Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Fragmentation of Our Generations

So why won't the kids stay where they were born, and why are parents left in nursing homes, and why do fewer and fewer people want to be farmers?

Easy answer is the land does not belong to us, and what does belong to parents tends to be sold after their death, and that land is set up as a business venture not a sustainable home base (and is usually too large in the case of farms).  The generations do not stay together because there is no land to keep the family united.

Rather than dissect countless social ills and symptoms-- why not look at a picture of all these things working well and harmoniously.  It is our imaginations that will bring it forth, simply that.  Doubting whether this is feasible ensures that it is not.

Imagine that you have enough space around you-- it is about one to three hectares (2.5 to 7.5 acres)-- you own this space.  It sustains you, because you have made it that way.  You planted everything; you designed the food forest, the pastures, the stands of native plants for the local wildlife and the vegie patches.  Your children grew up there, and there is at least one who cares about it enough to pass it on to their children.  You may be welcome to stay there when you are older and be involved in your grand-children's lives.  Of course, some may even choose to be buried under a favourite tree or in a special clearing in the forest.

All of you become salt of the earth.  What this means is that the people who live on their land become all but indistinguishable from the nature that supports them.  It is a strong position to be in.  And one that our ancestors knew well.

Just a reminder-- agri-business today does not look like this.  There is a sense of desperation amongst farmers today.  Reliance on loans, mechanisation, and an outside labour pool-- plus unfair pricing systems by the supermarkets who buy the produce of the land-- all guarantee that farm children will skedaddle to the city at the earliest opportunity.  Their choice of course.  But who is going to grow the children's food-- and for the rest of the people who live in the city?  Very stressful and difficult for those who stay behind on the farms.

Why do this?  Sure it is hard to change a big system like we have.  But we have to want to change it first.  Let's look at the ecology humans have created for ourselves.  When we domesticated animals we started enclosing them with fences-- or thorny hedges-- to restrict their movements and ensure they would stay where we could utilise them.  Soon after, over-grazing and over-logging were invented.  Natural systems were degraded and the Sahara Desert was born.  (I've heard that all deserts on earth are man-made.)

Mass species extinctions are now occurring because the remaining eco-systems are too small too support the creatures who once roamed over whole continents (because they could) and always had plenty of food as a result.  (Some fluctuations in population occurred from time to time, and species came and went-- but life always prevailed because nature was strong.)  People need a right-size ecosystem to support us.  But at the same time we restricted animals, we began to restrict each other.  Our home domains became smaller and smaller-- whilst oddly, larger and larger tracts were allocated to the animals we contained and controlled.  (Think the development of cities-- property values served to shrink our home spaces-- also think of the sheep and cattle stations which cover areas in Australia the size of European countries.)

Nothing seems to be the right size any more.  Logic and proportion have nothing to do with land-use practices today.  It is as if we are on automatic pilot but have forgotten to see where our course is taking us. The excuse that it's always been this way doesn't work-- because it hasn't.  And equally it cannot be said that it always will be this way, because it won't.  (All things on earth must pass and have the quality of arising, existing and ceasing to be-- that's the proof of what I just said.)

So let's bring the balance back.  Tiny shoe-box homes and cities and vast, unwieldy farm acreages aren't mutually supportive as we might think.  The situation is unstable.  The only creations of the city cannot be money, waste and intellectual property forever.  And farms cannot continue to pump fossil fuel, irrigation water and debt into the ground indefinitely.

What could be is some happy medium-- farms being given to groups of people who want to make them into multi-family villages of right-size homesteads (as mentioned above).  Russia found decades ago that small-holdings could be more productive when they gave even less than an acre to citizens to grow food-- to ensure national food security.  An overwhelming majority of Russia's potatoes (as an example of a staple food) was subsequently grown in this way not on the larger farms.  So it can be done.  Plus, people instinctively recognise the superior qualities of expertly home-grown food compared to supermarket-shelf offerings.  The potential market for this type of food is vast and lucrative for the home producer.  We just need to remove the tax burdens and administrative headaches that primary producers currently have to endure.

The generations can co-exist in this way.  There are rare examples of century farms that have produced food on the same land for over 100 years-- for their neighbours and nearby towns.  A precedent exists!  We might find if we examined these places that they are right-sized.  To keep generations together, to keep society together, to stop the exodus from country farms (and maybe even reverse it) we need not to just have land, but the right amount of it.  Just like other members of our ecosystem, aka plants and animals. That's right-- to be fully human-- which is so much more than flora or fauna-- we need to find our right place in the natural scheme.  We are both natural and artificial.  Unlike plants and animals, we are of our own making.

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