Small Sustainable Farms and their Value to Society


By Chris Korrow

For the past several nights I've been shelling black beans. Hours of my time have been spent snapping these brittle husks to try and fill what seems to be a bottomless bowl. It's not like I'm creating any economic stability for my family here. Lets say that I could shell three pounds of beans in an hour (which I can't). I can buy organic beans for $.80 a pound. That would give me a net worth of$2.40 an hour and that doesn't include, spreading compost, planting, cultivating and harvesting. So why waste my time? Several reasons really. First, it feels right. Work the ground, add some seed, water, light, work and love and I've got nourishment for my family though the winter. Second, beans are an important rotation crop for the fields. Third, I do not believe that I can even buy beans of this quality. Besides the biodynamic preps, I've known and tended them their entire life. Fourth, its real, or I should say it grounds me. It brings me closer to reality. If we run out of oil, if our economy should fail, if the lights of the city flicker and are extinguished I’ll still plant beans for the winter. And fifth I have rarely seen the true correlation between the actual value of real food and the work that it takes to create it reflected in its actual price.

Some things cannot be expressed in terms of monetary value. Their worth actually transcends it. It is both priceless and free depending upon the circumstances.

There are 3 life industries in our society, farming, healers and the environment. (A healthy environment is constantly refreshing our air and filtering our water, among other benefits. It is definitely working for us and this is why I name it here as an industry.) The products of these three industries are a right for every living being and therefore they are not subject to the stiff confines imposed by an economic price tag. Each one of these systems should support the other. These systems and all systems thrive and prosper on balance. With the degradation of our food air and water, we have created an incredibly prosperous medical industry. In the present system food production and the environment do not support each other at all, as the poor quality of our food and environment actually elevates the medical industry. This is what we are now experiencing.

I list healers as one of these industries, yet in fact all of these systems are responsible for health. The environment is responsible for all of the material needs of all living creatures. Food is a medicine also; we can see this directly from the early sailors who got scurvy from a lack of vitamin C, though a balanced diet is only a part of it. The rest lies in the vitality of the food. In this way farmers are healers also, and take care of the day-to-day health of the people. While the system that we call healers takes care of the imbalances of individuals due to spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical influences.

The problems of the imbalance of these systems arose first when we viewed farmers as mere laborers. Labor was viewed increasingly as an undesirable position to be in, so we increasingly sought out money and power to escape this fate. Farmers quickly found themselves at the bottom of this “peasant” class and there they remain.

The environment should never be greatly degraded for the sole purpose of monetary gain. It should be obvious to us that it is of a far greater benefit to us as a refresher of life and should be treated as such.

Healers should heal out of love and the love for health and not for material gain. In return the society should always see to it that the healer is always cared for. It is easy to see that a drug company, who has an annual profit in the millions, profits off of disease and not health.

So now we come to the farmer. I have yet to meet biodynamic or organic farmer that has not sent dozens or hundreds of visitors off with a free bag of produce. I have also yet to see a stockbroker that has sent visitors off with a few IBM stocks, or a carpenter that has box of wooden nick naks he gives away, or a hardware store owner that giveaway screwdrivers. It's not that farmers are more generous than other people. My point is that it is the very nature of farming to produce an abundance of food and to feed people. Yet it is the least cared for profession in our society. As our economic growth has risen in the last 50 years, farm incomes have steadily decreased. Corn prices this week were $ 1.92 a bushel; in 1917 it was as high as $2.17 a bushel.

If an economy is thriving, then small numerous farms should be thriving. In this way when an economy fails, and it eventually always does, farmers will then have thriving vibrant farms that can supply society with little benefit to themselves. If farms have to struggle through times of prosperity, will they support the society in its time of need? Or as is the case, small working farms simply are not there anymore. We have entrusted our food security to corporations and a food source that is thousands of miles away. It is simply social insurance to support a thriving local agricultural system.

This is why my wife Christy and I have created a non-profit organization called Rural Center for Responsible Living. The main objective of the Rural Center is to create working models of food production using biodynamic and organic principals that will nourish the whole of the human experience. Our work is focused primarily to meet the needs locally and regionally of the central Kentucky and Tennessee areas. The organization is founded to work towards the following objectives;
Demonstrate sustainable agricultural practices using organic and biodynamic farming methods
Promote health as nutrition based on fresh produce, whole grains, meats, eggs and dairy products raised according to organic and biodynamic principals, paired with holistic healing practices
Generate consumer awareness and inspiration through farm visits, workshops, conferences and the dissemination of information
Support and participate in environmental/ grassroots organizing efforts
Create opportunities for the existence of a new associative economics

The idea to start the Rural Center came about from public interest in what we are doing here on our farm. We quickly found ourselves dealing with a couple hundred phone calls/visitors each year, answering questions about topics as diverse as herbal medicine, spirituality and aphid control on tobacco (this is Kentucky). We've held numerous field days, assisted in many conferences, assisted extension farms and have traveled throughout the Ky/Tenn. area to speak at various events. Yet in the last ten years of disseminating information there has always been one element missing, actual working models. Systems in which farmers can get a fair price and consumers have access to high quality local food.

We have been working on several projects to shorten or eliminate the gap between the field and the frying pan and we also have some ideas in the works for farmer owned/managed processing. Though ultimately it all depends upon what we want as a people.

In Love and light, Chris

October 2000