The 2%

Michael Ableman has written a lovely manifesto from the 2% - the tiny percentage of Americans who actually farm:

There are far more people in prison than growing our food, more stockbrokers and lawyers than those of us who feed our neighbors. We are the 2 percent we call farmers.

There is nothing more central to our lives than how we secure our food. Yet the responsibility for this has been almost entirely handed over to someone somewhere else, to an industrial system where farms have become factories and food has become a faceless commodity. The results have been disastrous; epidemic levels of childhood obesity and diabetes, food that no longer tastes good or is good for you, polluted groundwater, soil loss at staggering rates, and most profound; an almost complete disconnection from the social, cultural, and ecological relationships that were once part of agrarian life.

One percent may control our economic wealth, but the true wealth of a nation may be in the fertility of its soils, the quality and security of its food, the health of its communities. This kind of national wealth cannot be brought to us by Cargill or Monsanto or Dupont, the corporate giants who now drive the industrial machine that brings us industrial food; it will have to come from individuals and families, neighborhoods and communities.

When the food system no longer fulfills the needs of the people, whether for economic or distribution reasons or because of concerns for food safety, or simply because people want corn that tastes like corn, or potatoes that are more than just a tasteless medium to convey ketchup and salt to their mouths, they take that responsibility back into their own hands.

As I've written many times, even if we didn't have energy and environmental issues to contend with, we have a gigantic demographic crisis in agriculture - the average farmer is nearly 60 years old, and their children and grandchildren have already left the land to do other work. Who will grow our food in the future? For the very first time in human history, it will be grown by people not raised to the work. If we find, as seems likely, that growing world population, climate change and energy depletion require a larger percentage of the population to ensure our food security, this question of who grows our food may be one of the central puzzles of our future.

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I so wish there were some way for those older farmers to "adopt" a young family. There are so many people in my generation (I'm 27) who will never be able to afford to buy land and there is rising interest in food production from that group. If we had some way to get in touch with older farmers who could mentor us and let us inherit their land, I think that would be a great situation for both.

@Brea - if you haven't heard of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), look them up. Their website is huge and has links to places all over the world. If you are looking for farming experience, give WWOOF a try!

By Kerri in AK (not verified) on 29 Feb 2012 #permalink

There is an excellent organization called the Land Stewardship Project here in Minnesota (and other nearby states?) that runs a training Program called "Beginning Farmers" and "Beginning Ranchers." In addition to the training, beginning farmers are connected with farm mentors who've been at it a long time. It seems to be a model that works quite well. That said, the price of farm land is exorbitant making farming still only a dream for too many.

By Lisa in MN (not verified) on 01 Mar 2012 #permalink

@Brea. Hey, I'm on the WWOOF page under Dragonfly Herb Pharm. Our farm is in Common Ground, an 80 acre Intentional Community. We nurture younger folks who want to learn to homestead while they live with us, learning our ways. Eventually, younger folks will join the community and take over when we cross over. Will you be one of them?
Blessed Be. Sara

By Sara Rose in Alabama (not verified) on 01 Mar 2012 #permalink


I fear another threat. That farmers won't get the loans they need to put the next crop in the ground. Or, perhaps for the crop after that. Banks changing their strategies for "good risks" and seed, fertilizer, and pesticide costs changing the "break even" point for calculating loan risk make for a very shaky future. Not to mention the effects of energy price instability on costs and availability of seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. Or the fact that commercial fertilizers may become unavailable, as various mines and industrial processes are played out or banned.

Along with farmers aging, the huge and hugely expensive machinery gets more expensive all the time. Maintaining equipment, building new, and supporting spare parts, mechanics, etc. is pretty energy intensive. And, thus, susceptible to impact by changes in access to, and cost of, energy.

Just look how long it takes for some of us to get a consistently producing garden, for goodness' sakes. Now assume that you have to garden without a rototiller, without store-bought pesticides, without store-bought seeds. Well, the seed saving doesn't apply to agribusiness. It is illegal for them to save the grain they harvest from patented seed to replant. And the seed companies have gotten the marketplace to treat all purchased grain as it if were from patented seed, since some patented seed might have gotten in, somehow.

I don't think the picture is pretty at all. And then there are the issues of fabrics and paints, rubber tires and roofing materials. I pray the descent really is a very long and slow descent.

It is stuff like this which shows how deeply the "Green" movement fits into the most conservative, indeed reactionary historical traditions.

There is nothing wrong with believing that but there is something dishonest with so many "Greens" then claimimg to be progressive/left wing/anti-establishment/pro-science/tradical/forward looking etc.

Well as a farmer who has reached the average age I too am worried about someone being able to do what I do on a daily basis. I am extremely concerned about the fact that the way I farm is not sustainable ie too many fossil fuel inputs and too many machines to replace. I'm stuck with a model that going forward has no future because I need the cash flow to pay for things I must like health insurance, property insurance, local property taxes and food.
How can one pass on a system that will not last?