Michael Pollan doesn’t know what he’s talking about and neither do the millions of his soft-handed readers. So says a farmer here. One wonders, though, what Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin would say to this fellow.

h/t Micah Towery.

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  1. “One wonders, though, what Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin would say to this fellow.”

    Probably something along the lines of, “Why have you allowed the philosophy of AEI and its ilk to strip you of your humanity?”

  2. I’m not sure that Pollan is necessarily advocating low-tech farming as much as he’s urging for more sustainable farming. It doesn’t seem like those two need to be mutually exclusive.

    But an important issue that Blake Hurst doesn’t address at all is why he’s placing so much emphasis on growing corn in the first place. That’s an issue that Pollan – and others – have rightfully dwelled on at some length. And it deserves to be dwelled upon until our society and our government start to change their minds about that crop.

    I just fathom how, for example, we can blindly tolerate cattle being force-fed corn – and the massive battery of drugs needed to combat the problems raised by that bad practice – when it’s now reasonably well-known that cows shouldn’t be eating any corn, much less subsisting entirely on a diet of corn (and drugs). Never mind the whole animal cruelty issue – PETA be damned – what about the consequences that this has upon us and our children?

  3. Thanks for this link, Mark. Six weeks on a combine does indicate how he is farming. I do consider the source, but this is also the Farm Bureau point of view, and there are plenty of farmers in the Farm Bureau, and not just for the insurance, either.

    Also, I did take Mr. Hurst’s point that in many farming critiques farmers are given a free moral pass as pawns of the system, and no man wants to be talked down to like that. I’m sure he’d rather be cursed than patronized and I would say the same myself.

    I won’t go on. But it is valuable to link to pieces like this and give a man his say, and boy I can see exactly why he farms as he does, given the pressures on farming and the difficulties in making a living from it. If we pull him off his combine, what can we offer him as a way to make his living in return? There are some answers to that, but there are no easy answers. If nothing else, a piece like this should remind us of that, and also remind us that few of us here are living lives of low energy use.

  4. It seems to me that the central question pointed out by this article, and the one that Mr. Hurst points to that Pollan ignores, is “How are you going to feed the world without industrial farming?” Although I tend to agree with those who argue for a less industrialized agriculture and food that does not travel great distances, the reality is that many of those who are alive today exist exactly because food can travel such great distances.

    Second, as Ms. Dalton (inciteful as always) puts it, the article reminds us how most of us here are not living lives of low energy. For one, we all have access to (and most likely make use of often) our computers, internet, etc. Inherent in the critique offered by Mr. Hurst is the acknowledgement that if we are to achieve what we seek, a more localized, less industrial agriculture, it will almost necessarily mean an increase in the price of our food which in turn will mean a decrease in the ability of us to carry on as we do currently. The ramifications (thought possibly desirous) certainly need to be thought through, as I fear they are not always laid out in the open by those such as Pollan who advocate for such outcomes.

  5. To address (but not necessarily to answer) some of the comments above, I happened to post the following on my blog before I read the article in question:

    (Should food be cheap?) It’s a question I sometimes ask. On one hand, everyone is entitled to decent, healthy food-it is part of the bounty of the earth-a gift from God.

    On the other hand, Big Agriculture and factory foods have made food very cheap, driving small farmers and businessmen out of business.

    It used to be that most of a family’s waking hours were devoted to food production. As my 91 year old neighbor put it, “We never had any cash, but we ate well.” The desire for cash, (i.e. things) killed the family farm-along with the theory of ‘economy of scale’ championed by Capitalism and Big Ag.

    So, if a small family farmer wants to make a living, how does he do it? I will quote from Kelly Klober’s book Dirt Hog :

    “Very little money will ever be made farming for the global village, but the folks in the big houses above the global village, now there’s your market.”

    I don’t like it. I would like to produce quality pork for regular folks; they should be able to taste and enjoy pork the way it should taste. It’s not just a prerogative of the rich. Yet, I can’t stay in business unless my pork is priced for the ‘big houses above the global village’.

    So is this my problem or the problem of regular folks? Let’s put it this way, if man used to spend most of his waking hours securing food through labor, should he now do the same through his paycheck?

    The world is different. (Things, I believe are out of kilter, but this is out of the hands of most folks.) Most need cars and other things just to make their way in this world. What is a necessity and what has turned into a ‘necessity’ through marketing?

    My family (the whole family) spends a good part of our time putting food on the table. We haven’t bought meat in over a year. We don’t grow all our own food, but are getting there. What we don’t grow ourselves (or receive from our neighbor’s surplus bounty) we buy from a farmer’s market. Cash-wise, our food bill is pretty low, but labor-wise, it is pretty high-just ask the kids.

  6. Pathetic… is this the best the opposition can do? Turkeys being fall-down stupid? Well, who bred them that way? And I can’t believe he repeats that canard about needing 5 billion extra cows to provide enough manure. How about utilizing the manure from the 7 billion humans? Do you think that might help? Our dear civ makes extra nitrogen by burning fossil fuels but sees to it that all the freely available nitrogen provided by urine is largely pi*sed away.

    Nice to see, though, that he is agreeing with going back to using animal manure. That is a refreshing trend. It would be even nicer if that manure wasn’t full of medication residues.

  7. Thanks for a link to a good article. I am not an authority on these matters, but I work every day with people who are and who do research on various sustainable agriculture topics. I occasionally attend their seminars and talks on the subject, or get involved in hallway conversations. I was not born and raised on a farm, but have lots of family and neighbor connections to farmers large and small. I was once accused of trying to start up my own 3rd world country on our own little goat ‘n chicken acreage. With that background, I am not aware that the author is saying anything that isn’t true.

    One topic that was not mentioned was agricultural subsidies. I am pretty sure that big farmers would not be quite so big without the agricultural subsidies that are sold to us on the basis of helping out the small family farmer, which they do not do. It’s the monster corporate farms (aka big family farms) that take best advantage of them.

    If you want to do something to bring farmers back in a closer relationship to the land, and make it possible for middle-sized farmers to compete against the larger ones, do away with those subsidies. It might also reduce the distortions by which high-fructose corn syrup forms the base of our food pyramid.

    Ag subsidies and price supports are the root of all evil. I would argue that they are ultimately responsible for our current financial problems, and for the growth of monster government that oppresses us all.

  8. Reticulator, I have heard it said that agriculture is not like other economic areas, because when farmers have a good year, the prices fall and so they have a bad year. And then there are the bad years when prices are up but down are the harvests. So people argue that some sort of policy must be in place to even things out.

    I would much rather see the subsidies go the way of smallpox. But how would it work out then; what would be the safety net? Would appreciate thoughts on this.

  9. Yes, that argument is often made by organizations like the Michigan Milk Producers Association. Once upon a time I got into an argument with the president of that organization on this topic. Several days ago I saw that the national milk producer organizations are at it again, talking about the need for “stability”, by which they really mean price supports.

    But prices don’t need to be stable. If prices and production are unpredictable, growers need a little higher profit margin in order to deal with the risk, but I’d rather they got it that way than through subsidies. Small farmers used to diversify in order to help deal with the risk — not putting all their eggs on the wheat crop, or a huge hog operation, or whatever. Instead, they ran an Old MacDonald sort of farm instead of maximizing the amount that goes to producing high-fructose corn syrup because that’s where the subsidies are.

    Another thing that helps even out risk is commodity markets, if farmers use them to manage risk. Another is insurance. But these don’t need to be govt programs.

    There is a cost to consumers to all of these things, whether they be insurance, diversification, or higher profit margins. But that cost is nothing compared to what the complete corruption of our political system via ag subsidies has cost us.

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