Taming a tangled wilderness

We’re unusually free with sharing our successes and failures here at Innisfree on the Stillwater, a fact that is intentional and purposeful rather than naive and dramatic. You see, our desire, along with giving people access to quality, sustainably grown food is also to help educate the vast majority of people who don’t understand what it takes to grow their food exactly what it takes to grow their food.

In addition to some thinking we’re arrogant for having such a goal, one of the classic responses we get, especially to failures, is that we don’t know what we’re doing. The irony, to a point, is that these critics are right, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

As it turns out, we don’t know what we’re doing because the knowledge of what we’re trying to do, in many cases, has been almost entirely lost, sometimes intentionally. Over the past several decades, there has been a radical revolution in agriculture almost unheard of since the invention of agriculture itself, and often not always for the better. This revolution has happened so quickly that the knowledge got lost before it got written down.

The result has been tragic, from loss of crop diversity so severe that entire annual crops are now entirely clones to animals so closely bred for specific genetics that they die from eating food they’re supposed to be able to eat, along with a population now so far removed from the realities of what it actually takes to feed them that this all seems normal to them.

We don’t know what we’re doing because we’re on the frontier trying to create a bulwark against the threats these kinds of changes represent. We understand we’re not going to overturn or replace those realities, but we also know some level of that knowledge must be salvaged or rediscovered or the potential for disaster is real and imminent.

So yes, we admit our ignorance, not as a condemnation of ourselves, but as a bellwether of the risks we all face. We do this because we desperately want to learn before it’s too late and for others to understand the risks we all face.

Perhaps that makes us arrogant, but the fact is that explorers and discoverers have always had to be to succeed at what they’re trying to do. We accept that aspersion and the challenge it represents because the task must be done.


Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: And so much more…

I’ve discovered over the past five years that people have huge preconceptions about what being a farmer means. I know, coming in, I had all sorts of them, and I know I am surrounded by fellow farmers who have deeply held ideas about their profession. One of my first posts on this site dealt with one of them, and dredged up the almost predictable responses (I’m not linking to it simply because I want to talk about something else).

One of the preconceptions I had coming in was the nature of what farm work meant in the first place. Many people, including my onetime self, have the idea that farming is as simple as growing and harvesting a crop or raising and selling an animal. I’m here to tell you firsthand that, whatever kind of farming one does, that could not be further from the truth.

Even at its most monoculture, farming is a polyculture because it cannot be anything else. Farming demands knowledge of everything from agriculture to zoology and demands the farmer be everything from an accountant to a zoo keeper.

It’s not an accident, then, that history notes the rise of farming intertwined with the rise of what we think of as civilization. Domesticating, planting, raising, harvesting, and slaughtering plants and animals for food in more effective and efficient ways is the necessary mother that gave rise to everything we take for granted today, either by inventing the things we have or by enabling the things we have to be invented.

And so, in the end, I can think of few other undertakings as intensive and broad as that of the farmer. Granted, the hurdles are tall and the valleys are deep, but if anyone wants to fully challenge himself in the pursuit of life, the vocation of farmer is a place to do it.


Read more at my Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater weblog…

Where do I stand?

Someone commented on a Facebook post today that she wasn’t really sure if she ever really knows where I stand on the issues I tend to discuss on Facebook and elsewhere. The fact is that I’m not trying to be vague or mysterious, though I do like provoking people to think.

No, instead, I think my views are complex and they’re mine and I’m unafraid to dig into the nuances of why I think the way that I do. Every single one of us cannot help but be the result of the collection of our unique experience in life. Even people who have traveled similar paths travel them differently, and the result is different views of the world.

I cannot emphasize this point enough: my views seem vague because they are uniquely mine. They’re derived  from an informed and rational opinion created by decades of observation, learning, and experience. I do not feel the need to be beholden to any particular ideology or philosophy because I see such things as the lazy way out. Yes, it is entirely possible that the conclusions I have reached may be wrong, but I will say with the same certainty that the burden of proof to convince me of that is very high because it should be.

If I may be so bold, I think that what has happened in the past forty years of my own experience is that people have become eager for simple answers to very complicated questions. There are myriads of reasons for that trend, but the result has been that many people do not want to think about the problems that confront them with any kind of sophistication. Instead of thinking things through on their own, they pick the ideological or philosophical answer they’ve heard from someone else that they think fits them best and stop thinking about it. I never do.

I grant that this view of mine single-handedly insulted just about everyone, yet any argument to prove me wrong must, by necessity, delve into the very kind of nuances and complexity so many people try to avoid. God gave us our minds and learning and experience to help us understand our universe. When we fail to use those things to their fullest extent everyday, we are wasting one of the greatest blessings we have been given. I stand with Galileo in his famous defense of intellect, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use,” and refuse to back down from my positions simply because they make people uncomfortable or confused.

I understand this position means I live a somewhat isolated existence. So be it. My hope is that everyone will rise to the challenge I see in understanding the amazing and complex world in which we live, but if they do not, I will not stop for them.

I stand where I stand because I am doing my best to climb to the top of this mountain we call life. Join me.


Global population growth will not be halted by birth control

The whole government mandated birth control debacle in the United States has brought birth control back to the center stage in the global debate. Unfortunately for the debate, neither side argues from a position of holistic facts, but I think the pro-birth control group gets it more wrong than the other.

For example, this Treehugger article makes the point that access to birth control is one of the most important matters for the international community in an effort to control expanding populations and the resulting resource consumption they generate. The only problem is that the article misses the fact that unchecked live births are not the reason the population is growing so quickly.

No, the problem isn’t new babies being born, it’s that the ones already born and grown into adulthood aren’t dying. Does that seem harsh? It may be, but it represents the reason the pro-birth control argument is so fallacitical.

In fact, the fastest growing global population demographic is people over the age of 85 followed by people over the age of 65. In fact, if the current trends in medicine and longevity continue, people over the age of 65 may outnumber people under the age of 65 by the end of this century.

How does birth control solve that problem? What has happened now is that global birth rates are declining, and as they do, the population begins to invert itself. The results have the potential to be catastrophic and unprecedented in human history.

None of this is to say that access to birth control should be limited, but if there is going to be a debate, it should be a debate with all the facts.