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MLT Newsletter

October 1983


Thomas Breznau
Kenneth Dahlberg
Albert Huntoon
Maynard Kaufman
Sally Kaufman
Michael Kruk
James Martin
Lisa Johnson Phillips
Michael Phillips
Jonathan Towne

My Christmas wish to us all is that we no longer live our comfortable lives at the expense of others on this globe, that we distinguish our “wants” from our needs, that we allow other countries throughout the world the governments they choose and not be threatened, that we care for ottr own people, that we recognize the self destructiveness of our nuclear strength, that we take our proper place as a part of God’s children on this earth, and that we celebrate Christ’s birth with peace, joy and love.

At the annual meeting of Michigan Land Trustees two new directors were elected. They are Lisa Johnson Phillips and Jim Martin.  Lisa graduated from Western Michigan University in 1982 with honors and has started to work on her masters degree in geology with water quality her emphasis. She and Mike have moved into a house they built on their land themselves near Lawton.  Jim was a student at the Land Trust Homesteading Farm in 1977. He graduated from WMU in geography and environmental studies, and is now employed by Kalamazoo County as a custodian.  Jim’s dream is a farm of his own. Carrying on the skills learned at the Land Trust farm he raised and sold vegetables from his large garden where he lives.

During the November meeting the following officers were elected:

Chairperson -Mike Kruk
Managing Director - Maynard Kaufman
Secretary - Swan Huntoon
Treasurer - Ken Dahlberg

A membership committee of Swan Runtoon, Sally Kaufman and Thom Phillips was appointed.

Information on the summer program at the Land Trust Homesteading Farm will be ready the first of the year. If you know of anyone interested, the address is Land Trust Homesteading Farm, Thom Phillips and Jan Filonowicz, RE. 2 Box 311, Bangor, MI 49013.

The next meeting of MLT will be at the Land Trust Homesteading Farm January 7, 1984. There will be a potluck at 6:00 followed by the meeting at 7:00. Bring a dish to pass and join us.

The following is an article written by Tim Johnson, a Michigan Land trustee. Tim spent six months at the School of Homesteading during his undergraduate years, then continued his education with a Master’s Degree in dairy science from Michigan State University.
    Sally Kaufman, Editor

                       Tim Johnson

After four months as Dairy Livestock Agent for the Cooperative Extension Service in two counties at the base of Michigan’s thumb I felt compelled to write some impressions that have hit me.

The first of these is that at present the “corporate farm” is not taking over agriculture here in the rich farm land of Michigan’s thumb. During the last several years farm real estate has slipped in value. This may be one factor making farms a less attractive investment/tax shelter for corporations. For the foreseeable future Michigan agriculture will remain in the hands of farm families.

The second thing that greatly impressed me is that the similarities between the largest and the smallest farms I work with far outweigh the differences. Of the concerns I hear voiced the uncertainties of variable interest rates and fluctuating commodity prices are number one both with several young farmers who are members of Organic Growers of Michigan, as well as operators of large “commercial” farms. Each is concerned with maintaining the lifestyle he has chosen or grown up with. The current economic climate threatens this. As one young dairyman who is milking 120 cows in a new set-up with blue silos and the works, told me, “You kind of worry when the payments are $7,000 a month and the milk checks only $6,000.” An organic farmer on a 30 acre farm with payments less than 10% of the dairyman’s, said, “I can’t keep these sheep at current prices. My life has changed since I took up the land contract. I used to live fine doing part-time jobs. Now I’ve no time to do the things I want.”

Lifestyle and the importance of family and the rural community come through loud and clear. What prompts the commercial farmer to expand and take on a maximum debt load? Rarely does it seem to be greed for a neighbor’s land or more personal income. The number one reason for expansion appears to be making room for the children and their families in the operation. Certainly status and power in a rural community are affected by the farmer’s land holdings, but the involvement of the next generation is equally important.

In contrast to the young dairy farmer mentioned earlier there is an older farmer I work with who milks 15 cows in an old stanchion barn. He told me, “Yea, I thought about putting on more cows and putting up another silo. We had drawn up plans with the Extension Agent, but he and I talked it over and decided that feed availability on my small acreage of poorly drained ground would be a problem. I’ve had a good life here, raised 11 kids, and we have a ready work force and a happy home.” Yet none of his children are coming back to the farm.

All of us are looking for a sustainable agriculture, a stable rural community for our families to grow and develop in. To accept “voluntary poverty” is one option, one which is less tasteful to those who have grown up on the farm, worked hard all their lives, and have seen how others live, than it is for us who have experienced The American Dream and are searching for something more.

Maynard Kaufman

The practice of raising livestock in confinement has grown enormously in recently years. Many cattle are “finished” with grain in feed lots, more and more hogs are raised indoors where they never see the light of day, and 95% of chickens in this country are raised in confinement. This has been criticized as inhumane practice, since animals are deprived of outdoor life, as a capital- intensive and energy-intensive practice which fosters economic concentration, and as a threat to human health, since medicines needed to keep confined animals healthy may leave residues harmful to the human consumer.

These are all valid criticisms of confinement today but they do not recognize the most important problem created by livestock confinement, namely, that the confinement of livestock leads to the confinement of people. The essence of confinement feeding is that an animal that once foraged freely for its food is now rendered helpless, dependent on its keeper for its feed. The cow that grazed, the pig that rooted, the chicken that scratched, and the person who had produced what he or she consumed - all are equally deprived of their freedom to do so. All have become equally dependent on factory-made, processed foodstuff. All
have become passive consumers.

The practice of livestock confinement is defended as the most efficient way to raise livestock so that the consumer can have cheap food. This benefit is said to offset the risks and costs involved. But some of the costs, such as energy use and its environmental impact, and some of the risks, such as health risks or the risks of oligarchic economic concentration, are not going to appear in a cost—benefit analysis. Confinement feeding is efficient in the way all of industrial agriculture is efficient - it reduces labor requirements. Fewer people are thus involved in food production; fewer people enjoy the dignity of work, and the rest must be fed like dumb animals.

Now, city officials in Bangor are trying to attract a broiler industry to this area, along with the large, ‘single-use confinement buildings on area farms for the production of broilers. As in most communities, officials in Bangor assume the industrial paradigm as they try to solve Bangor’s social and economic problems: attract industry to generate jobs. The industrial paradigm has been generally successful for over 200 years, and it’s a mind set which is deeply rooted in Western Civilization. Governmental policies, of course, reflect this massive concensus.

Unfortunately, however, truth is not determined by concensus, no matter how democratically it is achieved. And of course the limitations of the industrial paradigm could not be clearly perceived until after the oil embargo of 1973. Before that the growth of mediating industries disguised the fact industrialism actually reduced jobs as workers were replaced by machines. Fossil fuel energy had been replacing labor because it was cheaper. But, on a global scale, we have now used nearly half of our fossil fuel reserves - the half that was easy to get. As we dig deeper to get the remaining half more energy is expended in the process and less net energy is produced. This makes energy increasingly expensive and is causally related to our economic recession. Because of declining energy resources the industrial paradigm is no longer adequate. As we cope with the economic problems created by energy costs, plus problems created by energy use, such as environmental pollution, social and ecological disruption, that inadequacy is becoming obvious to more and more thoughtful people.

Nodes of economic growth which were appropriate for a time of cheap energy may no longer work in a time of expensive energy. Cheap energy promoted specialization and the complex networks of mediating industries. For example, broilers produced in confinement require a large, specially constructed building with special equipment for automatic climate control, feeding, and watering, lending agencies and financial institutions, a transportation industry which hauls chicks and feed in and grown broilers and dried manure out, hatching, slaughtering, and processing plants, each with its complex of mediating industries, not to mention feed mills and specialized farms for the production of the grain required. But such complex intermediation is not as economic as it once was. Industrial agriculture is in financial trouble.

As food prices rise more and more people are prompted to raise their own food. Half of the. households in America raise vegetable gardens which collectively generate sixteen billion dollars worth of produce for household use. These people have begun to “disintermediate” the food industry. (“Disintermedation” is a term borrowed from Paul Hawken’s book, The Next Economy). In addition to vegetables, more people are turning toward backyard livestock production, and chickens are the easiest to raise. Broody hens can hatch chicks which can be fed and watered on a small scale with no specialized equipment whatever. Chickens can forage
outside for a large share of their feed in summer and process the household garbage in winter to produce eggs and broilers for the family and the urban neighbors. As such practices increase under current economic conditions a new agrarian paradigm will gradually emerge to compete with the counterproductive industrial paradigm. A paradigm shift should eventually occur - unless the lobbying power of large corporations and food industries is strong enough to obliterate this possibility. In that case confinement feeding of both non-human and human animals will increase as more public funds and subsidies prolong the life of industrial agriculture.

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