I would like to suggest a topic for discussion that has not come up since I
subscribed to the group. If sustainable agriculture is to sustain people, we
must find ways in which labor in agriculture is well rewarded.
A lot of the focus of technology design has been on eliminating the need for
labor. Unfortunately, that seems to lead to compensating for the absence of
labor with the need for capital, which leads to a highly capitalized operation,
with very few people involved. Subsequently, it is capital that is rewarded,
and those without it find it difficult to get into agriculture.
If we took a different approach to designing systems and technology, and rather
than replacing labor we would look for the systems and technology that would
require labor, rather than capital, we would not necessarily be going back in
I believe that it is this fear, that we would go back in time, that has kept us
from asking the question, of how do we include, rather than exclude, labor from
I have been perusing the pages of the Stockman Grass Farmer recently, a magazine
I had not read before, and have found in it a refreshing theme that leads me to
introduce this discussion: get away from "heavy metal" and find ways to make
money on your labor and management resources. In one article, Joel Salatin
talks about how it is the way he has structured his enterprise (a matter of
design) that allows the labor of his son to earn the family close to $20 per
hour. I doubt that there are any "labor intensive" operations in conventional
agriculture that can claim this kind of return to labor, let alone any
enterprise willing to pay any one that amount of for their labor. An important
component of this design is a degree of simplicity that allows a very young
person to participate.
In the farm I help to operate, I need to find simple, yet highly rewarding tasks
for labor. (In this case I am helping mentally ill individuals to achieve higher
levels of functioning). Personally, I am interested in finding highly rewarding
tasks for our 5 sons in our new 40 acres. I am going to borrow Salatin's books
from our local library, so there is not need to mention him as a resource. His
work would be more rewarded if I bought the book, but my labor will be better
rewarded if I use the library.
The question rephrased: If sustainable agriculture must also sustain people,
and if one of its goals is to bring people back to agriculture, what are some
strategies to reward labor in agriculture?
I want to pre-empt a highly politicized discussion here by one thought. If we
can design an agriculture to reward labor, without the need for capital, then
presumably this technology could be more accessible to the person poor in
capital. We could argue forever about whether or not the design of technology
itself is biased in favor of capital. However, what I am most looking for is
for creative ideas on how we can design with a bias to rewarding labor.
By the way, thanks for all the input on my composting questions. One thing that
I did find out, is that there is a consensus among those who have no interest in
selling compost making technology that turning manure windrows is a waste of
resources. I think I am coming to the conclusion that it is unlikely that
turning compost by hand will be a rewarding enterprise. I have some regrets
about this conclusion because I have always felt so virtuous while turning
compost by hand. Other than good exercise, I guess I do not gain much.
Hope this will be a rewarding topic.
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