Looks Like The New Agrarian Age Has Arrived


I define “new agrarian age” as a society in which rural and urban lifestyles become indistinguishable. Roof top vegetable gardens in downtown Manhattan for instance. A more typical example is a landscape where urban agriculture and rural manufacturing exist side by side in harmony.  I saw a photo recently of horses plowing a large garden plot with the Cleveland, Ohio, city skyline in the background. Some years ago I visited Paws Inc., where Jim Davis, the creator of the comic strip “Garfield” has his business headquartered. The location in rural Indiana (where Davis grew up), is so far out in the country that there was no suitable sewage system to handle the waste from his three big office buildings and fairly large number of workers. He had engineers design and build a greenhouse where plants, fish, and other aquatic animals flourished by feeding on the nutrients in the wastewater while purifying it before its return to natural waterways. Aquaculture and urban culture surely joined hands in that greenhouse. Silviculture too because Davis was also raising tree seedlings in the greenhouse to reforest wornout farm land in the area.

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), spending the day signing and selling books and gabbing with people. Those of us who remember the early days of OEFFA were stunned and jubilant at the overflow crowd. So many people wanted to come to the conference in fact, that about 200 had to be turned away because of space limitations, Carol Goland, OEFFA’s executive director told me regretfully.  I looked around the main exhibit hall (a highschool gymnasium) crammed with booths where all sorts of organic and natural farm supplies were being sold. I was remembering the early days, when, said Mike McLaughlin, a farmer and OEFFA official since the early days, “we thought that four exhibitors was a major achievement.”

It is difficult to make generalities about any group of humans, but I’d say that today’s OEFFA member is more sophisticated about the possibilities of the new ecological trends in agriculture.  Back in the early days, I’d say that we were mostly angry and rebellious at being called radical just because we didn’t like what industrial agriculture was doing. Today’s OEFFA members are more assured about the way forward. They would rather figure than fight. If someone called them radical, they would merely be amused. They are convinced that the agribusiness methods of the past are so obviously unworkable that there is no need to fight anymore. Move on.

And they are moving on. There was something electric in the air. I could feel it. At meetings of industrial farmers these days, the talk is fairly bleak, but here, among new farmers and gardeners with a hundred new ways to produce food and sell it locally, the people just seemed to glow with optimism. I’ve been sitting at tables selling books it seems like forever. This time, buyers would approach me with victorious little smiles on their faces. Something about the way they would pick up a book and plop it down in front of me for signing while they got out their billfolds bespoke an exuberance that was full of quiet confidence. Sometimes a buyer would briskly pile three or four books up and say “How much?”  An author’s dream.   OEFFA itself had a long table of books for sale. I was told that on Saturday, the big day (I was there on Sunday), people stood three and four deep in front of that long table, buying books. A couple of attendees who stopped to buy a book from me were carrying— you’d never guess what. Brand new pitchforks they had also just purchased. When a farmer buys a new fork and a new book in the same breath, that’s new age agrarianism.

I could be wishful dreaming again. This could be just another spurt in the ancient back to the land idealism I’ve seen come and go twice in my lifetime. But maybe something more permanent is in the offing. Money farming is pricing itself out of the food market, and maybe government, which continues to prop up this kind of farming with artificial money, is being forced to realize that. As farmer and author Joel Salatin, the keynote speaker, symbolized to the world:  ecological and organic farmers are here to stay and they are ready to take the helm.
Crossposted to OrganicToBe.org


I was telling my wife just last weekend that we needed to buy *two* new pitchforks! LOL. We were cleaning out the chicken coop and picking up cow manure for for the garden and one just wasn’t enough… and a spare is a good thing to have – you never know when you may have a visitor when there’s hay to pitch…

I was at the conference, too, and it WAS electric. People were picking each other’s brains, listening to speakers and session leaders, and they were saying, “HEY! I can do that!”

On our place, we have a three-year plan to get one of us farming full time. Probably me! We’re going to be selling at 2 Columbus farmers markets this year. If I get accepted to a third next year, I can hire a helper. With the income, we can finish projects we need to get paid for before I quit working — small tractor, a few PTO implements, more fencing, and such. We’re already scouring sales and auctions and on-line sales to get a feel for what’s out there.

The demand is growing, and really young farmers (much younger than I am!) are coming in droves. I love this new “Crop Mob” idea — a very old idea, if you think about it:


Gene, we’re buying farming books and digging forks out here in Austin too. Thanks for your writings and your hopeful energy. You inspire many to get our hands dirty.

thetinfoilhatsociety February 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

As the proverbial thorn in the side I have to wonder when the other shoe will drop. Surely the corporate agriculture powers that be will not allow their cash cows to go away without a big fight, which means setting government agencies on those who won’t play along.

Our founding fathers were right; people who are largely self sufficient can’t be pushed around. That’s the worst nightmare to corporations’ interests.

So let’s hope there end up being such a flood of home farmers/gardeners/livestock keepers that it simply overwhelms the resources they have.

I’ve felt for a while that the revolution, when it comes, will come from the bottom up. Gov’t isn’t going to do anything for us. Local foods, organic farmers, move-your-money, those are the things that will change our world.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House February 26, 2010 at 10:17 am

It is nice to be hopeful about agriculture for a change isn’t it. I am warily agreeing with you Gene, there is something going on that is very encouraging. As the new saying goes; Local and sustainable is the new organic!

There’s always hope, Gene. Thank goodness that Pandora wasn’t too chicken to crack that box open one last time! Here in California the industrial dairy business is in big trouble, selling whole herds and slaughtering “over-stocked” herds wholesale. Meantime, raw milk leaps off the shelves. If you don’t get yours the day it is delivered to the store, fugeddaboutit. Another hopeful sign is the local certified farmers market having serious discussions about going to year-round from their current four markets that run April to December. And when the spring peepers are outsinging the wild geese on our pond, it’s awfully hard to stay down in the dumps, anyway!

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