More on Undocumented Farm Workers

I’ve read a couple articles on the issue of undocumented workers in agriculture. Both articles took the perspective of ‘look what will happen to your food prices’.

Yes, we have inexpensive food because of a farm labor system built on ‘workers without a voice’.

Is that culturally acceptable?

It is not for me. It is a form of slavery – a criminal system allowed by the government – to satisfy the labor needs of mostly big farms.

My cynical side keeps telling me this will not be solved because the interests of agri-business will bury the problem.

My religious side works toward finding solutions that rebuild the economies of local food production and family farms.

Feeding the World

‘Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.’

This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture. New research suggests that production likely will need to increase between 25 percent and 70 percent to meet 2050 food demand.

Undocumented Immigrant Labor

According to USDA over 50% of farm labor in America is provided by undocumented immigrants.

Think about it…over 50% of our agricultural economy operates illegally.

This has obviously come to the forefront recently over President Trump’s new immigrant policies.

We are a nation of immigrants.

BUT, we are also a nation of laws.

If I am asked to obey the law, then I expect to be competing and living with folks whom also obey the law.

The psychological damage that we have done to our agricultural economy by not addressing the issue of undocumented (illegal) immigrants is enormous.

As an aside, I find a great irony in organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s emphasis on international agricultural development at the same time our American agricultural economy is built on workers without a voice.

We need to solve this problem. If we do not, we will become the plutocracy that is already on the horizon.

The Ergonomics of Specialty Farming

Farming is hard physical work….particularly the planting and harvesting of vegetable crops.

Given we are developing an investment fund that will own both farm and value-added production facilities, I’ve begun thinking how we might diversify any given farmer’s work – diversify it in a manner that is healthier for the farmer and increases productivity.

Thinking of this opens a number of business structure questions:

How can a farmer own parts of diverse enterprises? (Co-op, Shareholder, etc.).

How to analyze improvements in farm and food enterprise operations that result from diversifying work and tasks?

How to manage such a structure?

What are the farming opportunities and limitations?

We will put together some financial models for this for investor conversations.

A Failure of Diagnosis

I’ve just started reading parts of Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic.

Early on he uses the phrase ‘a failure of diagnosis.’

American agriculture suffers from a serious ‘failure of diagnosis.’

In previous posts I’ve mentioned two approaches we hope will improve the ability to diagnose a specific agriculture in a specific place (…and, by the way, I think one of the most serious failures in agriculture is the tendency to generalize solutions/landscapes/ecologies).

There is a third leg to our agro-ecological ‘stool’….and it is the most tentative (much work needs to be done…but a good start). It is an ever evolving list of agro-ecological practices.

The outline to date:

    • Area I: Improving the physical, chemical and biological conditions of soil.
      • Compost Practices (Composition and chemically/biologically specific practices and their application) including vermiculture
      • Mulching Practices (Composition and chemically/biologically specific practices and their application)
      • Manure Practices (Composition, and animal specific manure practices including amendments/methods)
      • Bionutrient Practices (Bionutrient practices including amendments/methods)
    • Area II: Managing nutrients
      • Practices that ensure minimalization of non-point source runoff from nutrient application
      • Practices that ensure protection of air quality
      • Practices for row arrangement that aid both nutrient management and other productivity enhancements
      • Practices for crop rotation that aid nutrient management and enhance productivity
    • Area III: Managing weeds and pests
      • Practices creating native plant communities and wildlife habitat consistent with site ecology
      • Practices that enhance accessibility, quantity, and quality of forage
      • Practices of integrated pest management
    • Area IV: Managing water
      • Structures for water control
      • Practices for stormwater runoff control
      • Practices for irrigation, microirrigation
      • Practices for water harvesting
    • Area V: Managing farm infrastructure
      • Practices for vegetative barriers
      • Practices for vegetative treated areas
      • Practices for tree and shrub establishment
      • Practices for obstruction removal
      • Practices for land clearing
      • Practices for waste recycling
      • Practices for seasonal high tunnels for crops
      • Practices for fencing
      • Practices for hedgerows
    • Area VI: Managing farm energy uses
      • Practices that reduce on-farm energy use
      • Practices that improve the efficiency of on-farm energy use

The initial work was done in a partnership with USDA NRCS as an effort to improve the conservation practice definitions and payments for specialty farmers. We have taken it a good bit further at this point to evolve both a plan for a demonstration farm as well as a training curriculum.


Ratio of Eyes to Acres

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute has often used the term ‘eyes to acres’ to indicate proper scale for farm management.

Fundamentally one must be able to ‘see’ the farm…a way of understanding and gaining intelligence about farm agro-ecology.

We have been working on development of a farmer training program. Since the property has no buildings or equipment we have worked for seven or eight months designing a set of farm buildings and a comprehensive schedule of equipment and fixtures.

It has been a wonderful exercise…and has been carefully done so the resulting farm, buildings, and equipment allow us to ‘see’ everything on any given day.

We believe we are 95% complete with design (the other 5% will take a lifetime of refinement!).

David DeFrancesco, Christian Roberge, and I will be blogging as we progress on design and development process…hoping to engage a broader community as we refine/build/begin operations.

More Thoughts on the Human Manipulation of Biological Characteristics: Part 2

At our Partner Meeting this morning an interesting discussion arose regarding natural genetic evolution/modification versus human driven, biotechnological genetic modifications/changes.

One of the Partners had an important comment that natural modification always involves a complex array of biological occurrences….and that those additional factors are an integral part of biological evolution…and, in turn, agriculture.

Both of the young farmer Partners are skeptical of biotechnological genetic modification because it alters what they see as a fundamental ethic of biological evolution.

My sense from them was not so much a concern for unintended consequences  – although they are concerned about unintended consequences – as they are concerned about an intuitive ‘wrongness’ about altering the complexity of natural genetic modification.

Somehow we potentially head down an ethical black hole without the natural complexity.

It much better defined – for me – a parallel to the cultural debasement that occurs in societies that become spiritually wounded, shallow, and materialistic.

Evaluating Agro-ecological, Economic, and Community Conditions

We’ve used this Framework for ensuring we are comprehensive in our farm evaluation:

Framing Questions 1

Are precipitation and groundwater resources captured, stored, used and released in a safe, stable and sustainable manner?

What are water sources and quality of water source?

Are water losses to runoff and evaporation in balance with soil and plant resources (Determine a water budget)?

Are irrigation waters efficiently and timely in use?

Are perennial stream flows, ground water aquifers, and water storage reservoir volumes stable (within natural or acceptable range of variability)?

Framing Questions 2

What are the major soil types?

What is the general texture of the surface soil?

Is the texture likely to make soils unstable if vegetative cover is removed?

Are there hydric soils on the parcel? How many and are they being farmed?

Is the land surface of sufficient steepness to cause erosion and management concerns?

Does the land have a general aspect toward a specific compass point?

Framing Questions 3

Are kinds and flows of chemicals (minerals, nutrients, etc.) in balance and appropriate for native plant and animal communities?

Are nutrients and/or minerals being lost from the system?

Are nutrients and/or minerals accumulating in the system?

Framing Questions 4

Are pest populations being held in check by predators?

Are native/desired species being damaged by predators?

Has human intervention substituted for natural predation in pest control?

Are crop losses above acceptable economic limits?

Is there evidence of environmental/ecological recovery without human intervention?

Is there evidence of recovery with human intervention?

Are soil parameters within ranges sufficient to allow recovery from stresses?

Is recovery impaired due to species competition?

Are managed species varied by land use and crop management in order to minimize risk of catastrophic loss (crop arrangement, crop rotation, crop integration)?

Is there sufficient genetic variation in the managed species to minimize risk of catastrophic loss?

Is there a sufficient soil seed bank to revegetate disturbed areas?

Framing Questions 5

Does farmer’s enterprise contain a diverse source of income?

Does current management system allow farm to remain competitive?

Does the farmer have latitude in making decisions about management or do others control those choices?

Does the farmer have a profitable economy?

Framing Questions 6

Are their documented harmful health effects from management methods?

Are their health risks from the types and methods of application of agrichemicals?

Are their broader community health risks from farm management?

Framing Questions 7

What are the regional trends in farm ownership?

What are the trends in development patterns?

What are community land uses?

Are there zoning restrictions?

What is the distribution of vegetative types in the county/community?

To what extent is farm/community vegetation fragmented?

Do the political borders correspond with ecological, economic, social and institutional boundaries?

Framing Questions 8

What regional markets are in place?

What products are supported?

What commodity programs are in place to support markets?

Framing Question 9

What nutrient profiles are possible given the property’s agro-ecology?

How do those nutrient profiles ‘fit’ with local and regional nutritional needs and eating habits?

What adaptations are possible to enhance nutrient profiles?

What adaptations are possible to diversify nutrient profiles if desirable?

Framing Questions 10

What types of community institutions exists to make decisions on land use, management and protection?

What civic and community groups exist?

What percentage of the community participates in elections, meetings, and hearings?

Does the community have a land use planning process?

What is the kind and nature of community government?

Are there land and water growth management plans?

What are the kinds and frequency of local cultural activities?

What is the history of successful citizen/community initiatives?

Framing Questions 11

How effective and efficient are modes of transportation and communication?

Are the health, education, and banking facilities distributed for broad use?

What structures are in place to promote a healthy local food supply?

Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Mary Berry in Conversation

A video from December 2016:

Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Mary Berry in Conversation

Some phrases:

With regard to our traditional energy economy…The party is over! (Wes)

With regard to our economy…we accept no limits…an economy built on explosives and toxins. (Wendell)

With regard to the local food movement…it has been going on for 40 years and the divide between urban and rural has grown greater. (Mary)

With regard to a future economy…Developing an economy as a way of taking proper care. (Wendell)

Lastly, Wendell had a very nice thought on ‘natural integrity’.