By Evan Leonard
Farming, including family farming, is now dominated by vertically controlled operations that deplete the soil, pollute water, and produce food designed more to satisfy marketing requirements than human nutritional needs. Agriculture today is a result of abdicating control over our lives to a thoroughly industrialized culture governed by the single criterion of efficiency–finding least-cost solutions. Standardization is a major part of this process. But living systems cannot be standardized. They require diversity and some degree of redundancy to adapt to changing environmental conditions. In the cultural contest between the machine and the garden, the machine has definitely won, but if we do not make room for the garden again, our victory will be our own funeral.
The New Agrarianism encourages diversity of species on each farm and across farms within entire landscapes. But farmers need support from cities: (1) in the form of markets to sell locally-grown produce at prices that will support their work, (2) in a new understanding of ecosystems that focuses on inhabited spaces and not just wilderness, and (3) in an orientation that questions whether efficiency should be the paramount value of our culture. Finally, more biologically diverse human settlements can only come about if economic incentives remove the unrelenting pressure on farmers to expand their operations or go out of business.