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How to Build a Sustainable Economy: Lessons from the Nearings

Pioneering homesteaders Helen and Scott Nearing dared to ask, “Should we seek profit above all things?” As we are beginning to see in our society, an economic system based on endless growth is not only unsustainable but immoral.

It’s high time the “Greed Is Good” mantra of the go-go 80s was taken out behind the shed and shot.

Because there is more to life than money. There’s community. Family. And food. Good, natural, organic (whether certified or not) food that connects us to the soil and to our neighbors. Not empty calories and high fructose corn syrup of ersatz supermarket eats, but the good stuff. The stuff that reminds us that we are alive.

Here’s Paula Crossfield on some of the lessons we should learn from Helen and Scott Nearing:

The stimulus package has passed – and despite whether you are pushing tax cuts or waving the flag of infrastructure spending, perhaps its worth reconsidering the underlying goal either version looks to achieve: growth. I’m not the first to propose that our entire economic system is in need of an overhaul, but thinking back even further, I think we could take a leaf from Helen and Scott Nearing.

The Nearings moved from New York City to a Vermont homestead in 1932 because they perceived the capitalist economy was failing due to fundamentally bad underlying principles. Essentially what they started in the New England countryside was a small farm, with a cash crop – maple syrup – which made enough money to help them buy building supplies, seed and necessities. Now, reading their book, Living the Good Life, during the current economic crisis, I cannot help but wonder the same thing they wondered then: Are we suppose to seek profit above all things?

Farming in America got a closer look last week when the ag census for 2007 debuted and we could crunch some hard numbers. Total small farms (1-9 acres) increased by about 50,000 to 232,849 — 80% of whose farmers are making under $10,000; while 75% of the agricultural production (read: commodity crops) took place on 125,000 of the largest farms. Here money and size correlate; our “Get Big or Get Out” mentality has produced giant farms — producing things we can’t eat without processing — which get a continuous flow of government subsidies, and grow in size as they buy up their neighbors in a quest for the almighty dollar.

But what I am most interested in here is those small farms, where more and more young people are gravitating, where organic is often practiced with or without certification, and perhaps most of what is being produced is used by the family unit or sold to neighbors. These small farms might be a chance to learn, or an example of how land expense for a beginning farmer is just too great, or maybe these new farmers, too, have made a political decision to be self-sufficient. But this phenomenon could be part of a real revolution going on in the way we think our society should be run, as well as a hat tip to the pioneering Nearings.

La Vida Locavore took a look at these small farms in detail last week, and saw that most farmers were turning a small profit or breaking even. Now I know what I am about to say is controversial, but couldn’t this be considered a good thing? I am not trying to insist that we all become peasants again, that we should give up coffee and chocolate, learn how to slaughter a chicken, throw out our laptop and iPhone and never, ever travel again. Nor am I saying that the government shouldn’t be helping new farmers with land access and funds: they most certainly should. But I ask, with a full belly and satisfying work, isn’t it time we re-frame our society’s expectations for growth of the bottom line at any cost?

Read the whole article at the Huffington Post


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Happy Holidays from Chelsea Green Publishing!

Today we kick off our Holiday Sale — with 35% off every purchase at our online bookstore. Simply use the code CGS16 at checkout from now until the end of the year. Along with this great discount, we are offering free shipping on any order over $100*. Are there homesteaders or organic gardeners on your […] Read More
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