The Scoop

Landship Foods is inspired by the conviction that growing and eating healthy food is one of the most important things we can do for both ourselves and the broader communities of which we are a part. The name comes from the language of pre-industrial Europe. Before the enclosure movement and the associated rise in notions of private property swept England, the suffix “-ship” (as in "relationship," or "friendship") referred to an object or an abstraction with collective duties and mutual rights. Thus, the term “landship” suggests that land was an entity through which humans were joined to each other by a set of rights and responsibilities. I advocate for a revival of this awareness.

Friday, February 19, 2010

C.C. Law and his Dung-Heap

I can but express the opinion that the touch of politics in agriculture brings with it contamination even to the dung-heap.
- C.C. Law, "Proceedings of the Interstate Convention of Farmers," 1887

With style that only a 19th century planter could muster, C.C. Law made the above argument against government regulation of the blossoming fertilizer industry. A South Carolina planter, Law was concerned regulation would lead to a dangerous alliance between fertilizer companies and government bureaucrats that would drown the interests of the farmer. His words attest to the depth of American skepticism towards government, an attitude that most today would likely admit to sharing at some level. I want to get beyond this position by pointing out that if Law and his fellow planters had worked towards an agriculture rooted in more local sources of fertility they would have been able to better mitigate bureaucratic interference.
The 1887 Interstate Convention of Farmers took place as many American agriculturalists, especially Southern planters like Law, were increasingly looking towards new commercial fertilizers like super-phosphates and guano to maintain maximum production for the global commodity markets. This move was a crucial step towards the contemporary dependence on large-scale importation of distant inputs. As is still the case with most global trade, transparency and trust were thrown out the window for ease and efficiency. It might be easier to get a bag of manure shipped to you than to scoop it oneself, but it is much harder to know and trust the content of the former. Lacking neighborly relations, the new agriculture that Law promoted unwittingly necessitated "the touch of politics" that he so feared.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wal-Mart, Local Food, and the Politics of Consumption

A recent article in The Atlantic suggests that Wal-Mart might help "save the small farm and make America healthy". That was no typo: Wal-Mart. The author, Corby Kummer, points to the corporation's "Heritage Agriculture" program which aims to stock supercenter shelves with produce from "local" farms. He also quotes some higher-up blue-smocks as saying they want to "revive local economies and communities that lost out when agriculture became centralized". (Insert sardonic guffaw here)
Kummer compares Wal-Mart to Whole Foods throughout the article, which culminates in the "grocery smackdown" - a blind taste-test between the two at an upscale Austin, TX restaurant. The results: Wal-Mart fares at least as good, if not better, in taste and freshness. Kummer closes with a lament that most people can't buy direct from the farmer or grow their own and seems to believe that Wal-Mart is the next best option.
I am interested to see how this all plays out, and am open to the idea that Wal-Mart's market power could be wielded for good. Though admittedly skeptical of their conversion, I am not writing this post with the intent of adding my name to the long list of "Wal-Mart haters". Nor am I writing to belabor the inadequacy of measuring local food merely on scales of taste and freshness - hopefully most readers know that local agriculture runs much deeper than the palette. Rather, I want to point out that Kummer's line of reasoning reflects the limits of several strands of green politics, those based on a politics of consumption.
By this I mean a political agenda that is largely rooted in buying: buy local, buy American, buy fair trade, etc... I believe, of course, that recognizing and utilizing our power as consumers is important; but to think that buying is the most effective way to achieve change is at best short-sighted, and at worst lazy. Kummer's analysis is firmly tethered to a politics of consumption, as evident in the central question of his article: Will Wal-Mart or Whole Foods lead us to a more healthy, agrarian America? This strikes me as a ridiculously limited, indeed, a self-defeating question. Why start by ceding leadership to a business? Democratically describing a better future is difficult (Kummer suggests this future is one where more families can source direct from farmers or grow their own), but after we do so the best way to get there is through community action and legislative reform - not by plodding through the check-out lines of Wal-Mart or Whole Foods.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2014 Olympics: Atlanta?

For those of you who thought I was exaggerating about our "cold" Georgia winter, evidence of last night's storm. The snow started to accumulate in the late afternoon, so by happy hour the conditions were ripe for an epic snowball battle. I enjoy a good dusting as much as anyone, but it seems that this will likely postpone our plantings even more...
While the world's best winter athletes sit around waxing their skis and sharpening their skates in balmy British Columbia, the deep South is blanketed in snow. Perhaps in 2014 Atlanta will claim the mantle of first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics. I've been training for the biathlon, just in case (and, no, my new-found interest has nothing to do with this year's Canadian women's team )!
Support the biathlon babes from our neighbors to the north by purchasing their promotional calendar here

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Frozen-Ground Blues

Apparently, my writing died off as did my farming. Well, there is this little number that I composed during our January cold snap:

I got them frozen ground blues
Yeah, the fields are covered in ice
I need a thick-soled pair of shoes
Lawd, I got them frozen ground blues

We are experiencing a cold and wet winter here in Georgia - just as the el nino experts predicted - but the days are thankfully getting longer. This spring I will be working with a solid crew here in Athens to grow vegetables for a local restaurant that cooks up some seriously good food (Farm 255). I am starting to prepare for the early plantings, which entails cutting down trees and plowing new beds since we are growing on a farm that has been largely fallow for the past few years. In addition to this excitement, I am eager to resume the public agricultural diary that is Landship Foods. I'll be brainstorming on the backporch in the meantime...