29 July 2013

The Small-Scale Farming Revolution

Do not confuse the fact that we live an isolated and insulated life on a forested mountain with our being out of touch. We may not always be on-line, but when we do log-in we find more and more connections between groups and individuals on similar journeys and adventures, trying out technologies on a human-scale, experimenting life with less consumerism and more sustainable practices. Two interesting documentaries caught my attention this winter, both focused on small-scale, sustainable farming practices.

The first, produced by the BBC, called “A Farm for the Future” showcases traditional farming practices in rural England and how various farms have transformed their concept of farming to either reduce or eliminate their dependence on petroleum, both in its use to run heavy machinery and as a component of industrial fertilizers and pesticides. The practices showcased are simple, easy to replicate measures that require the courage to try them and the patience to allow an impacted environment achieve natural balance, such as forest gardening methods and the encouragement of diverse species, even and especially in open grazing fields. Peter Whitefield's book How to Make a Forest Garden (1996) is an excellent supplement to the film, giving greater detail on species selection and design for optimal use of sun and water resources. “A Farm for the Future” is a short film which presents clear questions and offers solutions as to how we plan to continue feeding ourselves as petroleum resources dwindle in the coming years. The documentary is emphatic in the fact that it does not matter when petroleum actually becomes unavailable, but that we have a responsibility to begin exploring smaller-scale options and the sooner we begin, the greater yields we will be able to produce in the future.

Looking around our forest holding with our small pockets of garden space dotted between rejuvenating native woods wherever the sun shines best, I was heartened that our efforts, though mocked by some of our traditional farming neighbors, may actually reflect a future concept of farming that works with wilderness instead of against it. I very much identified with the documentary's narrator, exploring her own family farm's potential in adapting more wilderness and diverse species vegetation in order to reduce their dependence on petroleum, converting the concept of farming to one more associated with gardening and the tending such practice requires.

The second documentary which has also lit a fire in my revolutionary heart is “Urban Roots,” produced by Tree Media. The film showcases the urban and small-scale farming movement taking place in the abandoned and razed post-urban plots of the former city of Detroit. Moving dialog, captivating perspectives, “Urban Roots” ties spiritual healing, especially for African-Americans re-connecting positively with an agricultural past, and the importance of being connected to the growing of the food we consume, ingest, and share with our families. Most importantly, the documentary captures the power of inspired individuals and groups to realize their own dreams, build sanctuaries out of the chaos of a collapsed city space.

As our petroleum resources dwindle, as economic practices based on petroleum also decline, such as the car manufacturing industry which supported the city of Detroit in its boom of the past century, it will be the work of motivated individuals and groups that will pioneer a sustainable future in which there is a great variety of abundant foods to eat that nourish our bodies and the lands from which we harvest. More and more garden plots are already returning to urban landscapes as we realize the empowering therapy of growing plants, as we discover the enormous waste of landscaped parks that produce no fruits, vegetables or medicinal herbs. Reach for your part in the small-scale farm and garden revolution: watch these documentaries and become inspired!