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.


I consider Wendell Berry a prophet.

Penguin Books has recently published a new collection of his essays (do not see a contents…but think them all previously published???).

It is titled The World-Ending Fire.

He often refers to our present economy as being built on combustion and toxins…so the title is aptly put.

In an interview related to the book’s publication he was asked about his opinion on the recent election of Donald Trump as our American President.

His response was…it didn’t matter if it was Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump….either way he (Wendell Berry) was a loser.

I am personally in the same sinking boat….and over the past few years a number of folks have (very definitely) called me a loser.

Wendell has, for a long time, had both of his feet solidly planted in the compassion based, soil conserving, community building loser class.

I, for a similarly long time, had both my ‘moral’ feet in his space. It is just I had one economic foot  in the ‘combustion and toxin’ economy.

Over the past few years I’ve liquidated the ‘combustion and toxin’ assets to work with younger folks on another economy.

Now – at this point – I diverge a bit from Mr. Berry.

I’ve had a great deal more day-to-day business experience than he, so I see an opportunity to change the economy…and change it pretty rapidly in food enterprises.

Even think I know how to do it!

The previous post on An Enterprise Ethic starts to publish some of the work over the past three years that has helped solidify my reputation as a loser.

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.

More Thoughts on the Human Manipulation of Biological Characteristics – Transgenics

Transgenics refers to those specific genetic engineering processes that remove genetic material from one species of plant or animal and add it to a different species.

The field of transgenics allows scientists to develop organisms that express a novel trait not normally found in a species; for example, potatoes that are protein rich, or rice that has elevated levels of vitamin A (known as “golden rice”). Transgenics may be also used to save endangered species such as the American Chestnut tree, which is currently being repopulated by Chinese-American chestnut hybrids specifically engineered with a genetic resistance to the chestnut blight—the deadly fungus that nearly decimated native populations in the early 1900s.

Ethical Issues

Transgenic biotechnology presents an exciting range of possibilities, from feeding the hungry to preventing and treating diseases; however, these promises are not without potential peril. Some of the issues that need to be considered are the following:

Social Concerns

  • If the blending of animal and human DNA results, intentionally or not, in chimeric entities possessing degrees of intelligence or sentience never before seen in nonhuman animals, should these entities be given rights and special protections?
  • What, if any, social and legal controls or reviews should be placed on such research?
  • What unintended personal, social, and cultural consequences could result?
  • Who will have access to these technologies and how will scarce resources—such as medical advances and novel treatments—be allocated?

Extrinsic Concerns

  • What, if any, health risks are associated with transgenics and genetically modified foods?
  • Are there long-term effects on the environment when transgenic or genetically modified organisms are released in the field?
  • Should research be limited and, if so, how should the limits be decided? How should the limits be enforced nationally and internationally?

Intrinsic Concerns

  • Are there fundamental issues with creating new species?
  • Are species boundaries “hard” or should they be viewed as a continuum? What, if any, consequences are there of blurring species boundaries?
  • Are chimeras and transgenics more likely to suffer than “traditional” organisms?
  • Will transgenic interventions in humans create physical or behavioral traits that may or may not be readily distinguished from what is usually perceived to be “human”?
  • What, if any, research in genetic engineering should be considered morally impermissible and banned (e.g., research undertaken for purely offensive military purposes)?
  • Will these interventions redefine what it means to be “normal”?

The Issue of Species Boundaries

Some individuals argue that crossing species boundaries is unnatural, immoral, and in violation of God’s laws, which presumes that species boundaries are fixed and readily delineated.15 However, several books and journal articles demonstrate that the concept of fixed species boundaries continues to be a hotly debated topic. Some bioethicists point out that a variety of species concepts exist: biological, morphological, ecological, typological, evolutionary, and phylogenetic, to name a few. All of these definitions of what a species is reflect both changing theories and the varying purposes for which individuals conceptualize and utilize different species.20 If species boundaries are simply a matter of a naming convention, and there are no truly fixed boundaries to cross, then many philosophical objections to transgenics are rendered less problematic.

In addition to the issue of species boundaries, there are other issues that need to be considered and discussed prior to large-scale acceptance and usage of transgenics and other genetic engineering research, including:

  • the risks and benefits of the experimental use of animals;
  • the risk of creating new diseases—for which there is no treatment—by combining animal DNA or human DNA with plant DNA;
  • the potential long-term risks to the environment;
  • the potential for increased suffering of transgenic organisms. Various bioethicists, environmentalists, and animal rights activists have argued that it is wrong to create animals that would suffer as a result of genetic alteration (for example, a pig with no legs) and that such experimentation should be banned.

Source: Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenics, Linda MacDonald Glenn

Note: I would add many of these ethical issues are from the perspective there could be some  control/management/regulating of biological manipulations. I believe numerous additional ethical questions arise when you introduce uncertainty over ‘who uses and how’.

A Failure to Improve the Lives of Rural Small Farmers

Long-Delayed Rules to Protect Small Farmers Might be Too Little Too Late

Siena Chrisman in Civil Eats does a postmortem on efforts during the Obama Administration to improve the law and policy for small farm operators.

My question:

Why believe that Congress and the Executive Administration will provide equitable, reasonable, and environmentally/economically intelligent legal solutions to our social problems when those congresspeople and administrative executives are driven by – and dependent on – large sums of money that can only be provided by aggregated enterprises or aggregating individuals? – and unfortunately too many of them in our current economy are not morally sound.

We live in a post-aggregated economy – the money is highly concentrated. The folks who are in Congress and the Administration (Obama or Trump…or whomever is next) have accepted the monetary system of American politics.

We are almost all money-dependent. The question is about the ethical nature of our financial support system.

This in no way implies that individuals or institutions cannot obtain great wealth in a morally responsible manner. They can.

The issue is the ethical, moral, and religious basis for individual and institutional action.

From a previous post:

Agriculture and food are intellectual gateways to culture.

We are not going to farm well (properly) by legislating morally shallow enterprises.

To continue building a sound culture and agriculture is going to be  long and expensive…. and require people of excellent character spreading the good news of healthy food and nutrition.


Big Corporations Dominate Food Sales

The growing dominance of international conglomerates in the food and farm industries has been documented by German researchers and journalists. Their “Corporation Atlas 2017” (Note: Did not find in English) calls for tighter anti-monopoly controls.

According to their dossier, 50 firms share 50 percent of the worldwide revenue for food products – and market dominance is even more prevalent in certain product categories.

Roughly 80 percent of the global tea market is held by three companies – the Dutch-British concern Unilever, the Indian corporation Tata and Associated British Foods.

Sixty percent of all baby foods and 62 percent of all cereals worldwide are produced by just four companies. In Latin America, this number is even higher – 75 percent for both product lines.

Mergers create mega-corporations

A  new wave of mergers among food producers started around 2010, triggered by the global financial crisis.

This increased market concentration, the authors of the “Corporation Atlas” assert.

They cite the 2015 mergers between US giants Heinz and Kraft and brewing companies Anheuser-Busch and SABMilleras examples for the increasingly oligarchical state of the food and beverage industries.

Agricultural and foodstuff mergers were worth 329 billion euros ($347 billion) in 2015, five times greater than mergers in the pharmaceutical and oil sectors.

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’.

Agriculture’s Role in 21st Century American Social Reform

In our partner meeting this morning we were having an interesting discussion on a recent New York Times article.

Why Rural America Voted for Trump

The author states his insight came from…

….a 2015 pre-caucus stop in Pella by J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister raised in the small town of Eufaula, Okla., who was a Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, to begin to understand my neighbors — and most likely other rural Americans as well.

“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.

“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”

He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Watts’ statement, for me, was an odd construction.

Yes, many conservative religions believe in a fundamentally flawed human.

The generalization about Democrats was strange. Please let me know the religion that states we are born good and ‘create God’ (although I think a good bit of our societal interest in yoga practice is based upon a misconception about Eastern religions ‘creating God’…allowing American practitioners to interpret meditation as mind/body/spirit individualistic self-absorption).

The article goes on to discuss different conceptions of personal moral responsibility…or the lack of personal moral responsibility (blaming others for personal shortcomings).

Other than the article pointing out the author’s amazingly shallow knowledge of his neighbors, I found little insight.

What it did generate in our partner meeting was a discussion of Western religion’s preoccupation with good and bad, right and wrong.

There are certainly broad ‘truths’, and I admire certain conservative religious ministers/writers for their ability to sternly profess Biblical truths.

HOWEVER, we have a ‘hhhhuge’ social problem that results from our hyper-individualistic society. Professing Biblical truths (or for that manner any truths) meets resistance and belligerence with a selfish, thoughtless individualist.

We are not – in our present society – going to solve the enormous problem of thoughtlessness and personal amorality by ‘teaching the truth’.

Here is where agriculture becomes critical….we can use food, food preparation, nutrition as a ‘remedy’.

Two months ago I spent much of a day with the relatively new President of my undergraduate engineering school. For over 35 years I’ve been an alum agnostic…no involvement. Although I highly respected aspects of my undergraduate education I came to not respect the engineering ethic…so had never practiced engineering.

The meeting arose because I received an alumni magazine talking about the School’s interest in sustainability. A brief email exchange led me to campus.

I had wanted to talk about the ethic of the engineering curriculum, but found the President preoccupied with renovations to the Student Union and efforts to enhance the food program with both improved nutrition and a more green, sustainable operations plan.

It quickly became evident that he had determined that the most viable method to improve the ethic of the School was to improve the food program for students. I think it gave him a way to engage students, faculty, alumni, donors in an active discussion about ‘what the heck are we doing’ and ‘what the heck are we teaching’…without meeting the hyper-individualistic belligerence to ethical changes in the curriculum that arise from examining truths and repenting for past industrial engineering ‘sins’.

Agriculture and food are intellectual gateways to culture…and we sorely need a culture.