Working on the farm in Mendocino
Working on the farm in Mendocino

How big can a community be and provide effective self-regulation? How do we define self-regulation? Discussion among people about land use practices in a non-threatening setting creates the opportunity for cultural management of cultivation.

In our community, we maintain a small farmers market on private land. Anyone is welcome to vend and there is no market manager or PIC “person in charge.” All are welcome and the rules are that dogs must be leashed and children/drunk people must be kept out of the road.
Producers, craftspeople and business people sink or swim on reputation in localized settings.

Regulation is provided by public opinion; this was the backbone of traditional agrarian communities. In small economies, people are known for the type and quality of the work they do. In olden days, your life was defined by the craft or trade you were born into.

But the reputational nature of localized living does not extrapolate to the macro scale.

Over Regulation Stifles Newcomers Without Protecting Consumers

Businesses that are large enough to operate on a macro level need rules and regulations to keep them in check. They are larger and have more potential fault when something goes wrong than micro-scale enterprises nested in localized production systems. An operation that moves millions of units of product has more potential risk and danger to the populace than a small, localized operation with fewer customers and fewer ties to a large “chain of distribution.”

Macro-scale operations are less affected by personal reputations and are more capable of hiding/obscuring faults through marketing and advertising campaigns. Macro actors also have far greater influence in the policy conversation with large lobbying budgets and ties to the revolving door of government.

The system has been rigged against small producers, cottage industries and the potential for incubator businesses. If I need a million dollar facility to package a pound of beef or wrap a chicken, then I’m not likely to get into the business as a new producer. These rules and regulations are not based on performance metrics, they are based on effective lobbying by the largest (and foulest) producers.

These rules don’t create safe meat; you have to cook anything that comes from the supermarket thoroughly because it’s contaminated with fecal matter from mechanical evisceration processes that move too fast with too few safeguards (Source: Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profit). I’ll pass on having to cook the poop well enough to eat, thanks.

Performance Metrics are a Small Scale Solution

I want a performance metric option; if I can produce a clean chicken slaughtered on-farm, how I do it shouldn’t matter. Same goes for my water discharges — if I can test clean, then I shouldn’t have to worry about convoluted permitting processes for my micro-scale enterprise. Performance-based metrics scare the hell out of big operations because they cut too many corners to meet them. For smaller-scale operators, an evaluative system of quality and reputation is what we stand on and we need this option from the regulatory system.

Third party certifications are a key piece of this puzzle. As we enter new markets in which we don’t know our customers based on a localized reputation, it has been very helpful being part of the Clean Green Certification Program. This gives us the ability to represent the quality of our products, backstopped by an independent, non-governmental entity that exists to safeguard farm producers.

If I don’t follow quality standards and practices, then I will water down the meaning of the Certification, which incentivizes both the certifiers and the certified to maintain quality practice in representation of reputation. It all comes back to “How well do we know each other?” If you know someone well enough to trust them, then you have a sense of that person’s reputation. Building these reputational standards is a huge part of the future for micro-scale enterprises.

I don’t need absurd government regulations to watch over me to make sure that I do the right thing for myself or my team because we are part of a way of life that honors and supports us in what we do. There is no question about the ways in which we treat each other because we are governed by respect and an ethic of teamwork that holds all jobs as sacred (as Joel Salatin would say).

Working the Land is Our Life and Our Honor

When what you do is a way of life, you do the right thing because it’s part of the way you live your life. You honor the people you work with, and the lives of the animals you slaughter for meat. You honor the lifecycles of the many plants, gifted to serve as their tender. Honor is done to the land in stewardship, in the essence and meaning of the term “husbandry.”

The underlying form and function of our reality has been based in the homesteader’s ethic of stewardship, community and sound economics. Tending the land and soil so that greater bounty is produced over time is the natural course and call of the Agrarian Spirit that runs within us all.

We are drawn to the land, a deep and visceral connection that when severed allows the lifeblood to slowly leak from our veins. Without an understanding of our place in the world, we cannot act as full participants in our reality. We are as shadows, walled in by concrete and glass, ensconced in glitzy machines that whiz us across lifeless pavement.

It is a great gift to feel the kiss of the sun and the caress of the evening air scented with flowers. The treasures bestowed by the universe are plentiful and endless, but they are often overlooked. The mind maintains its anxious chatter but nature is timeless peace, acceptance and understanding; all things ARE, the innocence of Being without Judgement.

Work You Love is Fun, Even Rock Digging

Even as all things ARE though, we act on them with our choices and decisions, bringing us to the crux of our current human predicament. As my sociology teacher always said, “things that are thought to be real are real in their consequences.” Many people think one way about this world, and that has resulted in a vast system of agribusiness and corporate monocropping that robs humans of their right to good, meaningful work while reducing individuals to consumers and communities to zones in which consumption and leisure occur, while productivity and “work” must occur elsewhere.

The separation of “work” from “fun” is a huge part of our cultural downfall. If you don’t do something for “work” that you think is “fun” or that you enjoy, then you won’t feel spiritually fulfilled. This issue of “work” vs. “fun” is also reflected in the idea that “work can’t be fun,” or that we have to do something “different and special” for it to be “fun.”

Grandpa Robert always said “let us be happy in our work.” It has been a defining characteristic of our family of manual laborers. We like to work hard, and we have fun doing it. “Work” and “fun” are synonymous to us because that is how we choose to see the world.
Digging rocks in the sun isn’t what most people would list in the “fun” category, but because we are fulfilled and have meaning in our labors, rock digging is as fun as anything else.

Sometimes it’s an issue because I have so much fun that all I really want to do is work on my farm. We work hard, we enjoy life, and we live well by focusing on knowing the producers of our foods and medicines. Being able to trade and barter is a huge part of our reality and a traditional staple of Agrarianism. It is good to be part of this reinvigoration of the American Dream.


  1. I love the vision expressed here, and I wish there were more buy-in elsewhere in the state, starting with growers and then extending by popular demand to lawmakers.

    Unfortunately, discussions about farm-friendly cannabis regulations and policies are running a very distant third to a) local cannabans and outdoor growing bans (where business models aren’t even discussed), and b) regulatory models pending in the state Legislature that will be prone to do more harm than good. Whether you’re talking about medical cannabis now, or adult-use cannabis in the future, the ballot initiative process is the most powerful tool we have available to create a regulatory framework that, if not totally farm-friendly, is not as farm-averse as the alternative being floated by state lawmakers.

    Two of the 2016 initiatives in circulation address “artisan” regulations affecting small producers directly. This is one of them, and I hope it gets some traction, but the ink isn’t yet dry on the others. While there will be robust debate about entry barriers to small commercial producers, a more expansive definition of personal cultivation could allow self-sustaining family farms and informal co-op gardens to exist without necessarily triggering licensing requirements. One very basic question is where you draw the line between personal and commercial cultivation, in terms of plant counts and zoning, but if you don’t draw the line at all then everybody gets hurt.

    Keep sharing the message; it’s an important one.

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