We reprint here a fascinating letter giving the reasons for working in alternative agroecological small -scale agriculture. This is in response to some issues raised in our seminar series on Land and Food.
In my opinion the whole food production topic is not about “going back to the land” or romanticising the rural life. To me it is a matter of doing useful work, learning skills that make sense in radical/anti-capitalist settings. It is about taking responsibility and learning the skills for producing very basic and essential products: “Food” and how to do food in a way that is socially and ecologically sustainably in the long run- which in practice may look very different depending on the land base and factors like the climate in a particular region. Another personal point is, that I simply do not like big city life and prefer rural surroundings so what to do in the country? Learn how to get along with food production.
Of course you are right: Small scale agriculture projects by themselves have no power to overcome the current food system. They are simply test sites with a limited propaganda function. To actually challenge the dominant industrial-capitalist food system they would have to be embedded in a wider movement with a social-power base, rooted in an organized lefty working class. (My opinion). Still what those initiatives manage to do differently pushes through the bottleneck critical sets of skills about how to do certain jobs, tasks. For example: How to multiply seeds for veggie plants in a non-hybrid artisanal mode embedded in the daily farm work. Or
shepherding, which is ecologically very useful and can be well combined with fruit orchards in a beneficial way. Or things like artisanal butchering using up most parts of an animal (not just what a supermarket (customer) is used to buy) That way we need to have less animals to feed the same number of people, and we have less butchery-rubbish….
Endless more things to be mentioned here.
However the first logical low level starting point is to start growing vegetables (and some herbs) and to do it organically and small scale in a CSA (community supported agriculture) scheme, which enhances the economic and planning security for the growers a lot. Practical hands on manuals for doing so and very popular in the scene is this book by the Canadian Jean-Martin Fortier (https://www.themarketgardener.com/book). Another very popular and hands
on is Richard Perkins of the “Ridgedale Permaculture Farm” in Sweden
with the book: “Making Small Farms Work”
(https://www.regenerativeagriculturebook.com/). Beside the book you can
find a whole lot of their work on youtube or on their on websites. All the things in those two books (just as an good example to start) are aiming at people who want to start a small agricultural farm business (often family owned, with maybe a few extra workers). However I do not see any reason why it is not possible to get such projects started with some kind of working cooperative/collective. Beside those small scale approaches there is by now as well initiatives which are (or aim to get there) middle- bigger-sized CSA projects like this one in Leipzig, Germany (https://kolaleipzig.de/) (sorry only German but there is videos which give an impression). They are working on roughly 30 hectares of land. Or in Munich exists a project called “Kartoffelkombinat” (=potato syndicate) (https://www.kartoffelkombinat.de/blog/) with several thousand members holding CSA-shares and including a collectively operated bakery.
Internationally I guess there is a whole lot more stuff like “Cecosesola” in Venezuela a decades old collaboration of radically democratic working coops with dozens of farms and workshops and health care clinics working together. Or most famously the Zapatist movement and their famous coffee exports or this anarchist collective in Greece called “BeCollective” (https://becollective.espivblogs.net/about-us/).
(Info in English) which grows olives and makes oil from it.
The appealing bit about the Market Garden approach as put forward by
Jean-Martin Fortier is that its work is already commercially successful on
a small plot of land, with only low initial capital investments and only
small tools and machinery but generates rather interesting jobs (definitely not as boring as factory). Interesting point might be how to get organised as an initial collective/coop and how to raise the first funds to get going.
In Germany there is a new initiative called “Ackersyndikat” which aims
at collectivising land to make it accessible to CSA-projects. One of my
house-mates is very active there (https://ackersyndikat.org/) (sorry only
German), however they are very happy to share their concept and ideas
and many of them speak good English.
What does the accusation that all of this is “middle class” or most
white actually mean?
As a description of a particular social bubble (in Germany/internationally?) it makes sense and is true and definitely a weak spotand limitation of the scene. However I do not know why those approaches and concepts towards an organic and diverse and interesting and sustainable food system cannot be applied by much more and different people if they are actually into this topic and this kind of work. No
matter how we do it, it will still be hard seasonal work, and long hours
especially in summer but it is outside and very diverse range of tasks and
very good healthy food always available.
For the German speaking part of the world this website of the GermanCSA-network is a good point to get more info (sorry German again). Currently there is about 200 CSA-schemes in Germany and the numbers increase rapidly, so in the next few years I hope this jumps over to more working-class people and People of Color.
Myself: I am currently living in this project “Kommune Niederkaufungen”
which is a 60adults, 20 children intentional community, with roughly
ten working cooperatives living off our products. Among those a CSA-veggie scheme, artisan cheesemaking, agriculture and much more. Some
info in English is here (Yay): (https://www.kommune-niederkaufungen.de/english-informations/). Public German TV made a documentary about the place which is now on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=leben+ohne+besitz+hr).
Personally I think our community should be doing much more explicitly political stuff and movement work. However on a daily level a whole lot of very interesting stuff happens here and makes every-day-life much easier or more comfy and our “wage-“work more useful. And so this way I can actually find time to still ponder politics or get engaged in stuff or write e-mail like now. Which I did not do much, while working in regular organic agriculture. As I was often tired after long work days.
Ok so enough for now. Hopefully this is somewhat helpful looking forward to news from the Peoples Land Policy campaign or any other news from the UK food system.