Number Two (and more)
September 25, 2013 § 6 Comments
A couple evenings ago, my friend Todd and I puttered up to Sterling College to hear a presentation by Mark Shepard. Shepard is the author of Restoration Agriculture and the owner of a 100-acre farm in Wisconsin that utilizes large-scale permaculture techniques to grow and harvest perennial tree crops. He grows a few acres of annual vegetables, mostly to satisfy his quota with Organic Valley, of which he’s been a member for nearly two decades. Also, he runs some critters in his “savanna” (that’s how he described it): Cows, pigs, chickens, sheepsies.
The thrust of Shepard’s point is that annual agriculture – based in large part on cereal grains and legumes – is killing the planet and, not inconsequently, us. “Every society that has depended on annual agriculture has collapsed,” he said, and I suppose he’s right, if you discount the society we currently inhabit. Although by some standards, it’s not terribly hard to see that even this society is collapsing. It’s just that collapse, like wealth, isn’t being equally distributed. In Shepard’s view, we desperately need to transform the way we do large scale agriculture in North America, utilizing woody crops that do a far better job of capturing sunlight and producing truly nourishing foods than do the soil and health-destroying plants upon which we’ve come to depend. He is downright dismissive of the homestead model of food production and the ways in which he’s seen the permaculture movement evolve to be largely about 10 x 10 urban garden plots and “mud ovens.” (He has a particular hair across his ass for mud ovens, which he must of disparaged a half dozen times or more) Oh yeah, there’s something else he’s not particularly fond of: Hand labor. He’s very big on mechanization, which does make one wonder what’ll become of all the people and even cultures who currently depend on hand labor for their livelihood. But that’s maybe a topic for another day.
Anyway. It was a great presentation; Shepard is a dynamic speaker and incredibly engaging. He’s outspoken and unapologetic, and he’s clearly brilliant. Despite the fact that so many of the practices we employ here (homestead scale, hand labor, and by gum we’re even building a “mud oven”), I really enjoyed his talk, and if you ever have the chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it.
With one exception. After the talk, someone asked Shepard how his financial model works. “Oh, I’m in ten times as much debt as I was when I started,” he said, before going on to describe a complex web of debt swapping, utilizing multiple creditors to leverage an initial loan into many multiples of that amount. “And you’re ok with all this?” I asked, and he said that he was very much ok with it, that this is how Donald Trump and anyone who truly understands the financial system operates, and that the choice was between gaming the system in this manner (which sounded a hell of a lot like a ponzi scheme, frankly) or “spending the rest of your life with a yoke around your neck.” Besides which, the need to reform agriculture is so urgent, it’s imperative that we use every tool at hand.
I mention none of this to denigrate the fellow. Although I don’t agree with his views on hand labor or debt gaming (let me put it this way: Whatever I see Donald Trump doing, I pretty much do the opposite), he’s clearly got a lot to offer. And it occurs to me that his embrace of mechanization and financial scheming is largely driven by his genuine love for the planet and the people inhabiting it. In other words, the end justifies the means. “Your problem,” he told me, “is that you have a concept that debt is bad. I’m simply observing that this is how the system works.”
The crazy thing is, he’s probably right.
Number Two: Do not fear terrorism. Do not fear death. Do not fear your government. Do not fear taxes. Do not fear strange men from Vermont who tell you not to fear. Do not fear because almost everything you might fear will not change because you fear it, but also, do not fear because almost every one of your fears is somebody else’s profit.