Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Can we make new farmers from city folk?

So, there I was, reading along, and someone mentions the New Deal program to relocate unemployed city people to farms. Huh. That has been my thought for a while. The American farmer is aged, an average of 65 years old, and most have lost their children to the Department of Education and mass media -- farm children were put into a school system that defines success as college directed to a lucrative corporate career, or a lucrative factory job. Or flipping burgers.

So we need farm kids. Which I figure means we need farm families. But we have to make farm families, because we don't have enough (and for the next generation or three we have to assume mass media and the corporate powers that be will still siphon off the people we need to grow the food our grandchildren will eat) families living on the farm.

Since it takes time, and I don't want the government getting into the practice of "making" families (mostly), my thought is to find families willing to accept a small subsistence farm with reasonable (minimal) housing and facilities.

And I wrote Senator Dr. Coburn today.

Dr. Coburn,

I am a sad student of history. I recall classes that coverd a "New Deal", back before the Beatles (which I do remember!). But, fifty years ago, the problems of the New Deal seemed both solved and irrelevant to modern day, and unlikely to provide more than a warning about trying to do too much by the government (which lesson seems, well, still needed).

Then I noticed an interesting part of the New Deal, the Resettlement Administration. It seems my notion of moving people toward farm life, to improve food source diversification, to improve community engagement, and to improve self esteem, was tried, and turned out to be one of the more successful of the New Deal ventures. According to the OKState web site (

"Subsistence Homesteads Division (SHD) of the Department of the Interior. The SHD created model communities, moving urban poor to small plots of land where they would live in safe, clean houses and learn to produce enough food to become self-sustaining.

. . .

"Under the guidance of Rexford G. Tugwell, the RA absorbed the programs of its predecessors and embarked on an ambitious plan to solve the rural economic crisis.

"The RA consisted of three divisions: the Land Utilization Division, the Resettlement Division, and the Rehabilitation Division. The Rehabilitation Division provided training for farm families and administered the farm credit and debt adjustment activities of the RA. The Land Utilization Division was authorized to purchase ten million acres of submarginal land to convert to pasture, forest, game preserves, or parks. Utilizing FERA and later Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, people taken off of the land were put to work planting trees, building roads, and making other land improvements. These individuals also became clients of the Resettlement Division.

"The Resettlement Division absorbed the SHD and a number of FERA projects. The division was authorized to purchase land for resettlement as well as to undertake rehabilitation of submarginal land. The larger projects totaled 151, with numerous small-scale projects scattered across the country. The Resettlement Division embarked on a building program, constructing new houses and sanitary facilities for its clients in either rural communities developed by the RA, or on scattered farms, or even in some suburban/industrial communities inherited from the SHD. "

I also ran across a University of Arizona reference (, a review of the book, Urban Farming in the West - A New Deal Experiment in Subsistence Homesteads By Robert M. Carriker.):

"Although overshadowed by the larger undertakings of the New Deal, some of these western communities remain thriving neighborhoods—living legacies to FDR's efforts that show how the country once chose to deal with economic hardship. Too often the DSH (Division of Subsistence Homesteads) is noted for its failures; Carriker's study shows that its western homesteads were instead qualified accomplishments. "

I feel that immediate action is needed to motivate and support families needing a change in life, and would benefit from contact with gardening and subsistence (food grown for personal use) farming.

I realize my vision of states programs leasing long term, on a lease-to-own basis, up to 25% of a given farm or ranch, of ground taxed as farm ground, and subsequently sub-leased to clients in 5-10 acre parcels with an expectation that the family(!) accepting the invitation/sub lease, would grow 50% of the food they ate by the third year, and occupy their leasehold for a minimum of 10 years. Any breaking of the subleases would be used to invite new applicants. At the end of twenty years, if all sub-leases in the original lease are all still tenanted, then the land would be assumed by the government, and all taxes paid by the former owner on the leased land would be refunded at that time. (An incentive "balloon" payment, if you will.)

I would like to see principles of permaculture and sustainable small farming, including oxen, mule, and horse drawn agriculture equipment, be emphasized. I would like to see small farm-support craft businesses used to support tenants, including welding, blacksmithing, wood crafts from carpentry to lumbering and carving, feed milling and preparation, etc.

What I see the greatest need for, is to establish the next generation, or at least the generation after that, of people aware of the soil, of growing food -- that could reverse the trend of America's dwindling rank of rapidly aging farmers.

The Amish have long held that the proper place to raise children is the farm -- meaningful work, from gathering eggs to putting up hay, can easily be increased to build character. Working with parents on the farm increases knowledge that children's efforts contribute substantially, that they are needed as a person, and they they are valued. These are things desperately needed today. I don't see Oklahoma's needs, or the needs of any other state, as being that different from what the Amish have taken to heart.

My slant to small farms and gardening is in line with my concern that today's industrial style of farming becomes increasingly fragile at the same time operators require increasingly stringent backgrounds and experiences -- backgrounds and experiences of growing up on the family farm that are less available today. Increasingly fragile and interlinked currency and energy streams feeding the American economy threaten to fluctuate -- which could impact supplies of fertilizers, of fuels, of seeds. Current predatory regulations protecting patented seed and other agricultural products risk single-point failures that could destroy a planting or harvest season for a region or the nation.

And so I see a need to plant the seeds of a new generation of Americans accustomed to planting by times of frost, of watching the weather to decide what tasks are in line for the day, of planning this year's planting to support next year's planting needs. When I see a farmer on a tractor, I see a skilled equipment operator. The farmer part is about planning, scheduling, and accommodating changes into the plans. That particular skill takes lifetimes, and family farms, to carry Oklahoma, and America, safely into the future.

Thank you,

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