Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bring Back Peasantry

At some point, industrialization led many from the laboring classes to abandon the plow and become wage earners in cities and towns. Later, we mechanized, automated and computerized a great many of these folks out of jobs. Then we exported manufacturing and decided to become a nation of bankers and folks who serve burgers to bankers. The low skill manufacturing jobs that pay at least half a living wage are almost all gone, and about a third of us are fit for little else. Some have suggested that these folks can be retrained and educated to handle high tech jobs. This is probably not true.

I propose as a solution to the plight of the urban poor a return to the family farm. Just about anybody can farm with the right training, and peasant farmers enjoy a degree of economic independence that the urban poor can only dream about. Society would benefit from having small family farms widely dispersed throughout the country, and these would add to greater food security.

The return would have to be subsidized, of course, and a training program in sustainable agriculture would have to be maintained. Land, mainly from public holdings, would be provided free of charge and free of property taxes as long as the homesteader or his or her heirs held it and farmed it. A market for their produce would be supported by requiring public schools to purchase local peasant farm products for use in school cafeterias. Also, the formerly blighted neighborhoods now abandoned by the newly made peasant farming class could be gentrified, and the peasant farmers could come in on weekends and run farmers' markets for the yuppies who live in their old apartment buildings.

I reckon that sustainable agriculture and organic farming would be the best market niche for the peasants, in part because the program would have a less furious reaction by Big Food if it didn't compete directly with it. Frankly, small farms can't compete with the mega farms when it comes to providing crops and meat for the processewd food industry. Also, the peasant farmers would have less need for expensive equipment and fertilizers and would not require as much in the way of credit. We don't want them to fall into the debt trap that has all but killed the family farm. We want them to stay on the farm for generations to come.

Peasant farming also builds character. Families work together in a common enterprise, and folks deal with one another on a person to person basis. A peasant farming class would provide a counterweight to our overly depersonalized culture. It might also make for some interesting politics.


John_David_Galt said...

This has been tried. See:

Vache Folle said...

Wow. It hadn't even occurred to me that we could force them on to the peasant farms. I was thinking of it on a volunteer basis.