NYC or Oakland. There are. Some of them are police! The guy who wrote “The Big Short”, Michael Lewis, was on TV hawking his new book, “Boomerang” (which my library just informed me had arrived in the inter library loan program), and someone asked him about the Occupy movement. He responded that at last someone was upset with the people they SHOULD be upset with: the 1% with most of the wealth. He wasn’t much of a Tea Party fan. Neither am I, because I value history: it’s hard to square being taxed too much when taxes have never been lower in my lifetime. I’d like to go to a Tea Party meeting dressed as an American Indian, with a sign that says “This is how the original Tea Partiers dressed, you angry morons!”

    As for Gene’s blog, for years I’ve watched people walk away from auctions shaking their heads and saying “That land will never pay for itself”. Finally, the light came on: land is an investment. Big landowners can afford to pay more, because their original land is worth so much more than they paid for it. I think money people call that “dollar cost averaging”. As long as the commodity (land) appreciates at a greater rate than the interest rate being paid on borrowed cash, it’s a pretty smart move. We’ve all seen the opposite happen, though, and it ain’t pretty.

    When I was reading the blog, I got to thinking about some lyrics written by the poet of my generation, Bob Dylan. The album “Blood on the Tracks” came out in the early seventies, and contained a song called “Idiot Wind”, where the singer laments after having married a rich woman, and when she died, her money came to him: “I can’t help it if I’m lucky!” Another lyric from the mid sixties was that “some people will rob you with a fountain pen.” For a young guy, Dylan was pretty smart.

  9. Protesting and camping out in city centers will certainly arouse public attention, but it will not bring about the solution. This movement believes that large, powerful corporations yield too much influence on the country and government, and are causing many of our major problems. The way to stop them isn’t through shouting on street corners, it’s to simply stop patronizing them. Everyone has the ability to choose what companies he buys from. We should seek to buy from small companies, family farms and businesses, etc. The movement could be a massive boycott, that would certainly achieve something. It would force us to think about better ways to do things.

    • I think there are many ways to affect change. They work in synergy.

      Certainly, choosing not to give your money to big businesses is one approach that can be very effective, given enough people. But how do you get people to do that? Perhaps that is what the occupy movement brings to the table — waking up the sheeple, who will then look more closely at their purchasing habits.

      Just one or two of us boycotting corporate purchasing is like a gnat trying to steer an elephant. But having thousands doing it on the evening television news every night may just do the trick.

    • I agree that boycotting big business is a good idea in theory. However, how do you boycott monsanto? Even if you knew every product under their name there is collateral damage to think of. What about the farmer that actually works the land that isn’t his, growing seed that isn’t his, running equipment the bank owns? Are you going to put him under? I think Occupy Monsanto is a better idea. And Occupy BP!

      • “how do you boycott monsanto?”

        Eat only organic food, for one. It can’t be labeled “organic” and be genetically modified at the same time.

        I’m pretty confident that we’re at least 99% “Monsanto-free,” because we grow most of our food, and what we don’t grow, we buy organic. The 1% Monsanto that we eat might be a once-in-a-blue-moon splurge to eat out. But luckily, as farmers, we can’t really afford to do that!

      • Jan, If you eat pork, is it really GMO-free? If you raise chickens, do you order biddies from GMO-free hatcheries? Is the ethanol in your gasoline “Monsanto-free”? (More corn now goes to ethanol production than feeding livestock.) Are the tax dollars you spend on feeding the military and school lunches “Monsanto-free”? What about the pesticides you pay your power company to spray on its right-of-ways? What about the GMO soybean meal that’s spread on your USDA organic crops for nitrogen fertilizer? What about the manure from GMO-fed CAFO’s that organic agriculture in the U.S. is founded on? Are your clothes not made of round-up ready cotton?
        Eating “organic” is nice and good, but I bet it won’t even get you to 50% “Monsanto-free.” My only point, really, is that we’re in this deep, and I don’t think it will do us any good to under-estimate what we’re up against.

      • @Eric B., I understand where you’re coming from, but we really are pretty close to “Monsanto-free.”

        We don’t eat meat, but if you eat organic pork, it should be “Monsanto-free.”

        We breed our own chickens. They are “Monsanto-free.”

        We don’t use gasoline. We make our own biodiesel from restaurant waste, so you got me there — the vegoil we make biodiesel from probably has Monsanto content, but at least our use of it has not directly increased Monsanto sales. Plus, we drive under 5,000 km a year. Sometimes, we don’t get in a vehicle for a week. My conscience is clean on this one.

        We are practicing “voluntary poverty,” what Thoreau called it before marketing people turned it into “voluntary simplicity” so they could sell people magazines and gadgets to make their lives simpler. :-) We pay no taxes and support no military. Now I realize some of you are going to call us loafers who suckle off the government teat. We do get some modest perks by choosing not to make as much money as we can, but I prefer to think of those who pursue money as suckling off the Gaia teat. Just stop it — it’s embarrassing watching a middle-aged, overweight man nursing. :-)

        I suppose we’re guilty of our electric bill going toward some pesticides. I’ll bet its still way under the 1% I cited.

        We don’t use external inputs for our organic farming. We use goat manure and chipped slash. “Monsanto-free.”

        Our clothes come from thrift stores. As with the vegoil we use for our extremely modest diesel fuel needs, I think I get a pass then something has been purchased and served its purpose. Monsanto made not a cent from our re-use, and the local hospital got some operating funds.

        Like I said, I appreciate your point, but it is not impossible to divorce yourself from Monsanto. The trick is to divorce yourself from industrial civilization, either by choice, or by nature in the next few years.

      • Jan, I wouldn’t let myself off so easy. And I still don’t think you’re anywhere near 99%, even if you excuse those things for which you’re totally dependent on “Monsanto” for waste products or second-hand goods.

        My example of your electric bill subsidizing the use of herbicides on right-of-ways wasn’t meant to point to a single large item but rather to point to a whole category of ways in which we pay others to use Monsanto’s products. Given that in the U.S. fuel ethanol consumes more Monsanto corn than any other use, what’s perhaps most significant (again laying aside your near 100% dependence on “Monsanto” waste oil for your own motor fuel) would be the 10+% ethanol that goes into transporting practically everything you have shipped to you or to a retailer you buy from, shipment of supplies and parts to manufacturers of products you buy, even the gas for gas tractors on farms whose “USDA organic” products you buy, etc., etc.

        (Our of curiosity, how do you raise goats and chickens and not eat meat?)

        As for taxes, maybe you don’t owe income taxes, but what about sales and property taxes? “Voluntary poverty” would reduce the percentage of the amount of an average American’s expenditures that would go to support Monsanto, but it could at the same time increase the percentage of your own expenditures going to Monsanto. And that approach only goes so far: ultimate success by that measure could be attained by dying (in which case you wouldn’t buy anything), but that’s hardly a winning strategy for effecting change in our economy.

        That’s part of the reason I mentioned the manure from GMO-fed CAFO’s that organic agriculture in the U.S. is founded on. (Do you simply live a metric-conquered country, or are you intentionally advocating the New-speak of “scientific” view-the-world-through-the-laboratory globalism?) As with waste oil biodiesel or second-hand clothing, we may not be directly supporting “Monsanto” — we may be able to live off the waste (e.g. CAFO manure) of the mainstream — but living off of the mainstream’s waste is no path to challenging the mainstream. If we really don’t believe in “Monsanto” I think we need to begin to face the challenges of standing on our own feet economically as a “movement.” In other words, insisting on buying/scavenging used “Monsanto” products instead of new “Monsanto” products still leaves the world in the hands of “Monsanto.” To be truly “Monsanto-free” we really do need to face the challenges of replenishing nutrients sold off farms producing large acreage crops (grain, oilseed, pasture, fiber, etc.) without manure from CAFO’s, we’ll need to face the challenge of fueling our vehicles without “Monsanto” fuel sources (or finding a substitute that doesn’t depend on them), we’ll need to face the challenge of making farm-to-fanny clothing, etc. Like I said before, my point is that we’re really in this deep, and I don’t think we’ll accomplish much giving ourselves a pass thinking that we’re living a practically complete answer already.

      • @Eric B., I agree that Monsanto has a “long tail” in the economy, but we can only do what we have control over. To argue otherwise is to invite apathy: “Why bother buying something Monsanto-free when behind that, there’s something that is not?”

        You can make that same argument against doing anything “right” in the world, from civil rights to animal rights to global warming. And yet, doing what we can today, and a vow to do better tomorrow, is about all this planet can hope for, no?

        To that end, I rephrase: for things under our control, we are 99% Monsanto-free. And we will continue to do what we can to reduce that.

        I don’t think you understand the organic standards, at least here in Canada. You cannot be certified organic while using non-organic CAFO manure, unless it has been composted at least four months. So, wait for GMO crap to sit for four months (where will I store it?), or use organic manure immediately? That’s an easy choice to this organic farmer!

        You see, incentives and liabilities. I don’t want someone else’s non-organic manure sitting around my property for four months. Plus, there are other constraints: if using non-organic manure by composting for four months, you must provide an impermeable ground barrier and windrow covers — those cost money, while throwing an old tarp over my own manure does not.

        Energetically speaking, revolution is much more expensive than evolution. If everyone who read this blog vowed to quit Monsanto for things under their control, wouldn’t that be better than sitting back and saying you can’t really get free of them unless you break the whole system apart?

      • “(Our of curiosity, how do you raise goats and chickens and not eat meat?)”

        I think I know where you’re headed with this, and it smells like troll bait. It seems our world views are very different, so I politely decline to reply.

  10. Maybe some of the farm folks here ought to go the city and see the what the OWS folks really are. The TEA party people were mostly middle aged and some elderly folks who never protested anything in their life before 2008. They had their rally’s and went home or went back to work.

    The Occupy Wall Street crowd hold signs advocating Marxism. The author of this blog opined about the evil ‘capitalism’. A system that has brought mostly prosperity to all that it touched. Yet scarcely a word is said about Marxism and Socialism. Two destructive systems where the government controls virtually everything in life. For example, the first act of Stalin’s Russia was to seize the farms from the individual owners and turn them into collectives.

    The Occupy Wall Street crown is an unwashed group. Sh!@ might be holy on the farm, but it sure isn’t in the public park. all the small business in the area can’t wait for this group to go away.

    The OWS should be protesting in front of the FED not Wall Street. The Socialized USA is now about 40% government. It sets all of the policy in minutea. Strange that hte protesters have avoided the White House?

  11. It worries me that our election process, the Tea Party and now the Occupy-ers are all causing an escalation of snap judgment, prejudice and hate. Everyone wants to label everyone else, fingers are being pointed, blame and ridicule are being assigned.

    If I felt like the majority of protesters really understood what they were protesting about and who was inciting them, I might feel a little more confidence.

    We all need to work on building things and communities instead of blaming others and tearing everything apart. And what will replace the old systems? I see no hope of our government agreeing upon anything at all.

    Thank goodness I have farm chores that need done or I’d be breathing into a paper bag right now.

  12. I appreciate the dialogue, as always. However, I stand by my original comments. Take a look at this article from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street
    which is a pretty balanced presentation, and then look at the supporting documentation: interviews with OWS in New York in which 98% support civil disobedience to achieve their goals and 31% support violence; numerous anti-Semitic comments from OWS protestors; assaults, thefts, drug dealing and rape at some of the demonstrations. Take a look at some of the videos of protestors on YouTube and listen not only to their comments but the way in which they express themselves. Many of the OWS protestors are good people and I am not trying to paint the whole crowd with a black brush. However, I do not see a unified movement with well-defined and articulated goals. I see many people who are very unhappy with the current system who are flailing around trying to express that unhappiness. My concern is that there are plenty of opportunists who will use the protestors and the protests to further their own ends. Anyone who remembers the Watts riots or some of the other tragedies of history should recognize the potential for disaster, no matter how well-intentioned many OWS supporters may be.

    • “98% support civil disobedience to achieve their goals and 31% support violence”

      There’s a huge difference between these two! How can you lump them together?

      If it were not for civil disobedience against unjust laws, Rosa Parks would still be sitting at the back of the bus.

      • Jan, my apologies, I left a word out. My first sentence should have read “98% support civil disobedience to achieve their goals and YET 31% support violence.” No, I don’t lump the two together, and people like Rosa Parks were courageous heroes who helped to make our country better. It’s the 1 in 3 people who support violence who worry me. I’m sorry for causing the confusion — my fingers got away from me:-)

  13. your estimate of $24,000 rental income for 1200 acres of farmland seems to be missing a zero…

    • DM, oh yes, you are correct. I invariably screw up numbers because I can’t count and write at the same time. Thanks, and of course the correct numbers only make the point better. Gene

  14. Why does any mention of land reform gets the writer the title of “Comrade” (as someone just called Gene) with implications of communism???

    The Communist land reform was towards public ownership, and in Russia they hated nobody more than the Kulaks (independent land owning peasants).

    The Danes accomplished land reform in the 1800′s with a central bank for aspiring farmers and created a fairly stable base of successful family farms. “Comrade” Doug MacArthur oversaw land reform in Japan that benefited that country to this day. Taiwan went from a feudal hell to what it is today based on agrarian reform. The Finns did some land reform to break up the goofy pattern of strip fields that inheritance patterns of centuries left them with.

    It is a weird world where people under understand a possibility of only two economic systems. The real issue is whether we believe encouraging widespread ownership of farmland would bring social and environmental benefits. If we do, we should then arrange our political economy to achieve that goal. This could be done by changing inheritance tax scales to benefit family businesses, furthering homestead and farmstead exemptions and many other incremental means.

    My big worry is that the OWS crowd and many youngsters today lack the manual skills to even pound nails or use a shovel.

    • @richardgrossman, you had be cheering over your plea to avoid polarization and stereotyping — until the last sentence! What happened!

      May I suggest that you re-read everything you wrote up to the last sentence, and then try to adopt such an attitude toward the “OWS crowd?”

      From what I’ve read, they’re a versatile bunch, including plumbers and pipefitters, as well as philosophers and pundits who may lack practical skills.

  15. Truly sorry Jan Steinman!

    I grieve over the lack of practical skills among many of today’s youth and was probably projecting. I have literally seen 18 year olds from middle income homes who cannot cook breakfast or figure out that the fold on top of a shovel is for placing your foot for leverage. Actually, I need to forget blaming the victim as it tends to be their parents and schools fault……

    • No worries. I know where you’re coming from.

      And shovels! What a hoot! At 56, I can out-shovel most 20-year-olds. And many of them get huffy when I ask if I can show them some tips! (“Shoulders and back tired? Use your legs more!” My Dad could clean out a whole barn without hardly using his upper body.)

  16. Chiara and Jan, thanks. Especially thank you to Betty: cookies are vital to any revolution!
    You hear more people talking about income and wealth distribution now, so they’re doing something right.

  17. So let’s chat a bit about the possibility and/or reality of violence that seems to be quite a touchy subject for many. I suggest that the place to begin is to first step back and make yourself honestly answer the question…do you believe the current economic paradigm will voluntarily change to a sane and sustainable way of living? And while your at it be clear that this current paradigm is not capitalism. The ongoing and accelerating merger of corporate and governmental power is not capitalism and it sure as hell isn’t socialism. . Think the “F” word. Google it.

    Secondly, if changing to a sane and sustainable way of living isn’t going to be lead and promoted and educated and organized toward and fought for at every level of society, but especially at the highest levels voluntarily, there’s going to be violence. Lots of it. For the simple reason that growth is over. As others have noted, this suffering and abused finite planet is running out of shit. Lots of shit. And lots more people are starting to get thrown overboard closer and closer to home. A really, really big mess is starting to unfold, primarily because those at the top are unarguably determined to cling to the paradigm of growth, at least for a few and at least for a little while longer. You ain’t seen nothin yet, but you won’t have to wait long.

    Now as to the matter of violence, what always gets demonized in the hierarchy of violence this society surely condones almost to the person, is not violence itself but the unforgivable crime of sending violence up the hierarchy. Everyone in the US military services condones the use of violence to further their aims. Please raise your hand if you disagree. Every single cop on every beat everywhere condones the use of violence to further their actions when they deem it necessary to their purposes. Please raise your hand if you disagree. Violence toward those at the bottom of the hierarchy is far more readily tolerated than violence against property. Just the way it is. That’s why those in control are so often successful in orchestrating violence that can be attributed to those they aim to use violence of their own against. COINTELPRO..Google it. As others have noted, cops in several cities have already been busted doing violence that is then attributed to OWS. Where’s the outrage? False flag attacks and false flag terror. Works every time. That’s why its done.

    I think its simply intellectually dishonest to wring ones hands about violence only when that violence poses some sort of personal or ideological inconvenience. The hierarchy of violence is pervasive. Just ask a Native American, if you can find one.

    • David, my Cherokee ancestors salute you (or would if we could find ‘em). What worries me is not the potential for violence, a potential shared by all human beings, nor the property damage — we can rebuild. As a registered nurse and domestic violence survivor who has been teaching on the subject for almost 15 years, I have seen and experienced violence first-hand. But if I needed to defend my family, well, that’s why we have guns and I know how to shoot. I’m worried about the collateral damage to the innocent: the shopkeeper who loses his business and life savings in the looting; the child in an apartment building who becomes a victim of a stray bullet. Yes, violence is an accepted tool for getting people to do something they don’t want to do — when all else fails, get out the guns; “God fights on the side of the heaviest artillery.” My aim in making my comments was to point out that there is a risk of violence whenever a political movement like OWS gets going (remember the American Civil Rights movement was non-violent in aims and actions, but there was still plenty of violence involved) and for all concerned to be aware of the possibility and ready to take cover if necessary.

    • Nice response, @David Z!

      Although I embrace non-violence in the Gandhian/MLK sense, I do agree that everyone who is part of the current economic system tacitly embraces a hidden sort of violence. If you buy gasoline, you support the violent actions of the US in Iraq. If you use a cell phone, you support the violent abuse of coltan miners in the Congo. If you have a diamond ring, well, the list goes on…

      Bomb, n. A means of persuasion. When employed by those in power, its use is customarily termed ‘in the national interest,’ and those who use it are customarily described as ‘tough’ and ‘courageous.’ When employed by those out of power, its use is customarily termed ‘terrorism,’ and those who employ it are customarily described as ‘ruthless’ and ‘cowardly.’”Chaz Bufe

  18. I’m hoping you (Mr. Logsdon) actually read these comments because I’ve been incapable of finding an email to contact you. I read The Contrary Farmer right after high school in 2004 and it completely changed my life. I still have the dream that someday I will be able to own a piece of land where I can grow my own food and sell it to my local community. Yet, the sad truth is that to do so would simply be too expensive because of the price of land where my family lives. In my intellectual pursuits I’ve stumbled upon Henry George and his book “Progress and Poverty”. His main argument is that we should only tax the value of land (not improvements) and not the work of individuals. A Land-Value Tax would end speculation and lower the price of land. Also, it would increase land usage because of the need to produce enough revenue to pay the tax (which is how land speculation would be unprofitable). This would create a need for more farmers because the large farms wouldn’t be able to pay the Land-Value Tax (LVT). This is of course a theoretical conclusion that the implementation of a large LVT would hurt big industrial “farms” and that they wouldn’t be able to compete with an army of family farms.

    I would like to know if you have read or know of Henry George and how you feel his ideas could help/harm existing small farmers.

    • Shawn Riechers, I read every comment on my blogs, often more than once, and I am continually edified and amazed at the intelligence and thoughtfulness in the comments. It is in fact the most satisfying experience I’ve had in a long lifetime of writing. I remember Henry George from college because a professor, full of capitalism, damned him harshly, which of course made me check Henry out closer. I agree with his theories more than I disagree, but like many good ideas, making them work in a greed driven world is quite a challenge. Gene

  19. Doin’ my part. Due to the shared wisdom of the perpetually correct Gene, I have learned how to raise chickens, plant and propagate dwarf, disease resistant apple trees, keep sheep, and use their fiber. Not fighting anyone. Wall street does what WS will do, me, I’m improving my skills, one Gene Logsdon book at a time.

  20. Ya, So…Petunia’s Luckbirth farmland has stayed farmland…not a houseing development where folks don’t pay enough taxes to cover local governmental services. I’m happy to have absentee landlords stay home, when they come up from the flatlands and clutter up the tarroad when they come.

    And folks, the myth of the family farm died with that fellow in Letters from an American Farmer, who with inherited land earned by the sweat of his father’s brow had the gall to call himself a “freeman” since he owned land and was weathly enough to do grand tour of europe.

  21. Mr. Brown…
    I would venture to guess that a lot of our problems in “heartland America” might begin to be solved by viewing the family farm as something belonging to an entire generation bridging family…that is…to a man, his children, their children, etc….so yes, we do become free by the sweat of our fathers’ brows, as well as our own, and so on down the line…

    Since we can’t take it with us…work like hell to leave it for someone else!

    I think we have this strange allergy to the idea of inheritance. Too bad.
    An inherited farm in the hands of someone who has proven their passion, and wants to throw their youth into something lasting would be an investment well made for us all.

  22. I don’t mean to clutter the comment section, but I have to say thanks for a great snapshot of the world, Gene!

  23. Jan, I just feel like you’ve got the wrong emphasis. Instead of saying “that’s not under our control,” I think we should be finding, as Gene has suggested, ways to take more and more things back under our control, or as Wendell Berry has said, to take on the “building of an adversary economy.” There are a whole lot of basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter, and the energy and transportation necessary to those things) for which we’ve been content to stay enslaved to the centralized powers (parroting Gene again.) In other words, aren’t we all 99% Monsanto-free for the things under our control? Isn’t the issue, rather, how far we’re content to let the centralized powers control things for us? To quote Berry again: “How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.”

    As to CAFO manure, I wasn’t speaking to what’s “easy” for someone wanting to grow his own vegetables and raise some goats, but rather to “replenishing nutrients sold off farms producing large acreage crops (grain, oilseed, pasture, fiber, etc.),” by which I meant to point to the commodity system of certified organic farms as a whole, specifically the kind of farms that would supply the things that you “don’t grow [but] buy organic.” In other words, I wasn’t trying to make any point about what you or I would want, but about the laws of nature: that agricultural productivity depends on replenishing nutrients sold off the farm. I buy organic for the things I’m not growing myself, too (for food anyways, not to downplay the importance of clothing fibers and other agricultural products), but I don’t find that satisfactory partly because there’s no reasonable way for the kind of farms that produce the kind of organic products I buy to replace their nutrient losses in the ways you’re talking about. There’s certainly no practical way for them to use my “organic manure.” In other words, my purchase of, for example, commodity organic grains or oil, depends on accepting a dependence on conventional CAFO manure. How else are those farms supposed to replenish their nutrient losses on the scales they operate at? I don’t look for any consolation in saying that’s not “under my control.” And I would point out, too, that accepting a dependence on CAFO manure dooms organic agriculture to the margins, because organic acreage thereby depends on a much greater acreage of conventional crops to feed the confinement operations that produce the manure that replenish the nutrients lost to their far away “organic” markets (i.e. you and me.)

    “A protest meeting on the issue of environmental abuse is not a convocation of accusers, it is a convocation of the guilty. That realization ought to clear the smog of self-righteousness that has almost conventionally hovered over these occasions, and let us see the work that is to be done.” -Berry

  24. I’m sorry – are you saying successful people leaving their wealth to their family should be abolished?

  25. Gene, I can’t top most of the comments here….I have always enjoyed your writing, and now enjoy the discussion it provokes. While I toll away at a corporate job, we have enjoyed bringing oxen, goats, sheep, and chickens into our farmyard. Contrary Farmer provoked our experimentation and delight.

  26. Rock on Gene! Love your books. Love the post. In my opinion its time to occupy the fields and the factories and bring some sense back to the land. The wealthy elite, and those who hope to be them one day, predictably fear the new “occupy” movement. I for one hope that it continues to grow and morph and develop and maybe foster some equality in this oligarchy that rules our land. Time for some REVOLT!

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