So Much Potential, So Little Will

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A 21st Century Farm as imagined by Davis Meltzer.

A 21st Century Farm as imagined by Davis Meltzer. First appeared in National Geographic Magazine February 1970.

Fields stretch like fairways, cattle fatten in high-rise pens, threshed grain flows through pneumatic tubes into storage elevators, and a control tower oversees all.

National Geographic, No. 4, October 1998

Unlike a lot of the futuristic visions from the 20th Century, there’s still time for this idyll image to be realized. When looked at and contemplated for a bit some logistical questions do arise. But the allure is in the essence of the plan – a clean, well organized, efficient farming scheme where each city is provided fresh foods from just outside of town. It seems that whether or not this type of food production will ever be realized depends on factors that are not currently present in our time.

Illustration via impactdixon | Flickr

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9 thoughts on “So Much Potential, So Little Will

    • Exactly Brad, I’m familiar with The Unsettling of America. Berry’s points both infuriate and sadden me.

      Early in elementary school my class had a month of going to various places to look at occupations and careers. After the field trips each student was asked to choose one and give a presentation about why we would like this-or-that particular career. I began with: As a career I’d like to go to University and learn animal husbandry and maybe start a modern dairy farm. My fellow schoolmates laughed hard, they razzed me about it all the way to middle-school.

      I remember wondering to myself, when did farming become a laughing joke?

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  1. I think Berry’s point is that animal factories are nothing like the picture, unless you can see it as he does. The cows aren’t really grazing on something green on the floor of the 4th floor, for example. Kids can be cruel. In my school we razzed the town kids, and they all envied our farming background, and had a great time when they came to visit. Lewis Mumford makes points about utopianism that are very similar to Berry’s, in the Myth of the Machine, (v. 2) in a chapter, “Progress as Science Fiction.”

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    • I do so understand the point you make about Berry’s point. It’s not Berry’s message that gets at me, it’s the facts that he points out. The loss of the family farm and our connection with the earth is tragic – and what’s taking its place is ugly and in a lot of ways inhuman.

      I recognize that the picture above is somewhat removed from the traditional image of the family farm, but it is a realistic adaptation of it for the needs of modern cities and communities. There are parts about it that would be better re-imagined, but the essence of the plan is preferable to what agribusiness has become. The idea of local farming, by local farmers, producing fresh foods from just outside of town is just common sense…or so it seems to me.

      Too many folks believe that there is a necessity to choose between a world of the machine, or a world of human labor. Some folks believe that there can be an imaginative middle road. The only reason why that concept has lost its meaning since the dawn of the industrial age, is that the greed of vested interests has denied it.

      My belief is that we need to bring back the future with all its amazing promise. The world is stuck in a rut – human beings have to start to imagine and dream of better things again.

      And now I will step off of my soapbox — my apologies for the 6am rant. 😉

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  2. “Too many folks believe that there is a necessity to choose between a world of the machine, or a world of human labor. Some folks believe that there can be an imaginative middle road.” I certainly agree. The key is in how do we recognize advanced technology. If you till the land, plant it to grain, fight the weeds, harvest it, haul the grain and feed it to livestock, then haul the manure back: wouldn’t it be simpler if the livestock did the harvesting and spread the manure, all on their own, using the latest technology for fencing, etc., such as electric netting to protect poultry out in the fields? Each major agribusiness corporation today seems to be a Manhattan Project (megatechnics, megamachine,) which favors sales of all of those items to wait on the livestock and poultry, and then that also tends toward authoritarianism, with concentrated wealth getting the US government to support us losing money on farm exports, so the multinational (foreign and domestic) grain buyers can get it below farmers’ costs.

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    • Absolutely on point with all points. If I were president I would appoint you Secretary of Agriculture.

      Just one thought. Tilling, planting, and harvesting are areas where humans and technology need not be mutually exclusive.

      Thank you so much for thoughts on this, Brad. I do value them.

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