Why I do it

I have commented on this before, either in person or online, but I still get asked why I farm. Non-farmers only see the work: the dirt, the effort, the butchering, the messiness that sometimes comes with sowing and reaping. But that is exactly why I do it.

I have been following the slow decline of Venezuelan society for a couple of years. I knew someone who lived there and once had the idea that I would like to go there and visit his country, do kind of a photojournalistic piece. He dropped off the radar, though and the last I heard from him was about 18 months ago, when he said things outside Caracas where he lived were “very bad” and he was seeking a way out of the country for he and his wife. He said there was no electricity, water supplies were affected, looting and shooting were common and the politics were very polarizing.

In this recent Washington Post piece (http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/venezuelans-are-storming-supermarkets-and-attacking-trucks-as-food-supplies-dwindle/ar-AAhJpLn?li=BBnb7Kz), the descriptions from citizens show just how desperate the situation is.  It’s not just that there are interruptions in the food supply; its that the people aren’t able to procure their own for their own.

“This can’t continue,” said Angel Rondon, a mechanic, who now sometimes eats just once a day. “Things have to change.”

The beginnings of a capitalistic society begin with first having enough to provide for you and your family, then having a little extra to sell to others at the prevailing market price. In Venezuela, the market prices vary widely, but it’s safe to say there are places where any price is not too much to pay for a commodity such as fresh food, clean water, or basic supplies. From what I know, Venezuela is a country that has temperate climate zones and lots of arable land, so the ability of people actually being able to grow their own food should be relatively easy. However, speaking as one who also lives in a temperate zone and has lots of arable land and who also knows the theory of how plants grow, I know that experience is everything. For example, I read an article about an urban farmer who was able to grow enough micro green crops to do a tidy business supplying restaurants. He “borrowed” small plots of residential land around his home and did so well that his business soon morphed into selling the information on how to do it. I thought I could take his principles and do the same.

Well, I started a lot of little lettuce seeds inside which soon grew into little lettuce plants that I transplanted outside. Then I had  1/4 acre of big lettuce plants. All at once. I could not connect how I could regularly supply a restaurant that would turn a profit, until I drove by a farmer’s field and saw about 40 rows of successive planted rows, from a week old to harvestable. The visual was just what I needed to re-plan my garden.

But it was the experience of growing something, which was really exciting, and then having to plan ahead so I could have the food I needed when I needed it that showed me a much clearer path and gave me more confidence to keep on farming. The people of Venezuela don’t have the luxury of waiting a season or two to get the hang of it. They need food now, tonight, and tomorrow and next week.

“We’re waiting without even knowing what they will bring today, or if they’ll bring anything,” Yorilei Ramos, 51, said as she stood alongside her 9-year-old daughter. “Your kids are crying, ‘I’m hungry,’ and you have to tell them, ‘I have nothing.’ ”

My Facebook feeds are filled with the stuff that urban legends are made of in regards to how the government plans to take over our free society. One recent story seemed to have some credence, although I can’t believe anyone would go for actually microchipping babies. Still, it is very apparent that most people under 40 today couldn’t survive more than a night or two alone, don’t know how to orient themselves enough to travel without electronics, are “afraid” of guns and believe that the police or fire departments will be able to handle any emergency, just like they have always done. The United States has not seen widespread civil unrest as has become the norm in other countries. Our social policies are developed slowly, through debate, referendum and court decisions. We don’t have bands of roving highwaymen, independent landholders who make their own law or social change through assassination. This doesn’t mean civil liberties are not being eroded away, however. Just like the frog in the pot of water, small changes to laws that don’t necessarily warrant any notice soon evolve into losses of freedoms, the sum of which may be significant. A few courts have ruled against landowner rights in “Right To Farm” cases. Most of these are small, local cases but the impact could have enormous implications in rural communities where homesteading could be considered farming and therefore, prohibited. The same could be said of “assistance creep”, citizens depending on government subsidies or assistance for basic food and shelter.  It’s great to have programs in place to help people in a temporary time of need, but social programs that were initiated in the ’30’s and ’40’s  during the Great Depression were not meant to become a permanent lifestyle. An entire generation now expects to be taken care of with their day-to-day living, from housing to food to medical care, cell phone and internet, transportation and entertainment. And burial expenses. It’s expensive to raise a child, and the United States is currently raising millions of them. We are going to run out of money. Soon.

“But many of the welfare programs started by Chavez have dried up, and the nearest store has little more than two-liter bottles of Pepsi and packs of Pall Mall cigarettes. Under Chavez, the government established a network of government-run supermarkets that sold basic foods at subsidized prices. But inflation has put even these bargains out of reach for many people. A single kilogram of yucca — about two pounds — now costs about one-third of the weekly minimum wage.”

Homesteaders and smallhold famers are valuable resources, not only in terms of what they produce for sale. They have developed methods of doing for themselves, learning what works on a small scale and with what is at hand. These are the people who will feed and clothe the rest of America when the fabric has worn so thin that  laws and rights can’t hold it together anymore and where practical know-how will be worth more than the number of likes on a page.

“We have not yet seen the climax of the crisis,” said Luis Vicente Leon, director of the polling firm Datanalisis, who estimated that retail food outlets in Caracas lack about 80 to 85 percent of their usual products. “Supplies have deteriorated to a very significant degree and it’s probable that things will continue to get worse.”


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