I Tried to Prove that Small Family Farms are the Future. I Couldn’t Do It.” Sarah Mock published a long, thoughtful examination of the viability of the small, family farmer (thanks to Russell Fox for drawing my attention to it). It’s a sobering essay and worth reading carefully. Further, her call near the end for some cooperative models of farming or ones that incorporate various commons resonates with many of the pieces FPR has published over the years. However, some of her claims are rather dubious. For instance, is it really the case that “the American public has provided small (overwhelmingly white) family farms with capital, workers, advanced knowledge, and protection from disasters for a century” (emphasis added)? USDA programs, for instance, consistently favor large farms, and this government-and-technology incentivized consolidation has been happening for decades. It’s not very surprising that if you build an economy where large farms growing commodity crops receive subsidies, and build a regulatory scheme that benefits large farms, then small farms struggle to turn a profit. Nevertheless, widely distributed productive property remains a fundamental good. The fact that our current economy makes this arrangement precarious is an indictment of our financialized economy, not a reason to abandon an ideal order in which “shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.”

The Flood of Climate Disasters Has the Food System Reeling. It’s Time to Act.” In an essay that reads like a counterpoint (in part) to Mock’s, Twilight Greenaway writes about the need to increase the eyes-to-acres ratio: “When it comes to making sure the rest of us have a future, however, I’m betting on the work of small-scale farmers and ranchers—and more of them working at a human scale—as one of our most important solutions to the climate crisis.”

Boris Johnson is No Green Superhero.” Speaking of agriculture, here’s James Rebanks taking after the Mad Farmer. He certainly has a point: “Sustainable farming can play a massive role in the solutions, but isn’t even on the COP26 agenda.”

The Media’s Betrayal of the Poor.” Batya Ungar-Sargon argues that as journalists have become more professionalized, their collective attention has turned from the concerns of the working class to racism and other issues that don’t upset the interests of their increasingly upper-class readers: “This perfect alignment of journalistic and corporate interests is one of the great ironies of the progressive culture war. It makes individual journalists feel like heroes while making their bosses and shareholders (and themselves) even richer.”

In Major Shift, NIH Admits Funding Risky Virus Research in Wuhan.” The details of this story continue to emerge, and it can be difficult to tell what actually happened between the efforts to cover-up events and the efforts to spin them for maximum partisan gain. But Katherine Eban has a pretty measured report for Vanity Fair, which concludes with this telling quote: “Gilles Demaneuf, a data scientist in New Zealand, told Vanity Fair, ‘I cannot be sure that [COVID-19 originated from] a research-related accident or infection from a sampling trip. But I am 100% sure there was a massive cover-up.’”

Dragons in the Deep Places.” Brad East reviews Ross Douthat’s new book on suffering from a chronic and mysterious disease: “In part a pilgrim’s deconstructed theology of suffering, in part a revised theory of medical epistemology, the result is tentative, searching, and unfinished by definition. He’s still in the dark wood. But he wants his fellow sojourners to know something of the path, not least if they are already lost, as he once was.” Stay tuned for FPR’s review of this book.

Moral Society and Immoral Man.” Christopher Shannon ponders some flaws in Reinhold Niebuhr’s understanding of society and wonders if the church can be a model for a moral society.

What Do Integralists Want?” Rod Dreher wades into the ongoing debate regarding integralism and outlines its contours and challenges.

Why Does Wokeness Drive me Crazy?” Don’t let the clickbait-y title put you off this perceptive Damon Linker essay. He manages to shed light on one of the most argued-about aspects of contemporary society.

A Small Town that’s Doing it Right .” Salena Zito tries to make sense of some of the factors that have made Columbiana, OH a thriving small town. (Recommended by Rob Grano.)

A Silver Lining in the Story of Private Equity Killing the Press.” Another hope-giving story, this one by Robert Kuttner, is about a local, independent paper that is doing necessary work: “You could say that Provincetown has a rich civic life, but every town does. It only becomes visible when somebody shines a light on it.”

How to Fix Social Media.” Nicholas Carr traces the complex history of communications and regulation in the US in search of a framework that might help resolve contemporary debates over Big Tech.

The Magnificent Bribe.” Zachary Loeb writes about what Lewis Mumford termed “the bribe,” a kind of Faustian bargain technologies offer to us: “Anticipating resistance, the bribe meets people not with the boot heel, but with the gift subscription.”

Works and Worship.” Writing from the British context, Sarah Ward Clavier and Emma J. Wells ask “how can churches combine a zeal for social action with the need to do worship well?”

The New Public Health Despotism.” Matthew Crawford grapples with the tensions between liberalism and democracy in an effort to make sense of COVID health theater. (Recommended by Matt Stewart.)

Some Fast-Food Items Contain Plastics Linked to Serious Health Problems, New Report Shows.” According to a new study, most fast-food meals are laced with various kinds of plastics. Laura Reiley summarizes the disturbing findings.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Regarding the Sarah Mock piece: farming is not a “narrative”. You cannot plant, harvest or butcher a narrative. Farming is hard work. The advice I give plenty of aspiring farmers is first to feed yourself. That is not as hard as it might seem. I also tell them that there are plenty of USDA and state funded programs for the small farms. Yes, the lion share of money proportionally goes to the big farms. But is anyone surprised that the wealthy get special attention? Yet we have benefitted from several cost-share programs that helped our farm complete some much-needed infrastructure (pasture renovation, 3500 feet of an inline livestock watering system for rotational grazing, livestock chute system, 25’x50’ hoop house, 16’x60’ shed roof extension). They didn’t pay everything, and we did the work. But getting the technical assistance and the cost share sure helped. There are also a host of extension agents available to provide advice on a host of topics. But it always comes down to you and work. If you think in terms of minimum wages or work hours per week, get an office job. The work is never ending. The pleasure is in doing for oneself and family. That is a concept at odds with a population that is either unfit or looking to blame others for their own lack of will power.
    I have extended family who want to do what I do. But they focus on the narrative, the dream world, so they never will farm. This irritable early morning rant could go on, indeed might over at my blog. For now, let’s leave these comments here. I have a sore throat, a low-grade fever, it is cold and raining, and I have work to do.
    PS As always, Jeff, thanks for the carefully curated Saturday morning reads.

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