Village Farming


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From GENE LOGSDON

A lot of attention is being given to urban farming and that is certainly good. But there is a somewhat broader view emerging under the impetus of garden farming. I call it the ascendancy of  village farming. As far as I can find in history and archeology, as the hunting and gathering age gradually evolved into settled communities, farming was very much a village affair, not an individual family undertaking.  People congregated into groups for mutual protection and for sharing the work load. Their garden farms were clustered around the outskirts of their villages. Among the many advantages, there were plenty of children and dogs running around, scaring wild animals away from the crops. Traditionally in Europe and especially Asia where even today the average size of farms is under five acres in some areas, farmers lived in villages and went out to their acres during the day.  Immigrants who lived this integrated village farming life in Austria have told me how much more comfortable and enjoyable life was compared to what they found in America. In their homeland, farmers often worked in groups in the fields and then returned to town in the evenings, to community, and on porches, street corners,  and in taverns, they talked to each other, shared ideas and events, tended to see both farm field and urban shop as one community united in work and play. In America they felt lonely on American farms.

But even here, there were close connections between farmers and villagers as I grew up. On Sunday morning, we country people went to church in our villages and after services, everyone stood around outside and talked sometimes for over an hour. We children played hide and seek among the legs of the grownups. And on Saturday night, everyone went to town and stood on street corners visiting with townspeople and each other until after midnight.

Automobiles remedied the isolation to some extent, and then electronics to a great extent, and the division between town and country is now fast disappearing. But mental attitudes, in this case of mutual alienation leading to distrust, are the last to go in the face of cultural change. The old isolation, especially in the open lands of North America, encouraged self-determination which is good, but also encouraged suspicion of cities, which is not good. And of course it worked the other way too. City people learned the value of mutual cooperation but tended to think their rural counterparts were ignorant. It is an oversimplification, I suppose, but I think one of the reasons we have red and blue states today is because farming here did not evolve out of communal village life like it did elsewhere in the world.

I’m sure it sounds ridiculous, but I like to think that the village represents the apex of human civilization. Village life is more secure and comfortable than the lonely ramparts of the outer countryside or the crowded nonentity of the big city. The world is littered with the ruins of great cities. The way to keep a nation vital and human is to keep it as a collection of villages spread out over the landscape. This new age of local garden farming is a way to do this. It is causing the return of the village as the center of human endeavor. People are coming together for that most basic need of all: good food. They are realizing that humans have a lot more in common than geographical, political, economic, and religious differences would imply. As they flock into farm markets, why, my goodness, they realize they can actually like people of different ideologies.

The cross-cultural benefits of local garden farming not only tie farm to village but village to city. The more different communities mingle, the more they grasp their commonality. It always amused me during the nine years I worked in big city Philadelphia, how a series of secretaries did not say, when I asked them, that they were from Philadelphia. Invariably they would give a place name that applied to a village that the city had swallowed up over the years.

We are all villagers at heart. I walked through the “Greek section” of Philly on my way to work because I loved the sweet rolls one of the family bakeries there made and sold. Because I was travelling one week, I missed my usual morning visit and when I returned the next week, the matron who always manned the cash register looked at me with mock displeasure and said, (remember in this city of seven million or so): “Where were you last week?”

To view local food as a workable, long range development, we have to see urban farms as twin sisters of village farms and the windswept acres of industrial farms as country cousins to village garden farms. I will bet you that in the farm markets of Baghdad you can find smiling Christians buying good food from smiling Muslims. And vice-versa.

P.S. I am totally overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness at the outpouring of good will that so many of you sent in to the blog last week. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I was particularly happy that you headlined Carol along with me. This operation would never have made it to first base without her.
~~

24 Comments

Well said.

One of the evils of modern America is the total disregard for gardening held by most real estate developers. They cram as many big houses on miniscule lots as they can, all in the name of profit. No space left for a garden. If you’re lucky. maybe some tomato plants. We live in a suburb, but an old suburb, one with lots of about an acre each. With lots this size, our suburb could be thought of as a village. No one would think of the newer “developments” as villages.

This is very interesting. As is so often the case I find so much value in these articles. I know of a town which supplied water, fresh water, within less than 200 feet of every house, contained two theaters for plays and comedies, more than 400 gardens within city limits, farms located directly outside city boundaries, no one lived more than a ten minute walk from the town center, streets were designed for ventilation and protection from light and heat, crime was unknown, much of the year families dined outside, often in a nearby vineyard. No vehicle traffic was permitted within city center. No one ever heard of GMO. Fruit, nut and fig trees grew within countless houses’ open areas. Where was this place? Pompeii, Italy. I highly recommend a look at Wilhelmina Jashemski’s Gardens of Pompeii. Her book is written to show Pompeii as a show piece for what a town could be.

From what i read years ago the workers on the large farms were allowed their small plots and allowed to do whatever they wanted with the produce.. Whether they lived in the city or country they would take the produce by train or bus to the city to sell or swap for other food or goods. The govt knew better than to mess with them because they knew the truth. The small plot holders were feeding the country while the huge farms worked by “workers” produced little because of lazy or careless workers who would often drive the tractors with the implements working at proper depth till they got out of sight of the farms foremen and then raise it up so they could get done faster and sit around drinking vodka. Even if they could and would work and do the job they soviet equipment was not the best and with the lousy road system , made it hard to get parts for the machinery.

    Tim and Chris N., that’s what I heard and read, too. Old lesson: if you work for yourself, it’s fun. If you work for someone else the same work is drudgery. Gene

Lorenzo Levi Brown March 23, 2015 at 6:47 am

The house and land I am the steward of was deeded by the state of NY to an old solider of the ware in 1811. If you know history you can figure out what war he was in. The State Hwy at my dooryard was first an indian route wide enough for 8 folks abreast, then became a paid turnpike. What are left of the current hamlets and one room school houses are at the points where horse and wagon would have to rest based on distance from the larger villages in between. The old mile markers help prove this out.

I realized a couple of decades ago that the name of the game is INTERDEPENDENCE not
INDEPENCE. Once you grasp that, you then see the flaws in our current mode of relationships with our fellow humans.

The village is where you can most clearly see the connection between survival & sterwardship. Take seed genetics. A village population is about the right size & geographic proximity to keep a good supply of seed for a given variety in circulation with routine seed sharing, a fixture of traditional village life everywhere. And out of that amount of seed sown in the family kitchen plots around the village, if the best & most successful plants’ seeds are routinely selected, you have a high chance of arriving at & maintaining an excellent “village variety”–adapted to its ecology & strengthened against any adverse local conditions. Abandonning our old plant genetics conservation habits, we have come to rely on the profit motive (companies) for our seeds, with inherent dangers to the overall genetic pool, food sovereignty, etc. Please keep writing on this.

The small gardens in Soviet Russia kept the populace fed, along with the black markets held in the city streets for food. The authorities looked the other way, because they realized that was one of the ways to keep the people quiet. Russia has a history of revolting over two things: either when they lose a war, or when the price of bread gets too high.

Mr Logsdon: here is a page from Front Porch Republic with a wonderful painting called Spring that seems to visually create what you describe in words:

http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2015/03/living-pleasantly-from-the-land/

Some may call it socialism but it sure as heck looks more like socializing to me.

Gene and Carol: Thanks for all you have done. Been reading your stuff since the 70’s and it has been an inspiration. Am trying to ditch the too big farming bug and get back to garden farming in my dottage. So far it is a lot more fun and likely lose less money.

Anyhow thought you might enjoy that when i was in the Soviet Union on an exchange program in the early 90’s the population of Moscow, St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad), etc would board the public transportation with their hand garden tools and go to their personal plots outside the city along the expressway or any corner of ground that they could appropriate to grow the produce for their own family. So this village model that you point out has even been applied to large cities in some instances. Since the Soviet version of the grocery store had a total of 10 boxes of Kaschi (granola) and the same of sausages both of which you had to stand in line for daily and hope they didn’t run out these plots were critical to those “urban gardeners” to feed themselves.

The whole experience of being in the Soviet Union just a few months before its collapse was a fascinating experience which i treasure. The sight of these urban apartment dwellers carrying hoes, rakes, shovels, etc on the public metro was a real culture shock. i never did learn how they “appropriated” their plots and how they kept the produce from being “liberated” but apparently they worked that out as a society.

So see your village model even has an application to big cities. 🙂

Thanks for all.
Yours in the eternal effort to spread manure,
Dan Hubbell

    Dan Hubbell, that is truly a fascinating scene: apartment dwellers, hoes in hand, on public transportation, headed for their plots of ground. I bet I find more than one occasion to use that in my writings. thank you. Gene

First of all, thank you for all the books, articles and blogs. They are always entertaining and enlightening. You and Carol deserve all the praise you get and more.

On the village idea, I believe that has promise in our cities and large towns. I have worked with community gardens and I see the whole spectrum of color, creed, economic background and religious affiliation working in community gardens. A good tomato transcends most every disagreement.

I don’t see the village approach being adopted by rural areas. That is where too many independent souls reside. Harlan and Anna Hubbard as well as Helen and Scott Nearing in their books and journals epitomized the independent lifestyle, even though they never suggested it was right for anyone but themselves.

At any rate if you and Carol every get down into Southern Indiana I would be more than happy to share my homemade sauerkraut and dill pickles! That is unless my in-laws, outlaws, kids and neighbors get them all first!

I live in a small village in Germany (population 73 more cows than people). We have two full time farmer families. Almost all of the rest of the village works outside the village then they come home and work the fields. I feel very privileged to live here, neither my wife nor I are from here but the people in this village have a live and let live attitude. They also help each other out. Since my family all speak English we help the neighbors children when they need it. This would be a very long letter if I wrote down all the things my neighbor have done for us. This is a link to pictures of the area http://www.ebensfeld.de/de/tourismus/bildergalerieebf.php .

Gene.

You have hit the nail right smack on the head regarding your comments on the European village. For many decades now, both as a practical farmer and an educator in these systems, I have figured out and operated on the principle that the highest form of communal living and food production is modeled on the English and European hamlet of the 11th through to 14th centuries. If you could have taken away the incessant warfare and need for protection from politics, religion and marauding invaders (does that not ring a bell nowadays??) this would have been akin to paradise. They were almost completely self-contained and self-policing with common lands, streams and mills that all could use and access. Probably the only real drawback in those days was the lack of meaningful communication, technologies and trade with distant places with only wandering troubadours and merchants moving between villages (the global communication technologies would take care of that today – however with unfortunate downsides that are all too obvious). None of those problems are really an issue today, however, if such a model was started up in modern times from scratch it would be literally swamped with regulations before it even got off the ground (and these would be at the local, state and federal levels). They would be blasted apart before they could get going unless they ducked under the radar. Pretty hard these days unfortunately, although mighty tempting!!

I believe that it is no coincidence that in all those fantasy novels you find on the bookshelves today (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, et al) that the scene set in front of you before the wicked sorcerer, dragon, alien or whatever comes along is almost invariably a kind of village hamlet set-up – just a few words mentioning the community and we have the picture in our minds instantly. It makes me think that there is almost a genetic whisper in us somewhere harking back to those old days. Please note folks, this is not a hankering on my part for going back to the sackcloth and sandals days that is appealing to me but it is the model that the hamlet is based upon. I believe that history may just have chucked out the baby with the bathwater in this instance.

Cheers

John

PS: Gene, with regard to your PS above please be aware that you and Carol have only reaped the seeds that you have sown (and nurtured). Why, oh why, are you surprised!! LOL! Good to see though. Ha Ha Ha.

We’re trying to re-create the agricultural village life, but we could use some help!

Gene, the farms in England were certainly collaborative affairs up until the First World War. Read Tess of the Durbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Until Hooke of Holkham Hall invented the seed drill (Agricultural Revolution, so 1700s) big fields were unnecessary, and often farmers helped each other. Events, such as le vendage, in vineyards in Southern France were, before the advent of ‘student’ labour, also shared labour,even in my time (I’m in my late 60s). Then a big supper for all, with wine from the cellars. The sense of sharing brought communities together.
Thank you for reminding me of my youth.

Reblogged this on Foodnstuff and commented:
I’ve been reading Gene Logsdon’s blog for some time. I like his intelligent, down-to-earth attitude to growing food, which generally gallies with experience and against accepted dogma.

“…… I like to think that the village represents the apex of human civilization. Village life is more secure and comfortable than the lonely ramparts of the outer countryside or the crowded nonentity of the big city. The world is littered with the ruins of great cities. The way to keep a nation vital and human is to keep it as a collection of villages spread out over the landscape. This new age of local garden farming is a way to do this. It is causing the return of the village as the center of human endeavor.”

I hope a return to village farming will be the norm in a post-crash world.

Gene, while I agree with your observations of the European village, I do not see a future for the urban farm. There is no way the people of the city can sustain a garden when the life is sucked out of them during the day. Gardening is therapeutic but, people need to find time for therapy. There are people that rent plots in cities which is a point of interest but even this type of life cannot sustain itself due to the cost of living in the city in this day and age.. As cities continue to fall apart at the seams I guess my views are as certain as the others that oppose this view. I hope I am wrong

While reading this, Gene, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Wendell Berry’s understanding of neighborhood and being neighborly. He clearly has a more complex meaning to neighborhood than simple physical proximity, but it includes this idea of village-ness that you imply in your post. If we can be truly neighborly to the soil, ecosystem, and people within some defined sphere, then we are helping to meet the needs of our neighbors and making ourselves vulnerable enough to be helped by other members of the neighborhood, and thus, we have a village. To me, this is village building; and, we have lost a good deal of this idea due to the terrible policies of Earl Butz and the industrialization of agriculture. Our neighbors in rural villages could no longer afford to live in the agricultural lands so the great urbanization began and there were fewer and fewer neighbors to be neighborly to until long distances appeared between homesteads and farms were described by how many sections it was, not how many acres. In my recent readings of Berry’s essay, “Sex, economy, freedom, and community” he adeptly outlined the causal factors of the degradation of villages. But, there is hope, as you describe above, that if we can take back the creation of food to a slightly more communal model, we stand a good chance of rebuilding villages where life can be pleasantly enjoyed. If, in the building of these neo-villages, we can rely less on a cash economy, we will find the village more neighborly, as defined by Berry, and less susceptible to economic volatility. When there is less economic stress in a village, people are more likely to remain there and be more collaborative.

Hello Gene, I enjoy your posts and am glad you are around to shake us up and make us think! We are trying to do the same around water, so I thought you might be interested in a TEDx talk recently given by my husband, Bruce Kania, entitled “Transition Water”: http://tedxbillings.com/january-2015/transition-water/ Thank you!

Hear, hear, Tim! I agree 100 percent.

On the village farming issue, if we could just get rid of the stupid laws and regulations that hamper all concerned, we’d be in great shape. Our daughter and son-in-law took a “care package” of grass-fed beef, pork and lamb to a neighbor as a thank-you for some work he’s done on their new house. In the course of the conversation, his wife found out we had a dairy cow, and would have jumped at the chance to buy fresh raw milk and cream. No could do. Even if I wanted to sell cow shares, I’d have to meet all the rules and regs and submit to inspections. Not going to play that game, so I’ll just keep using raw milk for the family, chickens and pigs. It all goes to good use, so it’s not a waste, but what a shame that we can’t share this benefit in our little village.

    In my area we regularly sell, barter or trade foodstuffs “illegal” to purchase. Just need a community in the true sense of the word.

    Beth, does that family have a cat or dog. You can always sell them “pet” milk. Years back in the Pittsburgh area there was a C&D Dairy (Cat & Dog) that sold milk, all pasteurized etc., below the State mandated minimum. You bought the product under the premise that it was for your pets. Just a thought.

      I have thought about that, Pat. If we get a second cow, which we’re thinking about, I may go that route.

No, Thank YOU Gene and Carol. You both working together have given hope and inspiration to legions of us small farmers,homesteaders ,large full scale farmers and organic minded types for decades and while lots of your readers and people you have inspired us with have passed on, I think we can all safely say that You and Carol have done more for agriculture than all of the “ag’ secretarys,and maqazines and Govt agencies in the last 100 years.If not for the two of you ,we would have believed big ag and all given up hope thinking only the oligarchs could raise a safe healthy egg or green bean or flavorful ear of sweet corn.Again, Thank you Gene and Carol for all your sacrifices .You should have got paid back 5-10 times what you did get in income!

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