Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, part I

I read Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons several months ago and never got around to writing up my notes on it. I'm clearing out my reading backlog right now, so here are some thoughts on the book.

His food chapter is very passionate and convincing, and there's no way I'd turn down the offer of dinner with the Drehers. On the other hand, there's not enough attention paid to the economic risks that aspiring small-scale farmers face. Agriculture is a very tough industry, and it's seen a century of attrition, with fewer and fewer people involved, and more and more work done by GPS-controlled heavy equipment. As Dreher writes, "Whole regions of the prairies and plains are emptying out of people whose ancestors farmed those fields from the pioneer days." I wish he had found a failed organic farmer to talk to--someone who had poured a couple hundred thousand dollars into land, equipment, materials, who had worked himself, his wife, and his kids from before dawn until well past dark for years, and then lost everything. There must be quite a few people out there like that. And even if the business should prosper, is it ethical for us consumers to ask someone to live on nothing and work round the clock, just so we can enjoy extra yummy free-range chicken?


MH said...

The other month, I called my cousin. Because there was no back-ground noise, I was surprised to learn, after ten minutes of talking, that he was in the field in the tractor. When I asked him if I should let him go so he could pay attention, he said that he had GPS. This was the first I ever heard of the things.

However, it isn't all for comfort. GPS lets you minimize your chemical, fuel, and seed use. You can program in your fields and it will let you adjust how much fertilizer, etc. that each part of the field gets. I'm guessing that these savings would pay for the software to run the GPS.

xantippe said...

That's very interesting, MH. I have eastern Washington relatives who raise cattle and grow wheat on a rather larger scale than my western Washington who are just small cattle ranchers. I don't have any direct contact with my big-time farming relatives, but I did hear about them using GPS.

MH said...

GPS isn't used to drive the tractor like KITT. It just holds the line as you go down the row. You still need to make the turn yourself. When you think about it, it is a good job for a computer. Very tedious yet simple. The computer is less likely to get bored and squish the corn.