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This book made me think about what life in a low-energy future might look like. Smaje's well-reasoned engagement with history, economics, culture, politics, and ecology makes a strong case for labour-intensive, small, local farms providing even more of our food in future -- without succumbing to ideological posturing, scaremongering, or making any false promises about what is possible.
Smaje doesn't allow himself to get bogged down in the details of the particular challenges of small, local farms in any given area, because these will vary so much from place to place. Not does he make the nostalgic mistake of wishing for a fairy-tale past that never existed: he is direct and realistic about the disadvantages and problems that have plagued agrarian societies throughout history. I would have liked more engagement with how a future economy with little industrial energy but lots of human labour might impact medical care -- but that might need a separate book entirely.
My own instinct has long been to try to attain some measure of autonomy (not self-sufficiency!) in my food supply. This book doesn't explain how to do that, except in the very broadest sense. But it does articulate why it's worthwhile and, for some, necessary, and points in the direction of the wider societal and political changes that could smooth the way toward this way of living, while warning of the most likely pitfalls.
This is a rich, witty and brilliant book that sets out a compelling vision for localism and sustainable food production, and more generally, a better future. It's not romanticism - Smaje's honest and grounded approach is refreshing - rather it sets out a 'small farm future' as our best bet, and a beautiful bet at that. His clear & well-researched arguments traverse ecology, agriculture, economics, politics and culture - from the nuances of natural succession & evolutionary strategies, to sustainable land use, autonomy and urbanisation.
A must read for anyone interested in sustainable futures. Smaje's clarity and depth of insight gives the reader much to chew over. This book is an invaluable contribution to current debates around how to feed ourselves (and how to be) in a changing world.
This is a great philosophical and political guide to why small farms are vital for our future. I am a professional veg grower and this validates what I have always felt is essential for our local communities to thrive in the med-long term - small scale, short supply chain farming. Great book.
Am I missing something here? I cannot see how implementing such a policy would lead to anything other than the immediate death of hundreds of millions of people. A lovely idea from the vantage point of a middle class person with means and a some land in Kent but have you been to Shanghai? We'll just ship 25 million people back to the country side shall we? Pretty sure we tried this method of wealth and resource distribution in the 20th century. Spoiler alert, it didn't end well.
This book, by Englishman Chris Smaje, is an academic-styled argument for the return of small-holder farming to address converging problems the world faces, including a growing global population, increasing pollution and greenhouse gas generation as part and parcel of our everyday, global economy, current and pending physical impacts caused by climate change, and the inability of industrial agriculture to address starvation and hunger within failing economies and for the poor and indigent around the world.
The book raises many interesting and substantive questions about “how we’re going to get along” after people are largely replaced in the workforce by increasingly-automated systems while, at the same time, picking up the pieces as our recent trends of further industrialization, consolidation and urbanization collapse as the world reaches a nexus of finite limits.
Smaje recommends a return to the Small Farm Ethos. His suggestion is supported by the fact that the world will soon need to feed one person for every 1.6 arable acres of land. Smaje says that is about the land-to-family ratio exhibited by the pre-industrial meme of a family living a sustainable life as long as they had “three acres and a cow.” It’s an image Smaje returns to frequently throughout the work.
The author also argues that such a distributed, work-intensive form of agricultural production would have great benefits – such as reducing the use of fossil fuels in the fertilization, harvesting and transportation of foodstuffs, and since the effort would be for primarily addressing needs “close to home,” the process would also address environmental care (“husbandry”) and concerns that are often bypassed or ignored through a corporatized process.
Smaje brings up many ancillary concerns, such as gender roles and rights within a small farm community, and the need to revolutionize century-long assumptions (such as what defines the term “progress”?); but he admits that he can’t fully address all the processes that would be necessary for the world to transition to a Small Farm Future, so a advises that his work is an opening salvo on the matter.
So, this work is a heady policy argument, done very much in an academic style by a land loving, visionary agrarian. If you like that kind of thing, the book rates a “five.” If you don’t, I’d suggest it would rate a “two” for you – even if you do like cows.
The author does a decent job identifying some problems in society. I am sympathetic to the idea of the agrarian lifestyle. However he fails to identify the root problems and his solutions are a joke.
He wants farms based on manual labor in which men and women will have the same agency and rolls? For someone that care so much about nature, he sure miss that which is natural between men and women. He also wants farms with minimal children? Someone needs to give this guy more than a public school education in history.
Bottom line is he give us no reason to accept his views. WHY is the small farm future a good thing? Why is it good to protect the earth for future humans? Why should people limit their easy lives, entertainment and plenty to live a harder life? Where do his morals come from and why ought the reader to accept them.