Rebuilding the rural, agrarian infrastructure that made this country great is going to take work. In the old days, neighbors and communities depended on each other for survival. The sharing of heavy labors defined traditional life — people working together to raise a barn or bring in the harvest.
Small-scale, embedded industries supported farms and economies. Any stock or market manager will tell you that a diversified portfolio is more stable and less susceptible to large shocks. This stands in stark contrast to the universal encouragement of farmers to specialize and expand their operations.
The Myth of Economies of Scale in Farming
Farmers followed the advice of government scientists, USDA, the Extension Service, the chemical/seed corporation salesmen: Narrowing scope and increasing size, chasing the ephemeral “economies of scale” that would make their operations profitable.
The sad truth is that farms which purchase very little for inputs and are able to make significant outputs are likely to prosper. Universally, the farmer was pushed away from traditional, ecologically sound methods into “modern” practices that consume huge quantities of fuel. The cost to supply all these inputs is so high that farming becomes little more than a zero-sum game in which you hope not to end up in the hole.
Large-scale industrial practices robbed people of meaningful existence, pushing them off the land in favor of machines, which often produced negative land-use consequences. Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Ag was famous for his “get big or get out,” which followed soon by “plow it fence-row to fence-row.”
How America Tried to Kill the Small Farm
In 1962, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) pushed for “An Adaptive Program for Agriculture.” Chaired by the president of Ford Motors with heads of AT&T and Sears, the CED advocated a facilitated migration of two million farmers out of agriculture.
“The report’s authors sought to solve ‘the farm problem,’ which meant stopping the government assistance programs that supported agriculture and instead releasing it to a free-market system. The primary obstacle, the problem behind the farm problem, was what they called a ‘persistent excess of resources.’ In other words: too many farmers.” — Lisa M. Hamilton, Deeply Rooted
The homesteads in my area are a throwback to the old ways. We don’t have government farm support programs (thanks, CED), but we call cannabis the “small farm subsidy program.” Diversified farmsteads were traditionally reliant on a cash-crop to pay for infrastructure upgrades and store-bought items, and cannabis fills such a niche.
I don’t need a handout, but my business cannot thrive without sensible regulations. Farmsteads should be encouraged through government services that assist the farmer and through streamlined permitting processes administered in a supportive way.