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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ambiguity

The word of the day is ambiguity. The two most memorable events of the past week or so reinforce my belief that its important to be able to accept ambiguity; to recognize that many things are not black or white, true or false, good or bad.

First, we recently finished the fence.



Nearly everyone commented on how nice it looked; how ordered and neat; or how clean and established. My initial impression was the same.



But I also have to admit some lingering unease, too. As the guiding concept of landship suggests, I think the long-standing trend towards privatization has come with serious costs. And fences go hand-in-hand with these changes. Fences, at best, can be aesthetically pleasing and functional, yet they can also be divisive and exclusive.

The tour of the Farmington agricultural extension fields was even more ambiguous. Those who readily criticize extension agents would have been disarmed by the obvious passion the agents showed for agricultural research.



Critics might also be surprised to learn of research directed towards small-scale growers and nutritional health of local populations. But, then again, there were also agents like the herbicide specialist. The most charismatic and vocal scientist at the experiment station, I would also nominate him if there were a poster-child for all that is wrong with the extension service. He introduced his corn research by indicating the weeds and stunted growth in the control plot. Then he simply regurgitated the equally-stunted logic of the chemical companies: if you don't use herbicide, your productivity will suffer a reduction of 75%. This is not a surprising argument to hear from herbicide corporations, but from a government official entrusted with serving farmers and the general public it is essentially dereliction of duty. The problem with his stance is several-fold: there are myriad other ways to decrease weed pressure that don't involve herbicide (under-sowing; mechanical cultivation; etc...); weed pressure doesn't always compromise crop growth - it can even be beneficial; lastly, defining agriculture narrowly as large scale mono-cropping neglects what are arguably the most exciting and thoughtful trends in his own field. Rounding out his reactionary politics, he explained to the crowd his belief that the Gulf oil spill would be cleaned "if it weren't for environmentalists protesting all the best solutions." The problem with black-and-white logic such as this is that it denies any room for ambiguity. It fails because: all "environmentalists" don't think the same; there is no consensus from any camp on ways to remedy the catastrophe; finally, solutions for a crisis as far-reaching and complex as the oil spill will have trade-offs that are just as complex, so there is no clear-cut "best" solution. Very few things are truly black-and-white. To proceed as if they are is like trying to dissect a hummingbird with a golf club. The task calls for a more subtle and precise tool.

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