Our Responsibilities to the Animals We Eat

February 8, 2015

animalsweeatlEach year more than nine billion animals go to slaughterhouses in the USA to be killed, processed, and packaged into the beef, pork, lamb and chicken that eventually find their way onto our dinner plates. It is an industrial process on a staggeringly vast scale, and it has some fundamental problems.

While the number of animals fated to pass through industrial processes has continued to grow in recent decades, the number of independent family farmers who care for them has continued to decline due to high-efficiency corporate mechanical processes and confinement strategies that optimize profit. The animals have been relegated to “units of production.” The population of human beings in our rural regions in the heartland of America has, meanwhile, been decimated as family farmers have steadily fallen victim to vertical integration and the relentless economic demands of corporate bottom lines.

On Friday of last week I journeyed to Omaha – Gateway to the West – to be part of the annual conference of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS). The primary emphasis of the gathering was on local, sustainable community food systems. But the conference also featured a keynote address from Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mr. Pacelle is regarded with fear and loathing among industrial livestock titans who, with their mammoth Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have made Nebraska into a dominant force providing meat for our tables.

In this context over the last few years, HSUS and NSAS, partnering with the Nebraska Farmers Union, have established an innovative Ag Council to promote humane husbandry of farm animals. While Nebraska was the pioneer in this progressive action, eight other states have now formed similar Ag Councils, and more are coming.

So perturbed are corporate livestock barons about the specter of humane animal husbandry, that they’ve established phony “public interest” front groups to wage a proxy campaign against HSUS. According to many observers, that animus has also been reflected in the actions of Nebraska’s Land Grant University. UNL has by and large cast its lot with industrial chemical agriculture and corporate livestock monoliths* while severing ties with NSAS because of its partnership with HSUS. As critics have noted, land grant universities in general have since the 1980s become less oriented to serving the human beings who are citizens of their states, and progressively more dedicated to serving the corporations that do business in their states. That’s where the money is.

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. "Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of the animals we eat. (Author photo)

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. “Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of animals.” (Author photo)

“Animal welfare should not be a controversial subject,” Pacelle told the conference. “It’s a natural thing. We have been in relation with animals for millennia.”

“It’s not about animal rights, but rather it’s about our human responsibility to our animal relatives. We have duties,” Pacelle said. “Animal life does not exist solely for our exploitation. How do we handle that responsibility? Ultimately there is no escaping the moral issue. Farmers should be leaders in fulfilling our basic human responsibility to the animals who give up their lives that we may eat.”

Billions of animals suffer needlessly in confinement because they are bound up in corporate economic activity. The economics of industrial efficiency have spawned what might be termed a race to the bottom, not just for the animals, but also for the underpaid human beings – the farm workers and packing-house employees – who are charged with managing them.

As NSAS Board member Kevin Fulton noted during the conference, “There’s a direct correlation between moving the animals off the land and into the vertical integration of industrial confinement operations, and the socially destructive process of moving people off the land. We need fewer animals, and more farmers.”

If industrial food-production corporations continue to regard animals as just dull, dumb commodities – units of production to be fattened with genetically modified grains grown in oceans of glyphosate and pumped up beyond natural reason with hormones and antibiotics – then we are failing at our basic responsibility to be in right relationship with them.

* The University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it progressively harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.


Our Ancient & Worthy Responsibility

December 18, 2014

THE-CALL-OF-THE-LAND-The


The Call of the Land now on all Apple devices

June 7, 2014

No matter what kind of digital device you have, you can now access and read in all digital formats the 2nd edition of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century.

The book has long been available in print and in a range of ebook formats through Amazon.com and other major retailers.

ibookNow The Call of the Land is also available in the whole range of digital devices from Apple: iPads, iPhones, and Mac computers.

Impending matters of finance, transport, oil supply, climate stability, water availability, and diet, necessitate—right now—a clear, visionary look at our relationship with our land and an immediate wholehearted response. The Call of the Land addresses these critical issues head on, and offers a broad range of creative, positive responses.

Worldwide, agricultural and financial systems are mutating at breakneck speed. More change is coming. That is certain in response to fundamental shifts in the global economy and environment. These changes impact not just food cost, but also food quality and food availability. This book has proven iteslf to be an valuable resource for those seeking wise pathways to respond.

Many of my other books are also now available from the iTunes and iBook online stores. To check out the possibilities, just follow this link.

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BackCover


Sacred Land: 400th Anniversary of 1st Treaty

July 30, 2013

Our ancestors made this great agreement on our behalf 400 years ago. Now is the time for us to think about the people living in the next 400 years.”   – Hickory Edwards (Onondaga Nation)

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

Long ago when the colonial peoples were seizing possession of the land they would come to call North America, they entered into sworn agreements with the human beings who already occupied the land. The Two Row Treaty, the first of those solemn agreements, is as of 2013 now 400 years old.

To serve as a permanent record of the treaty, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people wove a belt of beads from wampum sea shells, their traditional way of recording sacred agreements, a means more elegant and enduring than the fragile sheets of paper marked with ink that the colonial settlers used.

Commemoration of that treaty is reaching a crescendo late this summer with an elaborate series of lectures, concerts, celebrations, historic enactments, and collaborations planned by The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.

The intention is to polish this centuries-old covenant chain of friendship, to protect our shared environmental inheritance, and to build support for resolution of various land rights actions.

The call to honor the treaty comes in the context of perfect faithlessness. The USA has broken or violated every single one of the nearly 500 legally binding treaties it has entered into with various Native nations.

Thus, the Two Row Wampum campaign has resounding karmic implications for peace, friendship, environmental responsibility and justice.

In recent years, Native peoples have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a fundamental necessity for this continuing friendship, for a more just peace between peoples, and for a sustainable, shared future in parallel on the land we inhabit together.


Gaze Lifts from the Land to Classical Considerations

February 8, 2013

MusingsfinalWith respect, I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new, nonfiction eBook: Classical Considerations.

Succinct but penetrating, the new eBook brings some of life’s foundational questions to the fore by telling a nonfiction story about the late John H. Finley, Jr.  For 51 years Finley was the celebrated and erudite Eliot Professor of the Classics at Harvard. For generations of top students, he was a mentor and way shower.

Luminous and compellingly relevant, Finley’s story leads readers directly into engagement with the fundamental wisdom questions of a worthwhile life. While the book does not directly relate to agrarian matters, it does take a deeply rooted stance in tradition to explore the ethereal. In that sense it’s not so much The Call of the Land, as it is The Call of the Soul.

A compact 44 pages suited to all digital realms, Classical Considerations offers a thoughtfully lyrical shower of intellectual sparks to kindle a gleaming soul fire.

The eBook is available now at Amazon.comBarnes&Noble.com, and in 9 different ebook and smartphone formats at Smashwords.com. There is a version adapted to iPhones and iPads at Smashwords, and the book will soon be available through the Apple store and other online venues.


ReSounding the Call of the Land

January 31, 2013

In the early morning hours of January 31, 2013, I’m alive with the idea of publishing again the original essay* for The Call of the Land. As we move into the waning phase of Winter, feels like it’s time to join the chorus of visionary voices across North America, and to re-sound the basic broad call of the land. – S.M.

*Contemplations on The Call of the Land
by Steven McFadden
Published to start this blog in 2009

In Jack London’s classic novel The Call of the Wild, the alpha dog Buck faces a moment of truth in response to nature, as he stands amid the towering trees of a Northern forest. He must make a choice about the direction of his life.

Similarly, standing both individually and collectively on our earth, we human beings also face a moment of truth. Our call is not from the wild, but from the land. We must make a choice.

callofland

Impending matters of finance, transport, oil supply, climate stability, water availability, and diet, necessitate—right now—a clear, visionary look at our relationship with our land and an immediate wholehearted response.

Worldwide, agricultural and financial systems are mutating at breakneck speed. More change is coming. That is certain in response to fundamental shifts in the global economy and environment. These changes impact not just food cost, but also food quality and food availability.

On our land and within the context of our economy, we have commenced a transition the likes of which few are prepared for, but to which we all can respond with intelligence to attain clean, stable and enduring results.

The call of the land is exceedingly loud and urgent. In response to the call, we have the possibility of manifesting a renewed agrarian foundation for our global human culture  that is rooted in experience, adapted to the specific, contemporary needs of our earth, oriented to the future, and capable of integrating high-tech, sustainable energy, tools, and practices. This is the basic vision articulated in The Call of the Land.

The transition to a food system free of fossil fuels is in no way a utopian reverie. It is, rather, an immediate, immense, and unavoidable challenge that calls for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society. While there is no single remedy for the many problems affecting our farms and our food, there are many positive paths and possibilities. Citizens in communities across North America are already deep into pioneering territory via a host of creative associations. Dozens of books on the theme have come forward, in particular, over the last 10 years.

The movement toward clean, local gardens, farms, and food is already well underway and has potential to gain further momentum as old economic forms wobble and shift. We already are beneficiaries of a great number of positive agrarian developments. Sustainable initiatives have been coming forward for over 60 years, building steadily on the agrarian traditions of earlier centuries. By now we have a host of workable models that individuals, communities, corporations, churches, and associative networks can learn from and emulate.

The economic and natural worlds are mutating around us. Inescapably, immediately, we must mobilize our strength, will, and intelligence on the essential matter of producing clean food for ourselves in a way that stabilizes and heals the land. This is the most basic and necessary idea of 21st century agrarianism.

While there may be no single remedy for the many challenges we face, there are many possible pathways that lead to healing the land. My intent with The Call of the Land is to help illuminate some of those paths by surveying the work of 21st century agrarian pioneers to reveal the many ways a sustainable agrarian foundation can serve the fragile high-tech, digital-wave culture that is emerging so dynamically in our world.

* Minor changes and corrections on 12/31/13 – SM

 END –

Copyright 2009 – by Steven McFadden


The Emerging Social, Economic and Environmental Intelligence of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A Global Phenomenon

November 2, 2012

Thanks to the recommendation of noted CSA author Elizabeth Henderson, I’ve been invited to address the 2nd Organic Farming Summit in Chengdu China (Nov. 17th~18th). Circumstances prevent me from traveling, and so instead I have prepared and sent the following remarks on CSA farms.

I send greetings and respect to all my relatives gathered together in China to exchange knowledge about organic agriculture – taking care of the Earth and each other. It is an honor to address the Organic Trade Union of China, and to offer some observations about our land, our farms, our times, and our many diverse communities of human beings around the world.

With its many variations and cultural adaptations, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a seed that has been steadily setting roots in various places around the globe for several decades. With the benefit of 30 years of involvement and observation, I have come to regard CSA as a 21st Century agrarian initiative with tremendous potential in different cultures to organize human beings – out of their free will choices – around the essential matter of a renewed relationship with the land that sustains them, as well as renewed relationships with each other.

CSA is emerging as an altogether necessary and wise response to the extreme state of our economies and our environment — the urgent call of our land which has been so severely challenged by reckless industrial impulses and  intensifying natural forces. Any person who chooses to can be part of a CSA, and that CSA will be part of a growing network of CSA nodes, as Elizabeth Henderson has noted, in China, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Ireland, and other nations around our world.

In my land – the continent of North America – where over 6,000 CSA farms have come into being in recent decades — we are currently engaged with issues of identity. What does the ‘community’ part of CSA really mean?

CSA is at a decision point. Is it going to become just another “business model” based primarily on monetary transactions for food? Or will CSA fulfill its ideal potential to become a model for healthy cells of social well-being, environmental health, and economic justice?

As a longtime CSA writer, I’ve hypothesized that in an era of economic and environmental stress, CSA social networks would assume increasing importance. That’s because through CSA human beings, households, and farmers have direct opportunity to form a wide constellation of relationships. They can feed each other on a lot of levels. They are linked not just by theories of the ideal, but also by matters that are inescapably real: land, food, and farms, as well as personal, family, and community health.

Yet as I have observed, and as I have read about in Farming Alone, many farmers and CSA shareholders identify community as a weak part of CSA. They say that it just is not happening as theorized. The realm of the ideal has had a hard reckoning with the realm of the real.

Increasingly over the last ten years, more and more farms have embraced CSA as a “marketing approach” or “marketing tool.” Yet that is a digression from what CSA started out to become, and what it still has the potential to become.

As made boldface plain by Robyn Van En long ago with her initial video It’s Not Just About Vegetables, CSA was in no way conceived of as a new way to buy and sell vegetables. The core ideas — the sparks that illumined and defined CSA and made it so immediately understandable and appealing for people all around the world — were both practical and idealistic. The concept was supporting a whole farm, and having the whole farm support and nourish the web of people who support it. In my view, these concepts remain integral. They are what make a CSA a CSA.

Anthropologists Cynthia Abbott Cone and Ann Kakaliouras, among others, have identified CSA as a social movement, as expressed in Building Moral Community or an Alternative Consumer Choice. Many CSA farmers and shareholders do recognize their commitment to CSA in moral terms. They see themselves as nurturing not just soil and family well being, but also the larger community and  environment of which they are part.

When these dimensions are actively cultivated, CSA farms have potential for re-embedding  (grounding) people in time and place by linking them to a specific piece of land and to an awareness of the seasons. From this the environment is not only protected, but also organically cultivated to a higher, healthier state of vitality that radiates outward from the land and animals of the farm to the surrounding communities.

To me — someone who has participated in and written about CSA since 1986 — these social, economic, and environmental dimensions of CSA appear as acutely important.

China’s Organic Summit

Creating a Sustainable Future Together

This is a moment in time when more people are looking to become active in creating a sustainable future. CSA is a proven vehicle for doing that.

CSA is, in and of itself, a community supported concept. No one person conceived of the whole of CSA. Rather, many pioneering people from many places around the world birthed the concept and nurtured it.  As CSA pioneers conceived of it — and as it is still being practiced at many farms — CSA is not just another new and clever approach to marketing. Rather, community farming is about the necessary renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. It’s also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of human cultures.

Trauger Groh and I wrote Farms of Tomorrow (1990) and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (1997) to suggest some possibilities. We also wanted to serve a need that was explicit then, and that has become even more urgent now: the need to share the experience of farming with everyone who understands that our relationship with nature and the ways that we use the land will determine the future of the earth.

The problems of agriculture and the environment belong not just to farmers, but are the common problems of all people. CSA is a pathway to link human beings and their communities directly in free-will association with Earth Ambassadors — the nearby farmers who touch the earth on their behalf to bring forth its bounty in the form of food, fiber, and flowers.

As author Gary Lamb observed in his landmark 1994 paper, Community Supported Agriculture: Can it Become the Basis for a New Associative Economy?, the community farm movement does indeed embody elements of a new associative economy that is fundamentally different from the ruling market economy.

“The market economy is driven by the self-interest of every participant,” Lamb wrote. “In an associative economy, we associate with our partners — active farmers among themselves, active farmers with all the member households, farm communities with other farm communities. The prevailing attitude is a striving to learn the real needs of our partners, and the ways we can meet them.”

Associative economy means that all participants in the economic process try to listen to the needs of all other partners in the process. On this basis they proceed. The key economic question for a CSA that is expressing associative economics, either explicitly or implicitly, is not “How can we make greater monetary profit?”  Rather the questions are “What does the farm need? What do the farmers need? What do the shareholders need?”  In response to these questions, the community proceeds in its work.

Awakening Social Intelligence

The element of community – and the environmental and health dimensions of CSA — are just as important as the practical and economic arrangements that take place in a CSA.

Because CSA possesses so many inherently beneficial dimensions, I continue to regard CSAs as a way of building a clean, stable agrarian foundation for the fast emerging high-tech digital-wave culture. The digital culture can in reciprocity connect, network and sustain the agrarian initiatives which give it roots.

Thus, CSA farms have the potential to bridge the gap between the personal and the global. They are contributing not just to their family and community health and well being as adapted to their chosen culture and lifeways, but also having a larger global impact through the emerging network of associations both in-person and virtual.

The dynamic of farmers and consumers in free will association via community farms creates the potential for the kind of phenomenon that Rudolf Steiner termed “social intelligence.” In the particular case of CSA, I feel that construct can naturally be extended to include economic and environmental intelligence as well.

In my view, CSA carries potential to express the very essence of social, economic, and environmental intelligence, and to do so on a global scale.


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